Friday, December 8, 2017

Church of Our Lady of Light (Luz Church), Mylapore, Chennai

Church of Our Lady of Light (Luz Church), Mylapore, Chennai
Church of Our Lady of Light is a Roman Catholic shrine located in Mylapore in Chennai City in Tamilnadu. It is commonly called as Luz Church by the locals, which derives from the Portuguese name Nossa Senhora da Luz. Built in 1516 by the Portuguese, it is one of the oldest Churches in the city and its foundation stone marks as one of the oldest European monuments in India. The history of the church dates to the 16th-century legend of safe arrival to land by missionaries. The church is located very near to the Santhome Basilica, where Apostle Thomas is believed to be buried.

Although at the time the church was built, the locality was a thick forest, now it is part of a bustling metropolitan area. This 16th-century European-architecture building consists of patterns of Gothic arches and Baroque ornamentation. The feast of Our Lady of Light is celebrated on the 15 August every year. On 15 August, 2010, Church of Our Lady of Light was declared Shrine of Our Lady of Light by A. M. Chinnappa, Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore. This small church is probably one of the oldest churches in India.

Tucked away in a narrow lane behind St. Isabel's hospital in Mylapore is The Church of Our Lady of Light, commonly known as Luz Church. Atop its archway, clearly marked, is the year of its founding: 1516. Locally called ‘Kattu Koil' or ‘Forest Shrine', it is the city's oldest-known Church. Luz Church, the first church in the city and the second on the east coast to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At present Luz church is under diocese of Madras-Mylapore.

Luz means light in Portuguese. This is to symbolize the light that was sighted by the Franciscan missionaries from Portugal who had set sail for India's southern coast around 1500 AD. Luz Church is still sometimes referred to as 'Kaatu Kovil' (Church in the forest), indicative of the forested area that is now the busy streets of Luz area.

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The Church
The existing structure at Luz was built by the Portuguese in 1516. The architecture of the building consists of patterns of Gothic arches, Baroque ornamentation compounded with classical European style. The altars are gilded with silver and gold leaves and the ceilings with powder blue fresco paintings. The building plan resembles the Portuguese style in more than one way. Luz church represents one of the many attempts made by these people to leave their identity in far-off places. The foundation stone of this church is considered to be one of the oldest European monuments in India.

This church suffered damage under the Golconda Muslim forces and also from the Mysore's Hyder Ali. After the British established their administration of South India from Madras, this church was periodically repaired. But to this day, nothing much has changed in this church for so many centuries. Just behind the church is St. Isabel's Hospital managed by Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters. This hospital has a Nursing college established by the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters. You will find Crucifix in every room of the 300-bed hospital - administered with efficiency and dedication with the same missionary zeal.

On the entrance steps, on the altar and on the walls surrounding it – there are tombs everywhere, inscribed in stone and marble. Most date back to the early 1800s. The sanctum sanctorum itself is surrounded by ochre swirls and leaves, flowers of gold and silver. And in the middle, stands the Our Lady of Light statue. The church is dated 1516 and an inscription says, ‘Friar Pedro of the Observance of St Francis built this church of Our Lady of Light in 1516.’ However, historians say that the date may be wrong or it could have possibly existed as a smaller church.

Although it was damaged during the wars in the 17th century, the church was restored several times. However, it stands testimony to distinct European style with arches and ornamentation – a combination of Gothic and Baroque styles with frescos on the ceilings. The original structure must have been a small Oratory. The Church of Lady of Light, which was built in 1516, has now been renovated and restored to its original form. Today, it stands proud as a testimony of faith and hope for generations to come. An unbroken list of vicars and parish priests of the Luz Church from 1787 has been preserved in the church records.

It feels very calm and soothing when one enters the church building. With passage of time some additional structures were constructed inside the church complex mainly for administrative purposes. This ancient church was raised to the status of a Shrine on 15th August 2010 and also to the status of a Heritage Monumental Shrine in the city of Chennai. This Heritage status is accorded by the Department of Metropolitan Development Authority as Heritage Building in Tamil Nadu.

Every day three masses are conducted in the Church. These masses are conducted in Tamil language so that locals can understand. On Sunday, there are four masses – of that one is for children and other one in English. On special occasions like Christmas, Good Friday and the annual feast day Church is decorated with lights. Luz Church is not all about masses and feasts, apart from religious functions Church also undertakes various other activities. The Church conducts some vocational courses for residents of nearby locality. Luz Church also governs the Stella Maris College in Chennai.
The feast of Our Lady of Light is celebrated on 15 August every year which is also the day of Indian independence and hence a national holiday. The day is also as the feast of Assumption of Mary. The feast is celebrated with a grand mass and car procession.
Church of Our Lady of Light
No.156, Luz Church Road, 
Luz, Mylapore,
Chennai – 600 004
Phone: + 91 44 2499 2568
For brief details, please refer below link;