Friday, 25 December 2015

Walking Mangalore – And the Jewel Box of St. Aloysius Chapel

The private bus you have taken for the sixty km trip from Udupi to Mangalore feels like a DTC Bus. A boisterous bunch of students from Delhi and Noida studying in the Manipal colleges are going on their pilgrimage to gorge on familiar burgers and multiplex flicks. Apparently, even Udupi food needs a change sometimes! Independence Day will be best celebrated with some MNC’s burgers and a Hollywood movie in Mangalore.

As the students engage in their typical intelligent Delhi banter like you used to, years ago, on your weekly forays into Maharashtra’s Aurangabad from your suburban hostel, it seems the bus ride has suddenly transported you back from the Konkan to your familiar city. It is too early to be thinking of going back to Delhi so for the next few minutes you dive into google to figure out the afternoon’s program.

Mangalore's Jewel Box - St. Aloysius Chapel
There was no particular reason though to come see Mangalore. You really don’t associate Mangalore with anything except maybe folks with the name Shetty who hail from the city and yes, Aishwarya Rai!. Or maybe the fact that the city is in Konkan and will be the logical end of the Konkan journey if you ever undertook it and yes; the city’s name rhymes with Bangalore.

In no time the bus deposits you in the middle of a city you are still not sure about. You have not even looked up hotels before catching the bus in Udupi. It has happened to you before. As the trip takes effect over a period of days, you let spontaneity take over. Just yards away from where you get off the bus there is a hotel with an airy large room. See, things work out themselves if you let them and this is the cheapest and biggest room you have encountered so far and that too in the biggest city!

Climbing the Lighthouse Hill

Kasturba Medical College on the way on Lighthouse Hill Road
You deposit your bag and come back on the streets with the google map showing the way to the only attraction you have in mind. It is afternoon and you have few hours of sunshine to walk around the streets. The food banter in the bus makes you realise that it is not a bad idea to have some burgers yourself later and maybe catch a movie before you head out back into the Konkan paradise in the morning.

Mangalore Ladies Club - really? - established 1923

The Idgah on the way to St Aloysius College - It is said Tipu Sultan built it with the stone from the razed Milagres Church

Cursory research in the bus is throwing the same place high up on the must see tourist attractions list of Mangalore. You are going to see the marvellous St. Aloysius Chapel. Mangalore is apparently built on hills and the undulating roads are making the progress slow. But you like what you see about the city. There is an unhurried pace to the life. Folks seem nice on the roads. Like Udupi, it seems Mangalore too is a student town as you keep bumping into groups of students. The place has a cosmopolitan feel to it. The hilly roads have always disoriented you and it is after asking for directions several times you enter the St. Aloysius College campus on Lighthouse Hill.

The 'Ferned' walls have been the feature throughout Konkan

The first view of St Aloysius College, Mangalore

A driveway with walls covered with grass and ferns lead you into the college campus. You like what you are seeing. A clean colourful set of buildings come into view. The predominant colour of the buildings is the pleasant looking grey blue. It seems you have just landed in Shimla or Darjeeling.

St. Aloysius High School in Mangalore Karnataka

The Beautiful St. Aloysius College, Mangalore

On the right is the St. Aloysius College building. The autonomous Jesuit college was established in 1885 and counts Booker Prize winner Aravinda Adiga, politician George Fernandes and ICICI Bank Chairman KV Kamath as its alumni. On the left is a sister institution of St. Aloysius High School.

But you are here for the building that is in the centre. This is the St Aloysius Chapel about which people are gushing on the travel websites. You walk around the building looking at the stained windows high above. Of course you have seen grander churches in Old Goa few days ago. So what is special about this chapel? On the front porch outside the seemingly locked front door you are still trying to figure out what to do. It is Independence Day holiday after all.

And then the side door on the left opens and a gentleman steps out. You tell him you are a tourist and have come here specially to see this church and if it is possible to have a look inside. Based on your not too pleasant experiences in Delhi churches lately where the security has become too paranoid, you are not expecting much. Of course you can come in! He is Henry Pereira and he is the Chapel Guide. Sweet!

Get Ready to be Amazed

The Jaw Dropping Painted Interiors of St. Aloysius Chapel in Mangalore

Altar with the painting of St. Aloysius
And then you step inside. Your jaw drops. The first feeling is of pure awe. You have experienced this feeling before when you stepped inside the little Jamali Kamali Tomb in Mehrauli Archaelogical Park or as your eyes adjusted to the pitch darkness and the splendid technicolour decorated walls delight you inside the grand Ahmad Shah I Tomb in Ashtur, Bidar or seeing the glint of gold plated Sone Ki Dukaan in Mahansar, Shekhawati. You have again stepped into a Jewel Box.

Everything is mindboggling about the interiors of St. Aloysius Chapel

Notice the effect of the painted floor - appears like stairs leading to the altar

360 Degrees of Vibtrant and Colourful interiors of St Aloysius Chapel

Your feet just seems to be stuck to the floor as your eyes move around in slow motion. Every inch of available surface is painted in the most glorious colours. The walls, the ceiling, even the pillars have been turned into one big canvas. Oh yes now that you notice, even the floor is painted! Between the pews there is a seemingly marble staircase leading to the altar - You are walking into the embrace of God.
While you are in the art induced stupor some more tourists have joined the group. You realise that Henry has apparently started giving his talk as he sits you all and goes through the history of the place and points to the marvels all around.

Aloysius as a Child - Ceiling Oil on Canvas Painting

St Thomas - Apostle of India - Painting over the Altar

Aloysius seeking admission to the Jesuit Order

The chapel was built by Jesuit Missionaries in 1880. The Italian Jesuits who played an important role in the education, health and social welfare of local catholic community also built the St. Aloysius College next to the chapel.

Jesus as the Friend of Children - on the rear wall of St. Aloysius Chapel

Jesus being baptized by St John

The chapel and the college are dedicated to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, an Italian aristocrat who was a member of Society of Jesus. Society of Jesus is a male religious congregation of Catholic Church which was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyala and the members are called Jesuits. St Aloysius died young in 1591 at the age of 23 while caring for plague epidemic victims in Rome. He was canonized in 1726. St. Aloysius is considered as the patron of all Christian youth.

The Bust of Br. Antonio Moscheni who painted the St Aloysius Chapel in 1899

Now let us get to the glorious paintings adorning the walls and ceiling. Antonio Moscheni was an Italian Jesuit brother and painter who with a passion for painting studied the masterpieces of Vatican. His frescoes decorate the churches in Bergamo area. He wanted to renounce his artistic career to serve people. But seeing his talent, he was sent to Mangalore to paint the St. Aloysius Chapel in 1898 during the Mangalore Mission of 1878. He is buried in the Jesuit cemetery of Cochin where he died painting the Cochin Cathedral.

The Pillars are not marble - they just look like marble!

Here in St. Aloysius Chapel, Antonio Moscheni painted for two years from March 1899 to August 1901. His passionate work has made the chapel a worthy contender to the Sistine Chapel of Vatican City whose ceiling was painted by Michelangelo. Here, Antonio painted both frescoes and oil on canvas in Baroque style that uses exaggerated motion and clear details to produce drama, tension and exuberance in painting, sculpture and architecture. Each frame resonates with beauty and grandeur.

Stairway to Heaven - Painting on the floor leading to the Altar

The paintings depict the life of St. Aloysius, the Patron of the College on the main ceiling. The sloping ceiling panels depict the apostles. Also depicted are Saints on the arches. The life of Jesus Christ is shown on the walls and the ceiling of the aisles.

If Konkan blows your mind off with the natural vistas in monsoons, this little serene chapel is simply staggering with its vivid painstakingly put together collage of paintings; another example of human endeavour that is so extraordinary and yet so common across India in her architecture, culture and art.

Henry Pereira, the Chapel Guide, is passionate about his job and it is apparent that he loves showing the chapel to people. He also informs that the last restoration took three years and was done from 1991 to 1994 by an INTACH team from Lucknow. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside. Henry promises to send the photos through Whatsapp, which he does immediately. The interior photos shown in the blog all belong to Henry. You write comments in the Visitors' Book, thank Henry and emerge out of the Jewel Box.

The incredible jewel box of St. Aloysius Chapel in Mangalore, Karnataka - Chapel built in 1885 and painted from 1899 to 1901. The paintings are an unique case of Italian painting in India that rivals that of Sistine Chapel of Vatican City

Standing in front of the unassuming building you still cannot believe that every inch of the interior is covered with a veritable treasure of paintings that could rival the Sistine Chapel of Vatican City – India grows incredible every minute in your travels.

The plan is to hit the mall but it is still early evening and there is another church midway. You catch an auto for the short ride to Hampankatta locality.

The beautiful Milagres Church in Mangalore

You are standing in the parking lot of another church with its exterior again painted in the same easy on the eyes greyish-blue. This is the pleasant looking Milagres Church or Church of Our Lady of Miracles. There is a service going on inside and you hang around soaking in the sun. 

Milagres Church is one of the oldest churches in the area and was first built in 1680 by Bishop Thomas de Castro of Goa. Tipu Sultan, reportedly razed the church in 1784 and brought 60000 Mangalorean Catholics to Seringapatama as prisoners. Tipu suspected them of siding with the British in the Second Anglo Mysore War. It is also believed that Tipu built the Idgah you saw on the way to St Aloysius College with the stone from Milagres Church. Amazing how history intertwines everything around you! The captives returned to Mangalore once Tipu was killed in 1799. A chapel and then the subsequent church was built in 1811 with the portico added later.

Streets of Mangalore

 Happy Independence Day!

The nearest mall around here is the City Centre mall and it is few blocks up ahead. The walk is pleasant as you encounter Warli paintings on walls, street scenes and some remnants of celebration of Independence Day.

Beautiful Warli Art decorating Mangalore's streets

The mall is packed with holiday revellers. Here is another surprise you are seeing for the first time. You have never seen so many burkha clad women of all ages shopping in a mall with such a vengeance. They are everywhere – in twos, in threes, in big groups! What is going on? This is almost so funny seeing them with the determination and the sense of purpose as they move around holding on to their prized shopping bags. You better move out of the way before you get stomped on.

City Centre Mall in Mangalore

What the heck; no you are not going shopping yourself - you decide to feast on both burgers and pizza. Little later you decide to check on Tom Cruise’s fifth instalment of Mission Impossible. It seems like yesterday when you watched the totally baffling but absolutely thrilling original MI in Wisconsin. You still regard the third instalment as the most intense with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman starring as the best villain so far of the franchise.

Late in the evening as you cruise the wet streets of Mangalore, you realise the city is a great place to be in as your last stop in Konkan. It has been another wonderful day that started with the waves of Kodi Bengare and ended with some dazzling frescoes. Maybe next time your trip could start from Mangalore as you move down south into God’s Own Country. Tomorrow you look forward to another sortie through the Western Ghats. Konkan magic will continue.

Getting There
Mangalore is conveniently connected with trains and by air from Delhi and Bangalore. St. Aloysius Chapel and College is located on the Lighhouse Hill in the middle of the city.

Mangalore is 60 kms south of Udupi and Manipal

Travel Tips for St Aloysius Chapel
Photography is not allowed inside the St. Aloysius Chapel. Upon request the nice chapel guide will whatsapp the interior photos!

Visiting hours – Weekdays 8am to 6pm. Sundays 930am to 6pm. Free Admission

Contact Details of the Chapel Guide: Mr Henry Pereira – 9740908505 / 7204662885


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  1. Totally sold to the city...beautiful write up and indeed your good karma that you found Mr. Pereira. The chapel is beautiful just like Sistine every nook and corner is coverd with divine scenes.
    The city looks clean and crisp and the Warli magic adds another dimension, pointing to the Catholicity of Mangalore!!

    1. Hi Aparna,

      Yes Mangalore City has a nice vibe to it. Now I dont even need to visit Italy!

      Do go visit when you need a break from your similar sounding city.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Marvelous is the work of yours and ancestors i felt like going to manga lore and get settled there no need to go to europe or italy God bless!

    1. Thanks Vikram! Yes the Chapel was indeed a little gem and a great surprise. India has everything and will take several lifetimes to discover and explore all. Regards