KOCHI: As one steps into the St George Church at Chakkaraparambu, what immediately catches the attention is a large mural painting of bearded saints, in long flowing gowns, behind the altar. Apparently, their gaze is fixed upon the crucified Jesus.
“The 35’ high and 28’ wide work is arguably the single largest mural painting inside a church in Asia,” said Vicar Fr Thomas Mazhuvancheri.
The painting has been done by artistes Preethi Vinod Challappan and V T Sujith over a two-month period. The inspirations of the colour tones was drawn from a mural painting inside the famed St Fathima Church in Portugal. “The architect who had visited Portugal, came up with the idea to draw a large mural painting at the altar,” said Fr Thomas.
The artists have used lemon yellow, cadmium lemon and yellow ochre for the background. The beautiful blend of these colours lends a beatific feel. The natural light, made possible with the use of a glass frame at the portion where the mural work has been done, adds to the beauty. The halo of the saints have all been done in gold paint.
Prior to starting the work, the artists studied the history of the early church and the saints. They also carefully learned the mannerisms of the church ancestors. “Each and every facial expression was important. We had to ensure that there was a touch of serenity, holiness and lack of aggressiveness,” said Sujith.
The body language were also important. For this, the artists worked for hours with a model. “We had to ensure there was perfection even to the folds of their robes,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the work was not easy. To do a mural painting, of such height and width, requires a lot of patience and skill. “We were also working on a deadline which meant that we were working most days and even nights. Every time, I worked on the saints, I had to get down (from the scaffolding) and go stand at the back of the church to see how it has come out. That was physically exhaustive,” said Preethi.
She may be the only woman artist who has been given a commission to do a work at the church in Kerala. “The vicar was very positive and supportive. He liked my work and wanted me to be involved, no matter the cost,” she said.
The black metal figure
Unlike most crucifixes kept at churches, the one on top of the altar is of a metal black Christ. “We had travelled to many churches and seen Christ in different colours in many countries. The reason why we chose to colour it dark, is because it was in direct contrast to the yellow background,” said Fr Thomas. Also, there are no arches at the altar.
“We decided that we will depict the arch (which symbolises the holy and more holy places) through a simple arch on the mural painting,” he added.
Incidentally, the new church, neutrally-designed, with white walls, and modern architecture, took two years to build. It will be dedicated on May 21.