Avur

Famous for a church in the shape of cross; Father Beschi, better known as Veerama-munivar (வீரமாமுனிவர்) was looking after this church for sometime in the 18th century.

Once this was the centre for Christian mission not only for Pudukkottai (புதுக்கோட்டை) but also for adjoining places of Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி), Madurai (மதுரை) and Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்) districts.

Approach

Avur (‘aa-voor’) is located at 35 kilometres from Tiruchi and 50 kilometres from Pudukkottai. City bus and Taxi services are available from Tiruchi and Pudukkottai.

Historical background

Church, Avur

Church, Avur

Avur (ஆவூர்) is a hamlet near the Pudukkottai – Tiruchirappalli border (புதுக்கோட்டை-திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) and was the birthplace of the Sangam poet Avur-kizhar (ஆவூர் கிழார்).

The village is named as ‘a + oor’ (‘cow-village’), it is claimed, because of the large number of wild bulls and cows that came to drink water in an oorani (ஊரணி, drinking water tank) on the outskirts of a jungle here.

Avur in the 15th and 16th centuries was a sparsely inhabited spot in the territories of the Palaya-karar-s (பாளையக்காரர்) of Perambur-Kattalur (பேராம்பூர்-கத்தளுர்). Early in the 17th century Father Robert De Nobili of the Madurai (மதுரை) Mission extended its jurisdiction to Tiruchirappalli. Later Father Emmanuel Martins selected Avur, a quieter place, for his Mission. The Perambur-Kattalur Palaya-karar-s (பேராம்பூர் – கத்தளுர் பாளையக்காரர்) gifted him the site at Avur in 1686. The place came under the jurisdiction of the Kolattur Tondaiman-s (குளத்தூர் தொண்டைமான்) and later, under the Tondaiman-s.

Church & missionary activities

There is an interesting chapel built in 1747. This monument is built in the form of a cross, 240 feet in length, 38 feet in width and 28 feet in height. Its eight columns support a dome 56 feet above the pavement.

One of the first missionaries at Avur, Father Venantius Bouchet, who joined the Madurai Mission in 1688, wanted to make Avur a Christian centre of substantial importance. He raised a large compound enclosing the place for the use of the missionaries, the site of the church and shelters for the benefit of visiting Christians. The chapel in particular engaged his imaginative attention. With contributions from well-wishers and the Tondaiman, an impressive chapel stronger than mere mud walls and thatched roofs, which, until then had been the only materials used in Mission buildings, was completed in 1697. Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்), the founder of the line of Pudukkottai Tondaiman-s, visited Avur in 1711 to meet the Bishop of Santhome, who was making his first pastoral trip to the Madurai Mission and to Avur. The king treated the visiting priest with great courtesy. This gesture by one who was not a Christian by religion is of obvious significance.

The fortunes of the church declined very suddenly in 1716. The prevailing political strife between the Nayak rulers and the Tondaiman-s, led to the destruction of the church to its foundations.

Father Homem, who worked amidst enormous dangers and difficulties, rebuilt the chapel in 1747 at a site about two furlongs to the southeast. The new one was larger, but much of the earlier plan was retained. The chapel seen in Avur today is this monument.

A poignant incident took place in 1732 when the celebrated Veerama-munivar (வீரமாமுனிவர்) was in temporary charge of the church. The incident is narrated in General History of Pudukkottai State “Some soldiers of the Tondaiman, having managed to steal some bullocks from the Mughal army not far from Avur, the Mughal soldiers became furious, and coming to the Missionary required him either to return the bullocks immediately or to surrender himself to them as prisoner.

The missionary that had to answer the charge was Rev. Fr. Beschi who was then in temporary charge of Avur. As getting the bullocks back was not in his power, he quietly submitted to the alternative proposed by the soldiers. The infuriated soldiers immediately chained him and led him to their camp amidst insult and menaces, and as they found that their prisoner bore all the ill-treatment with unruffled equanimity, they became so exasperated that they had him tied, and, stripping him of his clothes exposed him to the midday sun.

As soon as this, however, came to the knowledge of the chief, Chanda Sahib, he issued immediately orders for the prisoner’s release. The chief tenderly embraced the missionary and told him to sit by his side; then he protested that what had happened to him had been done without his knowledge. Having witnessed the honour paid to the missionary the soldiers, who, a short while before, had insulted him, began also to do him honour. As a matter of fact, the danger the Father had incurred became the occasion of his safety and that of the village.

This was the first place in the Pudukkottai (புதுக்கோட்டை) tract to be occupied by the Jesuits. Once this was the main center of Christian propaganda not only for Pudukkottai but also for Tiruchirappalli, Madurai (மதுரை) and Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்).

Veerama-munivar

Veerama-munivar Statue in front of the church, Avur

Veerama-munivar Statue in front of the church, Avur

A grateful Tamil community has immortalised Father Constant Joseph Beschi, the Italian missionary, by calling him reverentially Veerama-munivar (வீரமாமுனிவர்) and by installing his statute on the Marina beach in Chennai as one of the twenty Tamil savants. His contributions to Tamil are many-fold.

 

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