Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians in Shillong– Day 4

Shillong has several churches and cathedrals, thanks to the British. Maybe they wanted Shillong to look like a little England, and it looks like one! Our next stop was Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians or Laitumkhrah Cathedral. It was located between Dhankheti and Laitumkhrah on a hill. The cathedral had high arches and stained glass windows adding to its grandeur. Below the cathedral carved out of the hill was the Grotto Church.

People of other faiths come here to pray, seeking blessings and divine favours through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Blessed Virgin Mary
The earlier 1913 building of the Church of the Divine Saviour was a wooden structure which was destroyed by fire on Good Friday in 1936. Built by the first Catholic missionaries to these hills, the Salvatorian Fathers from Germany, it was the first Catholic Cathedral Church in what was then the Mission of Assam. The German Fathers bought this property for what was then a princely Rs 5,000. The land then belonged to one General Hopkinson and was known as Hopkinsons Wood. The locals, however, knew it as Lum Tyngkong, means Platform Hills. In 1947, the new building came up in the same place.

What is astonishing about this cathedral is, the building is standing on sands! Shillong is prone to severe earthquakes and there was a need for an elastic foundation. During the construction of the foundation, trenches were cut from rock and half filled with sand. The building structure has no direct connection with the rock. During earthquakes, the church building can rock safely on the shock absorbing sand which is supposed to reduce the damage!
Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians
The original church building measured 190 feet in length and 60feet in width. In 1970s the transepts or wings were added giving the building the resemblance of letter ‘T’. From end to end, the transepts section measure about 156 feet. The main altar, where church services are conducted is located between the two wings. Behind the main altar are the stairways leading to the chair or throne of the Bishop which is placed below the image of the crucified Christ. On the transept on the right is another altar with a safe-like box known as the Tabernacle where the consecrated bread is kept.

The whole church complex had two sections: the Cathedral Church building and the crypt, an underground Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. This underground church, popularly known as the Grotto, overlooks the main road and Calvary. The Calvary on the other hand, is in the oval shape adorned by the artistic life-size bronze statues of the Crucified Christ and the mourners at the foot of the Cross.

There were another set of 14 Stations of the Cross on the flanks of the inside of the Cathedral Church. Made of terracotta in relief, they depict scenes from the suffering and death of Christ. The Church also had several works of church art portraying scenes from Holy Scripture and the life of Saints. Of special beauty were the set of stained glass windows made of Grenoble, France, in 1947.

On the extreme left, as one faces the main altar was the grave of the first Archbishop of Shillong Rt. Rev. Hubert D’ Rosario, SDB., DD. His mortal remains have been interned in the Church in accordance with centuries-old Catholic Church tradition.

Built in a uniquely Gothic style, the walls of the church were all in cement. There were some colourful flowerpots and other statues inside the Cathedral. We sat for a few minutes in the church and left, as Sajid and Shahid didn’t come to the church and were waiting for us on the road. Umer came with us and took our pics near the statue of Virgin Mary.

Our next and last visit for the day was Ward’s Lake.

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