Updated: March 5, 2021 12:13:54 pm
THE MALANKARA Orthodox Syrian Church on Thursday urged its followers to vote for BJP leader R Balashankar, whose intervention saved a 1,000-year-old church in Kerala’s Alappuzha district from demolition to widen a national highway.
Acknowledging the timely intervention of Balashankar, co-convener, BJP national training programme, in preventing the demolition of St George Orthodox Church at Cheppad, spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Fr Johns Abraham Konat, said Church head Baselios Marthoma Paulose II wanted the faithful to keep away partisan political interests to vote for Balashankar.
“If Balashankar is not voted to victory, it would be ungratefulness. The Prime Minister had intervened in the issue of the Cheppad church, which was subsequently handed over to the Archaeology department and thus froze the decision to demolish the church. It was Balashankar who gave courageous leadership in this effort to protect the historical church,” Fr Konat said.
“He [Balashankar] is the BJP candidate in Chengannur, where Orthodox Church is an influential force. When the LDF and UDF fronts kept away from the issue without rendering any help to protect the church, it was Balashankar who, like a Church member, intervened,’’ he said.
Balashankar is likely to contest from Chengannur assembly seat, which is currently held by CPI (M) legislator Saji Cheriyan.
The St George Orthodox Church, Cheppad, is believed to have been built in 1050 AD. It has 47 mural paintings, of 13th century origin, which have been preserved over the centuries. Besides this, 19th century Malankara Metropolitan Philipose Mar Dionysius was buried in this church.
According to the widening alignment decided by the National Highway Authority of India, the church was to be demolished and all orders had been issued in this regard. Sources said the Church raised the matter with the political parties, including the BJP, over the past several years.
It was only last month that the issue came to the notice of Balashankar, who took measures to bring the matter to the notice of Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Subsequently, officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) inspected the church. The ASI later said the church was one of the rarest in Kerala, with beautiful mural paintings on the walls of the altar. Considering the historical, art and architectural importance of the church, it said the church should be a protected monument of national importance.
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