One of the largest churches not just in India but also in the continent, the St. Philomena’s Cathedral in Mysore was second on my list of places I wanted to visit in Mysuru, right after the Mysore Palace. I had first seen this church in the 1977 Bollywood movie Amar Akbar Anthony. As luck would have it, the moment I slip open the curtains of my hotel room, the first thing that I could see were the twin spires of this cathedral, so I knew it was nearby and I absolutely cannot miss this one. I am a sucker for churches, can never resist visiting a beautiful church, more so if it is quaint and has a history. To top it all, the St. Philomena’s Cathedral is not just all of that but also has a classic Neo-gothic style of architecture with lofty towers and elegant stained glass windows that depict scenes of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Christ.
My task was cut out for me then, the very next morning, I drove down to the St. Philomena’s Church and spent well close to 2 hours there. You don’t have to spend as much time there if you don’t want to, I just felt this great sense of peace and calm there, and I wanted to soak it all in some more, so I just took a seat at the back of the church, spent some time telling God about all the things for my closest friends and family, and then some more time outside again, spending some more time marveling at the architecture, sitting in the shade of a neem tree. Mostly an hour should be good. I also strongly recommend visiting the church in the evening when it lights up beautifully. And if you can, attend a mass here, it is quite an experience.
All across Mysore, I found numerous buildings and monuments of Christian significance. But none are as majestic or made me feel as happy as the St. Philomena’s Cathedral.
About the St. Philomena’s Cathedral, Mysore
St. Philomena’s Cathedral is Catholic church and the cathedral of the Diocese of Mysore. The full name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of St. Joseph and St. Philomena, which is why the cathedral is also called the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It is built in the Neo-gothic style, and the architecture of this church is inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. The cathedral was designed by Reverend Rene Feuge. The cathedral was built to honor the memory of St. Philomena, a Latin catholic saint of the Roman Catholic Church, and her remains are preserved at the cathedral.
The floor plan of the St. Philomena’s Cathedral is in the form of a cross. The long part of the cross – the nave is the congregation hall of the cathedral. The two arms of the cross are the transepts. The altar and the choir are in the crossing.
The Holy Mass is performed daily at the St. Philomena’s Cathedral in Kannada, Tamil, and English in the sanctum sanctorum. Behind it, there is a statue of St. Philomena along with an idol of Jesus Christ with his sacred wounds. The spires of the Cathedral are about 175 feet tall and are similar in design to the cathedral of Cologne in Germany and the St. Patrick’s Church n New York.
There is a beautiful catacomb of St. Philomena below the main altar.
History of the St. Philomena’s Cathedral, Mysuru
The St. Philomena’s Cathedral in Mysore is one of the oldest cathedrals in India. It is over two centuries old. About 250 years ago, there used to be a small church at the same spot. In 1799, the capital of the state of Mysore was moved from Srirangapatnam to Mysore city. With this shift, many British soldiers and officers moved to Mysore as well. Feeling the need to build a church for all the people, Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar III allocated a plot of land for the community on the Mysore-Bangalore road and a small church was built there. With time, the city expanded, the Christian population in the city also increased, and there was a need for a larger church. This is when the plan for the St. Philomena’s Church came up. Maharaja Krishnaraj Wodeyar IV laid the foundation for a new church on 28 October, 1933. The design for the Church was prepared by a Frenchman named Daly. The church was completed under the supervision of Bishop Rene Fuga.The then Huzur Secretary to the Maharaja of Mysore – Thamboo Chetty heard the great stories of St. Philomena and procured a relic of the saint from Peter Pisani who was the Apostolic Delegate of the East Indies in 1926, and handed it to Fr. Cochet. This is how the majestic St. Philomena’s Church was built.
Who is St. Philomena?
St. Philomena was a 3rd century Latin catholic saint. Philomena was the daughter of the monarch of a small state in Greece. Her parents had been childless and they prayed to God, asking Him to bless them with a child, promising to convert to Christianity, if their wish was granted. Next year, Philomena was born to them. Philomena exhibited signs of piety from a very young age. When Philomena turned 13, her father took her to Rome to gain favor of Emperor Diocletion. The emperor was smitten by her beauty and desired to marry her. Philomena refused the proposal and instead, vowed to dedicate herself to God. Unable to take no for an answer, the Emperor, angry at being turned down, tortured and beheaded Philomena in Rome. However, by this time, Philomena became a hero figure for the public and she was given sainthood. She was also considered a martyr by the people.
The Crypts of St. Philomena’s Cathedral, Mysore
If you’ve watched Game of Thrones, you know how creepy the crypts can be. The crypts beneath the St. Philomena’s Cathedral also feel the same way. Near the altar, there are steps that take you underground to the crypts. It is a very, very experience to be here. There are thousands of names written on both sides of the walls – names of people whose remains are housed in those crypts. You take the narrow winding path through the crypts and finally emerge at the back exit of the cathedral.
As I step out of the dark eerie crypts into the bright, happy October Sunlight, I feel peaceful. The cathedral has an air of calm. I make my way to the neem tree nearby to sit in the shade and drink some water, I look at the giant building that is the St. Philomena’s Cathedral. In my head, the kingdom of Mysore had always been one that appreciates arts and artists. But such a secular outlook was definitely commendable and if only more people in today’s times would understand and appreciate that now. The Cathedral has been recently renovated. There is an orphanage in the premises too which is managed by the church.
Today, there are countless churches dedicated to St. Philomena all over the world. The St. Philomena’s Cathedral in Mysore is a symbol of the secular outlook of the ruler of the kingdom of Mysore. In one visit, I somehow seem to have developed this unique connection with the place. I travel quite a bit, at least I used to until the pandemic began in 2020. But there’s very few places that I’ve felt such a connection to. It makes me want to keep coming back. And I think each time I am in town, the St. Philomena’s Cathedral will surely be a pitstop for me.