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Schwartz Church, Thanjavur Overview

The Schwartz church in Thanjavur is one of the oldest churches of India, though it has not gained much popularity throughout the country. It is because unlike the rest, the cornerstone of this church was laid down by an Indian king, Maratha ruler Sarfoji II. When the Marathas ruled over Thanjavur, he came in touch with the Prussian Lutheran missionary Rev Friedrich Schwartz and became his disciple. Although he retained his original Hindu religion, there was a great deal of love, friendship and respect between the two. To pay tribute, Sarfoji built the church in around 1779. Earlier it was just called Big Church, and it stood tall and white in the Thanjavur Gardens or the Sivaganga Park.

Schwartz spent the rest of his life there, teaching kids and preaching religion. There is a marble installation in the church which you should not miss seeing at all. The carvings depict the death of Schwartz as he gives his final blessings to the king, surrounded by others. Although quaint and peaceful, and nothing much ornate, you can realize the vintage charm when you step in the premises. Unlike most of the Catholic churches, this one was not built out of love for God and to propagate Christianity. Instead, it celebrates love and respect between two religions, which is very significant.

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History of Schwartz Church

The Schwartz Church was built in 1779 CE by the Maratha ruler Raja Serfoji II, out of love, respect and admiration for Reverend Friedrich Christian Schwartz. He was a Lutheran missionary to India, who mentored and guided the king and mentored him in matters of life and spirituality. Rev. Schwartz, born in Sonnenburg, Prussia, had learnt English as well as Tamil to come to India, spread his faith and even translate the Bible to the local language for the native people.

Out of admiration, the king built this church for the saint, adjacent to the Sivaganga Park in Thanjavur. Schwartz himself used to reside on the church premises till his death in the north-western part, which after his death has been made into a school. He had set up multiple missionary schools in Thanjavur area, and one such is St. Peter’s, which is one of the oldest established and organized educational institutions of India.

Architecture of Schwartz Church

The church is white and surrounded by gardens and mowed lawns. Its high arches, elevations, mirror work and architectural pattern, have a hint of French detailing in it, although it was built during the British rule. The façade of the Church runs grand and stark white, with the towers gleaming in the sunlight. The main hall has rows of pews, and near the altar, there is a platform for the priest to orate his teaching. There are no statues of Jesus Christ, but a wooden cross rests on the table at the altar with biblical scriptures behind.

The biggest attraction of Schwartz church is the piece of white marble in the western side of the church that depicts Rev. Schwartz at his deathbed, surrounded by followers. Among them, Raja Serfoji II himself is one, whose hand Schwartz is holding in the sculpture. His loyal ministers and some children are also there, and there is a priest missionary Guericke near the head. People believe this was the actual scene of the death as the king remembered it, and later asked Italian sculptor John Flaxman to give it a shape.

The strikingly white marble slab was installed in the church sometime around the early 1800s after Schwartz passed away in 1798. The writings of Tanjore Vedanayagam Sastriar, a court poet of the king, tells us so. If you visit Thanjavur, and if you come to this church to pay a visit, do not miss the stone.

How To Reach Schwartz Church

The Thanjavur railway station is only 2 kilometres away, and the nearest bus stop, Old Bus Station is only 750 meters away. You can avail public transport easily. If you are a tourist, better go for a cab ride. The Brihadeeswarae temple lies nearby, and so does the Sivaganga tank. You will not have much problem identifying the church.

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