They tried over and over again, but he refused to move. And so, they honored his wish to remain by building a new home at that very place. The new abode completed, the priest decided to try once one. Voila! This time, the statue moved and thus began the miracles at the St. Lawrence Church Attur.
The first glimpse of this 17th century old Attur Church completely mesmerized me. However, it was the tales with the St. Lawrence Church Karkala that left a lasting imprint of this Coastal Karnataka attraction.
Located in Karkala (Karnataka), St. Lawrence Church Attur draws thousands of devotees every year – especially during its annual festival (Attur Jatre). The church is fraught with tales of faith and magic, earning it a sobriquet of being a Miracle church. The unusual architecture of this Attur Church along with its stories is what makes it one of the key places to visit in Karnataka. Don’t just take my word for it. Come along and you will say this for yourself.
About St. Lawrence
Before we wander into the Attur church in Karkala, a quick background to the patron saint there. St. Lawrence was from Spain and served as one of the seven deacons in the Roman church. This was around the year 257 during the reign of Emperor Valerian. The tyrant king was against the church and ordered the beheading of the Pope, Bishops and all the other priests. Before meeting his fate, Pope Sixtus II asked his deacon – St. Lawrence to ensure that all the wealth that the church had was distributed to the needy.
St. Lawrence not only ensures that the wealth was given but also, sold sacred articles of the church to further help people. When he was finally apprehended and asked to produce the wealth of the church, he requested for a day. He used the time to seek out all the poor and needy people he had helped and produced them to the authorities. Enraged, his death order was issued by the Emperor’s prefect with instructions to make it as slow and painful as possible. Apparently, he was grilled live over a fire.
During the torture, it is said that he did not show any pain. If anything, his face radiated a glow that inspired many of the nobles gathered. In his final moments, he looked toward heaven and peacefully closed his eyes. The entire ordeal resulted in many more converts to Christianity. He was buried with full honors and since then, has been associated with generosity and miracles.
History of St. Lawrence Church Attur
The original Karkala church was located 7 km from the present-day structure. Sadly, the same was destroyed by Tipu Sultan in the 1700s. Most of the Christians were imprisoned but a few who made it free built a new church somewhere else under the supervision of a Goan priest. The devotees found that it was too small and hence, took the one-foot big statue of St. Lawrence with them in search of a new location.
They crossed the Rama Samundra and reached the foot of Parpale hills. Thirsty and tired, they set down the statue to grab a drink from one of the freshwater springs. Intent on continuing the journey, they went back to pick up the statue, only to find it firmly lodged in the place. The priest took it as a sign and built the first structure of what became St. Lawrence Church Attur. Once the shrine was built, the priest attempted to lift the statue again and it came off swiftly to find its new home. They say that this was the first of the many miracles that St. Lawrence Church Karkala has seen.
The Attur church, now a Basilica, turned into a major pilgrimage center. With the influx of devotees, the initial building which faced West, felt a little small. It was a Parish priest – Rev. Fr. Frank Pereira that suggested expanding the church in 1895. Finally, in 1900, Rev. Fr. Frank built a new church that faced north and this was blessed by the then Vicar General.
The first Attur church has now been replaced as a flower garden. In 1997, a more modern and impressive building was added to the existing church to accommodate the increasing devotees. And that my dear readers, is what I caught as the first glimpse of St. Lawrence Church Attur.
The architecture of the Karkala Church
A 100 feet tall castle-like facade will immediately make you associate the architecture of this Karkala church with the colonial era. No doubt that is a huge influence here – with its stained glass windows, baroque arches, high domes and medieval columns. Even the tall wooden doors give you the feeling that any time a Knight would gallop in towards the castle.
After you have gotten over the larger-than-life European style, will you notice the elements from Indian architecture. Starting with the tall arched gates that resemble the gopurams of South Indian temples. Next is the main shrine of St. Lawrence church where the ancient and original statue of St. Lawrence is kept. It has the typical finely carved door, usually found in temples. Also, the shrine itself feels like a Garba Griha (inner sanctum) of a Hindu temple.
There is a huge pillar with a cross within the complex – almost akin to the Deepa sthambha found in many of the Hindu temples (Check the one in Brihadeeswarar temple of Tanjore). Finally, it is the Miracle pond behind the shrine that has been developed like a typical temple step-well.
The intentional fusion style of architecture of St. Lawrence Church Attur was to represent the fact that it is not just the Christians who visit the church. It is actually, people from all possible faiths that believe in the miracles of this Karkala church.
The interiors of the new wing of St Lawrence Church Attur
Enter the castle to find a huge prayer hall facing high chairs for the key priests. Around the central stage are murals of various scenes from the Bible. The main altar with the statue of the presiding saint is missing here. There is just a smaller statue in the side passage of the hall. Clearly the place is meant for community masses and nothing more. It is the Old church and the altar that still remains the focus at Attur.
The old Attur Church
Where the new section of the Attur Church lacks the details, the older church more than makes up for it. The serenity is palpable from the moment you enter it. The rich altar centered around a radiant St. Lawrence emanates peaceful vibes that one instantly feels calm. I spent some time just looking at the main statue and noticed the minute details that served to make it so powerful.
The entire scene was a work of art. The statue was lit against a backdrop that depicted a ray of light coming from heaven. The artists in the church had fixed a light right over it in such a manner that the face of the saint radiated. It was almost as if they were showing us how the Saint’s face glowed in his final hours.
On either side of the altar were the scenes from the story of Saint Lawrence – the one where he presents people as the treasures of the church and the other where he is slowly being grilled to his death.
The two side corridors glow in colorful lights from the stained glass windows while the rest of the hall is bare. There are just plain chairs kept around for anyone who wants to sit and pray here. Frankly, if I had a little more time, I might have done just that – spend a few moments of quiet time staring at Saint Lawrence.
Main shrine at St. Lawrence Church Karkala
Main Shrine? Didn’t I just read about it?
Confused? Well, the altar in the Old Karkala Church is not the main shrine. The actual one which has the original one foot statue of St. Lawrence is right beside this old church. It is installed inside a very Indian, rather Hindu-temple-like shrine.
I did mention this in the architecture section of St. Lawrence church Attur. The miracle statue is kept in the same manner as how one keeps a Hindu God in the Garba Griha (Inner sanctum). You are free to enter the shrine and pay your respects. There are candle stands kept near the entrance of the shrine for you to light one and say your prayers.
Miracle Pond (Pushkarni) at the Attur Church
I am not sure but I think this particular step well or Pushkarni is the same one where the weary travelers carrying the statue of Saint Lawrence paused for a rest and a drink. Called the Miracle pond, it has been built in a very temple-styled step well. Huge fish swim around the water – similar to the ones that you see in a Koi Pond – adding a touch of calm to the otherwise peaceful surroundings.
Attur Jatre – the annual festival of St. Lawrence Church Karkala
As mentioned, it is not just the locals who flock the St. Lawrence church Attur. Tons of devotees join in from various parts of India, especially during the annual festival of the church. Called Attur Jatre, this festival takes place in January every year. It generally lasts for five days during which there are community mass, fairs, free lunches, confessions and sermons.
One of the rituals to look out for during the annual festival of St. Lawrence church Attur is the lighting of candles. The devotees bring huge candles – some as big as 3- 5 feet and light them near the miracle statue shrine. Some equate the height to that of their children and pray for the well-being of their child. Many others believe that by burning the candles in the Attur church shrine, they burn away all their sins. There are several stories of miracles and wishes being granted via this ritual.
I am pretty sure that after this virtual tour of St. Lawrence church Attur, you have earmarked as a place to visit when in Coastal Karnataka. It is an unusual destination that is likely to appeal to most travelers – cultural and history seekers will love its 200 year old tales, architecture lovers will enjoy the unusual blend within the church and faith seekers will enjoy the serenity of the place.
How to get to St. Lawrence Church Attur?
St. Lawrence Church Attur is located in Karkala which is just 38 km from Udupi and 54 km from Mangalore. The closest airport to this church would be Mangalore which is reasonably well connected domestically as well as internationally.
Both Udupi and Mangalore have their own railway stations. From either one of these places, you can either get into a bus for Karkala or hire a cab to the place. If you do happen to use public buses, then you can get off at the Karkala bus stand and hire an auto rickshaw. Just make sure you bargain for a round trip as the Attur church is located a little on the outskirts of the main town.
What is the best time to visit St. Lawrence Church Karkala?
St. Lawrence church Karkala is open from 6 am to 7 pm everyday. There are regular masses conducted in the church on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The timing of these is updated on their official website. The same website also, has the schedule for prayers, confessions and other rituals.
As a tourist, the best season to visit this church would be between September to March when it is not very hot. Karkala is quite hot through the year and summers, in particular, can be a little harsh. Don’t miss the annual festival of St. Lawrence church Karkala – the Attur Jatre in January. You can get the exact dates from their official website.
Where to stay in Karkala?
Karkala does not have many options for a stay. It is best to opt for a day trip – either from Udupi, Manipal or Mangalore. All these places have several luxury, budget and mid-priced hotels for you to choose from. These can be booked online through the various websites that I have listed in the Booking Resources below.
- There is a small shop attached to the Karkala church that sells prayer items like crosses, candles, lamps etc.
- Rest rooms are available
- There is no restaurant nearby
- The church has an orphanage and school attached to it. It also, provides free lunch to the needy.
- You can book your Manipal hotels through Booking.com. The site also, has options for Udupi hotels.
- For any local tours, transfers and stays in the Coastal Karnataka region, you can get in touch with Ms. Poonam of Dream holidays, Manipal on +91 9686574959 or Mr. Roshan Pinto of RR Travels on +91 9845331926. They are specialists in this region and can arrange for a flawless travel experience here.
- If you use Amazon for shopping for travel or any of your home needs, do consider using this link.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
P.S : I visited this church as a part of the Coastal Karnataka trip for which I was invited by Ministry of Tourism, India – Bengaluru.
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.