Shettihalli’s Abandoned Church: Guest Post by Niyantha Shekar
In January, while backpacking in Karnataka, I chanced upon photographs of an abandoned church online. I was intrigued and wanted to see the structure for myself. So, I took a bus from the city of Hassan to the small village of Shettihalli. I then walked a kilometre down an idyllic countryside road, quiet but for the noise of the occasional motorbike. There were just enough people outside the handful of houses to point me in the right direction. An old woman finally gestured to head down a sandy path carved in between bushes and trees. And then all of a sudden, there it was.
French missionaries had built Shettihalli’s Holy Rosary Church in the mid-19th Century. I, however, saw only the Gothic shell; an exposed brick façade slowly crumbling, its walls and columns etched with human scribbles. But when I considered that the church had spent time underwater every year for the past fifty years, I found it remarkable that it was even standing.
The Hemavathi River has always flowed behind the church, but about fifty years ago the Hemavathi Reservoir was built. Shettihalli’s inhabitants were subsequently relocated, and the church’s slow collapse began. During each monsoon, the reservoir gets filled up and almost swallows the church whole, leaving only the spires to peek out.
The width of the church’s façade suggested that it was a big structure, but it was impossible to determine its height as the roof was missing. One could only imagine the stained glass-work that must have once adorned the building. One could only imagine the sermons that must have taken place, and the villagers and missionaries who must have crowded the pews. One could only imagine the homes and the markets that must have formed around this place of worship. One could only imagine.
That seemed to be the allure of Shettihalli’s crumbling church. Although, the question was, for how much longer?
Niyantha Shekar is a travel and fiction writer.