Churches - Kerala

St. Mary's Church

The Marthamariam Church (St. Mary's Church) at Manarcad is internationally famous. The ancient practice of 8 day fast and the Feast of Virgin Mary's Birth are celebrated between September 1st and 8th of every year at the church.

Because of the unseen presence and blessings of Virgin Mary, the Manarcad Church, the 8 day Fast and other observances have withstood the passage of time and attained international reputation. During the fast days, hundreds of thousands of people from the far corners of the world reach Manarcad to seek the blessings of Virgin Mary. Around this time all roads lead to Manarcad Church which is located just 9km. east of the town of Kottayam.

From the pages of history

Manarcad Church is the most important church among the ancient churches of Malankara. The stone inscriptions found at the church reveal that the church was built more than a 1000 years ago. Archeologists have found out that these stone inscriptions were memorial stones set up at the tombs in 910 A.D. and 920 A.D. and the writing on them are in Malayalam and Tamil scripts prevalent 600 years ago.

Afterwards, on several occasions, the church was rebuilt and renewed. In the 16th century there was not a single church in the land which was not re-built in the Portugese style. It is believed that the Manarcad church also was re-built at that time in the model of the Kottayam Small Church.

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The Manarcad Church has been in existence right from its inception till date under the leadership of the Holy Bava, the Patriarch of Antioch and of all East from the throne of St.Peter and the Blessed Catholic Bava and the Arch Bishop appointed by the Throne of Antioch.

A great institution

The Manarcad Church and the 8-day Fast, these continue to attract an unmitigated flow of millions of worshippers who seek the blessings of Virgin Mary.

The Manarcad Parish today consist of over 2500 families spread over 12 contiguous places, which is led by a team of a Vicar and 11 Assistant Vicars.

The Church has under its auspices a number of educational institutions including the St.Mary's College, religious and social service institutions and a most modern hospital.

During the 8-day Fast in September, the helpless and the hapless throng the church to pray to Virgin Mary for cure of diseases, for getting children for the childless, for guarding against calamities and for getting the wishes fulfilled. The pray and beg to their Mother with tearful eyes. They place their offerings before her. The testimonials of people who have received blessings are numerous.

Taking into account the number of worshippers who visited the church during the last 10 years, arrangements have been made to receive an estimated 3 millions devotees this year.

St. Francis Church - Kerala

Fort Cochin is believed to be the oldest European Settlement in India and St. Francis Church was the first European Church to be built in India.  The history of this Church reflects the colonial struggle of European powers in India, from the 15th to 20th Centuries.

The Portugese were the first Europeans to discover the sea route to India when Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut in 1498.  Two years later, on 24th December 1500, Portuguese ships under the command of Admiral Cabral visited Cochin and the Rajah of Cochin permitted them to engage in trade.  In 1503, Alphonso Alburquerque was given permission by the Rajah to build a fort at the mouth of the river which constructed mainly of the stems of cocunut trees bound with iron bands, whilst the rampart of stones and sand formed the inner defence.  Within the Fort they erected a church of wood which was dedicated to St. Bartholomew and which occupied the site on which the more spacious structure of the Franciscans later arose.  In 1506, Dom Francisco Almeyda, the Viceroy, was permitted by the Rajah of Cochin to build a new city of mortar and stone.  The buildings were roofed with tiles, a privilege hitherto confined to the palace of the local prince and to the temples in which he performed puja.  The Portuguese vowed that, apart from the fortifications, the first permanent erection would be a house for Divine worship.  The new Church, was completed in 1516 and dedicated to St. Antony.

Towards the end of 1524, Vasco da Gama returned to Cochin (Which he first visited in 1502) where he died on Christmas eve of that year and was buried in this Church.  Fourteen years later, his remains were removed to Portugal and deposited at Vidigveria where they remained until 1872 when they were removed to Lisbon.

The Church remained in the Order of St. Francis until the arrival of the Dutch in 1663.  One of the first acts of the Dutch was to order all European Catholic priests to quit their territory, after which they demolished all the convents and churches of the place, except the Church of the Franciscans which they reconditioned and converted into their Government Church.  On 8th January, 1664 they celebrated their first service with a parade of all arms on the Anniversary of their entry into the city.  During the reconditioning, the stone alter and the wiring guilded screens were removed and taken to the Church of Vypeen, which the Dutch permitted the Roman Catholic to build in 1665, and the Communion table and rostrum furniture were installed in their stead.  A tablet over the west door indicates that the Church was renovated in 1779.

The change of name of the patron saint was presumably due to the Anglicans, for it was not until 1870 that any reference was made to St. Francis Church.  The gravestones let into the walls of the church were taken from the floor of the nave in 1886.  On the northern side can be seen Portuguese gravestones.  The Dutch gravestones are on the Southern Wall.  The Vasco da Gama stone is on the ground at the southern side.  A tablet inside the building over the west door shows that it was repaired by the Government of Madras in 1887, being the fiftieth year of the reign of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India.

The Church possess an interesting link with the past in the form of the Doop Book the old baptism and marriage register from 1751 - 1804 which may be seen in the vestry.  It was maintained for 40 years in the handwriting of Predikant Cornelies and was sent to London in 1932 for the leaves to be repaired by experts.  It was then rebound in the original style.  A photostat copy takes the place of the original for scrutiny by visitors.

Now the Church is owned by the Church of South India (CSI) and there is regular worship in this church on every Sundays and commemorative days.  On week days it is kept open for visitors and tourists.

Kodangallore Church - Kerala

Kodangalur or Cranganore became the centre of Christianity, the Mother Church of Malabar; it was there that the Apostle established the first bishopric with Xanthipus as Bishop.
This coastal town, situated 40 Kms. to South-West of Trichur, Kerala, lies in 10o 100 North latitude and 76o 10o East longitude.

Ancient Musiris or Kodungallur where St. Thomas Arrived

The schematic map of the region around Kodungallur gives only a faint suggestion of the landscapes of the area, which is hardly above sea level and abounding in canals and lagoons and prone to flooding in the rainy season. The landstrip, 5 to 10 Km. broad near the sea shore, shows every sign of being newly formed by the sea receding in recent times. It is now not possible to locate the ancient site of Musiris harbour, nor that of Mahodayapuram of the Chera Kings precisely at any of the present sites of the environs of Kodungallur. No structure or building existing today in the area can be dated back to more than 6 centuries.

Kodungallur of today is not even a shadow of its glorious secular past. We have sufficient historical testimonies to Muziris as a magnificent harbour and the seat of the Chera Kings under the name of Thiruvanchikulam, which bring us down to about 8th century AD but the data are too scanty to enable us to reconstruct a continuous story of the city even upto that period. After that we experience a long period of darkness. We only know that Kodungallur continued to be a city of considerable importance, so that the Portuguese and the Dutch and later the English thought it worthwhile to make it one of their main bastions of power.

The Hindu compiler of the Travancore State Manual has no doubt about the Malabar tradition: "There is no doubt as to the tradition that St. Thomas came to Malabar and converted a few families of Nambudiris, some of whom were ordained by him as priests such as those of Sankarapuri and pakalomattam. For, in consonance with this long-standing traditional belief in the minds of the people of the Apostle’s mission and labours among high caste Hindus, we have it before us today the fact that certain Syrian Christian women particularly of a Desam (place) called Kunnamkulam wear clothes as Nambudiri women do, move about screening themselves with huge umbrellas from the gaze of profane eyes as those women do, and will not marry except perhaps in exceptional cases, and those only recently, but from among dignified families of similar aristocratic descent."

Archaeology & Roman Coins in The Area

The Church of Ollur, Thrissur was founded only in 1718. Before that they used to go for Mass to Pazhuvil church which was founded in 960. Before that, the tradition goes, they used to go to Enammavu founded in 500. The Enammavu church recognises the unimportant Noth Pudukad church as its mother church (400 A.D). This church in its turn originated from the Mattam church (Ca. 140 A.D), which traces its origin to the Palayur church founded by St. Thomas. What is important is that the people of all these places unanimously subscribed to the truth of the chronology, although time has brought about great changes in the status of each place, and yet the traditions concerning the origin of each church is recognised by all the churches unanimously. Similarly almost all the churches of Kerala trace their beginnings to one or other of the St. Thomas Churches or to churches which derive from one of those churches. Thus these traditions have no less value than documents written on paper or stone.

Large numbers of Roman coins have been discovered on the Malabar coast (e.g. from Eyyal between Cranganore and Palayur, and from Kottayam in North Kerala). Just two years back more than a thousand Roman gold coins were found buried in Parur, also not very distant from Cranganore. What is interesting is that the majority of these coins belong to a period of some 80 years from Augustus to Nero (B.C. 27 to A.D. 68).

Large numbers of Roman coins have been discovered on the Malabar coast (e.g. from Eyyal between Cranganore and Palayur, and from Kottayam in North Kerala). Just two years back more than a thousand Roman gold coins were found buried in Parur, also not very distant from Cranganore. What is interesting is that the majority of these coins belong to a period of some 80 years from Augustus to Nero (B.C. 27 to A.D. 68).

Niranam Church - Kerala

Niranam, almost midway between Quilon and Kokkamangalam is now in the hands of Jacobites. The church underwent many reconstructions and modifications. At present, the fourth building is in the place of the original Church that was believed to be founded by Apostle St. Thomas. It was consecrated by His grace Vattasseril Geevarghese Deanious, The Malankara Metrapolitan on 14 Fabruary, 1912 AD.

What the Ramban Song Says?
The Apostle and Prince Kepha proceeded from Quilon in a northeasterly direction and arrived at Thrikapaleswaram, near Niranom. Thrikapaleswaram had Hindu temples at that time, and to provide a place of public worship to the Christian community, the Apostle planted a cross a few furlongs away to the west of one of the temples. The non-Christian people in the locality did not like this and they pulled it out and cast it into the nearby river.

This desecration took place sometime after the Apostle had left the place for Chayal or Nileckal. Two Christians from Thrikapaleswaram went there and requested the Apostle to re-visit their place and set matters right. The cross that had been thrown out into the river moved downwards floating on the waters for some distance, and eventually rested on a strip of land on the opposite bank of the river. Here at Niranom a new site for a church was secured. During this second visit, the Apostle stayed at Niranom for two months and during this period two hundred persons were baptized by him giving new vigor and strength to the Christian community. Local tradition is that most of the Nambutiris having been made Christians by St. Thomas, left the place after giving the boxes containing the documents relating to their landed properties to a Kymal or Nair chieftain, who has since been known as Niranam Petti Kaymal. Of the various miracles performed by St. Thomas at Niranam, the most remarkable was the restoration of life to a child of a barber put to death by anti-Christian families, who wanted to throw the responsibility for the crime on the Apostle.

Niranam Festival
Of all the places hallowed in the annals of Christianity in India, Niranam holds pride of place. In social, cultural, literary and political matters, this small village has kept up its own distinctive, pristine traditions. It must have once been busy, thriving port where there was brisk maritime trade. The fame of Niranam mush have reached Syria and weighed most with St. Thomas. He is believed to have visited Niranam in 53 AD, erected a crucifix and founded and built a church on the site. In spite of the initial protest against propagation of Christianity, many local people gradually embraced it and they formed a congregation which in due course grew into the Malabar Christian Church. It is to St. Mary the Niranam church is dedicated.

The present edifice is a renovation of the old. The tall, granite cross in front of the church is a relic of the past. The paintings and sculpture bear eloquent testimony to a high architectural standard. A statue of St. Mary carved in marble and another in pure gold are the proud possessions of the church. Moreover, a holy cross of the church, made of pure gold and set with precious stones, is unrivalled in craftsmanship and cost.

The main religious festival is in honour of the Holy Mother on August 15. Special mass is held on that day. The birthday of St. Mary is celebrated on a grand scale on 8th September. The feast of St. Thomas is celebrated on 3rd July.

Holy Virgin Mary Church - Kerala

The history of Kottayam in the early centuries of the Christian era is obscure. Geologists are of the view that the western part of Kottayam emerged from the Arabian Sea as a result of some violent convulsion of nature.

In the 13th Century A D. Thaliyilkotta, about 2 km. west of the present center of Kottayam town (Thirunakkara) became the capital of a small princely state called Thekkumkur and most probably the name Kottayam was derived from ''Kotta-akom" (fortified town). There is still a temple at Thaliyilkotta built by theThekkumkur Rajas. Not very far from this temple, on the top of a small hill, nursed by the Meenachil River at the foot, stands the ancient Syrian Knanaya church.This church is the mother church of most Christians of this area.

The church was built in the year 1550 AD by the descendants of the Syrian Knanaya Christians who migrated to India in 345 A.D. from Jerusalem and near-by places under the leadership of Kana Thoma. The migrants consisted of Bishop Joseph of Urhoy (Edessa), two priests and two deacons, besides a group of four hundred persons, representing seventy-two families from seven clans. They landed at Kodungallor and were cordially welcomed by Cheraman Perumal, the then ruler of Malabar, Northern region of modern Kerala.

This church is also famous for its two granite crosses known as Persian crosses. These crosses were brought here from a much older church near Crangannore built by the forefathers of the builders of this church. On each of the stone slabs there is a cross with an inscription in the Pahalavi language, which was the official language of the Sassanian dynasty in Persia.

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The small slab 75 cm. x 58 cm. is fixed on the northern altar and is more ancient while the big slab 220 cm. x 103 cm. is set up on the southern altar of this church. The inscriptions in Pahalavi are one and the same on both the slabs except for the additional inscription in Syriac (in Estrangelo script) on the big slab placed on the southern altar. Many scholars and researchers have visited this church and tried to decipher these inscriptions in Pahalavi. The interpretation of Dr. Burnnel (former Archaeological Director of India) is regarded as most acceptable. It reads as follows:

"In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering on this one; He who is true God and God above, and Guide ever Pure."

The Syriac inscription on the big slab is from the Epistle to the Galatians 6:14 which reads: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". The cross on the Southern Altar resembles the one at St. Thomas Mount, Mylapore, Madras.There are rare antique carvings and mural paintings behind the main altar and on the ceiling