Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Seven and Half ancient Churches (AD 52) established by St. Thomas, Kerala

Thomas, disciple of Christ landed in Kodungallur on Nov. 21, 52 A.D  www.mala.co.in

Christianity,  one of the major religions of the world  is  monotheistic (believing in the existence of a single God) and  its very basis is  the teachings of Jesus Christ or the Messiah who is considered to be the son of God. Had its roots in the  Mediterranean coast of the Middle East (modern Israel and Palestine), this religion is  ubiquitous, present almost in all countries. Christianity, as a matter of fact, began as a Jewish sect in the middle of the first century and,  believes in  the doctrine of Trinity implying   the belief  one god consisting of three persons: the Father, the Son (Christ) and the Holy Spirit.  The holy book of Christianity is the Bible which consists of the Old Testament (close to the Jewish Bible) and the New Testament (scriptures).  Though there are minor differences in the interpretation of the bible among various denominations, the true Christian faith believes in leading the life  through the path of love and tolerance. It teaches the people  to be good and compassionate. 

Gospels deal with the life of Christ and the religion is centered on the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. It is believed, that "Jesus sacrificed his life as a ransom for many". Four books about the life of Jesus became New Testament and the Christian theologians rely heavily on the Gospels.

Christianity  slowly spread to Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt. Over a few decades, this religion gained enormous popularity and it became dominant by the 4th century.  Missionary work and colonization, led to the spread of Christianity to Indian sub continent, America, Australasia, Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world. The Christian preachers' work, as taught by Christ's teachings, centered around the ideology of  serving others;  Christians established health centers, churches, educational establishments, orphanages and shelters for the homeless.

Jesus  had 12 disciples or Apostles who were responsible for taking the Gospels across the globe to preach Christianity. St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Christ arrived in India in AD 52 on the western Malabar  coast to spread Christianity among the natives 

The misconception that Christianity was introduced to India after the arrival of the Europeans towards the end of 1400s still persists. It was in AD 52 the Apostle St. Thomas,  one of twelve apostle of Jesus Christ brought Christianity to India and as part of his zealous missionary work he established Seven and Half Churches (in Malayalam: Ezharappallikal) that is actually Eight Churches across the western coast (coastal Malabar) of India in the land now called Kerala. The Apostle Thomas arrived in Kodungallur and established the Eight Churches and evangelized in present-day Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Many of these churches came up  near Jewish settlements where Jewish community had been living there for some time engaged in trades. These were  Ezharappallikal at Maliankara (Kodungallur), Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (Paravoor or Kottakkavu), Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamkode (Kanyakumari).   Among them the one at Maliankara is considered as first church. The Church  near  Kanyakumari was a  small one, Arappally means Half Church.

St. Thomas lived in India for 17 years: 4 years in Sindh (now in Pakistan), about 6 years in Malabar Coast and 7 years at Mylapore in Tamil Nadu where he was martyred. His Mortal remains are in St.Thome Church in Mylapore, Chennai. The Indian Postal Service of the Government of India brought out two commemorative stamps, in 1964 and 1973, in honour of the historic arrival of St. Thomas in India in 52 AD.

Maliankara Church,en.wikipedia.org
The Marthoma Pontifical shrine (Kodungaloor Mar Thoma Church) is  believed to be the  first church built by St. Thomas in AD 52. Located about 6 km from Kodungallur, in the village of Azhikode in Kerala on the banks of the River Periyar, it  is one of the ancient places of worship in the world.

Palayoor Church,
en.wikipedia.org
Palayur Church, located at Palayur (also spelt Palayoor), in Thrissur district in Kerala was also a small church originally, still  retaining the oldest structure. The credit goes to Rev. Fr. Fenichi who made vast  improvements to the church  during the 17th century  without compromising on  the main sanctity and heritage value  of the place.
       

St. Thomas traveled  all the way from from Muziris (Kottakkavu or Kodungallur) and landed at Palayur by boat through the backwaters.  Palayur, also known as  Bottukulam because of the  historic location of boat jatty, was  then a stronghold of the Brahmins of Kerala Nambudri and also of Jews. He  visited  the Jewish merchants at Palayur  to preach the Christian gospel. The place is preserved as a monument to St. Thomas (see picture).

It is believed  that an abandoned  Hindu temple once used by  the Brahmins was converted into the present church. There is also valid proof that Jewish settlements existed  when St Thomas arrived here in 52 AD. The  ruins of a synagogue could be seen near a Hindu temple.

Palayoor church interior, en.wikipedia.org

Church, Kokkamangalam


Palayoor Churchen.wikipedia.org
Occupying a midway position among the seven churches founded by St. Thomas, the Kokkamangalam Church holds an important place. Here a portrait of St. Thomas is held in great veneration and  it was brought from the Carmelite Monastery Mannanam in 1897 by "Albhutha Mathai", pursuant to a revelation. This portrait is  carefully mounted in a decorated waft of great artistic value.

Kottakkavu Church  established by St. Thomas has two churches more. 


Mar Sabor and Mar Proth, who  came from Persia to Malankara in the 9th century built and  managed over a number of churches in Malankara, following the tradition of  Saint Thomas Christians. The second church of Kottakkavu was rebuilt in 9th century.   After their demise,  they were remembered as saints and their name was given to this church. The existing old church - the third church, was built in 1308. Pope Gregory XIII raised the altar of this church to the status of privileged altar in 1575. The second church of Kottakkavu was rebuilt at this time. Kottakkavu Sliva, a Persian Cross engraved on granite stone by Mar Sabor and Mar Proth, is preserved in the chapel in front of the church.

Kottakkavu Old Churchen.wikipedia.org

Kottakkavu New Churchen.wikipedia.org
Niranam church
 Niranam church, founded by  St. Thomas in AD 54 had been  rebuilt several times since then for various reasons. The stones in the church shows the reconstruction in 1259. It is a Malankara Orthodox Church. The present building, supposedly the fourth, was built in 1912 and renovation was done in  the year 2000. There are five altars at Niranam church. The main altar, the central one, is in the name of Saint Mary. This is used for regular services of the church. To the front of the main altar are two smaller altars; the one in the north is in the name of St. Thomas.

Thoma II .Niranam Church, syriacchristianity.info
Above image: Mortal remains  interred in the wall of Madbhoshrine, Niranam church. ................
 
The majestic granite cross at the right side of the entrance is a silent reminder of the early history of this place of worship and lots of people come and worship the Holy Cross. It has been there since 1259 (thirst renovation). Special feasts are conducted annually(10th May) in memory of Mar Thoma II and Mar Thoma V whose mortal remains are buried in the church. Feast of Martyrdom of Saint Thomas - 21 December is yet another famous one.

In ancient time, Kollam was a famous harbour and trade center.  According to local tradition, St.Thomas also built a church near the port , but it was destroyed during the temporary transgression of the Arabian sea.  The foundation stone of the present church (Port Church or Our Lady of Purification Church) was blessed in 1986 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II


Front view of Ecumenical Church at Nilakkal.en.wikipedia.org

  The Nilackal St. Thomas Church was established by him in Nilackal  a wooded area, almost 52 kilometers east to Ranni and near Sabarimala. There  was a mountain route of trade between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Saint Thomas, along with his disciple  baptized 1100 people. Today St. Thomas Church, still retains the old value and Ecumenical center trust and the cross established by Saint Thomas, the apostle. It is  3 km from Angamoozhy in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala and some distance from the river  pamba on the way to Sabarimala.  In 1902 during the British period, the  remains of an ancient Christian church and cemetery were accidentally discovered in the forest area of the south of the Western Ghats, on the road to the ancient Hindu shrine of Sabarimala in the practically inaccessible mountain terrain.. The British  took an interest in the discovery it was suspected that the church  was built in the  first century. The presence of a Hindu temple near the Christian site and the controversial issues  that came up later delayed the building of a church. However, both  communities, with mutual trust, solved the 'Church construction issue' amicably,  fully supported by the government. A new church has been built under the joint auspices of all the Christian denominations at the site  mutually agreed upon by all parties concerned, a little distance away from the earlier site. Being the first church built far away from the coast, efforts were made to preserve it as a symbol of the heritage from St. Thomas.

Thiruvithamkode Church:

Thiruvithamcode Arappally church,Tamil Nadu en.wikipedia.org
Thiruvithamcode Arappally church,Tamil Nadu,en.wikipedia.org
Thiruvithamcode Arappally or Thomayar Kovil, located in Thiruvithamcode, Tamil Nadu, India was built by St. Thomas,  now known as the   Apostle of India, in 63 AD. The Christian communities in Kerala believe  that the historic Thiruvithamcode Arappally, also called Amalagiri church  was named by the Chera King Uthiyan Cheralathan.  It is one of the  world's oldest churches that still has daily prayers and  it has   three main parts built in the 17th century and a 20th-century entrance hall. India's oldest church is yet to undergo reconstruction.  Thiruvithamcode  is a small panchayat town located in the Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. It is about 20 km from Nagercoil town , and 2 km from Thuckalay.

Ref:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiruvithamcode_Arappally

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niranam_Church

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Thomas_Syro-Malabar_Catholic_Church,_Palayoor