Thursday, 13 February 2020

Fr. Ephrem de Nevers, first French priest of ''Colonial Madras'' (Chennai)

Capuchin Franciscan priest Ephrem de Nevers  wikivisually.com
A Capuchin Franciscan priest,  the first Christian missionary in Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu, India Fr. Ephrem de Nevers was the one who  founded the first Christian mission -  first Prefect Apostolic of Madras Capuchin Mission  in Madras on June 8, 1642,  His  social and missionary services lasted  for 53 long  years  despite  worst odds being faced by him. The priest from France died in Madras  and buried in the graveyard of St,. Andrews in Fort St. George on October 13, 1695.

Ephrem de Nevers (born between 1607-1610 Auxerre, France)  was baptized Etinne (Stephen) and his family Leclerc a native of Nevers and later  became a Friar Minor Capuchin in the Capuchin province of Touraine and took the name of St. Ephrem. He had a flair for  Science and Mathematics. and began his first sent missionary work in  the Middle East in 1636.  In 1641 he went to  Pegu (now Bago) in Burma (Myanmar) to carry on missionary activities. and then came  first to Surat, Gujarat in 1642. Later he  finally landed in  Fort St. George, Madras which was then an East India settlement. Upon persistent request by the catholic priests,  the Catholic community there and with permission from,  Agent Andrew Cogan  he  stayed there contingent upon getting permission from his superior authorities.  Being an active man with affable nature, he became friendly  with people around him, and  won their love and affection.  He continued his free services; he accepted small gifts and rice for survival.
The first church in British Madras ..thehindu.com
Release of  Fr. Ephraim de Nevers from Goa inquisition.  www.art.com
The East India Company needed some one who could speak many languages and they encouraged his missionary activities, including his proposal to build a church in the place out side the Fort, then called Black Town.  During his stay in Madras  never had he thought that he would face so much difficulties and mental agony  while doing peaceful missionary work. That the people who gave him so much headache  and untold miseries were the Portuguese priests living in the Portuguese town  called San Thome (now a suburb of Chennai) is a sad story. Under the pretext of inviting Fr. Ephrem for a theological discussion in at San Thome 1649, the wily priests had him  immediately sent to  their settlement in Goa to face  the Inquisition there that was introduced by the dreadful Fr. Francis Xavier.   It was the  Padroado Portuguese system which resented  the missionary works of Propaganda Fide in India, arrested Ephrem and sent him to Goa. During the inquisition period  he was  imprisoned for about two years  and in those two years he faced hell.
Release of  Fr. Ephraim de Nevers from Goa inquisition.  www.art.com
Above image: Ceremony for the release of Fr. Ephraim de Nevers from the prisons of the Inquisition Goa.  Ephraim de Nevers,  a French Capuchin monk, went as a missionary to India in the 17th century.  Imprisoned during the  inquisitors in  Goa -  1649, he was released after two years. The EIC gave them lots of pressure as he was kidnapped from Madras  .....From Histoire des Inquisitions Cologne.  In this picture high-quality paper (235 gsm) is acid free with a smooth surface.https://www.art.com/products/p34960468131-sa-i9377929/release-of-father-ephraim-de-nevers-from-the-prisons-of-the-inquisition-goa-c1650.html  
St. Mary's church, Madras (Chennai), Alamy
This unjust kidnapping angered the English company and the new Agent Henry Greenhill, had the Chief Ecclesiast of San Thome kidnapped and kept him as hostage. After some negotiations, the Goan authorities, at last,  released Fr Ephraim in April 1652 and he returned  to Madras.  Encouraged by    permission from Rome  Fr. Ephraim  continued to   live on here till his death in 1694, making solid contribution to the society and education in Chennai.  The odds he faced in his life never discouraged him and he faced them with same zeal as before.

The Church of St. Andrews in the Fort was demolished in 1752  for political reasons. The old  chapel  founded  by him outside the settlement  has grown to become  St. Mary’s Co-Cathedral, on Armenian Street.  Father Ephrem  laid a strong foundation for a Catholic faith here and other places against the  oppositions from the Anglican clergy.   He  went ahead and founded  a new church dedicated to Our Lady of Angels for the local converts on  Armenian street, Chennai in 1658. As mentioned above this Capuchin church of St. Mary's served as the cathedral of Madras archdiocese from 1886-1952;  today, it is part of St. Mary's Co-Cathedral of Madras-Mylapore archdiocese. 

Having served  for decades in Chennai  Fr. Ephraim died on 13 October 1695 and  his burial took place  in the church of St. Andrews in Fort St. George. Unfortunately,  when the English demolished this first church of Madras in 1752, the tomb of the first Christian missionary also  disappeared from there  The diocese of Madras,  was re-designated co-cathedral, when the dioceses of Madras and Mylapore united, with San Thome Basilica becoming the cathedral, St Mary’s Co-Cathedral today. This place of worship is a true testimony to the saintly  French Christian father  who attracted native people to Christianity neither by force nor by enticing  and freebies  but by love, care and sharing miseries.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephrem_de_Nevers
https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/The-amazing-adventures-of-Father-Ephraim/article14427999.ece