By Matters India Reporter
Kuravilangad: Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, on January 21 conferred the title of “Major Archiepiscopal Pilgrim Centre” on India’s most ancient church and arguably the world’s first Marian shrine.
The Martha Mariam (St Mary) Archdeacon Forane Church in Kuravilangadu was built in the year 105, just one hundred years before Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire. The present church was completed in 1960.
Kuravilangad is some 50 km southeast of Kochi, the headquarters of the Syro-Malabar Church.
This is the first time the Syro-Malabar Church gives such a title to a parish church.
The new title gives church all the rights and duties envisaged in the norms for such a pilgrim center, says a decree issued by Cardinal Alencherry on January 14.
the Syro-Malabar Church Synod, during its January 8-13 meeting, decided to confer special titles on churches and pilgrim center with great historical significance that draw large number of pilgrims.
The title was given on the recommendation of the general assembly of the parish and the bishop of Palai. Conferring the title entitles submitting annual reports along with 5 percent of income from offerings to the Major Archiepiscopal Curia, the decree says.
The ancient church gets the new title amid demands for patriarchal status for the Syro-Malabar Church with Kuravilangadu as the seat of the patriarch. The church was recently renovated at the cost of 20 million rupees.
Church records claim Mother Mary’s first appearance in the world was in Kuravilangad. Our Lady appeared to a few children at Kuravilangad, who were tending their flock in the bushes. Our Lady asked them to build a church at the place from where a miraculous perpetual spring sprouted, a spring which exists even today. The children reported the events to the elders and a church was built there.
Traditional beliefs, some legendary factors and historical associations show Kuravilangad church was home of descendants of Hindus converted by St Thomas the Apostle at Palayur, near Trichurch. It is believed that four of those families — Palli (Kalli), Kaliyakal (kalikavu), Sankarapuri and Pakalomattam — arrived at Ettumanoor and then moved to Kalikavu near Kuravilangad in the beginning of the second century.
The temporal administration of the church was conducted by archdeacons who were very influential in society. The mortal remain of a few archdeacons are still preserved at the Pakalomattam Chapel.
Mar Alexander De Campo or Parampil Chandy Metran was the first indigenous bishop of the whole of India. He was ordained bishop in 1663 and stayed at Kuravilangad until his death in 1687.
Kuravilangad also produced Father Emmanuel Nidhiri, known also as Nidhirikal Mani kathanar, who is considered a colossus in the Kerala church history. He died in 1904 at the age of 62. He was the first editor of the first Malayalam daily “Deepika.”
The church’s main feast is “Moonnu Noimbu” (three-day feast) that attracts thousands of people from all over Kerala. The feast’smain attraction is the ceremonial procession on the second day of the feast. A replica of the vessel used by Prophet Jonah of the Old Testament is taken out on that day.
The Martian statue kept at the side altar was carved from granite and is believed have been brought from northern India. Devotees call the statue “Kuravilangad Muthiyamma” (grandmother).
The granite cross in a single block of 48 feet in front of the church was erected around 1597. The devotees offer coconut oil in the lamps at the foot of the cross. On first Fridays devotees stand in queue from early morning to late in the evening to offer oil.
The church also has ancient bell with the engraving on Syriac “Mother of God.” Three majestic bells were brought from Germany in 1911. The church also holds an eight tongued coconut scraper, considered a marvel in carpentry. It is carved out of a single block of wood. It was used to scrape coconuts for the “Monnu Nompu” feast.
The church’s old bell contains inscriptions belonging to some unknown script. Another significant artifact is a model of a ship made from wood.