Church in Kochi that ‘stunned’ Shaktan Thampuran, Tipu Sultan

According to legends, St Thomas, who arrived in India in 52 AD, propagated Christianity and founded seven churches in Kerala.

Published: 21st January 2023 08:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st January 2023 08:42 AM   |  A+A-

The inscriptions here are believed to be more than 1,100 years old

The inscriptions here are believed to be more than 1,100 years old

Express News Service

KOCHI: The St Mary’s Forane Church in Kanjoor near Angamaly is a pilgrimage centre in honour of Saint Sebastian aka ‘Kanjoor Punyavan’. Constructed in 1001 AD, the church located on the banks of the Periyar has a rich history and attracts people of all religions.    

According to legends, St Thomas, who arrived in India in 52 AD, propagated Christianity and founded seven churches in Kerala. “Back then two Christian priests, who were on their way from Edappally to Malayattoor on a boat, spotted a woman in ‘chatta’ and ‘mundu’ (traditional Christian attire) sitting by the river near the Periyar river,” says a 58-year-old Kanjoor resident. 

“On learning that Christians were residing in this region, they thought of leading the people to spirituality. A portion of the woman’s home was temporarily transformed into a platform for the purpose. Later, the Christians launched a campaign to establish a church for themselves. During that time, an epidemic struck the thirumeni of the Kanjoor Valiya Mana. A Christian woman by the name ‘Elishwa’ saved thirumeni’s life with traditional medicine. On her request, the thirumeni granted the land for the church.”

The twelve-foot tall entry gate, known as the Elephant Gate, has murals on each side portraying the Portuguese army’s defensive positions and Tipu Sultan’s assault on Travancore. An impressive collection of rare, antique, and priceless manuscripts, books, and artworks is also present in the church. Tall towers, fresco-painted walls, and beautiful Kerala temple architecture designs are also a major attraction for history buffs. The sanctuary of the cathedral is adorned with antique sculptures and paintings done with a mixture of fruit pulp, rare plant leaves extracts, and gold dust. The baptismal font and the granite crucifix here were carved out of a single rock.

“The inscriptions here are believed to be more than 1,100 years old and are claimed to belong to the Vattezhuthu scripts (ancient Malayalam script). These inscriptions are preserved by the archaeology department,” says a 64-year-old native of Kanjoor, Thomas Koyikkara.    

Molly recalls a story told by her grandparents. “Once during the celebrations of the Saint’s feast, king Shaktan Thampuran was on a visit to the Puthiyedam Kovilakam here,” she says. 

“Annoyed with the constant sound of the kathina vedi (fireworks), he gave orders to throw them into the river. However, the fireworks started to burst inside the water during the feast procession. The king was baffled, and knelt before the saint’s statue to pay his respects.”

The panchaloha aana vilakku (elephant lamp), which adorns the chapel, is said to have been gifted by Shaktan Thampuranan. Devotees consider the oil from the lamp as a remedy for ailments. 

Tipu’s invasion
It is said that Tipu Sultan had sought to destroy the church during his invasion. According to local lore, the saint’s statue asked Tipu: “Won’t you let me stay here peacefully?” A startled Tipu is said to have left the church after the incident. “Paintings on the church depict Tipu’s raids, too,” says a 70-year-old resident, Devassykutty P.

Festival time
Huge number of believers from different religious groups gather every year for the annual festival season, which begins on January 10 and concludes on January 27, a parish priest Fr Amal Odanaattu.

There & then
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