Kerala is famous for its natural beauty and greenery; at the same time as a place of Christian religious pilgrimage. It holds a large number of Churches, each having their own history, spiritual significance and distinctive style of architecture.
The history of Kerala Churches are old as to the origin of Christianity in Kerala. It is believed that in AD 52, the Apostle, one among the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, arrived in Muzaris, a famous harbour town of Kerala during that period, and preached the Gospel of Salvation. He organised Christian communities and established seven Churches, the first one at Maliankara (Kudungalloor) and later at Palayur, Kottakavu (North Parur), Kokamangalam (Pallipuram), Niranam, Chayal and Kollam.
St. Thomas converted four Brahmin families to Christianity and their descendants constitute the present day Christian community. There is possibility that some of the Hindu temples were adopted for Christian worship, as the population got converted. An example is the present Palur Church has preserved the old relics and some saiva symbols of a Hindu Shrine. The early Christians were not aware of Church building conventions of the west. With their Hindu background, temples were their models for Church constructions.
Christianity took firm roots in the land of Kerala in AD 345, by the arrival of Thomas of Kana, a Palestinian business man. In his leadership seventy two families from Jerusalem, Baghdad and Nineveh migrated and settled in Kerala, thereby strengthening the Christian community. They brought some West – Asian conventions in Church construction, and the Churches were built in a distinct architectural style.
The Christian community expanded in Kerala by the arrival of the European missionaries in the 15th century, and the invasion of the Portuguese in the 16th and 19th centuries. The Portuguese introduced the European style in church architecture, followed by the Dutch and the English. The first Church constructed in Kerala in this style was the St.Francis Church at Fort Kochi. When Vasco De Gama died in 1524, his body was buried in this Church, and after 14 years in 1538, his remains were removed to Libson. The Church thus came to known as the ‘Vasco De Gama’s Church.
Most of the churches of Kerala are renouned pilgrim centres having historical importance. The St.Thomas Church situated in the hilltop of Malayattoor (known as Malayattoor Church), in Ernakulam district, and its “Kurishumudi’ has its fame as a place visited by St.Thomas.
The Kadamattom Jacobite Syrian church is one among the oldest Churches in Kerala. It was built in the 6th century by ‘the Karthas’ – a prominent Hindu family of Kadamattom. Hence, the Church witnessess a rare combination of Hindu and Christian customs. The construction of the Church has a mixture of Indo-Persian architecture.
The Holy Virgin Mary Church in Kottayam (the Valiyapally) was built in the year 1550 AD by the descendants of the Syrian Knanaya Christians who migrated to India in 345 AD. The Church is 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
The St..Andrews Forane Church of Arthunkal, near Cherthala is well known for the image of St.Sebastian, who is supposed to have healing powers. One of the ancient Churches in Kerala, established in AD 335, the St.Mary’s Forane Church of Kuravilangadu is famous for the ceremonial procession with the replica of the vessal used by prophet Jonah.
The Mortal remains of Fr.Kuriakose Elias of Chavara are housed in the St.Joseph’s Monastery in Mannanam near Kottayam. It is also a prominent pilgrim centre in Kerala. The St.George’s church at Edappally, Ernakulam, attracts a lot of devotees. The water of the well in this church is believed to have healing properties. The Santa Cruz Cathedral and the ‘Coonan Kurishu’ (Learning Cross) Shrine in Mattancherry, Fort Kochi are famous.
Likewise, there are a number of Churches having unique and distinct features, of which only a few are mentioned here. Visiting these Churches helps us to purify our souls and enlighten our minds. .