Saint Alphonsa is the first Indian woman to be canonised as a Saint by Syro-Malabar Catholic church. She was a Franciscan religious sister who lived in the Clarist Convent at Bharananganam.
Bharananganam is located in the banks of river Meenachil, 5 kilometres east of Pala, in the Pala – Vagamon route. Bharanganam is known as Lisieux of India after the birth place of St.Theresa of Lisieux of France. The St.Mary’s Forane Church in Bharananganam is a famous Christian pilgrim centre, also known as the ‘Anakkallu Palli’. It is the place holding the Mortal remains of Saint Alphonsa.
The Clarist Convent where Saint.Alphonsa lived is near to the St.Mary’s Forane Church, and the Mortuary Chapel where the Tomb of Saint Alphonsa is placed is located north to the Clarist convent.
Saint Alphonsa was born in 19th August 1910, as the fourth child of Joseph and Mary Muttathupadathu at Kudamaloor, near Kottayam. The child was named Annakutty. She lost her mother at her younger age and her maternal aunt, Annamma Muriken of the Muriken family of Muttuchira raised her. She was educated by her great-uncle, Fr.Joseph Muttathupadathu.
As a child, Annakutty was inspired by St.Theresa of Lisieux and she wanted to dedicate her life to Jesus Christ. During that period, girls were married at an younger age. When she was 13 years old, to escape from a marriage proposal, she burned her foot in an ash pit, which left her permanently disabled.
Annakutty’s family understood her spiritual determination and was allowed to join the Franciscan Clarist Convent at Bharananganam, in 1927. She received the postulant’s veil on 2nd August 1928, taking the name Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception in honour of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri.
Saint Alphonsa spend 20 years in the convent as a teacher. She worked in schools at Vazhappally and Vakakkad. She lived a saintly life and was recognised during her lifetime itself. Her life was full of sufferings. She faced many health problems during her life time. After years of illness and agony she died on 28th July 1946. She was buried in Bharananganam.
After her death, her students began to visit her tomb and offer prayers. They were the first to receive miraculous favours from Saint Alphonsa. Later, her tomb became a centre of pilgrimage and uncountable miracles. The first officially confirmed miracle was that of a disable child whose both feets were turned upside down, was miraculously cured due to his prayers at the altar of Saint Alphonsa’s shrine. The miracle was formally approved by Pope John Paul II in 1985 and she became ‘Vernarable Sister Alphonsa’.
On 8th February 1986, the Vernarable Sr.Alphonsa was beautified (recognition by the church of dead person’s accession to Heaven) along with Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara at Kottayam.
On 12th October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI authorised her canonization, and she became ‘Saint Alphonsa’ at a ceremony at St.Peter’s Square, Vatican.
The death anniversary of Saint Alphonsa is an important day for the devotees. Lot of people from various countries visits the Holy Shrine and Mortuary Chapel where the mortal remains of the Saint is preserved to pray and seek her blessings. There is a museum near the Chapel where her personal belongings such as books, umbrella, cot etc are well preserved.