Is a visit to Ernakulam in your travel plans? Ernakulam is the cosmopolitan face of Kerala, God’s Own Country and is home to a fascinating blend of culture and religion. Christianity was introduced in India by St. Thomas in 52 AD and through the years have strongly contributed to Social Changes in Kerala. A visit to Ernakulam is never complete without delving into its traditions, culture and colorful festivals, and historical churches. Here you go!
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1. Santa Cruz Basilica
Santa Cruz Basilica is one of the hoariest churches in Kochi and is also one of the eight Basilicas in the country. This was built by the first Portuguese viceroy, Francesco de Almeida in 1505. The construction of this church had begun on 3 May, 1505 during the feast of the ‘Invention of the Holy Cross’. After the completion of construction, this church was christened by the name Santa Cruz Cathedral.
During 1663 when the Dutch conquered he city this church was ruined along with the rest of churches in Kochi. This was used as an armoury. After the destruction only an elaborate granite pillar remained as part of the old church, which we can still see on the south-eastern corner of the present Basilica. This cathedral was rebuilt in 1887 by Bishop Dom Joao Gomes Ferreira. The renovation of this cathedral was completed during the reign of Dom Mateus Oliveira Xavier.
Sanctification of this cathedral was done by Dom Sebastiao Jose Pereira, on November 19, 1905. Owed to the historical importance, Pope John Paul II designated this cathedral to as a Basilica, on 19th December 1984. Architecture of this basilica is a unification of the Indo-European and gothic style. The interiors of this basilica are ornamented with the Italian paintings that date back to 1505. Located in Fort Kochi, this basilica can be accessed by bus or boat from Ernakulam.
2. Vallarpadam Church
The Vallarpadam Church located in Cochin, also known as ‘The Church of Our Lady Ransom’ and dedicated to Mother Mary. Mother Mary is worshipped as “Vallarpadathamma”. The church, built originally by the Portuguese was demolished during the Dutch period and was reconstructed again in 1676. The Government of India declared the church as a divine and holy church in 1951. Irrespective of the caste and religion, people from all over the world visit this church. Pope Leo XIII declared the church as a “special church” in 1888.
The main folklore in connection to this church is “a lady and her child from a Hindu family were ship wrecked and they survived for three days sheltering under a rock. They lady prayed to the Mother Mary that she will commit her life serving and thus got saved.” All processions in connection to the festivals in this church begin from the ancestral house of this lady. You can see the picture of Vallarpadathamma along with this lady with the child in her arm inside the church.
The local fishermen bring their new boats to the shrine to get the blessing of Vallarpadathamma before taking them to the sea. When prayers are answered, the devotees dedicate their lives to vallarpadathamma and sweep the church compound to convey their dedication. The Church is not only a pilgrim center but also one of the main tourist attractions in Kochi.
3. Malayattoor Church
Sited about 47 km from Kochi, Malayattoor is famous for the Catholic Church, located on top of the Malayattoor hill, at a height of 609 m. dedicated to St. Thomas the apostle of Jesus Christ. Thousands of pilgrims gather here every year during the annual festival of ‘Malayatoor Perunnal’, held during Easter time. It is believed that in AD 52, St Thomas landed at Kodungalloor port in Kerala and took the initiative for instituting a Christian community at Malayattoor.
Blessed by natural beauty Malayattoor offers ideal surrounding for those seeking spiritual happiness. Over years, the hill shrine at Malayattoor has emerged as the largest pilgrim center in the name of St. Thomas in India. The big and auspicious occasion in the church is the feast of St. Thomas, which is observed on the first Sunday after Easter when thousands horde the shrine for his blessings. The Architecture of the church has a combination of Greco-Roman style with the altar designed in a traditional Greek style and the front portion of the church following the traditional Roman Catholic Church architecture. Behind the central altar, one can find the carvings, designs, and paintings, which include the five joyful mysteries of Jesus Christ. The church has separate facilities for confession and adoration. The ancient baptismal pond and the traditional pulpit are of historical significance.
From the hillside, one can see the comforting sight of the smooth flowing Periyar river, which itself would make the minds of pilgrims tranquil and serene. The church provides facilities for bathing in the river. According to a custom observed here, pilgrims shave their hair and beard before bathing in the river. Devotees arriving at the shrine make several types of offerings. Some climb the hill carrying a cross in their shoulders representing the Way of the Cross. Womenfolk would carry long brooms with them with prayers for prosperity. Some carry stones on their heads as an offering believed to remove burdens from their lives. Besides the main shrine, one can also find some other interesting sites in and around the hilltop.
Marthoma Mandapam: A very elegant and gorgeous building with a blend of Greco-Indian architecture, it is here that the precious relics of St. Thomas are preserved. Located at the peak of the mount, the building is erected in such a way that the relic is placed twenty steps above the ground, symbolizing the twenty years of St Thomas’s missionary works in south India.
Sannidhi: Amid the edifices that can be seen on top of Malayattoor hill, this one has a modern architectural trace, and is located at the Northern most part of the mount. The main attraction is the Piyatha sculpture molded at the top of the chapel. The Sannidhi is the most spacious place for worship on the mount.
Golden Cross: Kurishumudi is where one can find the Golden Cross said to have formed when St. Thomas knelt on a rock and signed a cross with his finger. He remained there praying for a long time, and eventually, a golden cross appeared on the spot.
Footprints of St Thomas: One of the most interesting sights at the mountain is the permanent footprint and the marks of knees of St. Thomas imprinted on the rock.
The ancient chapel struck by the elephants: There is an ancient chapel which was attacked by tuskers in the past when it used to be encircled by dense jungle. One can still find deep tusk marks on the back wall of the chapel.
The miraculous water spring: A well, positioned near the ancient chapel at the top of the mount is believed to be the one from where St. Thomas satiated his thirst during his time of prayer. It is believed that on feeling thirsty, he struck the rock and from which fresh water started flowing. Pilgrims believe the water in the well to hold divine power to heal ailments.
4. St. Francis CSI Church
St. Francis CSI Church is the historic structure, which was found by the Portuguese. This beautiful church is built on the site, where the body of late voyager Vasco da Gama was originally buried. Built in 1503, this church is the oldest European church in India. The church was originally a simple wooden edifice, which was dedicated to St Bartholomew. Renovation of the church in stone was commenced by the Portuguese Viceroy, Dom Francisco Almedia
The new church was accomplished in 1516 and was dedicated to St Antony. In 1663, the church was taken over by Dutch and was transformed into their government church. Until 1795, the church was under the Dutch administration and which was later passed to the British. In 1923, the church was declared as the protected monument under the Protected Monuments Act of 1904. The church can be reached by cab or boarding an auto-rickshaw or bus for Fort Kochi.
5. St. George Ferona Church
St. George Ferona Church is a Roman Catholic Church, built in the 594 AD. This is reckoned among the oldest churches of Kerala. The Church is erected on land offered by the Raja of Edappally. This church was built originally in the name of Virgin Mary and was rechristened as the St.George’s Church when St. George was formally recognized as the Patron Saint of England.
This church has a statue of St. George, as the Saint on horseback with his spear piercing the ugly head of serpent lying under the hooves of his horse. According to the Italian folklore, it is believed that the Saint was rescuing a noble damsel, who was presented to the monster as his food. The deity of this church is whispered to have the power of getting rid of snakes. The church has a well, believed to have miraculous healing powers. People drink and take home the water from this in bottles and wash their face and hands.
6. Paradesi Synagogue
Built in AD 1568, Paradesi Synagogue is regarded as the oldest active synagogue in Commonwealth of Nations. Distinguished as Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue, this was erected by people of Cochin Jewish community (Malabari Yehuden).
Paradesi means members to the people from a foreign land and this synagogue was named Paradesi as it was once used by the White Jews. These White Jews were the mixture of Jews from Cranganore, from the Middle East and the European emigrants. This is located in the oldest part of Kochi city known as Jew Town and is the only active one of the seven synagogues in the area. This synagogue had three classes of members, namely White Jews, Black Jews and Meshuchrarim. White Jews were full members as they belonged to the high-class, while Black Jews were only allowed to worship and were not admitted to full membership.
Meshuchrarim was the lowest class of members, as they were a group of freed slaves. These people had no communal rights and sat on the floor or on the steps outside the synagogue. There are lots of valued antiques like the Scrolls of the Law, several gold crowns received as gifts and Belgian glass chandeliers. The synagogue also features a brass-railed pulpit and copper plates given to Joseph Rabban, who was the earliest known Cochin Jew. The Chinese hand-painted porcelain tiles in the floor of the synagogue are also the major highlights.
7. St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica
St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica was built in the early 20th century under the direction of Mar Louis Pazheparambil. Originally found in 1112 AD, this cathedral is dedicated to “Our Lady of Ports”. This cathedral was elevated to the status of a Basilica by Pope Paul VI on 20 March 1974. Serving as the headquarters of the Major Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, this church is the prominent Marian Pilgrim Centre in India.
The big, tall and expansive Cathedral has an altar that was used by John Paul II, when he visited India during 1986. The altar portrays the Birth, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. The two 68 feet tall towers in the front houses statues of St Peter and St Paul on top. The 88 feet high bell tower has St. Thomas statue on top. You can also see a striking illustration of Jesus Apparition to St Thomas.
8. Kadamattom Church
Kadamattom Church is a prominent Malankara Jacobite Orthodox Syrian Church and is renowned for its Old Persian cross. The church has Indo-Persian architectural style and was discovered in the 9th century. According to legends, the famous Kadamattathu Kathanar, a priest with mystical powers and unnatural capabilities lived here and was closely related to the church. The church is situated 30 kilometers from Kochi atop a hill.
9. Nadamel Marth Mariam Church
Nadamel Marth Mariam Church was built during the 12 century by the parishioners of Karingachira Church. Located at Thrippunithura, Kochi, the church is very important to Jacobite Syrians.
10. St. George Orthodox Church (Koonan Kurishu Palli)
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The Koonan Kurishu Palli is a respected pilgrim center. It has a supreme place among the other Orthodox churches as it is home to the holy remains of St.George. It is erected on the land where the historical Koonan Kurishu Oath took place. The land is considered to be sacred with the footprints of the Persian Prelates, first Catholicos Mar Thoma 1 and our other forefathers of the Malankara Orthodox faith. The church was consecrated in 1751, and was renovated later in 1974 under the initiative of Late Lamented Metropolitan His Grace Yuhanon Mar Severios of Cochin Diocese. Considering the historical significance of the Koonan Kurishu Palli, the Holy Synod elevated the status of the Church and declared it a historic monument as well as a pilgrim center.