Saturday, April 13, 2024

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Malayattoor Church

Place : Kalady, Ernakulam district, Kerala
Significance : First pilgrim centre in India to be accorded international status by the Holy See, Vatican.
Best Season : October to March
Rites / Diocese  : Syro- Malabar | Ernakulam-Angamaly
Feast  : First Sunday after Easter
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One of the famous pilgrim centres in Kerala, Malayattoor is located on the slopes of the picturesque Western Ghats, 52 kms from Kochi beside the Periyar River. 'Malayattoor' literally means the meeting place of land, mountain and river. It is the first pilgrim centre in India to be accorded international status by the Holy See, the official seat of the Vatican. It is also the largest pilgrim centre in the name of St. Thomas in India. Thousands of pilgrims of all castes and creed undertake the pilgrimage to St. Thomas church, located on top of the hillock Kurishumudi (hill of the holy cross) during the annual festival -Malayattoor Perunnal held in March/April, 8 days after Easter. 
There are two churches in Malayattoor dedicated to St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ - one on top of the hillock (Kurishumudi) and the other below. Malayattoor St. Thomas Parish Church or Thazathe Palli (the church below) was built in AD 900.

The church facade has the traditional Roman architecture but the altar is typically Greek in style. Behind the central altar there are carved designs and paintings including the five stations of joyful mysteries of Lord Jesus Christ. The church divided into three wings have separate facilities for confession and adoration. There is an ancient baptismal pond and a traditional pulpit which are of historical relevance. 

footprintsThe pilgrimage to Malayattoor traces back its origin to the visit of the saint to Kerala in AD 52. It is believed that it was St. Thomas who brought Christianity to Kerala. According to the legends, when the saint first came to Malayatoor he had to face a very hostile reception and was forced to flee to the top of the mountain. There he prayed intensely for days together making sign of the cross on the rock. It is believed that Mother Mary appeared to console and strengthen him. Later at this spot on the rock, a golden cross was found. Thus the hillock came to be known as 'Ponnin Kurishumudi' (hill of the golden cross). Nearby the saints footprints and marks of his knees were also found on the rock.

Kurishumudi is located 2km south from Malayattoor St. Thomas Parish Church or Thazathe Palli. The church on top of Kurishumudi was built in 1893 over the golden cross, at 1269 feet above sea level and can be reached only on foot. 

Near the Golden cross, a little below there are the footprints (Kaalpadam) of the great saint embedded in the hard rock. The footprints are protected in a glass encasing. Pilgrims pray here to receive favours and miracle cures from the saint. Towards the east the ruins (a wall )of an ancient chapel (Aana Kuthiya Palli) still remains, but one can find the bearings of the tuskers who tried to demolish it when the place used to be surrounded by thick jungle.

This was the first building to be built on top of the hill in 1595. Now a new small shrine is erected in its place with the ruined wall of the ancient church protected in a glass encasing. A miraculous well situated near the ancient chapel is believed to be the spot from where St. Thomas quenched his thirst during his time of prayer. Legend says that the saint feeling thirsty, struck the rock from which fresh water started flowing. Pilgrims consider the water in the well to possess divine power to heal ailments. 

Located at the peak of the mount the Marthoma Mandapam, an attractive building carved in accordance with Greco-Indian architecture preserves the precious relics and a statue of St. Thomas. The building is erected in such a way that the relic is placed twenty steps above the ground which symbolizes the twenty years of St Thomas's missionary works in South India. Sannidhi, a spacious place for worship with a capacity to accommodate 10,000 people is located at the northern most part of the mount. Piyatha sculpture moulded at the top is the main attraction of Sannidhi. Marthoma Bhavan here was erected in 1972 to commemorate the 19th death anniversary of St. Thomas.

At the foot step of the hill, is the statue of St. Thomas erected in 1938, perched on a rock to protect it from the menacing trunks of the elephants.

The distance from the foot to the top of the Kurishumudi at 1269 feet, is around 2.5km- 3km and takes around 1 hour to 1.5 hours to climb. Pilgrims in very large numbers chanting the name of the Apostle ('Ponninkurisumala Muthappa Ponmalakayattam'), climb Kurisumudi, to visit the holy shrine especially during the Lent season. Some of the devotees carry crosses, stones, brooms etc. while some kneel and climb up the mountain. Along the way there are the 14 stations of the cross where devotees stop to pray. Some devotees offer gold chain, crosses, pepper, images of human parts and domestic animals in gold or silver etc. for their health and prosperity. There is a folklore that, ever since the cross placed by the Apostle was found, locals used to light an oil lamp at the spot. Whenever the lamp was put off by winds, a herd of goats used to run down the hill wailing, thus alerting the locals. They would climb up to light the lamp again. Even today, pilgrims who climb the peak carry with them seasamum seeds to feed the goats that are rarely seen today.