Arthunkal Basilica of St Andrew’s in Kerala

St. Andrew's Basilica Church, Arthunkal, Kerala, Indija

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Arthunkal Basilica

Arthunkal Basilica of St Andrew’s is one of the biggest pilgrimage centres of Kerala. Though the church is in the name of St Andrew, it is the St Sebastian’s feast, that has brought fame to Arthunkal.

St Andrew's arthunkal basilica

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Arthunkal Feast

St Andrew’s Basilica, Arthunkal(St. Andrew’s Forane Church at Arthunkal) is one of the sacred churches in Kerala, attracts lakhs of devotees both Christians and non-Christians every year from all parts of the State.

The feast of St. Sebastian is celebrated on a grand scale for eleven days in a year. Owning to the unmanageable crowding of pilgrims and the resultant confusion on January 20 the final day of the feast, the church authorities have instituted another minor feast on the 8th day after the principal feast (Octave). This is known as ‘Ettam perunnal’. Of late this feast also has attained as much importance as the principal feast.

On the 18th January at the day dawns and the gates of the church are opened. The ceremonial procession to the beach on 20th Jan attracts a huge crowd of pilgrims. Thousands of pilgrims who return from the Sastha temple of Sabarimala throng to this sacred place, take bath from the tank attached to the church and pay their homage to the Saint. They remove their Hacocarpus bead chains at the altar. Hindus believe that Ayyappan and St St Sebastian are brothers.

On 27 Jan midnight the church doors were closed and the st Sebastian’s statue was placed at the safe locker in the room near Vicar’s office. A small statue of the saint is placed there for 40 days. This marks the end of the Arthunkal perunnal. In 2009, more than 1.5 lakh persons performed the bow and arrow ‘nercha’.

Arthunkal Basilica – Pilgrimage centre of Kerala

The feast attracts tens of thousands of deists from all parts of Kerala and from the neighbouring states of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Every year, the feast gets off to a colourful start on the 10th January to the accompaniment of native music and fireworks. The main feast is celebrated on the 20th January, when the statue of the saint is taken in procession. The octave is on the 27th January. It is for the main feast that most of the pilgrims come. The Octave is considered the feast of the local people

In good old days, most of the pilgrims used to come walking along the coast. Those from the eastern regions used to come in country boats up to Chertala or Alappuzha and walk from there. The people of Arthunkal used to arrange local accommodation for the pilgrims in their compounds, as most pilgrims used to spend one day or two in Arthunkal after their long journey. This used to give rise to a community life spread across the whole village.

Now, with modern means of communication, the pilgrim class that come walking has practically disappeared. But there are many who still choose to trek the whole distance to the church as an act of special deism.

Arthunkal Feast

St Andrew’s Basilica, Arthunkal(St. Andrew’s Forane Church at Arthunkal) is one of the sacred churches in Kerala, attracts lakhs of devotees both Christians and non-Christians every year from all parts of the State. The feast of St. Sebastian is celebrated on a grand scale for eleven days in a year. Owning to the unmanageable crowding of pilgrims and the resultant confusion on January 20 the final day of the feast, the church authorities have instituted another minor feast on the 8th day after the principal feast (Octave). This is known as ‘Ettam perunnal’. Of late this feast also has attained as much importance as the principal feast.

On the 18th January at the day dawns and the gates of the church are opened. The ceremonial procession to the beach on 20th Jan attracts a huge crowd of pilgrims. Thousands of pilgrims who return from the Sastha temple of Sabarimala throng to this sacred place, take bath from the tank attached to the church and pay their homage to the Saint. They remove their Hacocarpus bead chains at the altar. Hindus believe that Ayyappan and St St Sebastian are brothers.

On 27 Jan midnight the church doors were closed and the st Sebastian’s statue was placed at the safe locker in the room near Vicar’s office. A small statue of the saint is placed there for 40 days. This marks the end of the Arthunkal perunnal. In 2009, more than 1.5 lakh persons performed the bow and arrow ‘nercha’.

Pilgrimage centre of Kerala

St Andrew’s Basilica, Arthunkal is one of the biggest pilgrimage centres of Kerala. Though the church is in the name of St Andrew, it is the St Sebastian’s feast, that has brought fame to Arthunkal. The feast attracts tens of thousands of deists from all parts of Kerala and from the neighbouring states of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Every year, the feast gets off to a colourful start on the 10th January to the accompaniment of native music and fireworks. The main feast is celebrated on the 20th January, when the statue of the saint is taken in procession. The octave is on the 27th January. It is for the main feast that most of the pilgrims come. The Octave is considered the feast of the local people

In good old days, most of the pilgrims used to come walking along the coast. Those from the eastern regions used to come in country boats up to Chertala or Alappuzha and walk from there. The people of Arthunkal used to arrange local accommodation for the pilgrims in their compounds, as most pilgrims used to spend one day or two in Arthunkal after their long journey. This used to give rise to a community life spread across the whole village.

Now, with modern means of communication, the pilgrim class that come walking has practically disappeared. But there are many who still choose to trek the whole distance to the church as an act of special deism.

Miraculous Statue  

The statue which is placed inside the shrine behind an altar in the right wing of the new church is the miraculous one that came from Milan.

In 680 AD, there was a severe epidemic of small pox in Rome. The people took the arrow that hit on the forehead of the saint, in procession around the city, and there was a miraculous healing. Following this great incident, the people of the city embraced Christianity and there was a widespread popularity to the devotion to St Sebastian. As part of a vow, the people of Milan took the same statue in procession all around the world. When they came to Portugal, they came to know about India and turned their route that way. While they were travelling, the weather suddenly worsened and the ship got in danger. The captain had a vision while praying, to take the ship towards the east direction. The ship started moving safely when he tried to sail it to the eastern direction. Meanwhile, the parish priest of Arthunkal, Fr Fonsaco had a vision about a ship which was taken by storm and in trouble. He came with people to the beach and started to pray altogether. Suddenly the sea became calm and the ship landed safely. The sailors handed over the statue of St Sebastian to Fr Fonsaco. A small shrine was built up and the Statue was installed in it temporarily.

In 1647, the saint gave a vision to the parish priest and wanted him to install the statue appropriately in the church. On 10th January 1647, the statue was taken festively in procession into the church. So many sick people beside the way were miraculously healed. Witnessing this miracle, the non-Christians of Arthunkal, embraced Christianity. The statue was then installed in the church. When the new church was ready, the statue was transferred and installed inside a special shrine.

History

Arthunkal was the capital of Muthedath Kingdom, one of the pricipalities of Kerala, during the 16th century. Historians opine differently as to how Arthunkal got that name.

One among them is that it has evolved from ‘Arthhikulangara’, the name of the place at that time. Arthhikulangara, in course of time turned ‘Arthhikulangal’ and later on, Arthunkal.

According to historian George Schurhammer, the capital of Muthedath was known as ‘Muthedathunkal’ (at Muthedath) and it changed to ‘Edathunkal’ and then Arthunkal.

Portuguese Missionaries landed in Kerala following the arrival of Vasco da Gamma. They visited Muthedath and found so many St Thomas Christians here. They were not baptized, but their ancestors were.

The Jesuit missionaries started their mission in Muthedath and Elayedath(the neighbouring principality). In 1579 A.D., the Jesuit priest Manuel Texeira from Goa visited Arthunkal on his way from Kochi to Kollam (Quilon). As on request by the Christians, he arranged Fr Gasper Pius to be appointed in Arthunkal for their spritual services in 1581.

Since 1560 A.D., the Christians and missionaries had been requesting the Muthedath King for the permission of an oratory, though the king did not give much attention to. But following the incessant pestering from the Christians and considering the helps the king had from the missionaries, he granted permission in November, 1581 to construct a church using wood and coconut leaves. He also granted a few trees from his premises for the purpose.

The Christians installed a wooden cross and constructed, with the co-operation of the local Hindus, a church, where the king had given permission to. On 30th November, the church was consecrated in the name of St Andrew the Apostle. The first vicar was Fr Gasper Pius S.J. On completion, the king of Muthedath came to visit the church and asked the vicar to maintain the church suitably to be the House of God. Since then, many Hindus from the neighboring regions came to the church, prayed to St Andrew and got their appeals fulfilled.

In November, 1582, Fr Gasper Pius died of exessive hardwork, hot climate and malnutrition. Another Jesuit priest took charge of the church, but stayed in Kochi.

On 30th November, 1583, on the feast day of St Andrew, 500 St Thomas Christians were baptized. They were later known as ‘Anjootikkar’ (The Five Hundred People). A nair knigt with his 20 soldiers embraced Christianity on the same day, in presence of the King of Muthedath.

In 1584 A.D., Fr Jacomo Fenicio S.J. was appointed vicar of Arthunkal. He started the construction of a new church in stone and lime, with permission of the King, and completed it in 7 years. After Fr Fenicio was transferred to Kozhikode, eight priests took charge in succession.

Fr Fenicio was appointed again in 1619, and in the next year, he reconstructed the church. He was much loved and was considered a holy man by the people and the administrators. People called him saint and ‘Veluthachan’, meaning white father. ‘Veluthachan’ later became the popular name of St Sebastian. Fr Fenicio said to have performed lots of miracles while he was still alive. Even Hindus believed in the power of his prayers and approached him for his blessings. He was known as the second Apostle of the east and died in 1632. Huge was the crowd including kings flowed in, to pay him the final tribute. His body was buried inside the church and people used to pray and light candles there. The tomb is still preserved near the altar of the old church.

Fr Fonsaco, who took charge after Fr Fenicio, reconstructed the church in 1640 with the elevation facing west. It is during his time, that the Miraculous statue of St Sebastian reached from Milan. In the fall of 18th century, the church was taken charge by Carmelite missionaries. During their service or rather on 29 November, 1829, Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias was ordained by Rt Rev. Dr Staballini, the then bishop of Verapoly who was residing at Arthunkal Church.

In the second half of the 19th century, Fr Gasper Bylon de Mariatoris Kaithavalappil was appointed vicar, to be the first local priest to take charge of Arthunkal Church. During the vicarship of Fr Vincent Das Navis, in 1910, foundation stone for the present new church was laid.

Fr Sebastian Presentation who was considered a holy priest, Msgr Silvarius Jackson who later became the first Vicar General of the diocese of Alappuzha and Msgr Daniel Kurisunkal who completed the construction of the present church, were the successors. Msgr Daniel Kurisunkal was followed by Msgr Peter Karumancherry, Msgr Andrew P. Thekkeveedu, Rev. Dr Dominic Koilparambil, Rev. Fr Paul Arackal and Rev Fr Marian Jose Pereira.

The present Vicar Forane is Rev. Fr Pius Arattukulam assisted by Rev. Fr Titus Chullickal, Rev. Fr Sebastian Sasthamparampil, and Rev Fr Joseph Jenesius Saiza. Rev. Fr Gasper Koilparampil is the Parish Priest of Little Flower Church Ayirakthai. Rev Fr Raju Kalathil is in charge of St Rita’s Chapel.

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