St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church, Palayoor

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St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Palayur
Palayoor St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church.jpg
St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church at Palayur
AffiliationSyro Malabar Church
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusIndependent Episcopal Church
LocationIndia Kerala India
Geographic coordinates(10°34′57″N 76°01′55″E / 10.5825°N 76.0319°E / 10.5825; 76.0319Coordinates: 10°34′57″N 76°01′55″E / 10.5825°N 76.0319°E / 10.5825; 76.0319)
TypeMix of Persian and Kerala
Date establishedAD 52

St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Palayur is located at Palayur (also spelt Palayoor), in Thrissur district in Kerala on the west coast of India. According to tradition, the Syrian church was established in 52 AD by St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.[1] It is one of the oldest churches in India. It is second only to Kottakkavu Mar Thoma Church, North Paravur, and is called an Apostolic Church credited to the apostolate of St. Thomas, who preached and also introduced Christianity to the people here. It was part of the seven churches that he established in India, the others being at Cranganore, Kokkamangalam, Kottakkavu, Kollam, Niranam, and Chayal (Nilackal). The original small church structure has been retained at the original site. But substantial improvements around it were carried out during the 17th century by Reverend Fenichi, as necessary, without sacrificing the main sanctity of the place.[1][2][3]


Interior of the Palayur Church, one of the oldest Christian church in India and one of the seven founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD.

St. Thomas traveled from Muziris (Kodungallur) and landed at Palayur by boat through the backwaters. At that time, Palayur was a stronghold of the Brahmins and also of Jews. He came to visit the Jewish merchants at Palayur at "Judankunnu" (meaning the hill of Jews) and to preach the Christian gospel. The place has since become a dry land but its historicity as a boat jetty called locally 'Bottukulam' has been preserved as a monument to St. Thomas (see picture).[4][5]

Of the seven churches originally established by St. Thomas, only three – Palayoor in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Thrissur, Kottakkavu in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, and Niranam in the Malankara Orthodox Diocese of Niranam – could claim continuity, while the remaining four churches have undergone several changes in their locations.[6]

It is recorded that St. Thomas stayed in India for 17 years: 4 years in Sindh (now in Pakistan), about 6 years in Malabar Coast, and 7 years at Mylapore in Tamil Nadu. The Indian Postal Service of the Government of India brought out two commemorative stamps, in 1964 and 1973, in honour of the historic arrival of St. Thomas in India in 52 AD.[7]

St. Thomas was proclaimed 'The Apostle of India' by the Holy See. His skeleton remains were brought to India in 1953 by Cardinal Tisserant.[7] Furthermore, a document called ‘Grandavariola’ kept by a local Brahmin family (who had moved out from Palayur during the preaching) testifies to the date of the gospel work of St. Thomas. The document states:

Kali year 3153 (52 AD) the foreigner Thomas Sanyasi came to our village (gramam) preached there and therby causing…[8][page needed]


Palayur St.Thomas Monument

Historical legend records that when St. Thomas landed at Palayur, he witnessed the sight of Hindu Brahmins, after their ablutions in a local tank. They were offering prayers by chanting mantras (the Vedic tradition of India for spiritual transformation), hymns to god in the form of Argyam or Tharpanam (water held in the palms) to the Sun god, a practice also said to be followed in Harappan and Persian cultures. Amused by the sight of water being thrown up by the Brahmins, from the palms of their hands, which was falling back, he challenged the Brahmins stating that the water they were offering was not being accepted by the Sun god as it was falling back into the tank. He made a deal with them stating that his God would accept the offer of water if he threw it up in the same way as they did: the water would not fall back. If he proved this then his God was superior and the Brahmins would have to embrace Christianity. He performed this miracle (summoned the Holy Trinity, completed the sign of the Cross and threw water held in his palms up into the air, which remained still in the air at a height) and with this miracle he converted a number of Brahmins and Jews in Palayur to Christianity. Thereafter he baptised the converts in a nearby water tank. The Brahmins who did not convert to the faith gave the epithet of the 'Shapa Kadu' or "Cursed Place" to Palayur and migrated to Vembanad to purify themselves.[6][9]

Although this historical legend has been told and re-told by many people in India, a verification of this legend being known outside India produced no confirmation. A person claims to have checked the Synaxarion compiled by the Monastery of Simonos Petra on Mt. Athos, as well as an English translation of Dmitri of Rostov's 17th century Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints, which are multi-volume collections and are extremely detailed, but has not found any account of this miracle performed by St.Thomas.

Earlier accounts on Palayur church[edit]

Jarric (Indicarum Rerum, tom. iii. lib. ii. cap. v. pp. 50–51) gives part of a letter by James Fenicio, a Jesuit missionary in the Zamorin's territory. This letter is our earliest authority; as quoted above it has no date, but evidently belongs to the period between 1600 and 1607. The missionary had obtained permission to erect four churches in the Zamorin's territory:

I devoted all the remaining available time to the erection of these churches, and to the Christian inhabitants of this village [Palur]. I used to give them instructions as I chanced to meet them. As the church of Palur dedicated to Saint Cyriac [Syr. Quriaqus], which was the oldest (primus) among all the churches in Malabar, and renowned for favours and graces obtained, and for this reason much frequented, I devoted myself more especially to it. The stone church which I began two years ago [enclosing, apparently, within it the primitive building] had risen to the height of the windows. At this stage no one would dare to pull down the old wooden building, fearing to be struck down by sudden death: it stood surrounded by the walls of the new erection, but after I had prayed and removed their timidity, the old structure was pulled down, and the new building stood out in such fine proportions that the Hindus, the Mahomedans, and the Jews flocked to see it.

This is one of the Seven churches traditionally assigned to the time when Saint Thomas preached in Malabar. The wooden structure must undoubtedly have been very old, and constructed no doubt of teak which grew all over the country even in comparatively recent times: at that early age the supply must have been very plentiful.

In Lingerings of light in a dark land: Researches into the Syrian church of Malabar published in 1873, Thomas Whitehouse quotes:

Of palur, little can be said having any special interest. It was the most northern of the seven ancient churches, with Quilon as the most southern. The village at present is an unimportant place and lies off any main road, about a mile or so S.E . of Chowghaut. Gouvea narrates in his account of a visitation by Archbishop Menezes,that in order to bring the Proceedings of the Portuguese Archbishop and his synod at Udiamparur into odium, three of the leading men of place performed a farce or morality play in the church. One of the speakers impersonated St. Peter, another St. Thomas, and the third, who acted as umpire, St. Cyriac, to whom the church was then dedicated.

"Cottapaddy and Mattathil, designated as Syro-Roman (churches), are a little further north, but all within an easy distance of Palur, which must be regarded as the ancient mother church of this neighbourhood, though now eclipsed by her more wealthy daughters."

Cross founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD.

It is evident from these narrations, that the present Palayur church, which was named after St. Syriac till the 20th century, is the one original church established by St. Thomas. It is important to note that no one from Arthat parish or surroundings ever claimed their church to be established by St. Thomas to Thomas Whitehouse, even though many were interviewed by the same. Even the Arthat padiyola of AD 1806 never mentions any relation with St Thomas. The claim of Arthat as one of ezharapallikal is nothing but a bogus claim started by a section of Puthenkoor Syrians in 21st century as evident from the historical sources. Another claim by the same section is, since the present palayoor church was named after St Syriac, a latter day saint, it cannot be founded by St Thomas in the 1st Century AD. Even the Kottakkavu Mar Thoma Church, North Paravur, which has been named after Kantheeshangal (who reached Malabar in 9th century AD) till the 19th century, were rededicated after St Thomas in only the last century.


Kerala Backwaters.jpg

Following the migration of the Hindu Brahmins from Palayur, the Church was built incorporating the old Hindu temple, which was deserted. The church, as built, was thus a fusion of Hindu architectural style in respect of ornamentation with a Persian church plan. The roof of the church rises like a tower above the nave. The approach or entrance is like a Hindu style mandapa – in Indian architecture a pillared outdoor hall or pavilion for public rituals.[10]

An Italian missionary built the new church around the small old teak wood church, after getting due permission from the locals who were not only superstitious but also sentimental about retaining the old Church. However, after the church was fully completed and after the priest had delivered a proper sermon, the local people agreed to demolish the old wooden structure, which resulted in the Church looking elegant. The original altar consecrated by St. Thomas is still retained. But during Tipu Sultan's invasion of Kerala in the 18th century, the church was destroyed by fire. Thereafter it was re-built.[6]


A major festival that is held every year at the venue of the church, which lasts for two days, has a striking similarity to the Hindu festival held at Trichhur, a district town 28 kilometres (17 mi) away from the church, on the same days, with lot of fanfare of pageants, orchestra and pyrotechnics.[citation needed] During the Lenten season, the popular festival celebrated is called the 'Palayur Mahatheerthadanam' or Great Pilgrimage, conducted under the auspices of the archdiocese, when thousands of devotees, without caste distinction, participate in the festival.[6]

The interior of St. Thomas Church, Palayoor
Kerala Backwaters1.jpg Kerala Backwaters3.jpg

Visitor information[edit]

The Palayoor church is well connected by a road, rail and air services network. Palayoor is at a distance of 28 kilometres (17 mi) from Thrissur on the State Highway. It is on the Thrissur-Chavakad route, via Pavaratty. By train, it is on the Thrissur-Guruvayur broad gauge line, at a distance of 24 kilometres (15 mi). From Guruvayur, the Hindu temple town, the church is 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) by road. Nedumbasserry International Airport is only 80 kilometres (50 mi) from Palayoor.[11]

Important places to visit near the church precincts are: the Boat Jetty (Bottukulam) where St Thomas landed at Palayoor; the Thaliyakulam, the pond where St Thomas baptized the local people; the replica of Chinna Malai (small hill of Mylapore-Chennai) where St. Thomas attained martyrdom in 72 AD; the historical remnants of the old Hindu Temple;[citation needed] 14 scenes from the life of St Thomas sculpted in granite; the Jubilee Door in front of the entrance of the main hall of the church (depicts various important Biblical events, carved in Burmese teak); and the historical museum where many objects of archaeological, historical and artistic value are displayed (includes the vessels and articles used by St. Thomas during his stay here).[1][6]


  1. ^ a b c Gazetter 1986, pp. 38, 623
  2. ^ "About Syro-Malabar Church". Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
  3. ^ "The Syro-Malabar Church". Syro Malabar website. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
  4. ^ Cheriyan pp. 38, 40
  5. ^ Varhhese 2006, pp. 254, 470–471
  6. ^ a b c d e "Palayoor Church of St. Thomas Thrissur Kerala India". Retrieved 29 September 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Overview". Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  8. ^ Kurikilamkatt 2005, pp. 173, 183
  9. ^ Menon 1962, pp. 72, 100, 101
  10. ^ Church 1969, p. 93
  11. ^ Church (1969)
  • Cheriyan, C. V. (1973). A History of Christianity in Kerala, from the Mission of St. Thomas to the arrival of Vasco Da Gama (A.D. 52-1498) (1973 ed.). Kerala Historical Society.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) - Total pages: 163
  • Church History Association of India (1969). Indian Church History Review, Volume 3 (1969 ed.). Church History Association of India.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kerala Gazetteer (1986). Kerala District Gazetteers: Trichur, Kerala, Volume 7 (1986 ed.). Superintendent of Govt. Presses.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • George, V. C. (1972). Apostolate and Martyrdom of St. Thomas (1972 ed.). Kottayam Dt., Fr. Joseph Vadakkekara.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) - Total pages: 193
  • Kurikilamkatt, James (2005). First voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India: ancient Christianity in Bharuch ... (2005 ed.). Asian Trading Corp. ISBN 81-7086-359-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) - Total pages: 264
  • Menon, A. Sreedhara (1962). Kerala District Gazetteers: Trichur (1962 ed.). Superintendent of Govt. Presses.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Varhhese, Theresa (2006). Stark World Kerala (2006 ed.). Stark World Pub. ISBN 81-902505-1-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) - Total pages: 816

External links[edit]