Coordinates: Thrikkunathu Seminary is a historic former seminary and closed church in the Thrikkunnathu neighbourhood of Aluva, Ernakulam. Owing to an ownership dispute between the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox and Jacobite Syrian Christian churches both the seminary and its Saint Mary’s Church building were closed in December 1977. The church is a pilgrimage site for Syrian Orthodox Christians in India.
St Mary's Church
In 1880 the Malankara Church acquired 18 acres (73,000 m2) of land for construction of the church and a cornerstone was laid in 1889. The church began as a small building thatched with coconut leaves which was slowly built out in the early 1900s. Paulose Mar Athanasius built the current St Mary's Church in the early 1930s. The Syriac Orthodox Church canonized him as a saint at Damascus in August 2004. Mar Athanasius both gave away and sold at very low cost much of his inherited land so that Syrian Christians settling in the area could live near the church. The western side of the building was enlarged in 1964. Inside are the tombs of three 19th and 20th century Syrian Christian metropolitan bishops, Kadavil Paulose Mar Athanasius (d 1907), Saint Paulose Mar Athanasius (d 1953) and Mor Gregorios Geevarghese Vayaliparambil (d 1966).
A cornerstone for the seminary was laid down in 1904. An English middle school was also planned but never built. Like the newer church building, the seminary was finished and opened by Mar Athanasius in 1930-31. A dormitory for seminary students called the Syrian Hostel was also built nearby. In the spring of 1931 Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Elias III began a long journey of mediation throughout India by staying at the new seminary, after first calling on British officials Lord Irwin in Delhi and George Stanley at Madras.
A second floor was added in 1956. From its opening in 1931 until the 1970s Thrikkunnathu Seminary was a notable Malankara teaching facility for clergy in the northern dioceses of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Throughout these decades it was also the headquarters of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in India.
Closing and later history
When the Malankara Syrian Church split in 1975  the seminary's resident metropolitan bishop had been diocesan head of the Orthodox church body since the late 1960s. The seminary building, church and grounds ownership was retained by Indian Orthodox Church. Ownership was disputed in the aftermath and two years later, on 6 December 1977 the seminary and church were closed. Indian Orthodox metropolitans still reside in the seminary building.
In 1997 Philipose Theophilose, a metropolitan of the Indian Orthodox Church, died while staying at the old seminary building and was entombed next to the church. This tomb was later rebuilt as another room of the church building itself.
Since the early 1980s Jacobite Syrian Christians in Aluva have worshipped in a rented building called Mass Hall not far from St Mary's Church. In 1990 the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church opened the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Seminary in new buildings about 25 kilometres south at Udayagiri, Mulanthuruthy in Ernakulam.
Mediation efforts to settle disagreements over the use of St Mary's Church have been unsuccessful. On 3 July 2005, one month and a half before the first anniversary of Mar Athanasius' canonization as a saint, local police were called to the closed church when violence broke out over the long-standing ownership dispute. A government lawyer's automobile was set on fire, priests and others were reportedly hurt and there were claims of police brutality. In January 2009 the church had been closed for over 31 years when The New Indian Express, after speaking with a spokesman for the Indian Orthodox church, reported that "the Orthodox faction was not averse to letting the faithful of both factions worship in the Church, but the top Church officials of the Jacobite faction cannot be allowed in."
In January 2006, the Hindu reported that "A meeting of various groups under the Orthodox Church on Sunday at the seminary said that they would protect the seminary property at any cost and warned that the Government would be responsible for the fall out of anyone using force to enter the seminary premises."
References and notes
- The New Indian Express, Meeting proves inconclusive, 15 January 2009, retrieved 16 June 2009
- syrianchurch.org, Thrikkunnathu St Mary's Church, retrieved 16 June 2009
- Syriac Orthodox Christians in India have long been called Jacobite Syrian Christians, and it has officially used this name to skirt any misunderstanding of organization, ownership, and hierarchy with the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church.
- hindu.com, Mar Athanasius canonized as saint, 21 August 2004, retrieved 16 June 2009. Note: This independent source calls the Orthodox and Jacobite Syrian churches "factions."
- syrianchurch.org, Thrikkunnathu Seminary, retrieved 16 June 2009
- syrianchurch.org, A Brief history of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church of India, retrieved 16 June 2009
- sor.cua.edu, Malankara Syrian Orthodox Seminary, retrieved 17 June 2009
- hindu.com, Jacobites plan to hold relay prayer meeting, 4 January 2006, retrieved 16 June 2009
- hindu.com, Rival factions reiterate claim to seminary, 17 January 2006, retrieved 8 July 2009