St. John the Baptist church at Kumarakom, popularly known as Attamangalam pally, is one of the prominent parishes of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. The church was established in the year 1853 (M.E. 1028) and consecrated by Metropolitan Mathews Mor Athanasius of Malankara on the day of the feast of St. John the Baptist. About a century after its founding, the old church building was demolished and a new one was constructed in its place. The rebuilt church was consecrated by Metropolitan Mor Yulius Elias Qoro, the Patriarchal delegate to India, in 1956. A few more modifications to the existing structure has been done in the year 2006.
The Attamangalam St. John's church which celebrated its 150th year of establishment a few years back, has a unique place in the history of the Malankara Church. It was from this parish the custom of pilgrimage procession to the saint's tomb at Manjanikkara started in the year 1932. The famous portrait of St. Grergorios of Malankara (Parumala Thirumeni) sketched by the celebrate painter of India, Raja Ravi Varma, is in the possession of this church. The holy father had stayed in this church for a brief period on his return from Jerusalem in 1895. Three Patriarchs of Antioch, H.H. Ignatius Abded`Aloho II (in 1911), H.H. Ignatius Ya`qub III (in 1964) and H.H. Ignatius Zakka I (in 1982), had visited this church in the last century.
It was in the 17th century the Syrian Christian families started migrating to Kumarakom, a small village situated on the banks of Vembanad lake in upper Kuttanad area. The early migrants were predominantly agriculturists who came here in search of fertile lands. They reclaimed thousands of acres of land by drying up backwaters which were subsequently used for cultivating rice and other cash crops. Large paddy fields now seen all over the place is the hard work of these early settlers. Kumarakom, in recent years has attained a unique place in the world map with its special thrust towards backwater tourism. Kottayam, the nearest town is situated at a distance of 12 Km from this village.
Until the establishment of a church here in Kumarakom, the local Syrian Christians had to travel all the way to Kottayam to cater for their spiritual needs. The 16th century Holy Virgin Mary churches at Thazathangadi (Valiyapally and Cheriapallly) near the town of Kottayam were the only Syrian Christian churches nearby in those days. Roman Catholics who separated from the St. Thomas Syrian Christian community following the Koonen kuriz Oath at Mattancherry, had already built their first church in Kumarakom in the mid-18th century. It took another 100 years for the Syrian Jacobite community to construct a church of their own in this village. The land for the church was donated by two prominent families of the parish. With the sincere effort of all the parishioners, a small but beautiful church was built here in no time. Metropolitan Mathews Mor Athansius of Malankara consecrated this church on January 7, 1853. The main thronos (altar) in the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and the thronos on either sides were named after Holy Virgin Mary and St. Thomas, the Apostle to India.
The establishment of the church here coincided with a time of strong reformist movement by European missionaries who tried to bring the entire Syrian Christians under their fold. Kottayam was one of the main centers of their activity. However by God's grace, the reformist movement led by the Church Missionary society and Mathews Mor Athanasius who switched sides, could not generate any influence in this parish. The entire parishioners firmly stood in Orthodox faith under the Antiochean Patriarchate and under the able guidance of the Metropolitan of Malankara H.E. Mor Dionysius V Joseph Pulikottil.
Historical records say about the participation of representatives from this church in the 'Mulanthuruthy Synod' held under the auspices of Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Peter IV at the Mulanthuruthy Marthoman church in June 1876. It was this historic synod that took the decision to form six new dioceses in Malankara which until then functioned as a single unit called 'Malankara Archdiocese' under the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East. Accordingly the Kottayam diocese was formed and His Grace Paulose Mor Athanasius Kadavil became its first Metropolitan. Since then the Attamangalam St. John's church became part of the Kottayam diocese. In the beginning of the 20th century some church disputes erupted in Malankara which had its impact in this parish also. However these problems did not prolong much in the parish. The minority faction was given due share and property to built a new church nearby, thereby solving the disputes in the parish. This separation happened around the year 1940.
(left) St. John's church before it was rebuilt in 1956 -- (right) St. John's church after reconstruction
In late 1940's the church committee took the decision to rebuilt the old church building due to its depleted condition. The foundation stone for its reconstruction was laid by the diocesan Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Mikhayel in late 1940's. Though the works started soon, it did not proceed much due to certain disputes. Later Metropolitan Mor Severios Paulose Mulayirickal of Kochi diocese took the initiative for its reconstruction. Finally in the the year 1955 the construction works were completed and on 4th May 1956 the rebuilt church was consecrated by the Metropolitan Mor Yulius Elias Qoro (Patriarchal delegate to India) of blessed memory. In 2006, an extension was built at the entrance, on the west side (similar to natakasala in old churches) and also beautified the Madbho and the interior of the church. The consecration ceremony after these renovation works was led by His Grace Mor Thimotheos Thomas, the present Metropolitan of Kottayam diocese.
Very Rev. Punnose Corepiscopus Vaithara, a prominent priest of the Malankara Church, was the vicar of this church for a very long time.
Portrait of Parumala Thirumeni
One of the precious assets of this church is the famous portrait of St. Grergorios Geevarghese Chathuruthil (Parumala Thirumeni) sketched by one of the most celebrative painters of India, Raja Ravi Varma of Travancore Royal family. The painting which is more than a century old, was drawn on the request of a parishioner named Dr. M I Philip Appothikiri of Elayiduthusseri. Later he presented the portrait to the church and is since then kept on the northern wall in the hykla of the church.
Some years back the British museum authorities have expressed their willingness to buy this precious painting. In 2002 when the Malankara Church observed the 100th dukrono of the holy father, this church once again came into limelight because of this famous portrait. Many are visiting this church to see this beautiful and lively portrait of the holy father.
Incidentally the death centenary of this greatest artist of India Raja Ravi Varma, who sketched the portrait of our holy father, falls on October 2nd, 2006. During its work, Ravi Varma has written a very touching letter to Dr. M I Philip mentioning about the special experience he had while sketching this portrait. The full text of this letter reproduced by the Youth Association a few years back can be accessed via link: http://www.saintgregorios.org/Parumala5/Ravi_Varma_Letter.htm
Beginning of the Manjanikkara Pilgrimage
The Attamangalam St. John's church which celebrated its 150th year of establishment a few years back, has a unique place in the history of the Malankara Church. The church was the venue of many important events.
The pilgrimage to the tomb of Patriarch St. Ignatius Elias III at Manjanikkara had its beginning from this church in 1932, the same year in which Moran passed away. Eight persons including a child from the parish were in that first pilgrim group. It was on the first day of the Holy week they started their journey and reached Manjanikkara Dayro two days later on Wednesday.
This unique custom of pilgrimage procession to the Saint's tomb which began from this parish has become an annual event during the Moran's feast days. Every year several thousands of pilgrims from various part of the state undertook their pilgrimage procession, by walking hundreds of kilometers. They start their journey several days before the feast day and from many distant places. Now the pilgrimage that starts from the Kumarakom church is called 'western area' pilgrimage.
'Viswasa Samrakshana Samithi'
Early 1970's was a period of great confusion and tribulations in the Malankara Church. The faith and traditions of the Holy Church were questioned by a section who later declared themselves independent. This hurt the feelings of many, but the lack of a common forum for the faithful to convey their grievances appeared to be a major handicap in those days. It was in this difficult period the parishioners of the churches in Kottayam and nearby places took an initiative to convene a meeting of the faithful in the Attamangalam church.
Accordingly on 18th June 1972 a special convention was held in the church which gave birth to the organization called 'Viswasa Samrakshana Samithi' (Association for defending the Holy Faith) with Mr. John Abraham Illikalam as its founder president and Mr. C Philip Panachiparambil as its secretary. It is this organization the forerunner of 'Anthiokya Viswasa Samrakshana Samithi' which have its branches now in all the Malankara churches.
Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Association
On 18th November 1972 the Attamangalam church hosted the 'Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Association', a representative meeting of the Malankara Syrian Church, and elected Palampadaom Eapen Thomas as its president. It was the decision of this historic association which paved way for the consecration of new Metropolitans for the Malankara Church and the revival of Syrian Orthodox faith and traditions in Malankara. The initiative taken by the parishioners for the upkeep of faith is indeed commendable.
Chapel, Stone Cross and Shrines of the church
The big stone Cross situated in front of the church is a great solace for many. A great number of locals irrespective of caste or creed come here and pray. Special prayers are held here on all Fridays.
The Attamangalam St. John's church owns a chapel on the Vemband lake side at Kumarakom which is of great importance for all the boat riders. This chapel dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary was constructed and donated by a respectable family of the parish. Holy Qurbono is held in this chapel on the first Wednesdays of every month. It is from here the Rasa (church procession during a festival) prior to the feast of St. John the Baptist in January, begins. Since the time of establishment of the chapel here, the Manjanikkara Pilgrimage from western area begins from here.
Besides this chapel the Attamangalam church have two shrines, one in the name of St. Ignatius Elias III located near the Kavalakkal bridge and another in the name of Holy Virgin Mary at the entrance of the church. Both these shrines as well as the big stone Cross in front of the church were donations of certain respectable persons of the parish. Recently the shrine at the entrance of the church has been reconstructed and consecrated by the diocesan Metropolitan along with other modifications in the church.
The parish hall of the Attamangalam church, named after late lamented Mor Dionysius Mikhayel Metropolitan is the biggest in the region. When the former Prime Minister of India Sri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Kumarakom a few years back, he came here to attend a function.
Spiritual Organizations in the church
This church have two Sunday schools namely St. John's and St. Thomas. Like in all the Syrian churches, this parish too have the units of Morth Mariam Samajam, Youth Association, Hail Mary League etc.. The Evangelical Association of the East (Pourasthya Suvisesha Samajam) also have a unit in this church. An health centre which has become a great relief for the villagers is functioning under the parish. Besides this, many social service schemes for the welfare of the poor and needy are being regularly conducted by the church authorities.
Feasts celebrated in the church
The main festival of the Attamangalam church is celebrated from January 1 to 7 in memory of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the church. Feasts of Holy Virgin Mary, Mor Geevarghese Sahdo, Apostle St.Thomas, Patriarch St. Elias III of Manjanikkara, St. Gregorios of Parumala and Catholicos Mor Baselios Paulose II are also celebrated with great fervor in this church. More than 600 families are members of this 150 year old church.
St. John's Jacobite Syrian Church
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