THE MAR THOMA CHURCH, KURIANNOOR
A BRIEF HISTORY
Old undated photo of the old Kuriannoor Mar Thoma Church and the present church building. (Images from Nalloor Library Archives)
St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, came to India in A.D.52 and established 7 churches in the Malabar Coast of Kerala, in South India. Niranam St. Mary’s Church was one among them. Believers in and around Niranam, Changanassery, Edathua, Chambakulam, Chengannur, Maramon, Kalloopara, Chennithala, Paliyekkara and Puthiyakavu used to worship in that Church. Members of the Niranam Parish, who were staying in Maramon area, found it extremely difficult to attend church services in Niranam regularly. In those days, country boats (Kettuvallams) were the only mode of transportation (there were no road transport facilities). This led the believers in the Maramon area to establish the Maramon Church on 28 August A.D.1440. Our forefathers worshiped in the Maramon Church until a Mar Thoma Church in Kuriannoor was established in 1879.
The year 1837 bore witness to a spiritual reformation in the Mar Thoma Church, mainly under the leadership of Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan Achen (1796-1845). The reforms included translation of liturgy into Malayalam, emphasis on the study of the Holy Bible, family worship, and evangelization of the Gospel. Abolition of prayers for the dead and some unscriptural practices, such as statues, invocation of saints and some unhealthy veneration of sacraments were banned.
As there were no proper roads, the journey from Kuriannoor to Maramon was difficult and tedious, especially for funerals during the monsoon season. The Neelethu Pallikkoodam, a shed on bamboo poles, thatched with coconut leaves that was being used as a prayer hall cum school, was altered as the Mar Thoma Church, Kuriannoor in the year 1879 by Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan (1837-1893 The Mar Thoma XIV). Rahoor Scariah Kathanar was the first Vicar of the Kuriannoor Church. Two of the Mar Thoma Metropolitans, viz. Titus I Mar Thoma (Dethose Kathanar (1843-1909) and Titus II Mar Thoma (P.J. Dethose Kathanar (1866-1944) were vicars of our parish when they were achens. Due to an increase in the membership/population, St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church was formed in 1897 and Salem Mar Thoma Church in 1902.
Rev. M.C. George, (1874-1923) Maliyekkal was the first full time priest for Kuriannoor from 1903 as former vicars were in charge of Maramon Church as well. The English School, Kuriannoor was started in 1921 thanks to the leadership of Rev. M.C. George. Rev. T.M. Mathai (1883-1970) Punnathundiyil was our vicar from 1924. During the reign of Titus II Mar Thoma, a beautiful church building was constructed under the leadership of Vicars Rev. K.I. Varkey (1877-1948), Kizhakkethalakkal, Edathua, Rev. K.M. Mathai (1899-1959), Kuttamathayyethu, Puthenkavu, and Rev. Abraham Mathew (1902-1960), Elamittethu, Moovattupuzha Valakom. Our forefathers spent about eight years and a sum of Rs. 3150/- to complete their ardent desire of a place of worship. It was dedicated on 12th April 1940.
All the three Mar Thoma Churches in Kuriannoor were under the Vicarship of a single Achen till 1963. Rev. M. V. Abraham, Ashtamudy was the first Vicar who was solely in-charge of our parish. He managed to purchase 28 cents of land for a parsonage for Rs. 7500/-. Our first parsonage was completed in 1969 under the leadership of Rev. C. M. Thomas (1907-2001), Cherukara, Ayroor and Rev. K. A. Joshua, Mallassery.
The Centenary of the Church was celebrated during the year 1979 under the leadership of Rev. P. M. Samuel, Nelladu. Twenty cents of land adjacent to the church compound was purchased in December 1977, and the Centenary Hall was built there, which was consecrated on 6th May 1979.
Construction of the present, spacious and beautiful church building, with a parish hall underneath, was commenced during the year 2001, the plan of which was approved during the tenure of Rev. James M. Koshy Veeramala as Vicar. Rev. Achenkunju Mathew, and Rev. M.V. George (1952-2012) subsequent Vicars of the parish, worked tirelessly to complete the Church building, which was consecrated on 3rd September 2005 by His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Metropolitan in the presence of Dr. Joseph Mar Irenaeus Suffragan Metropolitan.
Rev. M. V. George laid down the idea for the present parsonage in the year 2008, which was completed during the tenure of Rev. M. Mathew as Vicar. The new parsonage was consecrated by His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan on 23rd March 2010.
Rev. M.C. George (1874-1923), Maliyekkal, Rev. T.M. Mathai (1883-1970), Punnathundiyil, Rev. C.M. Thomas (1893-1956), Kochuparampil, and Rev. C.M. Abraham (1923-2008), Cheriyavadakkedathu, who were strong pillars of the Mar Thoma Church in the past belonged to our parish. Ambattu Varkey Upadeshi, Poozhikkalayil Ipe Mathen (1796-1890) Poozhikkalayil Thomma Upadeshi (1830-1912), Cherukattu Geevarghese Upadeshi, Thanathodathil Mathen Upadeshi, Kolabhagathu Geevarghese Ashan (1855-1938), Eruthikkal E.V. Philip Sar, Nalloor Joseph Sar (1910-1992) etc. were strong lay leaders of our parish in the past.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
~ Jeremiah 17:7-8 | NIV
This historical article (free pdf) written in Malayalam gives hitherto unknown facts about the Maramon Convention held on the banks of the River Pamba organized by the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.
It is the result of more than 10 years of research done by Mr. Sreerenganathan K.P. of Aranmula from sources in the State Archives of Kerala (Archives of the Kingdom of Travancore) in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum).
The article gives clear details of hitherto unknown facts about the Maramon Convention plot in Maramon. It tries to answer questions such as:
- Who is the owner of the convention plot on the banks of the River Pamba?
- What is the right/authority of the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association (MTEA) over the convention plot?
- Is the MTEA paying any tax or rent for this plot?
- What are the details of the petition dated 13 April 1914 filed by Most Reverend Titus Mar Thoma II against the paddy farmers of Edasserima, Kidagannoor, Poovathoor, Mallapuzhassery Nellikkal and Koipuram?
- What are the details of the first Land Survey done in Travancore in 1816?
…and many other interesting facts about the Maramon Convention. It also gives the details of social life in and around Aranmula and Maramon during the early years of the convention.
The author of the article is Sreerenganathan K. P. an activist, artist, photographer and a keen historian who has published a book in 2018 on the history of Aranmula titled – ‘Aranmula Ithithyavum Charithrasathyangalum’ ISBN: 9729323510942
The Nalloor Library sincerely thanks him for allowing us to publish this article on our website .
“Sthuthippin sthuthippin Yesudevane” – Unchanged final hymn from the first Maramon Convention in 1895 (See Videos)
The Hymn “Sthuthippin sthuthippin Yesudevane, Halleluiyah paadi sthuthippeen sthuthippen yesudevane” written by Rev. Yusthus Joseph (Vidhuwan Kutty Achen) (1835-1887) is sung by the complete congregation at the close of the final meeting of each year’s convention. This may be a world record for the same hymn being sung every year at the same time since the year 1895.
Rev. Yusthus Joseph (Vidhuwan Kutty Achen) (1835-1887) has written 26 out of the total 427 hymns in the Kristeeya Keerthanangal (hymn book used by the Mar Thoma Syrian Church).
According to the Late Metropolitan Most. Rev. Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma, Vidhuwan Kutty Achen had a vital role in the Revival movement of the Mar Thoma Church “The spiritual revival started by an unknown preacher Mathai Upadesi and carried on by Rev. Yusthus Joseph (Vidhuwan Kutty), a famous scholar and musician and a Brahmin convert, had its influence throughout Central Travancore. – “Christianity in India and a brief history of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church” by Most. Rev. Juhanon Mar Thoma.
The original composition by in Carnatic music style is still performed by classical singers.
12 July, 1889: Seminary Case Judgment. In 1879 a case was filed in the district court of Alleppey by Bishop Joseph Mar Dionysius against the then Metropolitan of the Church Most Rev. Thomas Mar Athanasius.
Mar Dionysius prayed to the court to declare him as the rightful Metropolitan of the Malankara Church and also requested the court to evict Mar Athanasius and his followers from the Old Seminary building in Kottayam. The final verdict of this case came on 12 July 1889 from the Royal Court of Travancore. Two Judges decreed that Joseph Mar Dionysius was the rightful Metropolitan of the Malankara Church as he expressed allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch. One Christian judge gave the verdict in favour of Thomas Mar Athanasius because of his conviction that the Malankara Church has been an independent Church from the beginning. The Majority view prevailed and Thomas Mar Athanasius had to leave the Old Seminary and the properties of the Church, because he upheld the autonomy of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. This led to the formal division of the church into two sections: the Mar Thoma Church and Jacobite Church.
The followers of Mar Athanasius got the Kottarakkara church without a duel, they got the Maramon and Kozhencherry churches through court decision, and was given the right to conduct services on alternate Sundays in five other churches. They put up small sheds in other places to hold worship services.
To learn more about Mar Thoma Syrian Church History – watch this Special Documentary with rare footage on the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church – (English/Malayalam) produced in 1986. It offers a peek into the history, rich culture and heritage of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.
Mathews Mar Athanasius (1818–1877) was the Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Church from 1852 until his death in 1877. As a reformer, he spent most of his time as the Metropolitan attempting to heal differences between the various factions within the church.
Major General William Cullen
Major General William Cullen (17 May 1785 – 1 October 1862) was a British Army Officer with the Madras Artillery Regiment, and from 1840 to 1860, he served as the British Resident in the Kingdom of Travancore and Cochin. During his stay in India, he took a scholarly interest in the region and contributed to journals on geology, plants and the culture of the region. He was instrumental in establishing the Napier Museum in Trivandrum.
Cullen interacted mainly with the Maharajas of Travancore Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma and Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma and took considerable interest in scholarly and cultural pursuits. He also took a keen interest in the Christians of Kerala.
Metropolitan Mar Athanasius officially recognized by the government
Mar Athanasius was approved by an order by the governments of Travancore and Cochin as Malankara Metropolitan on 30 August 1852.
As head of the church he worked hard for the education of the clergy and for raising the moral standards of the people and the reformation process. From the beginning there was opposition against him from those who feared that he would be in favour of the reformation.
The opposition became gradually strong and succeeded in enlisting the support of the Patriarch on its side. The opponents of Mathews Mar Athanasius had sent complaints about him to the Patriarch, who without a judicial enquiry appointed Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius to supercede Mathews Mar Athanasius as Metropolitan. As a result of this struggle for power the church tended to be divided into two sections, one favouring reform and the other opposing it.
The gifting of the horse to the Metropolitan by the Resident
It is said that the Resident William Cullen greatly admired the Metropolitan and gifted him a rare Panch Kalyani horse (Kathiawari breed). The female copper brown horse was bought at an auction held in Bombay and brought to Kerala.
The Kathiawari breed horse was known throughout India as the purest and oldest of all horse breeds. Its origins are in the Middle East and the land of Saurashtra region in Gujarat, India, where the Kathi’s tribesmen and Rajput clan’s rulers used it as a warhorse. Princes were the breeders of the Kathiyawari horse. It was well known from the earliest times and prized for it’s beauty and high status as a war horse, and like most desert breeds could and can survive heat, poor feed and low water intake.(www.horseshowcentral.com) It is still used by the army and mounted police.
In this breed, horses with four white stockings and a white face is known as ‘Panch Kalyani’ which means ‘Five Good Markings’ from God. It was popularly known among the princely states as the ‘Horse of the Lord Krishna’. The ears are also know to point into each other.
Metropolitan Mathews was known to call the horse with the pet name”Shomi”. He loved the horse and the favourite dish given to the horse by the Metropolitan was “Vatta Aopam” (Rice cake), a delicacy in Kerala.
Shomi had won first place in the horse race held in Bombay at the Royal Western India Turf Club before being bought by Major General Cullen to Kerala.It was known for it’s lightning speed and people exclaimed it could jump like a whirl wind.
In those early days, there were no proper tarred roads nor vehicles. Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan used to travel and visit churches on horseback. Owning a horse was a sign of power and usually only ridden by royalty. People used to travel across Travancore via boat or bullock carts .
An Age of Enemies
It was dangerous times and the Metropolitan had many enemies. He used to travel with a team of bodyguards. A man called Muthukkaramban was the chief of his security. He was very tall, dark in colour and was said to have been an expert in all sorts of martial arts..
Puthuppally St.George Church and the death of the Horse
This incident happened in 1853. The Metropolitan was visiting the Puthuppally St.George Church. Few members of the Parish was against him because of his inclination towards the Reformation movement started by Abraham Malpan. One fine morning , during his visit to the Putthuppaly church, he found his horse dead in the horse shed. It is believed that the horse was poisoned by the enemies of the bishop.
“Shomi” his Pancha Kalyani horse was the favourite horse of the Metropolitan and he could not bear its loss.
He did not curse his enemies nor take revenge, or used the weapon of vengeance on anyone.They never apologized for their actions either. With the death of Pancha Kalyani, his favorite horse, his external ministry of reaching out people was affected. But no one could suppress his zeal and vigorous spirit for the work of the reformation.
In 1856, inspired by the Anglican missionaries who cooperated with him in the Old Syrian Seminary at Kottayam, the Metropolitan printed and distributed prayer books in Malayalam, leaving out prayer to Mother Mary.
Holy Communion services were conducted in Malayalam the language of the people of Malabar. He preached at worship services from his days in Antioch and continued this new practice after coming to Kerala. He encouraged his clergy to read the Bible and interpret it to the common people of parishes. He also allowed Tamil missionaries to preach at various churches.
He was against honouring icons and statues, so he removed the statue of Mother Mary from Manarcaud Church (near Kottayam), and from Puthupally church, near Kottayam.
Mar Athanasius Metropolitan established a printing press at Kottayam for the use of the Church. There, the liturgy was printed and published, omitting the prayers to Mother Mary and other saints. This infuriated a few priests, who opposed the Metropolitan and published another book with all these prayers included.
Thomas Mar Athanasius, son of Abraham Malpan was consecrated by Mathews Mar Athanasius as his successor in 1869. Mathews Mar Athanasius is generally considered one of the ablest Metropolitans of the Syrian Church. At this difficult time the support of leaders from the clergy and the laity who had been inspired by the spirit of the reform movement was a source of great strength to the position taken up by their bishops.
Fourteen meals for One rupee. During the early years of the Convention, restaurants and hotels were not in existence. Kappi Kadas (coffee/tea shops) and Chottu Kadas (rice shops) were the only available eateries at the Manalpuram (river bed) venue of the convention.
One of the famous chottu kada’s was managed by Kunjan Varkey Chetten from Edathua. He would serve 14 full meals for just one rupee and 228 full glasses of black coffee (Chakkara Kappi) also for Rs.1 in the early 1920’s.
Having lunch at Maramon Convention. (Photo courtesy Facebook Group)
Though the first convention began in 1895, the sermons were delivered to the tens of thousands of church members who attended in a very unique manner. Until 1936, messages of the main speaker were repeated in relay by designated people standing in between the participants of the convention. It was a time consuming process for the message from the front to pass through thousands of participants to reach the back of the audience. In 1936, a loud speaker and mike (microphone) set was brought to Maramon from USA by the famous missionary Rev. Dr. E. Stanley Jones. It was donated by one of the Christian Churches in USA. He was a well wisher of the Mar Thoma Church and encouraged the missionary zeal of the Church.
Read more and see more rare photos at 1921 -1970: World renowned missionary Dr. E. Stanley Jones at Maramon Convention ( See Rare Photos) Hear a sermon by Dr. E. Stanley Jones – Click Here (The sermon is 26 min. — or download the mp3 (11.8 MB).) The sermon title is, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit: The Birthright of All Christians.” The sermon was preached at a U.S. Ashram in August 1960. (This sermon is included in the 2008 book, Living Upon the Way: Selected Sermons of E. Stanley Jones on Self-Surrender and Conversion.) This audio clip is from www.methodistthinker.com
A pdf resource sheet for Parents / Sunday School Teachers to explain to their children facts and events chosen from the history of the Maramon Convention.
1 December, 1973: Mathews Mar Athanasius Episcopa passes away (b.7 Jun 1900). Dr. Mathews Mar Athanasius Episcopa was a member of the Kurudamannil family of Ayroor.
After obtaining the B.A., L.T Degrees he became the Headmaster of Keezhillam School. He took the initiative for the establishment of the Ashram High School at Perumbavoor.
He became a priest in 1929 and Bishop in 1937. He gave able leadership to various organizations of our Church. He was called home on 1 Dec, 1973.