Christianity came early to Kerala, and the man who brought this faith to India from western shores was none other than the apostle Thomas, or Christ’s “Doubting Thomas” the disciple who lived his life promoting his faith in foreign lands. The power of divinity is deeply infused in Kerala ‘Gods Own Country’ and this is most richly evidenced in the scattering of churches that are a magnet for the spiritually inclined. But what’s even more interesting is how over time quite a few of these churches have become the focus of even deeper veneration because of their healing powers.
Here are some of these ancient churches, where the power of faith has been inextricably linked to consideration of providing succour to the sick of body and soul. These healing processes appear to go beyond the rational, but there is no denying how a sacred waterbody, or the earth itself or even propitiating dead saints can create miracles.
St Thomas Church, Malayatoor
This venerable church in the hamlet of Malyatoor, in Eranakulam District near the port town of Kochi, has deep linkages with early Christianity at the time when St Thomas travelled from Kodungallur in 52 CE, to spread the teachings of Christ along the Malabar Coast of India. Devotees arrive here in great droves seeking the saint’s blessing and to pray to him to intercede with God to heal their illnesses and ease their sufferings and of those of their loved ones. While praying in the nearby mountain of Kurusumudi for spiritual sustenance and fortitude to carry on his mission, Mother Mary is said to have appeared to St Thomas and consoled him. Having evangelised the villagers he moved on to Mylapore in Chennai, where he was martyred here in 72 CE. But the inhabitants of Malyatoor would visit the mountain and worship the Golden Cross which had appeared where the saint had made a sign of the cross on a rock. They also venerated the rock which carries the impress of the footprints and the knees of the apostle where he had knelt in prayer.
For some unfathomable reasons the sacred site fell into disuse over time; it was only revived after a chance discovery, in 600CE by some tribal hunters of the site with its glittering cross and rock impressions. When the villagers realized it was their ancestral spot for worship they once again revived those ancient rituals of veneration of St Thomas. You can join the stream of devotees to Kurusumudi Mountain and pay obeisance at the Marthoma Mandapam where stands the glass-enclosed imprint of the saint’s footprints and knees as well as the Golden Cross atop a pedestal on the rock. Visit also the nearby Spring of Miracles, believed to have healing properties as the saint is said to have quenched his thirst here during his prayers. People take home the healing water from the spring. Don’t be surprised to find some devotees carrying a cross on their backs to the hallowed site; some who suffer from headaches carry stones on their heads to be relieved of this ailment by the saint. Be here on the first Sunday after Easter to attend the Feast at Kurisumudy (Puthunjayar). St Thomas Church is a Vatican designated international pilgrim centre.
Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom, Vallarpadam-Ernakulam
This 16th century basilica lies on the island of Vallarpadam, close to Bolgatty Island and is linked to Ernakulam on the mainland. There’s a beautiful wooden painting of the Divine Mother holding the Christ Child. Originally the painting was enshrined in a small shed by the Kochi backwaters by the Portuguese merchant accompanying the explorer Vasco de Gama ; this was known as the Church of the Holy Spirit. During a flood in 1676 all that remained of the small church was this painting which was found by the Diwan of the Raja of Cochin, Paliyath Raman Valiyachan. The rescued religious painting was set up in a purpose-built church by the Diwan; it also came to be known as Our Lady of Ransom Church. The image of Mother Mary came to be known as ‘Vallarpadathamma’ as it is located on Vallarpadam Island on the backwaters. Legend has it that Mother Mary came to the rescue of a travelling noblewoman, Meenakshiamma and her child of the Nair community, while travelling by boat were believed to have drowned in an accident. On being rescued by fishermen, Meenakshiamma kept her promise of worshiping Mother Mary all her life in gratitude. Ever since then the church has been linked to many miracles. His Holiness Pope John Paul II elevated the church to the status of a basilica in 2014.
St George Church, Edappally, Kochi
Located just 10km from Kochi close to the junction of National Highway 47 and National Highway 17 this is one of Kerala’s most ancient churches. Officially called St George’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church it is also referred to as the Edapally Church. The local people were converted to Christianity by St. Thomas. Dating back to 593 CE it is one of Kerala’s major healing churches. Devotees have immense faith in the saint’s power to intercede on their behalf before the throne of God. Many miracles have been ascribed to him. On May Day the image of St George is carried in procession through the town. The foundation stone was laid by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Kerala. Both the waters of the nearby well and the soil in the churchyard are believed to have miraculous healing powers.
Chettikkad St. Antony's Church, Ernakulam
St Anthony ‘The Miracle Man’ is a powerful saint who draws devotees in great streams from home and abroad. The saint has the power, it is believed, to have great success in interceding with God on behalf of those who are ill, childless, plagued by misfortune and stricken by terminal diseases. This church, located North Paravur, in Eranakulam district, has enshrined three relics related to Saint Anthony, including a part of his tongue. The waters of the well are believed to have curative powers. Many of the miracles at the church are related to children. Special healing services take place at the shrine on the first Tuesday of every month.
When you are next in Kerala, you must try to visit many other such healing churches. You will love the stories that unfold about the miracles attached to them.