SCHOLARSHIP OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT 2012
The ancient Greek trading port of Muzeris at the mouth of the Periyar river is the traditional place associated with the landing of Saint Thomas the Apostle on the Malabar coast. The town of Kondugaloor, anglicised as Cranganore, is where the church claims he landed. The two places were close and it was recently discovered that the old port of Muzeris is only a few kilometres away. It was abandoned and lost after massive flooding in 1341 that made it unusable as a port and led to the opening of the new port at Cochin.
Ancient tradition has it that Saint Thomas founded seven and a half churches, called the Ezharappallikal, in Malabar (the half church is the southern Tamil Nadu). The names are very confusing because almost no two lists are the same. Some use original spelling, some use anglicised names and others Malayalam and yet none consistently.
The traditional list is:
- Kundugallur or Cranganore, sometimes Muzeris
- Kottakkayal or North Parvoor (Parvur)
- Chattukulangara or Palayoor
- Nilackal or Chayal
- Kollam or Quilon
Thiruvithancode Arappally is the ‘half church’ in southern Tamil Nadu. I have already visited six and by the time I leave the south I plan to have visited all of them. I have visited the town of Quilon/Kollam but there is no Christian site associated with the original Apostolic church left there to visit.
So Cranganor is where is all began. The site is in the possession of the Roman Catholic Syro-Malabar Church. There is simply no way around it – this place is hideous! I will not even have to use very many words but just let the place tell its own story.
To begin with there is no old church. The new church is based on some sort of vision of St Peters in Rome seen through a carnival hawkers eyes.
The Tabernacles is, well, uh………………different?
The church contains a relic of the Holy Apostle’s thigh bone sent from Rome. If you ask to see it a nun will come and place a large key in lock and when she turns it - PRESTO! A recording of church bells begins, the walls swing back, the reliquaries doors open and taped Gregorian Chant fills the sanctuary. Kitsch is not really a strong enough word.
What really made it brilliant was the Assyrian Orthodox priest who was with me, Father Michael, asking me what kind of music was playing. Remember, the Syro-Malabar are supposed to be descended from the East Syrian tradition. Here was a ‘real’ East Syrian who was simple befuddled by Western European Gregorian chant, relics (the East Syrians do not keep relics), reservation in a Tabernacle (which they also do not do), the numerous statues and pictures (they do not allow any ‘graven images’ in their churches)or the architecture. The whole thing was so completely out of touch with what the church claims to be that the farce was simply painful……Oh, hold on, I said I would not use so many words.
This is what you encounter immediately after leaving the church having prayed feverishly is the presence of the Apostolic relic.
Yep, If you have been weeping over your sins, there is a friendly waste receptacle cheerfully waiting to be of service and receive your used tissues. He has friends all around the sanctuary grounds too.
Needless to say I did not find the experience spiritually edifying. What is much more interesting in the area is India’s oldest Mosque (the second oldest Mosque in the world) and the temple elephant sanctuary, which I will deal with in another post.
To end on a positive note, at least the site was on the water.