Palayoor of the Ezharrappallikal: Post XXIII - Travels Amongst the Saint Thomas Christians of India


Parish Church

The church at Palayoor, or Palayur, is also in the hands of the Roman Catholic Syro-Malabar Church, yet this church is at least an older church of Portuguese design. The inside is pure Latin but there is a hole in the floor through which you can see an earlier foundation. It is said that there was an Altar dedicated by Saint Thomas kept at the original church and subsequently in each additional church built on the site. However in the 18th century, it and everything else, was destroyed when Tipu Sultan torched the place.

As far as I can discern through the mist of legend and pseudo-history, this site, North Parvur and Niranam all seem to be original ancient  Christian sites with historical continuity if not the same buildings. As with Cranganore, this Syro-Malabar church has not one trace of East Syrian influence only Western European Latin (and Iberian at that).

Palayoor Interior Altar

Palayoor Interior Ceiling 

The church possesses one of the ancient crosses that they claim was placed here by Saint Thomas. One West Syrian monk , in a conspiratorial whisper, confided in me one day that he did not believe in the ancient crosses of Saint Thomas because the cross did not become a Christian symbol until the post Apostolic age. He believes it was the 5th century East Syrians who brought the first crosses. Of course he is right, just make sure you do not point out this historical buzz-killing insight in anything above a whisper.

Stone Cross in Extended Narthex

There is another legend here associated with Saint Thomas confronting a group of Brahmin. The Apostle, on his way to convert the local Jews on ‘Jew Hill’, saw the local Brahmins throwing water in the air whilst saying mantras after their morning ablutions in the temple tank.  Saint Thomas goaded and mocked them by claiming that their God (the god of the sun) did not accept their offerings. He claims that his god will accept his water (a version of my god is bigger than your god game). He makes a deal with them, and some of the local Jews, that if he can do this they must be Baptised (I allow people’s agreement to be Baptised as real tender in high stake poker games - but how I make converts is another story). Of course, the water miraculously stays in the air when tossed there by the Apostle. The Brahmin, suitably impressed (and legally bound), were Baptised. Yeah! The other Brahmins, cursed the place, and ran away leaving their temple, temple tanks, and lands abandoned for the new converts to take over. Yeah!

You must admit however, that it is a bit cheeky. If I could make water magically whirl around in the air as long as I wanted I bet I could get a lot, and I mean a lot, more people Baptised. Instead I have the hard work of having to talk to them, and get to know them to bring them to the faith. How tedious. I could really get things done much more quickly with magic powers. Perhaps that will be what I will ask Saint Nicholas to bring me next 6th of December.

Anyway, this is the place of the magic flying water and the Brahmetical baptism.

Baptismal Pool

This is a nice touch. I do not know if this image, which I have seen elsewhere, is called Our Lady of the Elephants but it should be.

Our Lady of the Elephants

Outside the church are many small statues extolling the virtues and powers of the Apostle.

More ferocious than a wild tiger!

Saint Thomas is Stronger than a Tiger

Stronger than a rampaging elephant!

St Thomas is also Stronger than an Elephant

Stone nasrani Menorah

On the other side of the compound there is a tank that acts as a reminder that Saint Thomas arrived at Paravoor by boat. You are certainly reminded. Yet of what I am not exactly sure. I get the boat on the water bit, but the giant angry Apostle thing?

At the Boat Jetty

And I mean really angry, and with a spear! Before anyone accuses me of ignorance, I know that the spear is the sign of his Martyrdom. Still, with that look on his face, I would prefer him to be holding a kitten.

Big Saint Thomas

The museum was interesting. It was all Portuguese of course but lovely old Portuguese artefacts, well mostly. There was that one giant armed Saviour thing……..

Lovely old carved doors with biblical scenes,

Door of Museum

an carved Agnus Dei with seals,

Portuguese Agnus Dei

a statue of  the Good Shepherd,

Portuguese Good Shepherd

An Ivory Crucifix and original copper plates giving the local Christians privileges from the king,

Origional Copper Plates

and…. dear me, a Saviour who has been doing way, way too much blessing. The other arm grew so heavy from over blessing I guess it just fell off.