The centuries-old, twin-churches of Ramapuram near Pala is one of the old churches existing in Kerala.1
The twin-church complex at Ramapuram consists of a smaller church dedicated to St. Augustine and a larger one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. While the church dedicated to St. Augustine dates back to around 1450, the one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin was erected in 1864.
The structures represent a unique architectural style prevalent in the early colonial period with the Persian facade showing marked influence over the Portuguese style. The Roman columns and the veranda too are rare features of the churches of a bygone era. The church belongs to Pala diocese of Syro Malabar Catholic Church.
1. The role of Ramapuram Church in the Syrian Christian History
The two churches which form a contiguous monument, had been an active element in the Syrian Christian history for the past nearly five centuries. It was the controversial Archbishop Alexis de Menezis who took the initiative in rededicating the then church (the smaller one which was in the name of St. Mary, originally) to St. Augustine; it was from here that Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar, the Governor of Kodungallur, ruled the Syrian Christian community and it is here his mortal remains are interred; it was here that the church council met for centuries. Above all, it is here the mortal remains of the Blessed Thevarparambil Kunjachan remains interred.
2. Rituals associated with Rampuram Church
1 There is a custom of carrying in procession a small golden chain with cross in a plate and going round the tall granite cross in the front yard.
2 For the feast of St. George there is a practice of offering roosters and hens to the Church.
3 At the feast of St. Sebastian, many faithful carry a small arrow in a plate, symbolic of the arrows that killed the saint. They also go round the granite cross.
4 Lighting candles and oil lamps around the granite cross is another custom which is followed even by non Christians. This is known as ‘Chuttuvilakku’.
5 Some believers crawl on hands and knees around the tomb of blessed Kunjachan.
3. History of the Church
There are no written records about the beginnings of the Christian community at Ramapuram. But there is a strong oral tradition passed on from generation to generation. According to that Christian families began to migrate to Ramapuram as early as the 12th century A.D. from more ancient Christian centers like Kuravilangad and Aruvithura. The Hindu rulers of the locality encouraged and aided the Christian immigrants who were loyal and hardworking. So in the course of time the Christian community at Ramapuram grew into a few hundred families. But they had no church of their own for their spiritual needs, and therefore, had to walk about 15 km’s toKuravilangad Church, on all Sundays and important feast days. Legend has it that an influential, pious lady of the Paikattu family was traveling her way to Kuravilangad for the Sunday Mass. But when she reached the top of the Koozhamala hill which is halfway from Ramapuram to Kuravilangad she heard the Church bell signaling the beginning of the Holy Mass. In despair she returned to Ramapuram and vowed to build a Church in her own village itself. In those times what is now the state of Kerala was only a geographical unit divided into several small kingdoms.
Ramapuram was in the kingdom of Vadakkumkoor. At Ramapuram, there was a local ruler, the king of Vadakkumkoor. This royal family had their Palace at Vellilappilly, just one kilometer from Ramapuram. The Christians of Ramapuram sought his permission to build a Church, which he readily granted and also suggested a suitable place for the Church. That place belonged to a landlord of the Karokkal Kaimal family. He handed over the site and also more than an acre of paddy field nearby for the Church, all free of cost and exempted from land tax. As a mark of gratitude, every year, during the most important feast, the church used to give a certain measure of rice and vegetables to the family and this practice has continued down the centuries. The first Church edifice was completed around the year 1450and was dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary. Rev. Fr. Joseph Cholappillil, a native of Ramapuram, was the first priest to take charge of the spiritual services. In those days the army of the king of Thekkumkoor raided the palace of the local prince at Vellilappilly and proceeded to destroy the Church;but retreated owing to the fortitude and tactical approach of Fr. Cholappillil.
As the number of the faithful increased, the original edifice had to be demolished and reconstructed. The foundation stone of what is now known as the old Church, was laid by Alexis Don Menezes, Archbishop of Goa in A.D 1599. The alter of the first Church is kept intact, even now, in the sacristy of the small Church. The ancient alter is a clear evidence of the fact that Indian architecture was used was in the construction of Churches, before the arrival of the Portuguese. The second Church however, was built in the Portuguese style. There are three rooms over the sanctuary and the priests used to live there. Until A.D 1825 the Church was under the charge of priests from Ramapuram itself. After that vicars began to be appointed for the administration of the parish. The first vicar was Rev. Fr. Francis Kavilkaran. There were two local priests – Fr. Mathunni Chirapuram and Fr. Augustinose Palakuzha, to help the vicar. By the passing of years, as the population of the parish increased further, many Christians migrated to the neighboring villages and for convenience built Chapels in those places which later on became independent parish Churches. In 1929 Ramapuram parish was raised to the rank of a Forane Church.
4. Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar
It was from here that Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar, the Governor of Kodungallur, ruled the Syrian Christian community.
The life and works of Thomas Paraemakal makes a brilliant chapter in the history of this parish. He was a member of the delegation under the leadership of Fr. Joseph Kariyatty, that traveled to Portugal and Rome for the reunification of the Syro-Malabar Church and to get indigenous Bishops. Their efforts were partly successful and in A.D 1783 at Lisbon Fr. Kariyatty was consecrated Archbishop for the entire Syro-Malabar Church.
But,unfortunately on arrival in Goa, on their way back to Kerala, Archbishop Kariyatty suddenly fell ill and passed away. Before his death he appointed Fr.Thomas Paraemakal as the Governor of Kodungallur (administrator) of the Malabar Church which Fr. Paraemakal courageously led from 1786 to 1799. His headquarters was at Alangad but he had to flee from there following the invasion of Malabar by Tippu Sultan. Then he put up office at the Church at Vadayar. During the final four years he lived at Ramapuram and ruled the entire Syro-Malabar Church. He died in 1799 and was buried in front of the main alter of the Church.
5. Blessed Thevarparampil Kunjachan
Fr. Augustine was short of stature and that was the origin of his pet name `Kunjachan’ (Little Priest) in the local language, Malayalam. He was just an ordinary priest who could not claim eminence in any field of human activity. But he was humble, kind, service-minded and charitably disposed to the poor and the downtrodden people. He stayed in his own parish, St. Augustine’s church Ramapuram as one among the three assistant parish priests for more than 40 years, working specially for the uplift of the Dalits (suppressed people) – the untouchables.
Thevarparampil Kunjachan was proclaimed ‘Blessed’ on 30.04.2006 by Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church. The mortal remains of the Blessed Thevarparampil Kunjachan remains interred at Ramapuram Church.
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- Focus is an initiative covering the old significant churches among the Nasrani Syrian Christians. If you have a write up ready about any churches which are not covered so far please drop a mail to admin at nasrani dot net [↩]