The cult of St. George in Kerala represents the antiquity and hybridization of different cultures among the Nasranis. Geevarghese Sahada is champion for indigenous concerns, one of the most venerated saints in Nasrani population.1
George was a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time. According to the hagiography, in 303 Diocletian issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. The emperor Galerius was supposedly responsible for this decision and would continue the persecution during his own reign (305–311 AD). George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision. An enraged Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor, and his execution. After various tortures, beginning with being lacerated on a wheel of swords, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.
The narratives of the early pilgrims, Theodosius, Antoninus, and Arculphus, from the sixth to the eighth century, all speak of Lydda or Diospolis as the seat of the veneration of St. George, and as the resting-place of his remains (Geyer, “Itinera Hierosol.”, 139, 176, 288). The early date of the dedications to the saint is attested by existing inscriptions of ruined churches in Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Southern India and the church of St. George at Thessalonica is also considered by some authorities to belong to the fourth century. Further the famous decree “De Libris recipiendis”, attributed to Pope Gelasius in 495, attests that certain apocryphal Acts of St. George were already in existence, but includes him among those saints “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are only known to God”.
The episode of St George and the Dragon was Eastern in origin. In the East, St. George has from the beginning been classed among the greatest of the martyrs. During the fourth century the veneration of George spread from Palestine to the rest of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. It is belived to have reached Kerala at the same period.
St. George is most commonly depicted in early icons, mosaics and frescos wearing armour contemporary with the depiction, executed in gilding and silver colour, intended to identify him as a Roman soldier. After the Fall of Constantinople and the association of St George with the crusades, he is more often portrayed mounted upon a white horse. The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made popular by the “Legenda Aurea”, and translated into English by Caxton.
The cult of St George is related to the antiquity of Syrian Christians in Kerala. The St.George’s Forane Church at Edappally is established in AD 503 and St. George’s Church at Karingachira is established in AD 722.
There are various traditions and rituals associated with festivals and feast of Geevarghese Sahada in Kerala churches. In St. George Church, Edathua during the feast, the statue of St.George, decked in gold, was carried out in procession and placed on the dais at the centre of the Basilica. Processions were held everyday, and dazzling fireworks display highlighted in the initial as well as concluding day’s rituals. The right to carry the statue of St.George in procession is entrusted with people from Mavattam in Kanyakumari district.The statue of St george at Edathua is originally obtained from the St George church at Edappally which is established in AD 503. Thousands of devotees attend the St.George Church, Puthuppally to celebrate the annual feast of St George in the first week of May every year. A noon meal served to the pilgrims at church courtyard (Vechoottu), colorful ceremonial procession carrying the Gold Cross of the Church and fireworks are the main attraction of the feast. In Malayalam its called Vechootttu Perunal and meal is provided by the parishioners. Choottukatta Kathikal, Pindi Palli, chempeduppu are some of the cermenoies and rituals associate with St George feast at St. George’s Church in Chandanapally.
St George is the Patronage saint for snake bites and for helping to heal mental disorders as well as other ailments. Many of the old churches some rituals associated with St George and snakes.
St. George is the patron saint of many old churches in Kerala. St.George’s Forane Church Edappally ( AD 503 ), St. George’s Church Karingachira ( 722 AD), St.George Forane Church Aruvithura ( 1st centaury ), St. George Church Kadamattam (1st centaury ),St. George’s church Valiyapalli Kottayam ( 1550), St. George Church Edathua ( 1810 ), St. George’s Church Angamally, St. George’s Church Kumbalangi, St.George Church Puthuppally, St.George Church Muthalakodam, St. George’s Church Nedumabshery, St. George’s Cathedral Thozhiyur, St. George’s Church Chandanapally.
Picture Curtsey-1. Altar at St George Church Edathua 2. Centuries old St George statue at St George Church Angamali 3. Vechoottu Perunnal at St.George Church, Puthuppally 4. Annual feast of St George at Edathua
Various sources and traditions.
- Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India by Corinne G. Dempsey ( St George and Sister Alphonsa ) [↩]