Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Marth Maryam Basilica: A Jewel in the Universal Church.

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Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Marth Maryam Basilica: A Jewel in the Universal Church.



The ancient and beatific Kalloorkkadu Marth Maryam Church has been recognised as a Basilica. Champakualm Kalloorkkadu Church is a very ancient and important Syro Malabar church. It is one among the second-generation Mar Thoma Nasrani (Saint Thomas Christian) churches in Kerala. According to local traditions, this church was founded in AD 427 and originated from the Niranam church which was founded by Apostle Thomas himself. It was one among the only 7 Forane Churches in the southern Vicariate of Kottayam in AD 1887 when the Syro Malabar hierarchy was restored.  The Vicariate of Kottayam included the geographical area of today’s Arch eparchy of Changanacherry and parts of the Arch eparchy of Ernakulam-Angamali, the whole area south of river Periyar in Kerala. Today, this area is represented by 7 Syro Malabar Eparchies with Bishops however, the ancient church of Champakulam was neglected as only a Forane Church. Now, this Church has been recognised as a Basilica by the Pope of Rome. This means that this Church has a special relation with the Pope of Rome reflecting the Universality of Catholic Church and acceptance of the Primacy of Rome which the East Syrian Church always held. This new title is a recognition of this ancient Christian community of Champakulam from the Universal Church. Thus, Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Church has a global perspective today.

Churches in the East and the Universal Church

Churches in the East, especially the Churches in the East Syriac tradition had been alienated from the rest of the Christendom due to political reasons like the feud between the Roman and the Persian Empires and logistical reasons like geographical inaccessibility. The East Syriac Church took a Nationalistic strategy through the synods in AD 410, 420 and their Metropolitan of the Capital city assumed primacy and called Grand Metropolitan in presence of Western Fathers[i]. In AD 424[ii] the Synod of Markabta declared their Metropolitan of the capital city as a Catholicos.  Later, the Church of the East was wrongly accused of Nestorianism. The so-called Nestorianism seems to be a misunderstanding due to expression of the faith with certain ambiguous terms in Greek. Dr Adrian Fortescue writes ‘we saw that Greek words used in the Nestorian controversy are sometimes ambiguous and add to the confusion by the fact that we are not always sure what the people who use them mean[iii] .’ Adrian Fortescue further comments in ‘Lesser Eastern Churches’ that the so-called Nestorianism of East Syrians was only a vehement denial of the Monophysitism[iv]. We can see later in the Council of Chalcedon, Monophysitism was condemned. The Chalcedonian Doctrine can be considered as a modified version of the old Antiochene Doctrine of the so-called Nestorianism[v].

The Christology of the Church of the East is based mainly on the work of Babai the Great of 6th century- ‘The Book of Union’ which describes about the union of Divine and Human natures of Christ. Babai’s interpretation can be considered as the best interpretation of the Antiochene position (Churches of the Greco-Roman tradition) insisting on the perfection of the human nature of Christ and assumption of the form of servant by the Word of God.[vi]

Also, the reconciliation of Patriarch Iso Yahb II (628-643 AD) in Antioch with the following appellation of the faith of the Church of the East that ‘our belief in a Christ who, as Perfect Man, was consubstantial with us; – and who, as Perfect God, was consubstantial with the Father, in one “Personalitas”[vii] confirms their pro-Chalcedonian position in par with the Greco-Roman Churches.


Even though the East Syriac church was religio-politically and geographically separated from the Churches of the Greco-Roman traditions, they were in an active give and take relation with the Western Church, reflecting the Universality of the Church. Churches in the East Syriac tradition always accepted the Bishop of Rome as ‘primus inter pares’. This can be seen in writings of Patriarch Isho Yahb of Adiabene[viii], Patriarch Timothy I the Great[ix] and many other Fathers of the Church of the East.  East Syriac church accepted many doctrines of western Greco-Roman churches in different time periods.  The Chronicles of  Seert tells us about translation of the works of  Theodore of Mopseustia and Diodore of Tarsus into Syriac- examples of adopting some Western theology for the benefit of the Church. Thus, these theological advancements lead to the later development of Anaphora of Theodore and Nestorius.


Evolution of the Liturgy in the East Syriac Church was also influenced by the Western Churches. Even reading the gospel during the Liturgy was of Roman tradition[x] that the Church of the East adopted in AD 411-435 during the time of Bishop Rabulla of Edessa[xi]. Until then, Diatessaron (Harmony of Gospels) was used in the liturgy.  Diatessarons was written by Tatian[xii]. Tatian was a Mesopotamian but went to Rome and was a pupil of Justin the Martyr. Tatian returned to Mesopotamia after the death of Justin with a copy of the Harmony of Gospels and translated that into Syriac with the name Dietassaron[xiii]. This was read in the liturgy. It was Bishop Rabulla who suppressed the use of Diatessaron in the Liturgy and substituted a revision of the Old Syriac canonical Gospels.[xiv]  Even the Diatessaron itself was a translation of Harmony of Gospels that originated in Rome.


The common hymn in our Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgy of hours, Onitsa d’ Basalique originated in the Roman Empire. It was the hymn sung when the Emperor Constantine arrived for the evening prayers. The word for King in Greek is Baselius,  the hymn sung in honour of the King became Onitsa d’ Basalique in Syriac. This hymn was retained with a different meaning in honour of the Cross with the procession of the Cross by Patriarch Iso Yahb.[xv]

Thus, even though Champakulam Church is of East Syriac tradition and spirituality, it is quite right and very appropriate to get a recognition from the Roman Church. This is an occasion to rejoice.

Basilica in Roman Church

Basilica means a large and important church. The Latin word Basilica is a Greek loan word. The word Basilica means a Kingly architecture. In the past, in Rome, Basilicas were large buildings built for Royal business, like meetings and administration of law. These were civic centres for every major city in the Roman Empire. A Roman Basilica is a large hall with two rows of columns with a high central part and a lower isle on either side. This architecture is called basilica in that sense. When Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity as a Royal religion, early Christian Churches were built on the architecture of basilicas. In Rome, there are four Major Basilicas. They are Saint Peters Basilica, John Lateran Basilica, Basilica Maria Maggiore and Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls. These four Basilicas have a throne for the Pope and altar specially designed for the Pope to celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy.

Other Minor Basilicas are honorific titles given to an important church by the Popes. These are for making a strong bond with the church and community to the Pope of Rome.

There are 23 Minor Basilicas in India. These titles are given on the basis of the historic importance, religious importance like a connection with some saints and martyrs or relics or certain signs or miracles.

In a local Church or diocese, the Cathedral Church has more importance.  So Basilicas are inferior to the Cathedral Churches[xvi]. These are honorific titles given by the Pope like Monsignor etc.

Forane Church is also such an honorific title. In Roman Catholic Church, a priest is given honorific title Forane Vicar with some limited jurisdictional authorities. The church occupied by a Vicar Forane is called Forane Church. But in Syro Malabar Church, due to ignorance or certain other reasons at the time of the restoration of the hierarchy, a diocese was divided into different Foranes as local provinces.

Importance of Champakualm Church

The Champakulam Church is a very ancient and historically important Church of the Catholic Saint Thomas Christians. It always remained in the Catholic communion even in the midst of different schisms and types of strife, in a very volatile religiopolitical situation of Thomas Christians in the 16th to 19th centuries. Champakulam Church had a pivotal role in the ecumenical efforts of the Thomas Christian community under the leadership of Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanar. The saintly martyr of Nasranis, Ikkakko Cathanar was from Champakulam. Champakulam Church witnessed the resistance towards the unlawful invasion into the particular law and traditions by the European Missionaries. This resistance manifested in the form of strong defiance and opposition of Ikkakko Cathanar and the community towards spiritual colonisation and expression of racism by some foreign Missionaries[xvii]. The Church had an exemplary history of religious harmony with the rest of the community which could be viewed as a real witness of Christian faith to other communities that even a  King of Champakasserry is said to have considered getting himself converted to Christianity.

Thus, Champakulam Church has all the rights to be recognised as a Basilica.


 New opportunity to witness the East Syriac traditions and Spirituality

The Church has the responsibility today to uphold her rich traditions and spirituality especially when the Church is in the global milieu today.  As we live in the modern society and in a global highlight, the Church has the responsibility to imbibe the good from elsewhere and to recapture the rich spirituality and traditions that are lost.

Restoration of traditional Feasts

This is an appropriate time to think about reviving the ancient feasts held in Champakulam Church like the Moonnu Noyambu Perunnaal – the Three day fast, also known as the Rogation of the Ninevites. This was a very popular celebration in many ancient Thomas Christian Churches like Champakulam, Edappalli, Alengadu and so on, according to ancient documents. Kuravilangadu and Kaduthuruthy are the only Churches that celebrate this feast today. There is clear documentation about help and support from the Kings of Champakasserry for the Moonnu Noyambu Perunnaal of Champakulam Church. This has to be revived in the Basilica.

Recognition of Ikkakko cathanar

Ikkakko Cathanar’s martyrdom for the particular law of the local church and the traditions should be commemorated appropriately. Ikkakko Cathanar was a saintly person. He stood firmly for the particular law of the community like the traditions and protocols in relation to feasts and religious celebrations. He also stood for the protection of the temporal aspects as well. He was falsely accused of stealing a monstrance by the European Padres as a revenge because Ikkako Cathanaar was instrumental in preventing the European Padres and accompanying people from taking with them valuable objects from the Champakualm Church and to invade into the local traditions. He was put in custody illegally by the foreign Missionaries without food and even denied sacraments revealing the inhuman behaviour of certain foreign Missionaries. Ikkakko Cathanar died in custody under torture. He was in severe mental pain and was in repentance and prayers in his last days that he even requested the Padres for sacraments. This is enough for us to believe that he earned a place in the heaven during his time under torture. He was a martyr for his Apostolic Church. It is the duty of the local Church to initiate the process of canonisation of this martyr.   A ‘shraddam’ (memorial day)  should be celebrated in the  Basilica every year along with a pilgrimage to his supposed tomb at Verapuzha. An appropriate monument could also be erected in the Basilica.

Liturgical Architecture in par with the Spirituality

It is a responsibility of a Basilica to be a model for the spiritual life, worship and traditions of the local Church[xviii]. To uphold the spirituality and traditions, the liturgical space could be rearranged in the Basilica to create a well-defined bema within the Hykkala with ample space and facilities for regular Liturgical processions within the Church according to the liturgical  and architectural prescriptions of the East Syriac traditions.

Formation of the faithful

The Basilica has a responsibility to facilitate the East Syriac spirituality to the next generation to protect and preserve the local church. A theological institute to promote the spirituality and traditions could be organised with facilities to teach Syriac language, liturgical traditions and East Syriac spirituality.

We hope the authorities and the local Christian community will consider these seriously and treat it as an urgent matter as the  Basilica has a responsibility now to witness the rich traditions and spirituality of this local community in the Universal Church.



Thanks to Mr Mathew Mailaparampil for reviewing the paper and for valuable comments and opinions.


[i] Wilhelm Baum, Dietmar Winkler, Church of the East, a Concise History, pp16-17 Synod of Isaac in 410 was held at Seleucia and was attended by Bishop Marutha of Mipherkat. and the Synod of Yahballaha in AD 420 was attended by Akakios of Amid as representatives of the Roman Church.(Churches of the Roman Empire.

[ii] Wilhelm Baum and Dietmar Winkler, Church of the East, a concise History, p19. The Synod of Markabta rejected the right to appeal to the Fathers of the west in disputes. No western Bishop was present in this synod unlike the previous synods of Isaac in 410 or 420. Autonomy was established in the Synod of Isaac in 410 but auto cephalus nature was declared only in 424.

[iii] Adrian Fortescue, Lesser Eastern Churches, p 84

[iv] Adrian Fortescue, Lesser Eastern Churches, p 54

[v] John Thoppil, Christology in the East Syrian Tradition, in Pauly Maniyattu, (Ed.)East Syrian Theology, an introduction, p174.

[vi] John Thoppil, NinivehChristology in the East Syrian Tradition, in Pauly Maniyattu, (Ed.)East Syrian Theology, an Introduction,  pp161-162

[vii] Wigram, An introduction to the history of Assyrian Church, p97

[viii] Placid Podipara, The Church of Seleucia and its Catholic Roman Communion, in  Thomas Kalayil. C M I, (Ed.)Collected Works of Rev Dr Placid J Podipara, CMI vol 1  San Jos Publications, Mannanam, Kottayam  p 110  citing De Quatuor Patriarchis , Codex Vatican Syriac 43 p 101 Also it is written ‘Such is likewise  the power of the Patriarch of Rome over all Patriarchs  as that of the Blessed Peter is  over the whole community.For he who resides in Rome in the place of Peter has the guardianship of the Universal Church.And if anyone should refuse to obey these ecumenical synods let him be anathema.’ in the Synod of Isho Yahb 650-660.

[ix] Placid Podipara, The Church of Selucia and its Catholic Roman Communion, in  Thomas Kalayil C M I, (Ed.) Collected Works of Rev Dr Placid J Podipara, CMI vol 1  San Jos Publications, mannanam, Kottayam p 112. Timothy wrote in a letter to Maran Zacha, bisNineveh’….because of the Apostle Peter, the first and the chief rank is preserved in Rome….

[x] F C Burkit, Christian Church in the East p 494. The four gospels became sacrosanct at least in Rome by AD 150.

[xi] L W Barnard, Origins and Emergence of the Church of Edessa in the first two centuries AD, Vigiliae Christianae 22 (1968) 161-175; North-Holland Publishing Co., Amsterdam   p169


[xii] F C Burkit, Christian Church in the East, pp 494-496. The four gospels were considered sacro sanct in Rome by at least AD 150. As the latin speaking christians increased in number, there was a need for trnaslating the gospels to Latin. It was considered that translating the original gospels from Greek would result in loss of special value of the inspired words.  Hence a compendium of four canonical Gospels was composed- Harmony of Gospels.

[xiii] F C Burkit, Dura fragment of Tatian, The Journal of Theological studies, pp 255-259

[xiv] L W Barnard, Origins and Emergence of the Church of Edessa in the first two centuries AD, Vigiliae Christianae 22 (1968) 161-175; North-Holland Publishing Co., Amsterdam   p169

[xv] Charles Pyngott CMI, The Cross: Its place in the Hudra and its Sign in Baptism and Eucharist, Doctoral Dissertation submitted to Pontifical oriental Institute, Rome, 1971, p66)


[xvi] Antony Kollamparampil, Basilica Ennaal Enthu , (article in Malayalam) language, The Deepika Daily News paper, Kottayam, Nov 27, 2016

[xvii] Ill treatment of the Syrian Priests by the European Missionaries are well documented .The Syrian Priests were not allowed to sit before European Missionaries of sit with them at Dinner. Abraham M Nidhiri, Father Nidhiri, A history of his time, p100. Angamaly padiyola also narrates the ill treatments suffered from Nasrani community by the Missionaries.

[xviii] Antony Kollamparampil, Basilica Ennaal Enthu , (article in Malayalam) language, The Deepika Daily News paper, Kottayam, Nov 27, 2016

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    Yes sir, very good article. But the fact is that only Pope can recognize the church as a Basilica. So you can remain as a Minor Basilica till you get that recognition from Rome. Let us all pray for that.
    Thank you sir
    George John Nidhiry, Kuravilangad.