St. Lawrence Parish of Belle Through the Century - I

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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Adapted from: The Brief History of St. Lawrence Parish, Belle(in Konkani) by Boniface Barboza
Bellevision Media Network


1. Background

Moodubelle, 03 November 2010: The date 2 November 1910 is etched in golden letters in the history of Belle, ‘Boliye’ in Konkani language. It was on that day, 100 years ago that the parish dedicated to St. Lawrence at Belle was officially established by the decree issued by the then Bishop of Mangalore, Rt. Rev. Paul Perini. By this decree, Belle which so far was under the jurisdiction of the Shirva parish came to be constituted into an independent parish. As the Belle parish completes a century on 2 November 2010, it would be appropriate to review the circumstances that led to the establishment of the parish and also the contribution of various parish priests, assistant priests and the lay people to the growth and progress of St. Lawrence Parish, Belle.


The origin of Christianity in South Kanara comprising of the present districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada can be traced since around 1500. Following the discovery of the sea route to India by the Portuguese adventurer-Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese established their political control over Goa and carried on converting the indigenous people. St. Francis Xavier was chiefly responsible for converting a large number of local people to Christianity. The Portuguese built a number of churches in Goa including the Bom Jesus Church at Old Goa. However, quite a number of newly converted Christians gradually migrated from various places in Goa to the south between 1500 and 1763 due to political, economic and cultural reasons. These immigrant Christians from Goa who settled down in different villages of the South Kanara came to be known as ‘Konkani Christians’.


Vasco da Gama


One of the prominent reasons for the migration of the Konkani Christians to South Kanara was the oppressive character of the ‘Edict of Goa Inquisition’. The Portuguese authorities, both political and religious, wanted to eliminate all the traces of paganism in the customs and manners of the native Christians with particular reference to birth, death, festivals and dress. This created a sense of fear and insecurity in the minds of the native Christians. Though they embraced Christianity, the native people wanted to preserve their native culture and thus, they migrated to the Kanara region and settled down at different places.


The rulers of Vijayanagara and the Nayaks of Keladi encouraged the Konkani Christian migration because they were a useful group in the economic set up of the region. The Konkani Christians came to South Kanara during this period as artisans, merchants, cultivators and even for the propagation of faith. Agricultural land was available in South Kanara in sufficient quantity for cultivation. Gradually, the Konkani Christians learnt Kannada and Tulu, but retained Konkani as their mother tongue, they built churches, organized parishes, started industries and warehouses in the region to promote socio-economic development in their own way.


Bom Jesu Church in Goa


Traditions confirm that Churches were founded in different places in South Kanara few centuries back including the one at Shirva to which Belle was affiliated. Though it is not easy to say exactly when the first church was built in Shirva, it is certain that till 1911 two churches existed in Shirva-the Lower Church and the Upper Church. In the absence of documents, it is difficult to pinpoint which of them was built earlier. However, according to generally held belief, the Lower Church dedicated to N. S. de Saude (Our Lady of Health) was built earlier. It has been commonly believed that this church was located originally in Kodi on Shirva Katapady Road. The Nayaks of Bedanore, especially during the days of Venkappa Nayak (1586-1630) brought the whole of west coast under their jurisdiction and laid solid foundation for a strong government. As Christians were good agriculturists the Nayaks encouraged them in their territory. This resulted in the spread of Christianity from the coastal area to the hinterland and in the building of a number of churches. Thus, it can be presumed that that the Church at Kodi was constructed at this period. Another tradition says that a Church existed at Mannettu, a border of Shirva and Kuthyar village at the end of the seventeenth century.


The Kanara Konkani Christians faced the worst phase in their history when they became the victims of the persecution of Tipu Sultan who became the ruler of Mysore from 1761 to 1799 following the death of his father-Hyder Ali. The Christians were persecuted on the suspicion of their being the supporters of the British who were emerging as a political power in India. Tipu Sultan’s soldiers destroyed many of the churches in Kanara including those at Kodi and Manettu in Shirva. Between 1783 and 1785 thousands of Kanara Christians including from Shirva and neighbouring regions were taken as captives to Seringapatam, the capital of Tipu Sultan where they were tortured and subjected to hardships.


Tipu Sultan


Following the final defeat and death of Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799, the Konkani Christians were liberated from the captivity and those who had survived returned to their homes in South Kanara and were allowed to settle on their land. Gradually, the Christians began to rebuild their churches and organise themselves into parishes.


Before 1815 as many 23 Churches, including four in the Mulki Varado were rebuilt. Before Tipu destroyed the churches there were four churches including the Saude Church of Shirva in Mulki Varado. It is presumed that the Saude Church of Shirva was also rebuilt before this period. However, it was shifted from its original location at Kodi to a new place known as Hale Hithlu where the present Mahalaxmi Narayani Temple is situated.


The place where the church dedicated to Our Lady of Health stood was a gift from a well-to do Bunt family. The ancestors of late Chandayya Hegde’s famous Kodu Household had no girl child in their family. The family offered to donate a piece of land to the Saude Church if a girl child was born in their family. It is believed that God heard their prayer made through Our Lady of Health and blessed them with a girl child. In gratitude for the gift of a girl child, the Kodu Bunt family donated the land for the church as they had promised. Even now this area is called as Old Church area.


Meanwhile, a new church dedicated to St. Francis Xavier was built by Fr. Joachim Borges in 1859 located at the present cemetery of the Shirva parish. Thus, there were two churches in Shirva, the one dedicated to Our Lady of Health came to be known as the Lower Church and the one that was dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, the Upper Church.


St Francis Xavier


It was a period of differences and conflict between two church authorities known as ‘Padroado’ and Propaganda. In 1514 Padroado, that is, ‘State Patronage’ system was introduced in Goa and in 1534 Goa became an independent diocese having jurisdiction over a vast territory including the whole Kanara. In 1632, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith, popularly known as ‘Propaganda’ was established by Pope Clement X who appointed Thomas De Castro as the honorary bishop of Fulsivila and Vicar Apostolic of Kanara in 1674 under the Propaganda system which the Portuguese refused to recognize. Thus there was a conflict between the Padroado and Propaganda.


As Kanara came under the control of the British following the defeat and death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, the Vatican decided to take advantage of the situation and Pope Gregory XVI abolished the Padroado system outside the Portuguese territories in India, and extended the Propaganda system in these territories and Apostolic Vicariates were established.


In 1836, the Catholics in the Kanara region were advised to transfer their allegiance to the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly in Kerala as there was no legitimate bishop in Goa as the bishop nominated by the Portuguese government was not acceptable to the Vatican. Many priests with their parishioners followed this advice but others refused, resulting in rift among a number of priests and their parishioners.


Even in Shirva, while the church dedicated to Our Lady of Health (Lower Church) was under the control of Padroado of Goa, the church dedicated to St. Francis Xavier (Upper Church) was under the Propaganda affiliated to the Bishop of Verapoly in Kerala. Thus, the two churches had their own jurisdiction and the division among the Catholics seemed to be unbridgeable. The priests and people of both these churches tried their best to win the supporters to their side. The fact that for a long time the people of the same religion fought with each other regarding the spiritual jurisdiction of the two bishops was really sad.


Meanwhile, Kanara was established as an independent Vicariate under Bishop Michael Anthony (OCD) in 1853. In 1886 the Vicariate was raised to the status of a Diocese and the Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore, Most Rev. Nicholas Maria Pagani S.J. became the first Bishop of Mangalore.


Due to lack of proper records, it is not possible to reconstruct the complete history of the two churches in Shirva. As per the available documents, Fr. H. S. Miranda was the parish priest of the Lower Church from 1872 to 1876. He was succeeded by Fr. Francis Xavier Alemco from 1876 to 1879 and from 1879 to 1901 Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes worked as the parish priest.


As mentioned above, it was Fr. Joachim Borges who built the church dedicated to St. Francis Xavier also known as the Upper Church. He was succeeded by Fr. Louis Noronha as the parish priest from 1872 to 1874. The later parish priests were-Fr. Manuel D’Souza and Fr. Nicholas Cornelio who was the parish priest from 1885 till 1904. He was quite influential and forward looking priest and acquired many acres of land from the government practically free of cost. Fr. Nicholas Cornelio was the contemporary of Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes, the parish priest of the Lower Church.


At that time there were no churches in Belle, Shankerapura and Mudarangadi. The people of these places had to come to Shirva to attend Sunday Masses and for other religious obligations. Realising the need to have a place of worship for the people living in the north-east regions of the parish around six acres of land was acquired at Mattar. However, as it was felt that the place was in a corner of the region to which the church would serve, a new centrally located place at Nittool was acquired later where the present church dedicated to St. Lawrence stands.


Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes chose St. Lawrence as the patron saint and decided to build a Chapel at Belle and arranged for the Sunday Mass. Till the chapel was constructed Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes used to offer the Sunday Mass and fulfil spiritual needs of the people of Belle at the house of Rocky Aranha. It is said that Fr. Menezes used to travel from Shirva to Belle and back on a horse.


As Rocky Aranha was literate he was nominated as the Catechist by Fr. Menezes. With the help of the people a chapel with tile roof and mud walls was raised followed by a kitchen and a small residence for the priest. The Sunday Mass and other religious and social activities began to be conducted in this chapel. Meanwhile, the burial ground was also demarcated which later developed as the present cemetery. Acquiring some land towards the south of the cemetery from the Kattingeri Village few paddy fields were carved out and two families were settled on that land by constructing hay-roof houses. These two families were assigned the task of working in and guarding the chapel.


On 4 March 1901, Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes, the founder of the chapel in Belle expired and he was succeeded by Fr. Sebastian Furtado. He continued the mission work in Belle that was started by late Fr. Menezes. Following the transfer of Fr. Furtado, his place was taken by Fr. Gregory D’Souza who continued the pastoral work at Belle through his assistant priest, Fr. Salvadore Mathias. Meanwhile, in the Upper Church Fr. Nicholas Cornelio was succeeded by Fr. Rosario Lewis in 1904. He started the post office and a weekly market at Shirva. He also initiated the process for the unification of the Upper and Lower Churches. In 1906, Fr. Rosario Lewis was succeeded by Fr. Casmir Fernandes as the parish priest of the Upper Church (To be continued on Wednesdays...)



Acknowledgement: As starts serialising the history of St. Lawrence Parish, Belle, i take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my teacher, Boniface Barboza (Benny Master) who had compiled the brief history of St. Lawrence Parish, Belle in Konkani which was published in the special edition of ‘Suvaad’ that was issued on the occasion of the blessing and inauguration of the new church building in January 2006. Incidentally, Benny Master is the right person to narrate the history of the parish as his father, late Salvador Barboza had accompanied Fr. Casmir Fernandes from Shirva when the latter was appointed as the first parish priest of Belle way back in 1910. At that time, Salvador Barboza was a young boy of only 15 years. After his education up to SSLC, Boniface Barboza became a teacher and served as the headmaster of the Church Aided Higher Primary School, Moodubelle. I sincerely acknowledge that the major part of the series “St. Lawrence Parish of Belle Through the Century” is adapted from the original source-“The brief History of St. Lawrence Parish, Belle” (Konkani) written by Benny Master.

 Dr. Eugene D’Souza




Comments on this Article
Susan, Pangala/Mumbai Thu, November-18-2010, 2:47
Thank you Dr.Eugene on your research articles...lot of information, knowledge facts. Very interesting. Mr.Boniface Barboza - human being par excellence! Very proud of you Benny uncle your loving parents.
Deepak,, Dombivali Thu, November-4-2010, 12:01
Good investigative reporting. You have to be a journalist.
Francis L. Lobo, Belle Thu, November-4-2010, 9:42
This is one of the facts of our church and our ancestors contributions to us.It was a very hard life that time.Thanks to Dr. Eugine@Honourable Mr.Barboza for shedding light on the topic.
Lily Andrade (Barboza), Moodubelle/Kemmannu/Mumbai Thu, November-4-2010, 3:19
Good write up, very informative, I am sure that my Uncle has got lots of information about a history of our Church, where once upon a time he with his siblings were the back bone of my Grand Father the Sacristian in his service to our Church. Dr. Eaugine we appreciate your full time great efforts. May God bless you all in your efforts and keep on giving us good articles. When we view the website we feel that we are at home in Belle.
Manoj Menezes, Shirva/Abu Dhabi Thu, November-4-2010, 2:10
Very informative and well researched article of both Shirva and Belle Parish histories. Even though christianity existed in this part of the world (I mean Shirva and sorrounding) for a long time, it was not highlighted in any of the media so far. Only city based churches history particulary about Tipu Sultan s invasion and attack were highligted. Thank you Dr. Eugene for your detailed article on the above subject. Waiting to read for the next segment. I have also read history written by Late. Benedict Tauro of Shirva published in our Parish Magazine Saude Sandesh .
Vijay Dsouza, Moodubelle Thu, November-4-2010, 12:38
By reading into this detailed history of St.Lawrence parish, it is evident that how much pain and research has gone thru this article. Bellevision team is doing a great job by documenting the history in a orderly manner which was never done in the past. As they say - we must know our roots to excel in the future. Same job was done during last years golden jubilee celebrations of High school. Thanks Dr.Eugene for this painstaking job, you are a real gem of Moodubelle. May God bless you and keep you healthy.
Manoj, moodubelle/Dubai Wed, November-3-2010, 2:16
Very Good and informative article. This article is worth preserving.
Anil D Souza, Shirva Wed, November-3-2010, 8:34
Dr.Eugene has provided very useful information and very interesting to read. Waiting for the next episode.
Staney D Souza, Dubai Wed, November-3-2010, 5:05
Thank you Dr.Eugene for your efforts to put things together and come up with detailed history of belle parish. It is pleasure to read your write up always. This is the time to remeber our ancisters who had sacrificed thier life for building this parish. May the lord bless all your work and keep you healthy and happy.
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