Renovated Church in Sastan Dedicated to, ‘Apostle of India’ St Thomas ready for grand inaugura


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By P. Archibald Furtado
Bellevision Media Network

Udupi, 04 May 2022:  There is a sizable broad-minded Christians at and around Kallianpur to Kodi, the citadel of early Catholic settlement, in large number. In other words, its firmly believed by these people, more recisely by their ancestors that, they were introduced to new faith by none other than two of Christ’s Apostles-St Bartholomew and St Thomas, who first landed in the historically known maritime port of Hungarkatte in 52 AD. The written records are yet to be traced, most part of it, probably destroyed with the passage of time, ignorance or negligence. However,there are good numbers of legendary narratives still heard and passed on from generations to authenticate these strange and solid roots of Christians in Canara.

 

Interestingly, one can read and hear about St Thomas, who is rightly revered as the ‘Apostle of India’, because he moved down to South to Kerala and then the Eastern Coast of Tamil Nadu and ultimately martyrdom at Mylapore near Chennai, as on the spot where he was martyred in the year 72 AD or the place where the mortal remains were buried, now stands the famous St Thomas Cathedral Basilica.There are good numbers of incidents attributed to this holy man in Kerala and many Christian denominations owe their birth and firmly trust that their forefathers were converted to Christianity by the companions of Christ about 2000 years ago. 

 

Other day while passing through  Sastan, I came across the beautifully restructured Church dedicated to ‘St Thomas the Apostle’, which rekindled the curiosity in me.It must be a coincidence that I met Prof Robert Rodrigues, the Secretary of the Church Renovation Committee (HOD Dept of History, SMS College, Brahmmavara) on this location. Few observations by him and the information  that some senior citizens accompanying him shared, prompted me to attempt to write these few sentences.

 

For centuries the Western Coast of India was well-known for trade and commerce. African, Romans and Arab merchants used to pay regular visits to the then prosperous, civilised and cultured destination, India.  The most prominent name which was mentioned in the ancient Egyptian and Roman records is Pakanur or Barakooru. This place again becomes famous once ‘Alupa Kings’, one of the longest ruling dynasties in India, made it as their capital. The strategically ideal location and the estuary embracing both Swarna and Sita rivers together at Hungarkatte  with Arabian Sea was an all seasons  natural maritime port and centre of Commerce and socio-cultural activities. However,  in the later years, the preference attached to Mangalore by British over Barkur in the 17th and 18th centuries, probably led to the decline both its one time glory and importance.

There are exceptionally few Churches in Coastal Canara dedicated or whose patron Saints are either of these Apostles, Bartholomew or Thomas. Of course in olden times there were only Synagogues or places of worshipping one Almighty God. Probably European influence, in 15h and 16th Centuries and later years, especially Portuguese and Spanish, motivated the locals to construct Church with a special Patron Saint other than Mother Mary.

 

The hearsay account narrates that there were some houses in Airody, Kodi, Kemmannu, Kallianpur and Barkur including surrounding islands, believed to be visited by these disciples of Christ. They had regular prayer sessions and community get together. It is believed that St Thomas travelled down to Kerala leaving Canara in the care of St Bartholomew, who too after spreading the good news returned to Asia Minor by land route via Goa, Konkan, Gujrath and Sindh in Pakistan. Those who came in close contact with these holy men adapted to the worship of one God and Jesus as the redeemer. In later years few of these houses wherein these Apostles spent time became official prayer houses and gradually churches. There were one or two such homes in Hungarkatte / Airody since there is no unanimity on the right location.

 

According to the information gathered from the senior learned men from the locality, about 75 years ago or may be earlier, a place was chosen in Sastan to have a Church, dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle. Now it stands majestically on the NH66 with the devout, prayerful and dedicated support of more than a thousand parishioners, affiliated to this Orthodox Syrian Catholic parish. 

 

The Paduardo and Propaganda controversy between 1837 to 1887 led to the unfortunate schism that led to the division among the Catholics especially in Brahmavar that led to the sizable number of Syrian Orthodox Christians.Due credit goes to Syrian brothers for continuing the same ‘Kallianpur Konkani Culture’ in their social and cultural practices, which are deep rooted, at weddings, feasts, prayers at home.

 

Over the years the Syrian Orthodox Church of Sasthan was under the care of SMS Cathedral of Brahmmavara. It has grown with number of believers and the clergy and leaders of the community found the age old structure to be renovated, both to be safe and able to accommodate faithful for various prayer services and rituals.With the sustained efforts and sacrifices of the community both from locality and neighbourhood a beautiful, Gothic styled new Church now ready for inauguration, scheduled on 17th and 18th of May, 2022.

Some salient features of the New Church:

As we were given to understand that, though there were some houses at Sastan to facilitate Sunday prayers, officially in the year 1926, a new Church was established dedicated to St Thomas, being the third in line, after St Mary’s at Brahmmavar in 1888 and St Anthony’s Church in Kollalgir in 1923. Interestingly the ancestors, in Sastan with an authenticated knowledge of the divinity of the place, which was touched by the Apostles of the Christ, then Vicar Rev. Fr R.Z Noronha – (1888 – 1936) of St Mary’s Church, Brahmmavar devoutly chosen and consecrated St Thomas as its Patron and it is gathered that in this place many miracles, cure of deadly diseases, solutions to civil conflicts had been witnessed not only by Christians but also others in the surrounding areas. There used to be a beeline of devotees to offer prayers and petitions during feast day of St Thomas and annual parish feasts.

 

Inauguration and Blessing of the New renovated St Thomas Church:

The St. Thomas Church with a century old legacy, heritage and renovated beautifully, by retaining certain monumental attractions intact. The ground team led by Rev Fr Noel Lewis, the parish Priest, really worked hard by offering labour and resources since two years, though Corona and other events slowed down its completion. There is absolutely no compromise with the quality work, artistically given final touches by experts from Kerala, Goa and other places. The talented trios comprising Mr Moses Rodrigues, Convener of Renovation Committee, Prof Robert Rodrigues, its Secretary, and Mr Jerome Rodrigues Treasurer, left no stone unturned to construct this magnificent monumental prayer house in place, to be a must visit Church in Sastan, in days to come.

 

 

As it was a practice in olden days, the sweat and labour of parishioners extensively utilised in the reconstruction process, in mobilizing ‘shramadaan. In other words it is a distinct feature at Sastan to experience the 100% involvement of common men, duly supported by women and youth physically sacrificing their time and energies to complete the job saving money and deriving contentment.

 

The main Altar has a radiant look with the statue of St Thomas carved on the top, holding Holy Bible, Risen Lord at the centre, with the Jesus Baptism in the hands of St John the Baptist in Jordan river, and  the Last Supper on either side, give a feel of the reverence and devotion inside the Church. The basic Gothic features of architectural design maintained with artistic arches and decorated pillars.

 

 

The ten days long ceremony will be given a thrilling start on Sunday, 8th May, 2022, with the flag hoisting to herald the beginning of the historical event with colourful ‘Hore Kannike procession’ on 15th May, 2022, involving and inviting all to take part followed by two day Consecration with traditional Vespers on Tuesday 17th May and Parish Feast day celebrations, on Wednesday, 18th May, 2022.

 

 

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