Palayur Church: The Temple Turned Church?

A few kilometres from Guruyaur lies a beautifully structured church that has a historical significance. We’re talking about the Palayur Church, one of the seven churches established by the apostle of Jesus Christ, Saint Thomas. What’s interesting about this particular church is that the architectural impression of the church is not typical of the standard Church design. Much of it has to do with its history. But, before we delve into that, here’s a bit about Saint Thomas.

St. Thomas had arrived in Kerala in A.D 52 and said to be the person who introduced Christianity in India. He arrived at one of the biggest seaports of Kerala, Kodungallur. And thus began his journey of spreading Christianity. He eventually established seven churches at Kannur, Paravur, Nilakkal, Kondungallur, Kollam, Kokkamangalam, and Palayur, and helped build the Christian community in Kerala. According to history, except for Palayur, all the other churches were destroyed and new churches were built in other parts of Kerala. This makes the Palayur Church of extreme significance as it is the standalone symbol of St. Thomas’ arrival in Kerala. 

We had a chance to visit the Palayur Church to see the marvellous structure and to understand the religious history of the place. There are a lot of scenes of interest in and around the Palayur church, which makes it one of the most significant tourist centres in Kerala. 

The Palayur Church

The moment you enter the church, you witness a structure that’s atypical of Church architectonics. It’s an amalgamation of traditional temple and chapel architecture. And you wonder why. There are two ways to think about it.

Kerala has a long-standing history of Christianity, and the early churches responded to what they commonly saw around them, which was Hindu temple architecture. So the churches were built in accordance with the then styles that were prevalent in the state. This could explain the architecture of The Palayur Church. 

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But, interestingly, some say that there was a temple in the same location that the Palayur church is located, and it was converted into a Church. The story goes that St. Thomas, upon arrival at Palayur, had visited Thaliyakkulam, a pond that is located near. It is there that he came across some people (Brahmins/Aryans) taking water in their palms, throwing it up in the air, and offering their prayers – a form of ritual called Tharpanam.

St. Thomas said, “If the water you throw up is acceptable to god, it would not have fallen back into the tank.” The people there said it was impossible for that to happen. St. Thomas took water from the tank, prayed, and threw it up into the air. The water stayed in the air. The people there were shocked. Because of this particular incident, many people started to follow Christianity and converted. It is believed that earlier there was a temple located, and upper caste Hindu worshippers would bathe in the pond, and head to the temple. When people started to convert to Christianity, the temple was modified into a Church.

If you enter the Church, you can see a place where the lamp is lighted and a cross cut out of stone. It is said to be 200 years old. While the structure has a cross placed on top, the lamps are designed in a temple-fashioned manner. This structure could be the reason why many people that a temple located here before. 

There’s also another section that believes that a church was built which went to be remodeled, ecspecially after Tipu Sultan invaded.

Boottukulam

Bootukulam or boat pond is located quite close to the Palayur Church. You will see a sculpture of the boat which is symbolic of the apostle’s arrival and a 45-feet statue of St. Thomas on the western side of the Bootukulam. This statue is the largest stature of St. Thomas in the world.

In the same compound, visitors also get to explore the Palayur cultural and historical museum. While the museum does have artefacts, ancient inscriptions, Bibles written in different languages, and other showpieces, it isn’t maintained well. 

At that point in time, many people refused to accept Christianity and left their homes. But they cursed the place as they left. Many say, that’s why the place came to be called Chavakkad or cursed land. 

Nevertheless the history, the Palayur Church is said to be of great significance and an important tourist destination. 

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