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The land of St\'Alphonsa

Bharananganam is a name which is synonymous with St. Alphonsa, who ise the first saint of India. This town is 5 kilometer away from Palai, now has become an important pilgrim center in Kerala. St. lphonsa was born in 1910 August 19th at Kudamaloor, a small village near Kottayam. A traditional family named Muttathupadathu was blessed to have Sr. Alphonsa (maiden name A.E Anna) as their child. She was born to Mr.Auseph and Mariamma. Muttathupadathu. She was baptized at Kudamlaoor church. 50 days later Mariamma died. So Anna was looked after by her maternal uncle at Muttuchira another small town in Kottayam district. She studied up to 3rd class at Muttuchira government school. During 1924 she had suffered by severe burns and she was not able to continue the studies. Yet she remained at Muttuchira till she was 15 years. Her Holy Communion (1917) and confirmation (1925) were held at Muttuchira church. She was adamant in joining a convent as a nun and by passing all proposals for marriage she joined Franciscan Clarist convent at Bharananganam on August 2nd, 1928. Then she joined Clarist convent at Vazhappally, Changanacherry. She studied up to 8th standard. Unfortunately she again fell ill and  was brought back to Bharanganam convent. For a short period she was a teacher at Vakakkadu School. Then illness became a regular visitor of Sr.Alphonsa. She was bedridden and was not able to walk. Yet she prayed all the time. All treatments proved fruitless. On 1946 July 28 she was called to her eternal home. The mortal remains were laid to rest at Bharananganam forane church. Surprisingly very few people attended the funeral. But very soon her grave was visited by mostly by students. They got the blessings of God especially for winning high marks in school and college examinations. Gradually several people started visiting Bharananganam and St. Alphonsa's tomb .


The Bharananganam church which is 1000 years old is also known as Anakkallu church. This place is also have stories which relates to Pandavas. It is believed that Bharananganam Sreekrishna temple was blessed by pandavas themselves. The older name of this place was Parananganam. St. Thomas the apostle of India, social reformer sree Narayana Guru, Mother Theresa, blessed Chavara Elias visited this place. It is believed that a portion of the cross which was used to crucify Jesus Christ is kept here. Archeologists unearthed coins which belongs to Buddha era (B.C 563-483), 162 silver coins of 18th century from Bharananganam. This place is considered to be settlement of Buddhists, the sastha temple at Edamattom underlines this theory.


The church was first built during 1004 AD. As per the tradition five families requested for a church at Bharananganam. But there was a quarrel between the Christians of this region over the location of the church. The local ruler find a unique way to settle the issue. He entrusted his elephant to find out a suitable place. The foundation stone was laid on the same day (1004 August 15) .Thus a small church was built. Few years later more Christians from Nilakkal and surroundings reached Bharananganam and the Christian community became stronger. They wanted a big church. In 1935 a new church was built and the idol of St.Sebastian brought by the new families was installed in the church. When the Portuguese were in command of the affairs of the Christians in India they wanted to rebuild churches in Christian style. Before that all churches adopted temple architecture and even the first sailor from Portugal Vasco de Gama prayed in a temple believing it as a church. In 1913 this church was demolished to construct another church. But it took a long 15 years to complete the works the obvious reason was First World War. This is the fourth church and a big one in gothic style. It is 180 feet long and 62 feet wide. It is built with local available materials. The altar of the old church is kept even now. There was a small church adjacent to the old church and it is still there.

 

When the number of pilgrims increased a shrine was built near the old church which is named after St.Alphonsa. There is a belief that illness will be cured miraculously by praying at St. Alphonsa's grave. St.Alphonsa was declared "blessed" on 1986 February by Pope John Paul II when he visited Kerala. (The podium built for the ceremony at Kottayam is kept near the Bharananganam church.  It was the maiden visit of a Pope to Kerala and second visit of a Pope to India. The first pope to visit India was Paul VI. Beatification of Sr. Alphonsa is expected on 12th October 2008 at Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI. Then Sr.Alphonsa will be the first Indian saint. Though Gonsalo Garzia (1557-1597) from Maharastra was declared saint in 1862 by Pope Pius IX, he was only half Indian. He was born to Indian mother and Portuguese father. The beatification process of Sr.Alphonsa started way back in 1953. After numerous complicated processes the final declaration is expected.  December 8th (Francis Assisi feast), St. Sebastian's feast (January 20, 21) St. Alphonsa day (July 28) are the main festivals of Bharananganam. People belong to various communities live here in harmony, and the festivals of the church and temple are celebrated by all. The ornamental lamp held during the church procession was donated by the temple. Bharananganam parish is now having 1000 odd families. This church was made a forane in 1890 itself. The first pastoral home in Kerala was built here. The ornamental gold cross which is an artistic marvel was first owned by this church. An English school was started here in 1880 though the foreign heads of church were not interested in English schools.



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