Seven and Half Churches (''Ezhara Pallikal'') of Kerala -What is special about them ? A brief note

 The "Seven and a Half Churches," or "Ezhara Pallikal," refer to the early Christian churches established by St. Thomas the Apostle in Kerala, India, during the 1st century CE. These churches hold immense historical and spiritual significance as they bear witness to St. Thomas's missionary activities in the region. Unlike the grand temples and palaces seen in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka during that time, places of worship in Kerala were modest, primarily serving as meeting places for small communities. The region's humid climate contributed to the rapid deterioration of structures, making it difficult for larger edifices to survive. Consequently, these early churches were often identified by the presence of a cross installed in front.

The locations of these churches are derived from the "Ramban Pattu," a text chronicling St. Thomas's travels in the 1st century. The existing version of this text was reproduced by the 48th priest of the Maliekkal family. According to the Ramban Pattu, St. Thomas arrived at Malayattoor, where he baptized 220 people. He then proceeded to Palayoor, Malyankara, Kottakkal, Gokkamangalam, and Kollam, establishing churches at each stop and staying for about a year in each location. His journey continued to Chayal Mala. These churches were strategically set up along navigable trade routes, facilitating the formation of Christian communities and local marketplaces. All these churches are located in  sites surrounded by serene and picturesque places that give an impetus to the pilgrims looking for peace of mind spiritual solace.

Kodungalloor Church

St. Thomas Church Kodungalloor, Kerala image:

Above image: Kodungaloor (Trissur District) St. Thomas Church, Kerala: One of the oldest in India,  this holy site, on the banks of the River Periyar is a historic and important  pilgrim center for the Christians in India. Lots of people visit this church from many parts of South India, in particular Tamil Nadu.............

Kodungalloor, identified in Roman documents as Muchiri, was the capital of the Chera Kings and the site of St. Thomas's first church in India. The Ramban Pattu recounts that St. Thomas baptized the local ruler, his family, and 40 Jews here. Though the original church's destruction date is unknown, Portuguese records from the early 16th century mention three churches in Kodungalloor named after St. Thomas, the Virgin Mary, and Kuriakose Sahada. The area experienced significant migration due to conflicts, leading to the dwindling number of Christians over time.

Kollam Church

Kollam was a vital port city on the Arabian coast, where St. Thomas reportedly converted 1,400 people to Christianity during his year-long stay. The original church established by St. Thomas was later destroyed by sea erosion. Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese writer who visited Kerala in 1514, documented the existence of this church. By the time Portuguese Governor Albuquerque arrived in 1503, Kollam was home to 2,000 St. Thomas Christian families. However, the imposition of Latin customs by the Portuguese led many to flee to nearby areas such as Chathanoor and Adoor.

Niranam Church

St. Mary's Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam

Above image:  St. Mary's Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam. Kerala. image credit: Jowinvp...............

In Niranam, St. Thomas is believed to have performed numerous miracles. The modern Mar Thoma Church is thought to stand on the site where he originally erected a cross. Another church in the area, the Orthodox Church, was built where the cross was reinstalled. The church in Niranam boasts a stone inscription dating back to its renovation in 1259 and is renowned for its wall paintings. A museum has also been established near the church.

Nilakkal Church

St. Thomas Church, Nilakkal,

Above image: St. Thomas Church, Nilakkal, Kerala. image credit: Jude Didimus. Located  roughly 52 km (32 mi) east to Ranni and near Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district, his church area was discovered during the time of Malankara Metropolitan Pulikottil Thirumeni (then head of the Orthodox Church)........

Nilakkal, also known as Chayal, was another significant site where St. Thomas lived for a year. This area was once a bustling city and commercial center with trade routes extending to Tamil Nadu. In the 6th century, fearing dacoit raids, many Christians fled to nearby regions like Kanjirapally, Ranni, Thumbamon, Vadasserikara, and Erumeli. Remnants of Christian churches have been discovered in the forests, and the current church was built on land allotted by the government in 1976.

Kokkamangalam Church

Kokkamangalam Church, Kerala, India

Above image: Kokkamangalam Church, Kerala, India Image credit: Matthai at English Wikipedia....................

Kokkamangalam, located near Cherthala, was another site where St. Thomas spent a year, converting 1,600 people to Christianity. This area, along with nearby places like Muttom and Pallipuram, was a major center for migration and trade.

Kottakkavu Church

Kottakkavu Churchc, Kerala

Above image:   Kottakkavu Mar Thoma Syro-Malabar Pilgrim Church .Kerala  Image credit: Mathen Payyappilly Palakkappilly (User: Achayan)................

Kottakkavu, formerly known as Kottakayal or Pattamana Paravur, saw its original church destroyed during Tipu Sultan's invasion in the 18th century. The church that stands today was constructed in its place.

Palayoor Church

St. Thomas Church,

Above image Palayoor St. George Church, Kerala, image credit: Princebpaul 0484...................

Palayoor, a coastal village in Ponnani taluk, was the last place visited by St. Thomas. This area was known for its Jewish settlement, evidenced by local names like Yudakunnu and Yudakulam. In the 16th century, a church was built over the original structure by Father Fenichi, incorporating elements of the ancient building.

The "Half" Church

The "half" church, Arappalli Church, refers to places where St. Thomas neither established a church nor formed a full Christian community but set up a shrine.

Other Significant Sites

Other locations such as Thiruvankottu Church, Malayattoor Church, Aruvithara near Pala, and the church at Arthat in Kunnamkulam are also traditionally associated with St. Thomas's missionary activities. These sites, including the cross at Mylakombil in Thodupuzha, mark the Apostle's journey and influence in India.

The "Seven and a Half Churches" stand as enduring symbols of St. Thomas's legacy in India, commemorating his earliest efforts to spread Christianity across the region.