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Chinna Koil - Sacred Hearts cathedral, Tuticorin

Whilst we have come across the article on Tuticorin’s famous Snows church, we also need to know about another prominent church in Tuticorin, “Sacred Hearts cathedral”. Sacred Hearts cathedral does not fall on the lines of churches which we have seen so far. This church does not carry the traditional trademark of St. Francis Xavier or the Portuguese architecture or the early 16th century history which other churches possess. But the church has an obvious Paravar connection and we need to know why it became the headquarters of Tuticorin Diocese. Most of the churches in Muthukulithurai fall under this diocese.

Why is it called “Chinna Koil”?

Till independence there were only 2 parishes that existed in Tuticorin – Our Lady of Snows and Sacred Hearts. Sacred Hearts cathedral is much bigger than Our Lady of Snows Basilica, but ironically this church is called as the “Chinna Koil”. Snows church is called as the “Periya Koil”. The naming came because Snows was built much ahead of Sacred Hearts and it received a bigger recognition from the people.

On 12th June 1923 when Tuticorin diocese was created, Sacred Hearts church was elevated to the status of “Cathedral”. This church became the headquarters for Tuticorin diocese and in 1923 Rev. Roche became the first Bishop for this diocese. Subsequently Sacred Hearts cathedral was established as the Bishop House of the diocese.


Goa Mission vs. French Mission

Going back to the early 16th century when Portuguese converted many Paravars to Christians, we can see that there were only 4 dioceses in India. The Portuguese king with Pope’s permission had established these 4 dioceses in India. These 4 were Goa (Headquarters), Cochin (Kerala), Cranganore (Kerala) and Mylapore (Tamilnadu). The villages inhabited by Paravars (Muthukulithurai) came under the diocese of Cochin.

In 1658 Dutch had conquered Tuticorin and other villages by defeating the Portuguese. Years passed and all our churches were governed by Jesuit (Society of Jesus) priests. On July 21 1773 Pope Clement XIV “de-recognised” or “suppressed” the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits took over again after the “Society of Jesus” was restored by Pope Pius VII on 7thAugust 1814. On the 8th of July 1836, Pope Gregory XVI made Madurai an Apostolic Province. Madurai became the centre of Christianity in Tamilnadu and was handed over to Jesuit priests from France. Pearl fishery coast which came in this new province was entrusted to the Jesuit Missionaries of Thulus Province in France. So this was also called as the “French Mission”.

The Jesuit priests tried to get back the all the parishes that were under the influence of Goan priests which caused riots and confusion. We need to understand that though Jesuits were held responsible for Muthukulithurai several churches were still run by the Goan priests. In short, Portuguese influence never left us and it was considered to be a fight between two nations, France and Portugal. Two factions namely “Goa Mission” (Padroado priests) and “French Mission” (Jesuit priests) prevailed during that time. In view of solving this problem, Pope Leo XIII in 1886, made a concordat with the Portugal government, and put the dioceses of Goa and Mylapore under Padroado. At the same time Tiruchirapalli was declared a separate diocese and the Pearl Fishery Coast came under this.

Church’s construction

Long before Pope Leo XIII put the dioceses of Goa and Mylapore under Padroado priests in 1886 there is a story of how Jesuits were evacuated from Snows church in Tuticorin. In 1839 when Tuticorin was controlled by Madurai mission (Jesuits from France) the head of Paravars in Tuticorin supported the establishment of Goa Mission. For this the head of Paravars ousted the Jesuit priest Fr. Martin from Our Lady of Snows (Periya Koil) and handed it to the Goa mission (Padroado priests). Since Snows church was not in the hands of Jesuits, they wanted to construct a separate church in Tuticorin. After waiting for nearly 9 years the Jesuit priests in Madurai decided to construct a church in Tuticorin. Mr. Manuel Vyagula Motha (Vembar) had a sprawling land (63 acres) which he gave for the church to be built. The construction of Chinna Koil started in 1848 under the supervision of Jesuit priests from Madurai.

The construction began in 1848 by Fr. Piccinelli and a small church was blessed open on January 5th of 1849. Rev. Fr. Kanos who was the bishop of Madurai Apostolic Province blessed the new church. Construction of a bigger church was going on simultaneously around this small church. After 15 years in 1864 the bigger church was completed and this was overseen by Jesuit brother Lamoth who was an expert in construction.

After 45 years in 1909 the church’s side wings were extended. The towers which we see in the front were built in 1948 and were considered to be a great achievement during those times. Bishop Roche (first Bishop of Tuticorin diocese) is credited for raising this tower. Limestone was used to build these towers which were churned by the bulls. Today this church stands as one of the finest French architectural church in India.

Why “Sacred Hearts”?

In 1849 when this church’s construction was completed it was dedicated to the sacred hearts
of both Jesus and mother Mary. Hence this church is called as “Sacred Hearts” rather than “Sacred Heart” church which we usually come across.

Tuticorin Diocese

Separated from the diocese of Tiruchirapalli, Tuticorin was created as a diocese and entrusted to the diocesan clergy in 1923. St. Francis Xavier and St. Theresa of Child Jesus were held as the patron saints of the diocese. On April 4, 1930 the five parishes of Kooduthalai, Manapad (Holy Ghost Church), Punnaikayal, Tuticorin (Our Lady of Snows Church) and Vaippar were amalgamated into the diocese.

Today Tuticorin, Vallioor, Kallikulam, Uvari, Manapad, Alanthalai, Vadakankulam, Idinthakarai, Kootapuli, Vembar, Virapandiapatinam etc. fall in the Tuticorin diocese. In short most of Muthukulithurai churches fall in Tuticorin diocese headquartered in the Chinna Koil.

Grottos in the parish

There are 4 Grottos (“Keby”) in this church’s premise, they are:
Our Lady of Lourdes
St. Joseph
St. Theresa
St. Francis Xavier

Special features of the church

Inner wooden architecture and paintings in stained glasses reflect the French architecture.
There is a statue of Jesus Christ in the cross wherein one of his hands embraces St. Francis of Assisi.
Finest wooden crafts, not just in the altar but everywhere around the church.
The Eucharistic tabernacle is designed as a Pearl, symbolizing Pearly city Tuticorin.
The inside of central dome has paintings depicting Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, Angels etc.

by Anton Niresh
Thanks: Global Paravar

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