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St. Thomas Church, Virapandianpatanam, Tuticorin District, Tamilnadu

Virapandianpatanam nicknamed "Pattanam" among coastal areas is a small town located near Tiruchendur en route to Tuticorin (2.5 kms from Tiruchendur). Virapandianpatanam along with other coastal areas such as Vembar, Tuticorin, Alanthalai until Kanyakumari were rich in Pearl business during the 16th century. 

Due to largescale Pearl business the Arabs moved in these places and took over the entire pearl business under them which directly impacted all local fishermen in these coastal villages. The Arabs made Kayalpattinam (a nearby village) as their mainstay and harbour for them to flourish in their business. 

During early 1500's when Arabs were dominating these coastal regions the local fishermen in all these villages decided to seek help from the Portuguese. Portuguese were based in Goa and Cochin during this time. A group of fishermen met the Portuguese soldiers in Cochin (Kerala) and highlighted their situation. The Portuguese agreed to assist these coastal fishermen so that they can continue with their livelihood. In 1534 the Portuguese sent a large contingent under the leadership of "Antonio De Silva" by sea towards the coastal regions in Tamilnadu. They had a battle with the Arabs at Keelakarai wherein Arabs lost and the entire Pearl region began to be controlled by the Portuguese.

History of St. Thomas Church

In 1544 St. Francis Xavier (Jesuit priest) who was instrumental in getting Christianity to Tamilnadu came to these coastal regions and started spreading Christianity. In 1549 St. Francis Xavier appointed Jesuit priest Enriques as the head priest for the Pearl region. He planned to build churches across the region. During 1549 a small church was built in Virapandianpatanam with the help of the locals and dedicated it to St. Thomas (in remembrance of Christ's disciple Thomas). 

After nearly a century in 1640 this church was refurbished and expanded. In 1658 the Dutch won a fight with the Portuguese along the Pearl region and took control of this church along with several churches. Since Dutch were Protestant christians they started ignoring these Catholic churches and used them as a storage place for arms and ammunitions. 

After the Dutch left and several years of ignorance in 1882 Fr. Emmanuel Pereira became the Parish priest of this Church in Virapandianpatanam. The rule of British prevailed during these times and they gave a free hand for Catholics to continue their services. Since this church was partially destroyed by the Dutch. Fr. Emmanuel wanted to re-build this church. Strong pillars were raised to support a bigger church, with the support of the pillars the inner church was segregated into 3 phases. Approximately the size of each pillar was 180 ft long and 55 ft broad. 
On 15th August 1886 the renovated church was blessed and opened at a Grand ceremony. It was in 1909 when the church's large twin bell house was built. In 2011 this church commemorated its 125th year celebrations. This church looks magnificient from the outside as well as the inside.

There is a Reasearch Facility attached to this church where in the library consists of several historical books. Many scholars studying the coastal regions of India and arrival of Christianity in India make use of this library which is named as "Valampurinatham". This church has a distinction of being visited by Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

- Anton Niresh Vaz

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