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St. Peter and Paul's Church, Alanthalai, Tamilnadu

St. Peter and Pauls’ Church is located in a coastal village called Alanthalai (4 kms by Road from Tiruchendur towards Kanyakumari).The nearest town is the pearl city "Tuticorin" (Around 40 kms away). Alanthalai is one of the ancient villages in the pearl fishery coast. Villages stretching from Kanyakumari to Vembar were frequented by Portuguese during 16th century resulting in the spread of Christianity. St. Francis Xavier (Spanish Jesuit priest) had significant role in visiting these villages in coastal Tamilnadu and spreading Christianity.

History of the Church

When St. Francis Xavier visited Alanthalai, he constructed a thatched church somewhere around 1545. This church was later renovated during 1558 by Jesuit priest Fr. Henriques. This church was named after St. Peter, thereby calling St. Peter's church. Note that the renaming of this church to "St. Peter & Paul's" happened at a very later point in time.

In 1644 the parish priest of St. Peter's church planned and started to build a bigger church. But owing to several reasons the construction of the church was halted. Later in 1712 Fr. Chansess completed the construction of a larger St.Peter’s church.

Churches in Alanthalai and surrounding coastal villages were in the hands of Jesuit Priests till 1774. Later Pope Clement XIV de-recognised the role of the Jesuits and the administration of this Parish went to Goan Priests till 1838. The Jesuits took over the parish again when the order of Jesuits was restored by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832. Owing to shortage of Priests the Alanthalai Parish was functioning as a substation of Virapandianpatanam parish (refer to earlier article on Virapandianpatanam church) from 1800 to 1894.

Foundation for the present church was laid by the Bishop of Tuticorin G.F.T.Roche S.J. in presence of the parish priest Fr. Ambrose Missier on the 29th of June 1929. Later this work was taken up by Fr. Soosainathar who along with the help of local villagers and the businessmen of Alanthalai in Colombo built the church which is in place currently. In 1938 this church was consecrated by bishop Roche and named “St. Peter & St. Paul's” church.

The tower measuring 140 feet in height and the Eucharistic Tabernacle inside the church are some of the main attractions of the church. The additional beauty of the church is to be found in the roof of the church over the tabernacle where the figures of the four apostles who wrote the Gospel – Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are depicted.

The feast of St. Peter and St. Paul is observed on June 29th every year.

History of the Grotto (Keby in Tamil) of Sacred Heart

The early 20th century saw dissension in the village and it led to a few leaving the Catholic church. When the dissension took place in 1920 the parish priest Rev. Fr. Ambrose Missier spread and inculcated the "Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" with the installation of His holy picture. Many of the villagers who deserted Catholicism retraced their path and rejoined the Catholic church.

Meanwhile Tuticorin was elevated to the status of Diocese in 1923 with Bishop G.F.T.Roche S.J. in charge of the diocese. When the Bishop was heading to Manapad from Tuticorin, the villagers of Alanthalai gave a warm reception to him. Nevertheless a few who still did not rejoin the Catholic church stood away from the faithful. Seeing them the Bishop proclaimed:

“I also pray for my brothers who are standing away from here so that the blessings of Almighty God may continue to increase on them also”.

This sincere prayer of the Bishop melted the hearts of those who stood away from the receiving crowd and they also returned to the Catholic church. In 1926 as a recognition of this peace that had dawned in the village, Fr. Ambrose Missier vowed to build a grotto (Keby) depicting the scene of “Jesus Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene”. The foundation stone was laid in 1926 by Fr.Missier. An artist from Manapad painted the scene of Jesus Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene and a sculptor from Idaikattur Mr. Manuel Pillai carved the Grotto. On 30th June, 1928 the bishop blessed the Grotto.

The feast of this Grotto is observed during the last Friday of August every year.

- Anton Niresh Vaz

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