Origin of the Church
Initially Velur area formed part of Mattom parish founded in 140 AD. The early Christians of this place frequented the Church at Mattom for their spiritual needs. But at present Velur is the Mother Church of nearly fifty Catholic parishes grouped into four forane divisions for better administrative purposes. Velur church was founded by John Earnst Hanxelden, a German missionary priest popularly known as Arnos Padiri. Arnos who was a member of Oster Kaplen, a parish affiliate to the diocese of Osnabruk in Germany, arrived at Kerala after the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier, hailed as the Second Apostle of India.
After completing his priestly studies at St. Paul Seminary at Ambazhakad(Sampalur) Arnos was ordained a priest and reached Velur in the year 1710. Having mastered the languages of Sanskrit and Malayalam by this time, Arnos was urged to come to Velur because of the presence of Sanskrit scholars and their academies prevalent there at that time. It was Arnos who built the ancient church that we find at Velur.
The church was consecrated on December 3, 1712. A historical letter written by Arnos on October 4, 1713 is preserved in tact at the archaeological Museum at Colone in Germany. Here are some of its relevant portions:
“We went to Velur. Very soon we realized that things are not that easy as we envisaged in the beginning. The king who promised to grant us a small piece of land disappointed us. But we who trusted in God never gave up our hopes. We managed to obtain permission from three kings and bought a piece of land and began to build the church. Of course, we had to pay more money considering our poor financial situation. But the first king who had frustrated us was offended and he tried his level best to obstruct over construction.
However we succeeded in completing the construction of the church and it was dedicated to St. Francis Xavier.
We offered all our problems before him and sought his intercession which brought victory to us. Nevertheless many people deserted us. Even Christians did not expect that we would ever have a church. Fortunately, at that time, Honorable Governor De Bernad Kettle came to our rescue. As a result of his interference the local king and the non- Christians who were our opponents became our helpers despite the protest of the Raja of Cochin. As we were poor, the church we erected was of mud. We consecrated the church last year on the feast of St. Francis Xavier on 3rd December, 1712. Many people assembled there to grace the occasion. We were immensely happy because we had accomplished something that was thought to be impossible.” Arnos Padiri stayed at Velur till 1729 and in the meanwhile he gradually developed the church to the present stature.
In the following part of the same letter Arnos Padiri reveals that there are 140 Christian families at Velur and that some of them were ignorant of the basic Christian teachings. He also makes it clear that he had to face a lot of problems from a few malicious Christians and some schismatics. Instead of mud Padiri might have used an equivalent word which means stone carved out of the earth.
Christian- Hindu Harmony
The matriarchal system was prevalent in Kerala society in those days. Peruvazhikkat nair family which did not have a girl child for so many years, got one daughter as the result of the prayer of Arnos Padiri. It is believed that, in gratitude, this Nair family donated the present site of the church, the ‘Vengilasseri Kunnu’ which was then known as ‘Sramam Kadu’. This is proved by the fact that every year after the flag hoisting ceremony of the ‘Mede masa thirunal’ the church used to give this family one and half rupees as presentation and three ‘nazhi’ rice, coconut, beetle etc., as a matter of right.
Eventually this practice was relinquished. But with a view to restore ancient customs, this particular one was reestablished in 2018. After the solemn flag hoisting on 29th April, 2018, in preparation for the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the present vicar gave present to Mr. Sankarankutty Nair, the head of the Peruvazhikkat family and adorned him with ‘ponnada’.
Fr. C.K. Mattom in his book “Arnos Padiri” (….) writes that Padiri first built a church somewhere near Pazhayangadi out of white mat (palm leaves) and said Holy Mass in it and stayed there for six months. Because, the soil of that place was not good enough, Fr. C.K. Mattom continues that Padiri shifted to the Vengilassery Kunnu, about one mile south east of the first site, where he constructed another church.
It has also been inscribed that Padiri dug a well width was 12 ¾ ‘kol’ deep. At the bottom he pawed planks of gooseberry tree. He laid bricks all around sides from bottom to top. He also constructed a ‘gopuram’ resembling the one after seen in the Hindu temple premises and it has the traditional east west appearance.
The gopuram refers to the residence of Arnos Padiri (Arnos Alayam). It is to be emphasized that this edifice was built by Azhvanchery Thamprans in the typical style of Kerala architecture.
The book entitled “The Ancient Christians of Malabar” authored by Rev. Thalakkottour Kuriakose Kathanar also certifies that the church at Velur with all its entrance houses were built by Arnos Padiri.