THE HISTORY OF ST.XAVIER’S CHURCH
St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral at Kottar is one of the Christian pilgrimage centers in India. Next to Goa, Kottar is the second important place where people from all walks of life, irrespective of caste and creed, language and religion worship St.Xavier. It is one of the oldest churches in Tamilnadu.
St. Xavier was canonized in 1622 while the church at Kottar was dedicated to St. Xavier even as early as 1605 itself seventeen years before he attained sainthood. So the historians say the church at Kottar is the first one dedicated to St. Xavier in the whole world.
THE EARLY IMPORTANT EVENTS AT KOTTAR CHURCH
Christians lived at Kottar even before the arrival of St. Xavier. Those people became Christians due to the influence of St. Thomas who came to Kanyakumari District in the first century itself. It is said that St. Xavier was the first foreign missionary who visited Kottar.Until 1602, the construction of Christian churches was not allowed by the then Travancore maharajas. The Christians were allowed to build small temporary churches only at the coastal areas of the fishermen villages of paravas and mukkuvas in thatched sheds with bamboos, palm leaves and mud.
In 1602, the South Travancore maharaja donated his own garden at Kottar to the Italian priest Fr. Pucchario to construct a church at Kottar. Fr. Andreas Pucchario S.J. constructed the first church at Kottar in 1603 with mud and wood at the place where St. Xavier performed prayers and masses. The church was called Trinity Church. Since the people of Kottar had great faith in St. Xavier they used to call the church “Saveriyar Koil” . The name “Xavier” was pronounced as “Saveriyar” by the local people at that time.
In 1605, Fr. Pucchario dedicated the church to St. Francis Xavier. From that day onwards people called the church “Saveriyar Koil”
THE HISTORY OF THE GROWTH OF ST. XAVIER’S CHURCH AT KOTTAR
In 1603, a small church was built with mud and wood.
In 1640, the church was reconstructed with stones (Report of the Society of Jesus, 1644). In 1640, the church constructed with mud and wood, was reconstructed into a new church with stones and in 1643 the sacred relics of St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier were safeguarded there.
In 1752, the mortal remains of Devasagayam Pillai was buried at St. Xavier’s Church.
According to the report (1698) sent by Fr. Gomes Andreas, head of the Society of Jesus, Cochin to Fr. Gonzales, head of the S.J. at Rome, a big church at Kottar was built near the small church with stones.According to the report of the Society of Jesus (1733), “Kottar was a big town. It was the headquarters of all Christian Churches of that area. A big church was there and it was dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, the first foreign missionary to visit Kottar.
EXTENTION OF CHURCH
In 1865, the new church was extended on the western, northern and southern sides. So the church looked like a cross. Tiles on the roof were removed and a high dome was constructed above the main altar. A dome was also constructed at the small church (St. Mary’s). Mt. Rev. T.R. Agnisamy, the second bishop of Kottar Diocese was buried in St. Mary’s church on 7th May 1974.
In 1876, an architect from Kollam, Jokin Fernandes designed the main altar in wood. The wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier kept in the altar was brought from Goa.
CONSTRUCTION OF A MANDAP
During the end of the 19th century a mandap was constructed in front of the church with big stone pillars. The stone pillar mandap represents Indian culture. This mandap was designed and constructed by the architect John Louis Fernandes. Later on when he died he was buried in the mandap itself.
In memory of the 400th year of St. Xavier’s arrival in India, a tower and the statue of St. Xavier on the top of it and a grotto of St.Lourdes nearby were constructed at the northeastern side of the church campus. That was donated by J.A.D. Victoria of Manapad of Tuticorin Diocese.
Kottar Diocese was formed on May 30th 1930. St. Xavier’s Church, at Kottar was declared cathedral. Mt. Rev. Lawrence Pereira, the first Bishop of the Kottar Diocese was buried in the church on 05.01.1938. Mt. Rev. Leon Dharmaraj, the fourth bishop of Kottar Diocese was also buried in the main altar of the church.
When Fr. Barnabas was the priest of St. Xavier’s Cathedral in 1956, the western, southern and northern sides of the church were extended further. The St. Mary’s Church was annexed and became a part of the main church. In memory of the silver jubilee celebration of Kottar Diocese a tall tower was erected on the northern side of the church and blessed by Mt. Rev. T.R. Agnisamy, Bishop of the Diocese on November 24th, 1956.
When Fr. Berchmans was the parish priest of the cathedral, the church compound wall was extended further on the northwestern side and a new exit gate was opened for the convenience of the people during the festival seasons. Fr. Berchmans in 2009 constructed a new flag post covered with bronze in typical Travencore style. This type of flag post is unique in churches of Tamilnadu. After seeing the beauty of the flag post, many churches in Kottar, Palayamkottai and Tuticorin Dioceses started to convert their flag posts in the model of St. Xavier’s Church at Kottar. In 2009 a new tall statue of St. Xavier was erected at the entrance of the church.
RENOVATION OF THE ALTAR
In 2010, Fr. Berchmans brought artisans from Goa to renovate the main altar of the church. At present the wooden portions of the main altar, the statue of St. Xavier and wooden portion of St. Mary’s Church were covered with gold. Now the main altar and the St. Xavier’s Statue glitter brightly. Nowhere in Tamilnadu can we see such a beautifully glittering altar and the statue of St. Xavier.
In 2011, parish priest Fr. Robert Julius and the co-priest Fr. Amuthavalan are taking tremendous efforts to change the colour of the outer walls of the spacious church into milky white. To give this new color to the church and for other renovation works, the church needs nearly Rs.3 million. The parish priest is collecting the money from people as donations. People, who have great faith in St. Xavier, are contributing for this work.
The Mt. Rev. Peter Remigius, the fifth and the present Bishop of the Kottar Diocese and the parish priest of the Cathedral are taking steps to upgrade the St. Xavier’s Cathedral to the status of Basilica.The glory, fame, reputation and miracles of this ancient St. Francis Xavier’s Church at Kottar shall grow in the centuries to come.
ST. XAVIER’S CATHEDRAL
Kottar, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district,
Tamil Nadu, India
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