St. Mary's Knanaya Jacobite Syrian Church at Kallissery, estd. in 1580)

The St. Mary's church at Kallissery was established about the year 1580 by the Knanaites after their 30 year old church at Mazhukeer was destroyed in a flash flood. This church is famous for an ancient portrait of St. Mary which is believed to have been carried by the Knanaites during their migrations. It is a well known Christian church of South Kerala.

Knanaites and their migrations

Knanaites who established this church are the descendants of those 72 families who migrated to this country in AD 345, from the Syrian province of Roman Empire under the leadership of Knai Thoma and Bishop Joseph of Edessa. Though the Christianity in Malabar dates back to the time of St.Thomas, the church here had a very bad time in later years. It was with the arrival of these migrant Syrian Christians, the church in Malabar started to prosper once again. These Knanaites (called after their leader 'Knai' Thoma) who first settled at Kodungallor, the place where they landed, were predominantly traders. The proximity to the port at Kodungallor helped them to maintain trading connections with their counterparts in West Asia which made them prosperous. Pepper was the main produce that they had for trade for which they migrated to other parts of Kerala also. They gradually settled down in Mulanthuruthy, Kaduthuruthy, Udaymperoor and Mazhukeer and spread to the south.  Migrations of the local Christians too had happened parallel to this.

The famous portrait of Mother Mary with Infant Jesus kept in

the madbho of the Kallissery church

Till the beginning of the 16th century, the old Knanaya settlers of South Kerala were members of the Old Syrian church at Chengannur. They maintained their trade links with the merchants at Pandinadu via Nilackal, situated not very far away from Chengannur. Around the year 1524 another group of Syrian Christians from Kodungallor and nearby areas, which included both Knanaya & local Christians, and also Jews, fled to further south as a result of a fierce war between Muslims and Jews.  They went as far south as Kottayam and Mazhukeer in search of convenient places for cultivation and trade. Those Knanaites who reached south Kerala in this period, along with their counterparts in the old Syrian church at Chengannur, decided to establish a church of their own; thus begins the history of the church at Mazhukeer. This church at Mazhukeer is believed to have been established in the middle of 16th century, but 30 years later it was washed away during a flood. Later they started a church at Pallimala but soon after it was again shifted to the present place where the Kallissery church is located.

The beginning of the church at Kallissery

There is a story describing how the consent to build the church at Kallissery was received. For permission to construct the church there, the leaders of the community first went to see  the local chieftain who was in control of the entire land.  Since the then Thamburan of Moothedathu Vanjipuzhamadom, the land owner was a minor they had to approach his mother who was looking after all the matters. Meanwhile her manger had also requested for the same compound. So the clever Thampuratti (mother of Thampuran) said that the compound can be given to those who can present gold dust to her. The community leaders returned sadly, but they decided to present the matter once again before Thampuratti. It was then the mother of one of the leaders gave a grass basket containing gold dust which was presented to Thampuratti.

The church thus built came to be known by the name of the compound. The area around the church became Kallissery. There is no place with the name in revenue records. This compound is in Umayattukara. The nearby villages are 'Mazhukker up' and 'Mazhukkeer down'. People who lived in the 18 villages from Ramankeri to Ranny were members of the church.

The famous Anjilimoottil Itty Thommen Kathanar who is the 'silver star' of the Malankara Syrian church was the vicar of this church (d. 1659). That priest who occupies a prominent place in the history of the church, fought for the true faith and was the cause for 'Koonan Cross Pledge' which prevented the Portuguese and Roman Catholics from advancing and spreading. He is the one who zealously guarded the Syrian Church from enemies.

This is one of the very few Knanaya churches in Kerala, like the church at Kaduthuruthy, where the three days Lent is observed in a big scale. This can be an adequate proof for the belief that it was those who came from Kodungalloor who have started the church at Mazhukeer (and later Kallissery) just as some of them started the church at Kaduthuruthy. The stone cross in front of the Kallissery church (Valiapally) is believed to be very ancient. St. Thomas Valiapally at Ranni which is the biggest parish in the Knanaya diocese was established by the members of the Kallisssery parish in 1742.


Main Source:- Rev. Fr. Joseph Kulathramannil:   "The Cultural Heritage of Knanaya Syrian Christians", 2000


This is not an official site of the Kallissery St. Mary's Knanaya Church