History - Origin of the Church in North Arcot
Paul Mariaselvam | David Marianayagam | Rayappan Antony Muthu | Michael Augustine | A. M. Chinnappa
The salient aspects of political, religious and socio-economic spheres of the North Arcot district have been dealt with in the previous chapter. Here in this chapter we will study certain environments and backgrounds that helped create the Christian religious history. No one had ever written Christian religious history of North Arcot. All what we have are some informations collected from parish chronicles and pamphlets. It is not possible with the above materials to give a scientific history of Christianity of North Arcot, and with this background an attempt has been made to provide certain points in chronological order to give a general picture of the history of Christianity of our field of study. Before considering the historical Origin of the Church in the two districts of North Arcot (Vellore and Thiruvannamalai), we study a few aspects of the global climate that opened the door for evangelisation in this part of India.
Renaissance and its effects
The period of Ranaissance (14th - 16th centuries) changed the old face of Europe and brought fresh air in political, religious, educational, socio-economic aspects of life. The word Renaissance is applied in the scientific analysis of history to indicate the phase of the life of the people of Western Europe in which they got acquainted with the stock of knowledge that had been developed by the people of the ancient Greece. Hellenistic and Roman civilisations had disappeared after the fall of the ancient Roman Empire in 476 AD. That stock of knowledge was also called the old knowledge. The word ‘Renaissance’ is also used in the analysis of history to indicate the period of transition from the medieval to the modern. Due to this rebirth, Europeans became eager to explore the wider world and wished to know more about it. As a result, they undertook long voyages to discover new countries of the globe.
Geographical Discoveries and the Spread of Christianity
During the Crusade (1095 – 1271 AD) the Europeans had established commercial contacts with the Arabian empire. Europeans traded with Arabs with spices and other commodities that brought wealth. Gradually for their commercial gains they tried to learn new routes to Eastern countries by reading Travels of Macro Polo, a book written by an Italian traveler of the same name. Portugal was the first country to find sea route to India. The Portuguese sailor Vasco Da Gama reached Calicut in 1498 AD. The Portuguese soon established their political authority in India. Along with the expanding of their commercial and political authority in the parts of the New world, the European Powers also spread their religion, Christianity, in the major world religion. Due to the spread of Christianity in the world, the religious outlook of the Europeans too become broad. Even before this era, according to Aloysius Soares, India was privileged to be one of the earliest countries to receive the Gospel. That Christianity struck root in India in apostolic times is now documents and a ground we now present here a general picture of the origins and developments of Christianity in the two districts of Vellore and Thiruvannamalai i.e. North Arcot.
Origin – Jesuit Missionaries
The Catholic Mission in North Arcot dates back to 1604. The following chronicles gathered from various sources will give some historical knowledge of this Mission, its foundation and development in the course of over 350 years. The last great prince of the declining Vijayanagar empire (now in Andhra Pradesh), Venkatapathy Deva Rayalu, conquered the kingdom of Vellore in January 1604 and named it Raya Elluru. Elapuri or Elluru in Telugu language would mean city or town. Raya Elluru was meant a town conquered by the king Rayalu and thus the town was named after him - combination of two words Raya and Elapuri.
There were then some Jesuit Fathers at the court of King Rayalu at Chandragiri. He took them also to his new court at Vellore. The word Vellore derives from the Tamil word ‘Vel’ which means 'spear'; according to another conjecture there were idols of Tamil God ‘Murugan’ holding ‘Vel’ in and around Vellore. Vellore was formerly called Velappadi (a place thickly surrounded by a particular tree called ‘Velamaram’) and for this reason and background the name Vellore came into existence. The Jesuits who had come with their followers here allowed by the King to build again and it is now with the Anglican Church). Ancient Jesuit documents show that among these Jesuits, there was one named Fr. Antonious Rubunus, a preacher and confessor, who was commuting between Chandragiri and Vellore. He was sent to Japan on 12th August 1642. On 22nd March 1643 he was martyred at Nagasaki. The earliest pioneer of this district had thus, laid the foundation with his blood. In 1610, there was a general upheaval against the Jesuits.
It was due to the dishonourable conduct of the Jesuits that their residences both at Chandragiri and at Vellore were suppressed by a Royal order of the king Philip III of Spain and Portugal in 1611.
In a formal way, Christian faith came to the diocese of Vellore towards the last quarter of the 17th century from the Madurai Mission. Fr. Andrew Preyre, S.J. seems to have been the first to evangelize Vellore. St. John de Britto and his disciple Fr. Francis Laynis visited Vellore in 1680 and 1683. Fr. Francis Laynis, (later Bishop of Mylapore), founded in the year 1683 and 1691 the mission of Koratampet, the first one in the present diocese of Vellore – in the Taluk of Chengam, North Arcot district – some 80 kms South-West of Vellore. In 1699, the first French Jesuit Missionaries settled down at Pondicherry, after closing the Mission of Siam. In 1700, a certain Fr. Mandayat began the Jesuit Carnatic Mission at Puliyur, South of Uthiramerur, Chinglepet district like an Indian Sanyasi just as the Fathers of the Madurai Mission did in those days.
Vellore was surrounded by the Mughuls and was taken over by them in the following year. In 1702, Fr. Mandayat founded the mission of Thakkolam (Arakonam Taluk), which was later placed under the care of Fr. Varance Bouchet. In 1703, he was subjected to persecution and was arrested. Later, he was released by the Governor of the Province, Sek Sahib, at the intervention of Fr. Pierre Martin. During the short time he spent at Vellore he decided to erect a chapel and residence under the patronage of Mary. Later, he and his catechist were thrown out of the city after being severely beaten. It was obvious that the Moghuls did not welcome the idea of Christianity getting established at Vellore.
In 1712, Fr. De La Fontain, Superior of the Carnatic Mission intervened to bring to an end the persecution carried out by the Prince Dewan Hall. He approached the Nawab of Arcot through a Catholic Medical officer of the Nawab of Vellore. The Nawab of Arcot gave Freedom. In 1736, Fr. Jacques de Saignes had two churches built at Vellore and at Arcot. He stayed for a month in these places. He was provided with meals from the Rayal palace.
In 1740, when the Maharaja moved from Vellore to Gingee, Fr. Joseph Trumbley was in charge of Athipakkam (South Arcot) and Koratampet (Norht Arcot). He wrote that one of his churches was plundered, another burnt down. The church at the Fort of Vellore was destroyed. 21 villages in which the best portion of the flock lived were sacked. Many Catholics were murdered, and others were compelled to wander about in the woods and hills.
In 1748 the Nawab of Vellore granted one and a half acres of dry land to the priest, along the road, and another piece of land near the hill at Vellore. Two similar grants were made also to the priest at Arcot. In those days the Nawabs were dealing with the donation of lands to priests because the Zamindars were not willing to do this. In 1774, when Punganur (Andhra Pradesh) was occupied by Hyder Ali, a group of Telugu Catholics were brought by Fr. Henri Arnoult to Christianpet (North Arcot). Two families of Rajas from Rajampet in Cuddappah were baptized and then, taken into the service of the Nawab of Vellore. Their descendants are now at Christianpet 10 km North Arcot of Vellore.
Missionaries of Paris Foreign Missions Society
In 1777, the Fathers of the Paris Foreign Missions who were at Pondicherry were given charge of the former Jesuit South Indian Mission under the general name of Malabar Mission, which was also called formerly Carnatic Mission and formerly Pondicherry Mission. The Mission among Tamils was known as the Mission in the Province of Arcot. It fared rather badly.
In 1784, the persecution of Tippu Sultan dispersed several Catholic communities from the ancient Carnatic Mission in Rayalaseema. Some groups went to Vellore under the protection of the British. The Mudali Catholics of Pudur moved of Koratampet and Telugu Reddies and Kavarais settled at Kaniyambady, 12 km South of Vellore.
In 1801, there were about 2,000 Catholics in the region of Vellore. In 1806, Fr. Arnoult died. Fr. Manenty died on 25th May 1812. Fr. Jean Austruay of the Paris Foreign Missions took charge of the Catholics of Vellore region. In 1817, a church was begun at Kortampet. In 1834, Msgr. Bonnand, as co-adjuster to the Prefect Apostolic of Pondicherry, came to Vellore for his first pastoral visitation. A church was built there at the foot of the western hills.
Creation of Vicariates Apostolic
When the Vicariates Apostolic were created in 1832, Vellore and Southern part of North district formed part of the Vicariate Apostolic of Pondicherry under the Paris Foreign Missions. The North and North Eastern parts of the district, beyond the Trunk Road of Madras – Bangalore, namely the three taluks of Arakonam, Walajapet and Gudiyattam came to form part of the Vicariate Apostolic of Madras and it was entrusted to Mill Hill Fathers.
In 1841, the church at Koratampet was completed. It measured 60 ft. by 15 ft. In 1846 the mission of Vellore had 3,341 Catholics, mostly from the depressed outcaste people. They were served by a Priest, four catechists, one school, a main church and eight chapels.
Arcot contonment had 484 Catholics, of whom were in the light cavalry; Kaveripakkam had three or four Catholic families; Alapakkam about 100 Catholics and Christianpet 13 Families. As the old church at Vellore was too small and in a miserable condition, the site of a local tank bed was bought for Rs. 200/- in 1847, and the foundation was laid for a new big church. In 1850, Fr. Moncourrier of the Paris Foreign Missions build a church and presbytery at Adakambarai on a site given by two Catholics.
On 9th February 1854, the new church at Vellore was solemnly blessed by Msgr. Bonnand. After 100 years this church was found in a very bad condition and needed heavy repairs. With a sum of one lakh of rupees it was repaired, extended and remodeled. It served as the Cathedral church of the diocese of Vellore from 1952. Again, this church was further extended with two wings with new concrete slab structure and was consecrated on 3rd January 1988 by Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy the Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches when Fr. A. Nambikairaj was the Parish Priest.
In 1884, the Catholic population numbered 3,376 at Vellore; 1429 at Kortampet; 2,473 at Polur; 2,546 at Koviloor and 15,751 at Chettupattu and Arni. Archbishop Joseph Morel of Pondicherry (1909-29) and Archbishop Mederlet (1928-34) of Madras were those who played a great role in the formation of the diocese of Vellore in the initial stage.
Among the missionaries of Pondicherry the one who laboured and toiled most indefatigably was Fr. Francis Darras who is also called the Apostle of North Arcot. He welcomed into the Church 30,000 persons and founded, several parishes in North Arcot district during 1876-1916. He built the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes at Chethupattu in 1896 and a chapel on the hill near by in 1880. It is now the Shrine of Our Blessed Lady and the biggest center of pilgrimage in the diocese of Vellore.
Arrival of Salesians of Don Bosco
In April 1928, the mission of North Arcot with nine parishes, which were under the French Fathers, was consigned by the Holy See to the Salesians of Don Bosco. After three months, Fr. Eugene Mederlet, the first Salesian parish priest of Vellore, was made Archbishop of Madras to succeed Bishop Aelen John (1911 – 1928). The Archbishop of Madras was entrusted to the Salesians of Don Bosco, and the Salesian mission of North Arcot and the three taluks of Palmaner, Tiruthanni and Chittoor in the civil district of Chittoor were added to the territory of the Archdiocese to Madras.
After the death of the Archbishop Mederlet on 12th December 1934, Bishop Louis Mathias was transferred from the See of Shillong to the Archdiocese of Madras, and he took charge of it on 20th July 1935 and governed it till 1965. One of his outstanding achievements was the formation of the dioceses of Vellore and Thanjavur in 1952.
Favourable Factors for Christianity in North Arcot
The Portuguese had control over coastal areas of Tamilnadu and Santhome (Mylapore) in the 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries. Whenever the Portuguese exercised any authority or influence, it was always favorable to the spread of faith. The interior of Tamilnadu was influenced by Mughal ruler Akbar with his friendly attitude to all religions, and similarly by Tirumala Nayak and Queen Mangammal of Madurai and the Kathirava Narasmiah Raj Udayar of Mysore. They all allowed the Christian priests to preach freely in their territories and Christianize the people. The last great prince Venkatapathy Deva Rayalu of Vijayanagar conquered the kingdom of Vellore in 1604 and as we mentioned earlier, he kept two Jesuit priests in his court, first at Chandragiri and later at Vellore, and allowed them to build a church at Vellore fort.
Unfortunately the first Portuguese Jesuits were called back by king Philip III for their scandalous life and this hindered evangelizing process. Fr. Rubino wrote to the Jesuit general “The missionaries must adapt themselves to Indian customs”.
The Period of Renaissance created a spirit of conquest among the Europeans. The period of Reformation certainly helped cleansing the Church structures – the clergy, religious and similar organizations – from corruption of every kind. Naturally, missionaries who entered India after the above period, were known for their life witness and it was adequately a strong factor for Christianity to take solid root in the district of North Arcot. Above all, the Master’s promise, “I will be with you always, to the end of the Ages” (Mt. 28:20), was the strongest guiding force for evangelizing endeavours of the missionaries of the area.
We shall overcome...
We shall overcome...
We shall overcome some day...