Cathedral History

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Cathedral History

"Our separated brethren had long ago built a centenary hall to commemorate their arrival in Palayamkottai. Though our arrival had been far earlier than that of our separated brethren, we have not yet established our precedence by any public memorial of that kind so far. But the catholics of Palayamkottai did not wish to give up their turn of celebrating a centenary when their parish church became a centenarian in 1963. So, even though five years had elapsed, they celebrated the centenary of St. Francis Xaviers’s Church on the 29th July 1968. On the previous day his grace Most. Rev. P. Justin Diraviam D.D., J.U.D. Arch-bishop of Madurai consecrated the new altar. On the 29th morning Very Rev. Fr. A.M. Varaprasadam, Jesuit Provincial of Madurai concelebrated with 6 priests at the new altar. In the evening he presided over the public meeting to celebrate the centenary.
Perhaps the centenary celebration of St. Xavier’s Church may make one think that Catholicism in Palayamkottai is only a century old. But it is not so. Already in the beginning of the 17th century the catholic church had establishments in Palayamkottai and other nearby places. In 1644 Paleam (Present Palayamkottai) had a chapel dedicated to the blessed vergin Mary and there were 70 Christians probably of depressed classes and of a few parava families. There was another chapel at Puduchandai or Sandaipettai as it is today called just 12 k.m. north-east of Palayamkottai near Seevalaperi.

Nevertheless only in 1838 Palayamkottai became the main catholic centre of the Southern district. Leaving Madurai in April 1838 fathers Martin and Louis Du Ranquet came to Palayamkottai and made it a centre of their labours in the Tirunelveli region. At that time there were fifty catholic families in palayamkottai. About a hundred paravars induced by the fishing trade, and some Vellalahs employed as clerks in the government departments or in the mission service were added to the original population of catholics bringing up the number to 1031. The modest chapel, erected originally becoming very small, was replaced by a larger cruci form church. This too soon became not spacious enough for the growing population and in 1860 the construction of a new church with three naves and in the gothic style began; but the work was finished only after three years. On the 29th June 1863 the church was blessed and dedicated to St. Francis Xavier. However, after one hundred years, when the catholic population was grown to over 8000, the need for enlarging the church was felt by the parish. After much hesitation and in the midst of much discouragement, Fr. V.X. Arulanandam managed by his persistent efforts to extend the church on the western side. Leaving the old structure infact the extended part has a main nave with two wings. The work began in 1957, but was completed only in 1959. The Rt. Rev. Roche Agnisami, Bishop of kottar blessed the church on the 25th January 1959.

The Herculean efforts of Fr. Arulanandam gave us an enlarged and majestic church. But owing to some unavoidable circumstances, the inner roof, the sanctuary, the permanent altar and the spacious sacristy remained unfinished for another ten years. In 1968 these unfinished items were accomplished by the generous efforts of the leading parishioners.

It may not be out of place to quote here the words of our former Arch-bishop Peter Leonard S.J. so that one may realize the importance of the centenary church: “Even since its inauguration, a hundred years ago, the beautiful church with its conspicuous berfry has stood out prominently not mercly as a land mark dominating the surrounding high ground and drawing the attention of the casual visitor, but particularly as a fitting monument of faith and piety, the hallowed house of the Lord, where the devout believers could rally round the living God. It is here that three generations met to honor to their God, Kneeling in common prayer, joining in songs of praise and thanks giving, attending the great mystery of Christ’s sacrifice; here they met to implore the divine blessing, to hear the world of God, to nourish their souls at the Eucharistic table; here they drew strength and inspiration for their daily task, to live up to their Christian calling, to find consolation in suffering, in mourning and daily trials”.

No wonder that the parishioners of Palayamkottai take a legitimate pride in their church, particularly now that it has been worthy of the noble purpose it serves-well, may they say with the psalmist: “Welcome words, when I heard them saying, we will I heard them saying, we will go into the Lord’s house” (Ps. 121).Courtesy: Caritas Jan 1969.

The same church was made the cathedral of the new diocese of Palayamkottai in 1973 when its first Bishop Rt. Rev. S. Iruthayaraj D.D., D.C.L. took charge of it. It is to be noted that the dedication of the Cathedral has not yet taken place. Moreover, it is to be felt that an extension of the present cathedral or construction of a new cathedral is an urgent need.

On the 29th May 2005 as a memorial of the Eucharistic year 2005. Bishop Rt. Rev. A. Jude Paul raj D.D. blessed and opened the adoration chapel which is the modified portion of the sanctuary of the old church."