Story of our Family

The year was 52 AD and the place was a small village in the northern part of Kerala named Palayur. Those days Palayur was a traditional bastion of conservative Hindus. A small group of Jews lived nearby in a hilly place and they had a synagogue there.One morning four Brahmin Hindu priests were conducting their ritualistic sun worship in the temple pond. They were from the four well known families of the area, Kadappu, Kalikavu (Kaliyankal), Shankuthiri, and Pakalomittom.They were standing half immersed in water and sprinkling water upwards chanting Vedic mantras to the sun god.Suddenly a Jewish ascetic came and stopped near where they were worshipping. He was a visitor to the nearby synagogue and came from Jerusalem recently. The local Jews accompanied him. The visitor asked though his interpreter, what was going on. After getting their explanation he commented that it seemed the sun god was not accepting their offering, because the water fell back to the pond when they threw it up as an offering. The Hindu priests asked what could happen differently. Then the visiting Jewish holy man told them that he could throw the water as a supplication to the living God who is the creator of sun and all the other celestial stars, and his God would accept it. As the priests gave permission, he got down to the pond and worshipped God in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then threw the water up in to the air, and to all present it seemed the water drops remained suspended in the air.The visitor explained to the Hindu priests that he was Thomas, one of the Disciples of Christ. He further told them that Jesus was the incarnation of God, the father.The convinced priests accepted baptism from the hands of the Apostle.My grandfather had told me that our family is the direct descendents of the second Brahmin priest in the above story, the Kalikavu.There are thousands of other Christian families in Kerala claiming to be the descendents of each of these four Brahmins. According to this tradition, Christianity came to Kerala before it reached Europe or even Rome.In the 4th century, these families moved to another village, 200 miles south of Palayur to a village called Kuravilagad. St. Thomas hadordained some priests from these families. In the following years due to lack of scriptural books and the absence of connection to an Apostolic See, these groups of Christians went through a difficult period.In 354 AD, a bishop Mar Joseph and 72 other Christian families under the leadership of a merchant named Thomas of Cana emigrated to Kerala from Mesopotamia and Jerusalem. Thomas of Cana ( where Jesus turned water into wine) was said to be a blood relative of Jesus. This immigration was a great revitalization for the local Christians. These 72 families were Jewish Christians, and their descendents to this day live in Kerala. They keep a separate identity from all other communities in Kerala. They are known as Kanaya Christians and are fiercely ethnic and practice endogamy.Christians of Kerala converted by St. Thomas accepted the Syriac (Aramaic) liturgy from this newly arrived group and apostolic benediction from the Patriarch of Antioch. Hence, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala are also known as Syrian Christians of Kerala. Syriac- Aramaic was the language spoken at the time of Jesus Christ in Palestine and it was also the lingua franca for communication among many nations of the East. Even today Syrian Christians use this language in parts of their liturgy. In ancient manuscripts the Christian community in Kerala is sometimes referred to as Nazaranis, meaning the followers of Jesus who was from Nazareth. Foreign travelers have also called them, Malabar Christians, as the coastal region of Kerala is called Malabar. Malankara is another name for the coast.How reliable is St. Thomas tradition, and the story of conversion of my ancestors?The tradition is that the apostle first landed in Kodungalore on the west coast of Kerala in 52 AD. His first followers were some of the local Jews and then a few of the indigenous people. He traveled south establishing 7 churches in Kerala. He continued his missionary journey to Malacca and China. He returned to India and was martyred in 72 A.D in Madras where his tomb still remains. Many historians think that the ancient Jews of Kerala were the descendents of Jews taken in captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Later when Cyrus, the king of Persia conquered Babylon he released the Jews, and some of them came to Kerala in 585 BC. There is enough evidence of a large Jewish colony in Kerala in the 1st century AD and there existed a continuous flow of trade between the Middle East and Kerala making the journey of the Apostle possible. Some of the early Christian converts of Kerala were probably from this Jewish community.The visit of St. Thomas to India is mentioned by many early church historians and also in the apocryphal book ' Acts of St. Thomas ' written by the Syrian Bardisan. (152-220 AD). Pantaenus, the governor of the school of faithful of Alexandria visited these Christians in 185 AD and left some references in his writings. Also, the presence of the Kanaya Christian community whose records indicate that their ancestors met St. Thomas Christians when they came to Kerala's shores in 345 AD is another strong evidence.In 552 AD, Cosmas Indicopleustus visited Kerala's coast and wrote about the presence of a Christian community there.In 1292, the famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo made the following interesting observation after a visit to the St. Thomas tomb in Madras." The Christians come here on pilgrimages from many places and gather some of the soil from this place where the Saint was killed, and this soil they take away with them to their countries. Now, if anyone falls ill of a tertian ague, or any other fever of anykind, they give him a portion made of this soil. As soon as the sick man drinks it, he is well again." Marco Polo further attests that he himself took some of this soil to Venice and cured many people. (Travels of Marco Polo by L.F. Benedetto translated by Aldo Ricci). Though this treatment is not available at present at the St. Thomas' tomb, it is a revered center of pilgrimage and still annually attracts thousands from all around the world.In the same year 1292, the Italian missionary priest John of Monte Corvino, who was a special representative of Pope Nicholas IV visited Kerala Christians on his way to China and stayed with them for 6 months. He writes that he was quite surprised because these Christians had never heard about the Pope. Their allegiance was to the church of Persia and Antioch.Two ancient inscribed copper plates in the possession of Kerala Christians and another copy of a copper plate kept in Cambridge museum in England are further proof of the antiquity of this community. Let me continue the story of my ancestors. converted by St. Thomas in the Palayur village ,and later moved to the village of Kuravilagad in the 4th century. In Kuravilagad, they built a church with the assistance from the local ruler in 350 AD. Bishop Joseph who came with the Kana immigrants in 345 AD consecrated this church dedicated to St. Mary.My Christian ancestors lived in Kuravilagad and the surrounding areas for another millennium as farmers, merchants, and professionals, and they were well-respected members of the society.(It is about them, Gibbon wrote in his ' Decline and fall of Roman Empire '" In arms, in arts, and possibly in virtue, they excelled the natives of Hindustan. Their husbandmen cultivated the palm trees, the merchants were enriched by pepper trade, and their soldiers preceded the other nobles of Malabar.")In 1498, when Portuguese merchants under the leadership of the great explorer Vasco Da Gamma came to Kerala, they were happy to see an indigenous group of Christians. But they soon realized that though these people were Christians, they were different from the Portuguese Christians. Portuguese were western Christians of the Latin rite who followed Pope of Rome. This was the period of inquisition in the Catholic Church and the Portuguese were very intolerant to other rites. Many local Christians became unhappy the way the Portuguese treated them, and many moved to the southern parts of Kerala, to be away from them. Kuravilagad was under the Northern kingdom, which was a protectorate of the Portuguese.The Portuguese bishop of Goa, Dom Menezes came to Kerala in 1599 and from June 20- 24, he called for a meeting of the Kerala Christians. 153 local priests and 660 lay representatives attended these meetings and they were forced to accept the supremacy of the Latin Church. This is the infamous Synod of Diapore in the church history. Syrian Christians were forced to accept the hegemony of the Roman Church with the threat from the Portuguese soldiers and the power of the local king. Menezes visited many Kerala churches and burned much of the valuable ancient prayer books and other manuscripts because he considered them heresies.But as Portuguese were soon defeated by the Dutch in the Kerala coast, the local Christians who were waiting for an opportunity ,revolted against the Portuguese and the Latin domination of their church. The immediate provocation was when the Portuguese arrested a Syrian bishop Ahatulla from the holy land on his way to Kerala and took him to Goa as a prisoner. Somehow a rumor spread that the Portuguese drowned their bishop in the sea.On Friday, January 3, 1653, nearly 20,000 local Christians assembled in Mattachery, a port city near Cochin. They tied a long rope around a stone cross and touching the rope in a large human chain they took an oath that they or their children would never accept Portuguese or Latin hegemony over their church. This event is known in history as the Oath of Coonan Cross (leaning cross.) The people unanimously elected their Archdeacon Thomas of the Pakalomittom family as their bishop. Later he was ordained by the visiting Mar Gregoriose, the bishop of Jerusalem under the Syrian (Jacobite) Patriarch of Antioch. At that time there were about 200,000 Christians in Kerala, and only 400 sided with the Portuguese.Soon Rome reviewed the situation more closely and started a conciliatory approach towards Syrian Christians. The Pope decreed that those who wanted could continue to practice the Syrian rite and liturgy. The Pope also sent an Italian bishop to Kerala and ordained a cousin of Arch Deacon Thomas from the Pakalomittom family as the first native Catholic bishop of Kerala.His name was Parampil Chandy Metran, or Bishop Alexander DeCampo as western historians refer to him. This caused a large number of rebelling Kerala Syrian Christians to return to the Roman Catholic Church. So for the first time there were two divisions with in the Syrian Christians of Kerala, one group following Rome, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the other following the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. There were several confrontations between these two groups at that time. In one of those episodes in 1666 when a Portuguese bishop tried to enter the Kuravalagad Church, it unfortunately turned violent. The local ruler supported the Roman Catholic faction. The members of the original 4 Christian families were divided between these two factions. The faction that was rebelling against the papal group left Kuravilagad and moved further south to the southern kingdom, the Thekencore. Thomas alias Oommen was my ancestor on the paternal side who lived 8 generations before me. He lived during this most turbulent period in the history of our community in Kerala. He strongly objected the Portuguese hegemony and the Latinisation of the Indian Church and he participated in Coonan Cross Oath of 1653. When the majority in his parish church, its vicar, and many of his relatives took pro- Papal position, Oommen Thomas was not prepared to compromise on his principles. If he had taken a position supporting the Portuguese and the Latin missionaries as many of his family members did, he could have avoided many of the financial and physical dangers. He even dared to take a position against the powerful local king. Finally when he found that he couldn't be true to the faith and traditions of his fathers if he obliged to the Portuguese power, he left Kuravilagad with a brother and a sister and came to Changanacherry, a town in central Kerala. It was only a distance of 60 miles, but this short distance of travel changed the destiny for his descendents. In Chaganachery Oommen lived in a house near the present municipal court given to him by the Raja of Theckencore. Oommen's brother became a priest and served the church in Chaganachery. At that time the churches in Chaganachery and Allepey Thathanpalli were branch churches (kurushupally) of Niranam church. Later these two churches joined Roman Catholicism.Oommen had two sons, Kuruvilla and Mathen. The second son, Mathen moved to Thiruvella and became the founding father of the Chalakuzhy family. He later died in a smallpox epidemic.The eldest son, Kuruvilla moved to the village of Mepral, 5 miles further south and bought a plot of land, which had a title name Poothicote. This village became our family's home for the next 250 years and Poothicote became our family name ever since.During the past 200 years a few members of our family, like many other Syrian Christians of Kerala, have also embraced protestant denominations like the Marthoma Church and the Church of South India (CSI). The family has also members in the Syro- Malabar Catholic Church.But these oral traditions are more important and precious to a community than anything etched on stone.
. 52. AD to 1663 AD.
Starts with the baptism of our ancestor of the Kalikavu Brahmin illam of Palayur village to Christianity in 52 AD and ends in 1653AD when our ancestors left the village of Kuravilegad.

1663 to 1785
Starts with our ancestors leaving Kuravilegad, their sojourn in Chaganachery, and settlement in Mepral village. Kochitty Kuruvila, the ancestor of the Poothicote family was born in 1785.

1785 AD to present
From the time of Judge Kochitty Kuruvila to the present.

For section I and II, we will have to depend on oral narratives and living traditions in the family more than written records. But surprisingly, we have more information of our family for these periods than most other smaller nations or communities have about their history during this period. Since 1785, we have accurate written records and reliable data.

52 -1663 AD.
Our ancestor of the Kalikavu Illam along with the ancestors of Kadappu, Shankuthiri, and Pakalomittom were baptized in the temple pond by Apostle St. Thomas in 52 AD in the village of Palayur in Northern Kerala. At that time Palayur was one of the 64 small Brahmin settlements in South India... There was also a Jewish settlement here. Even today one of the hills here is called Judakunnu (Jewish hill). Tradition says that St. Thomas preached to the Jewish community first before he preached to others.

One of the old archive records found in the beginning of last century and quoted by Fr. Pediackel in his book, Marthomasleehayude charithram states that Kalikavu property was in Palayur village survey no. 156, subdivision no. 27. In the Family History book of Palakunnathu family which is a branch of the Pakalomittom family records that the old survey documents showed that Pakalomittom family owned a land close to the present Palayur church. It is reasonable to assume that our ancestor from the 4 Brahmin illams lived close to each other in Palayur. At present, the Kalikavu property is divided in to several sections and some are owned by Muslim families.

After the conversion of the 4 Brahmin priests, the rest of the Brahmins of Palayur left the village cursing the land. So this area came to be known as cursed land, shapakad which later became Chavakad . The Shiva temple in Palayur was converted to a Christian Church. Even a 100 years ago, Brahmins did not drink, eat, or take ceremonial washings if they happened to be in this village. All the Brahmins from Palayur moved to the nearby village of Venmanad. There was a palm leaf record kept by a Brahmin family in Venmanad which is quoted by the famous church historian Rev. Dr Placid. Podipara that showed that in the Hindu kali era of 3158, a Christian sanyasi Thomas came to the village and converted few Brahmins by baptizing them in the temple pool and thus desecrated holy temple. So the rest of the Brahmins moved out of Palayur village.

Evidence of Brahmin ancestry of early Syrian Christians.

Other than the above story, there are several customs and traditions in our families that point to an Arian and Brahmin connection.
When a child is born, giving honey (ponnum thenum) which is scratched with gold is a tradition among Brahmins and early Kerala Christians.
To give the first a male child the name of his paternal grandfather, and the second son, the name of the maternal grandfather is custom of early Kerala Christians and Brahmins. In the same way the first daughter is given the name of paternal grandmother and 2nd daughter given the name of maternal grandmother.
Children write their first alphabets over rice grains among the Brahmins and early Kerala Christians.
Most other communities in Kerala in the early centuries practiced matrilineal system of inheritance, but Brahmins and Christians practiced patrileneal system.
The system of giving dowry to daughters when they are married was same for Brahmins and Christians.
Tying minnu around the neck of the bride by the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony is even today practiced by Kerala Christians and Brahmins.
Giving mantrakodi (special clothes or sari) to the bride by the bridegroom during the ceremony is another similarity.
Padipura (annex building) at the entrance to house was allowed only for Brahmins and Christians in the early centuries.
Placing new clothes (kodi) on the dead bodies by close relatives was a custom prevalent among Christians and Brahmins even 50 years ago. For Brahmins, the clothes along with the body were cremated. For Christians, one or two new clothes will cover the body when it is buried, but the rest will be given away to the poor.
In the past, Christians from aristocratic families practiced ayitham and untouchability towards lower casts as the Brahmins did..

Moving out of Palayur
It is believed that our ancestors moved out Palayur village in the beginning of the 3rd century. The reasons for their migration out of Palayur are still a matter of speculation among the historians, but most agree that there was no organized religious persecution that caused them to leave.
One of the reasons suggested is that during 2nd century, there was a revival of Shiva worship and faith. There is a story that Manikya Chevakar, one of the Shiva devotees from Tamil came and debated many of the early Christians and reconverted them back to the Shiva faith.

According to Sangam recodsof the period, rulers and kings encouraged intellectual discussion and debates among different faiths. Probably it was in one of those discussions that Pantenius (190AD) of school of Alexandria debated local scholars and tried to establish the superiority of Christian faith. It is possible that our ancestors with their limited knowledge of Christian theology were unable to defend their faith with other learned Brahmins and so they decided to move out to a different place.

According to oral tradition, from Palayur our ancestors traveled south to Ankamali and stayed few days there. Then they continued their journey farther south and came to Eattumanoor.

While they reached Eattumanoor, as the time was getting late and dark, they approached he local temple authorities for help in finding a place to sleep. After finding out they were Brahmins, they arranged for their dinner. But once they found out that they had deserted their religion, the temple authorities arranged for them to stay in a place between Eattumanoor and Kuravilegad. This was an area set apart for the special worship of Bhadra Kali, the most vengeful deity of Hindu religion. The temple authorities thought that goddess would take vengeance on them. But to their great surprise, the temple authorities found that these visitors were doing well and they were safe and fearless.
Temple authorities allowed the new arrivals to stay in the locality. This place between Eattumanoor and Kuravilegad was the residence for our ancestors for some time. The place they lived is even now known as Kalikavu place. According to an old government survey, plot 175, sub-plot 489/5 and 469/6 belongs to the ancestors of our Kalikavu illam. Near by plots belong to Kadappu and Pakalomittom illams.
There is also old government records according the great historian Chev. V. C. George that the plot no. 154 sub-division 490/12 was named valliapalli and it could be site where people from the 4 illams used for worship. There is also a plot No. 170 north of the temple titled shrapical. Chev. V.C. George thinks that it could have been a Christian rectory as word shrapical denotes.

Moving to Kuravilegad
Towards end of the 3rd century or the beginning of the 4th century, some members of the original 4 illams moved their residence close to the present St. Mary's church in Kuravilegad. According old records, church was originally built in 337 AD. Some of our Kalikavu ancestors and some people of other 3 illams moved to houses near the church.
There is a legend that St. Mary appeared to young few children of these illams and directed them to stream in the forest as they were thirsty. Later our ancestors built a church near this stream. This stream still flows near the church and people believe that water from this stream has miraculous powers.

Church was consecrated by Bishop Mor Jacob who came with Cana Thomas in 345 AD.

According to ancient records, our ancestors of the Kalikavu family had special duties and privileges in the Kuravilegad church. It was their duty to prepare kanji and pachoru as food offerings on certain feast days. It was also the duty of the Kalikavu family descendents to light the oil lamps around the stone cross in the church courtyard.

Though originally priests were from the Pakalomittom and Shankuthiri illams, later there were priests from all the four illams. It is believed that St. Thomas originally gave the priesthoods to the 2 illams because they were in charge of the temple in Palayur at the time of his visit and he wanted to continue that arrangement for some time. But in course of time there were several illustrious priests from our Kalikavu family and its branches.

Kalikavu family had house close to Kuravilegad church and the house gate opened to the churchyard. Presently it is owned by Pattani family, one of the branches of the original Kalikavu illam. This family has made great contributions to Kerala Christian heritage. Rev. Fr. Joseph Pattani, whom this writer knew personally was great family historian and has done great service in tracing the branches of Kalikavu family. He used to visit Mepral and our Poothicote Kudumbayogam regularly.

Other families that branched out from the Kalikavu illam are now in different parts of Kerala. These include several well known Catholic, Orthodox. and Protestant families. Like our Poothicote family, Thenassery, Pediackel, Kurialassery, Porookara, Chakalamuriyil, Vakkayil, Kaniparampil, Nadvilemuriyil are few of the families that trace their origin to original Kalikavu illam. According to one estimate, about 150 families can trace their ancestry to the Kalikavu roots.

Faith of our fathers:

As there are all Christian denominations among the descendants of Kalikavu family and other illams today, we may now look in to the faith and ecclesiastical affiliation of our ancestors. Unfortunately many historians try to prove that the early Christians of Kerala belonged a particular denomination or other depending on writer's present affiliation.. Nothing could be far from the truth.

In the sense that all Christian believers are the body of Christ and we are all one irrespective of our race, color, or to what particular denomination we belong to, we can say that all Christians are always interrelated. In the present ecumenical environment and in the light of 2nd Vatican Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, all Christians belong to the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of a universal Church.

But we Kerala Christians because of our isolated existence, was an indigenous Church with a unique ecclesial identity until the 16th century. We did not have any affiliations or contacts with any western Christian churches including Roman Catholic Church till 16th centaury. It is through the Portuguese colonial powers that we were introduced to the western Latin Christianity. In the same way, we were not always under the direct continuous control of the Jacobite Church of Antioch before the arrival of Mor Gregoriose in 1665.

It is safe to say that our ancestors were Christian in faith, Indian in culture, and Syrian in liturgy. We should look objectively at this question.

We have seen that after the baptism of our ancestors, we had priests first from Pakalomittom and Sankuthiri illams and later from all the four illams. But for the first 300 years we did not have any ecclesiastical contact with any other churches. Our first contact was with the Edessan Christians when they arrived in our shores with Thomas of Cana and Bishop Mor Joseph of Uraha in 345 AD. At that time, Edessa was under the Patriarchal See of Antioch. Later at our request and some times on their own, several prelates from Babylon, Alexandria, and Syria visited us. We had relations with eastern Syrian Caladean Church and western Syrian Church Antioch.

The Persian Church became 2 competing factions after the Nestorian controversy of the 5th century. One division under a Muphriana who was under the Patriarch of Antioch continued in the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox faith. The other division under a Catholicose who turned Nestorian in its faith after the 5th century. We had bishops from both divisions.
There is evidence that we have used eastern Syriac of the eastern Chaldean church and the western Syriac of the Antioch in of liturgies. At least in the 15th century, we had Nestorian bishops from Persia when the Portuguese first came to Kerala .

Though we had Syrian prelates from time to time, we had a republican form of administration for our churches. Members of each parish church with their priests managed affairs of the church independently. For all the Kerala churches, there was a common leader who was the Arch Deacon (Arkadayoken) from the Pakalomittom family. He had several civil powers as the head of the Syrian Christians. He was the chief spokesman for our community before the local rulers. The foreign priests and prelates from Syria never interfered in the local administration. Their duties were confined to ordaining priests and other sacramental duties.

1663 TO 1785 AD.

Leaving Kuravilegad

The reason for our Poothicote family leaving Kuravilegad is intimately connected with church controversies of that period.

The Portuguese who came to Kerala as traders gradually became a colonial power and became very influential with Kerala rulers of the period. The Portuguese were Latin Catholics and they wanted to bring the Kerala Christians under the rule of Latin bishops. Kerala Christians with the Syrian connection and liturgy resisted this encroachment of Latin priests. But according to Padroado agreement between the Pope and the King of Portugal, Portuguese prelates had power over Christians in India. The Portuguese naval power prevented Syrian bishops visiting Kerala.

It was this time a Syrian prelate, Ahathalla arrived in Cochin. The rumor spread among the local Christians that their bishop was in Portuguese custody in the ship. An angry crowd marched to Portuguese ship demanding his release. By the time they reached the shores, the ship had moved out to the sea with the Ahathalla. Rumor spread that the Portuguese had drowned their bishop.

Under the leadership of their Arch-deacon Thomas of the Pakalomittom family, the crowd moved to take a historic oath in the Mattanchery Church, holding on a long rope tied to a stone cross. This is known as Koonan Kurish Sathyam or the oath of the bended cross which took place on Friday, January 3rd, 1653.. By this oath, Syrian Christian of Kerala denounced Portuguese and Latin prelates and affirmed that they will not be under their authority. Also at meeting in Alengad on the Feast of Pentecost on May 22, 1653, they proclaimed their leader Arch deacon Thomas of Pakalomittom family as their duly elected bishop. He was temporarily ordained by 12 priests and he assumed the title Marthoma I. It was contrary to the cannons of Church that a bishop was consecrated by priests. (Bishop Thoma I was re-ordained by visiting Mor Gregoriose of Jerusalem of Jacobite church in 1665).

During all this time one of the right hand men of the Arch Deacon was his cousin Chandy from Pakalomittom Parampil family, who was the parish priest of the Kuravilegad church. They both were from the original Pakalomittom illam.

Fr. Chandy had second thoughts about the ordination of his cousin. By this time Rome send 4 Carmelite priests under the leadership of Fr. Joseph Sebestiani to pacify the Syrian Christians of Kerala . These priests were living in a rectory near the St. Mary's Church of Kuravilegad. People of the parish and the members of the original 4 families were divided in to 2 factions, one supporting the Arch Deacon and the other supporting his cousin Fr. Chandy. There were several arguments and fights in the church and outside the church. On one occasion a letter from the Arch Deacon for the parish written in palm leaves were publicly burned by a foreign Carmelite priest. On another occasion, the Arch deacon's brother was prevented from entering the church. Once one group tried to prevent a baptismal ceremony in the church by a foreign priest.

On one occasion, when Fr. Chandy was returning as after visiting the Latin bishop Garcia, some people on the Arch Deacon's side tried to abduct him, but he escaped.

At least in one of these occasions, situation completely went out of hand and some things untoward happened. We have to remember that the Syrian Christian men of the period were always well armed and skilled in the use of weapons.

In nalagamam an ancient manuscript written by Fr. Palakunnel Martha Mariam writes that the founder of the Palakunneth Thazhmon branch, Iyyob left Kuravilegad with his family in January, 1663 following misadventure with a weapon. He was with the Arch Deacon party in the conflict. Palakunnathu family later returned to the Syro- Malabar Catholic Church under Rome.

Originally all Christians who left Kuravilegad were with Marthoma I. But later Rome appointed Fr. Chandy as the Syrian Christian bishop with the title Alexander De Campo. He was ordained on February 1, 1663. May had also doubts about the validity of the ordination of Marthoma I by 12 priests. (It was only after 12 years that the visiting Mor Gregoriose of the Jacobite Church canonized this ordination). This made many to return to the Catholic fold. Further some of the bishops of church in Persia joined the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th centaury. So now the Catholic Church could bring Syrian priests and prelates whom the Kerala Christians could readily recognize and approve. This strengthened the formation of Syro- Malabar Catholic church with its liturgy in eastern Chaldean Syriac. Unfortunately after the death of Pakalomittom Chandy Metran, Syro- Malabar Catholic was with out local Syrian Christian bishop till the end of the 19th century.

Our ancestor, Oommen of Kalikavu branch also may have left Kuravilegad at the same time. It coincides with the story in many other families that left Kuravilegad during the same period.


We have seen that Oommen, the ancestor of the Poothicote and other sub-branches left Kuravilegad in 1663. He was strongly on the side of the Arch Deacon (Marthoma I). But the king of Vadakkunkur under whose jurisdiction was Kuravilegad sided Fr. Chandy. The king sent arrest warrants for those who opposed him. In this situation, some members of the 4 illams, who supported Marthoma I left Kuravilegad.

Our ancestor, Oommen, with a brother and sister traveled south and sought the protection of the ruler of Chaganachery. Chaganachery was in Thekkumkur kingdom and by the time the Dutch had become a power and trading partner if the Thekkumkur kingdom . The king of Thekkumkur had agreed to the Dutch that he would not allow Portuguese or Carmelite priests in their kingdom.

Our ancestor Oommen's brother was a priest in the Chaganachery church which in those days was a branch church (kurishupalli) of Niranam Church. Our ancestors lived for 4 generations in Chaganachery. They were very close to the rulers and they lived in a house near the present municipal court. During this period we became related to several families in the area including the Kallarackel family of Chaganachery. More research is needed about the life of our ancestors in Chaganachery.

Kuruvila and Mathen are children or grandchildren of Oommen who came from Kuravilagad.

Mathen moved to Thiruvella and became the ancestor of Chalakuzhy family. He died in a smallpox epidemic.


Kuruvila moved to Mepral and bought a property named Poothicote near Kuzhivelipram. It is from this property that we got the family name poothicote.

Mepral in those days were under the local chieftain, Azhiytdathu Prabhu. It was at the invitation of this ruler that Kuruvila moved to Mepral.





"Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What house will you build for me? says the Lord or what is my rest? Has not my hand made all these things?" (Acts 7:47, quoting Isaiah 66:1-2).

Mepral St. Johns Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church is commonly known as Mepral Valiya palli. Valiya palli means a large church, or a great church. But any one who has ever visited great churches of the world like Rome’s St. Peters Basilica, London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, or even some of the well known churches in India, knows that our Mepral church is smaller than even the smallest chapels in any of these churches.

Still Mepral St. Johns Church is the Valiya palli or the Great Church for the members of the Poothicote family as well as to many others of Mepral origin.

Our family’s history is very much intertwined with the history of this church. The wooden bars suspended beneath the ceilings of this church, have witnessed many happy moments in the life of several generations of our family, like baptisms and weddings of their children. They also witnessed sad moments when they bid farewell to their dear ones at the funerals in this church.

For all the present members of the Poothicote family, many of their ancestors lie buried in the cemetery soil around this church, and for them, there is no doubt, it is the great church, the Vlliya palli, and it stands on hallowed grounds. So it is only proper that we try to take a peek in to the history of this church.

The written records and oral history received from our ancestors give us a very interesting opportunity to have a glimpse in to the life styles, religion, politics, and social customs of a bygone era.
Kochitty Kuruvila, (The Judge Great Grandpa), the ancestor of all the present Poothicote family members, was on his deathbed. On the Malayalam calendar date of 1021, Dhanu 3rd (AD 1851), he knew that the end of his earthly life was very imminent. His first biographer and grandson, Chavidiyil Koshy Kochitty Kuruvila has written about it.

All his children and grandchildren were around his bed. He asked what time it was. When someone told him that it was 4 in the evening, the Great Grandpa said to himself,

“There is no time to go to Niranam today.”

What he meant was if he died then, it was too late for them to take his body for burial in the Niranam Church on the same day, as the Niranam church was several miles away.

Before Mepral church was built, Niranam Church was the parish church for all Christians in Mepral and the surrounding areas. The tradition is that Niranam church is one of the seven churches established by St. Thomas, the Apostle in 52 AD. After Poothicote family moved to Mepral early in the 18th century, we had 3 priests from our family in the Niranam church in 3 generations.

A contemporary document of that period, Niranam Grandhavali, records about Poothicote Rev. Fr. Kuruvila Kunju Thommen who was the right-hand man and chief supporter of Malankara Metropolitan Dyonysius I ( 1765- !808) in a very troubled period in the history the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala. The powerful and rich Thachil Mathu Tharakan who with the support of the king and other powerful government authorities, tried in vain to forcibly bring the Metropolitan and Kerala Jacobite Church under Roman Catholicism. While the Metropolitan valiantly resisted the move, the government under pressure from Tharakan, assessed huge unfair penalty against the Metropolitan and the Jacobite Church. According to Niranam Grandhavali written during the time, it was Poothicote Fr. Kuruvila Kunju Thommen who collected Rupees 20,000 and took it to Alleppy to pay the government treasury and save the Metropolitan and the church from the wrath of the government. Rs. 20,000 was a huge sum of money in 1801, equivalent to several millions today. But the Metropolitan and the Church trusted the Poothicote Kathanar that he will be able to raise this money and save the church from the unfair predicament of losing all the church properties in Kerala, and possibly having its Metropolitan imprisoned.

Poothicote family had a plot of land and a house near the Niranam church for the priests from our family to live there. The judge Great Grandpa later donated this land to the Niranam church.

During rainy monsoon seasons, it was very difficult for people from Mepral to go to Niranam church, especially for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Judge Great grandpa before his death told his children that it was his wish that one day they will build a church in Mepral.

And that was his last request to his children.

In 1861, 10 years after the Great Grandpa’s death, his 3rd son, Cherian called all his brothers to his Puthen Purackel house and discussed how to realize the last wish of their father. There was a plot of land on banks of Mepral Pallithodu, a canal of Pampa river, belonging to Cherian and his brother, Medayil Kunjachonda. Both of the brothers agreed to donate the land to build a Church.

Payikandathil Papachen (Advocate George P. Cherian) has a copy of the records of this land deal from Alleppy District court in his possession.

The records show that an Ezhava family called Kondasseril was living in the property at that time. Kizhakeveetil (Elaviralil) Kochujachen, the 4th son of Judge great grandpa, agreed to relocate this family to one of his properties. Cherian and Kunjachonda transferred the title of the land to Kochujachen so that he could proceed with relocating the Ezhava family and get permission from the government to build a church. As was required at that time, 2 other people from Mepral, Azhimukhathu Cherian and Plamootil Chummar cosigned the request to the government for the permission for the church. .

To this day, the title for this property known as Kuppeadath purayidam where the present church stands belongs to the descendants of the Elaviralil branch of the Poothicote family. The government records show that the property is on plot 192/93/438, according to the land survey of 1837.

At the time this application for constructing the church was proceeding, Kaniyanthra, the other prominent Christian family in Mepral, was also trying to get approval for a church near the northern side of Mepral, closer to their houses. Approval was granted, but somehow the church was not built there, and the Kaniyanthra family later joined the St. Johns church. Kaniyanthra Kunjuthommi Kunjummen became a very active member of the church.

A temporary shed was built in the property and in 1861, (according to the Malayalam Era calendar, in 1036, on Vrichikam 18) and evening prayer service was first conducted in the temporary shed by the then Malankara Metropolitan, Palakunneth Mathews Mar Athanasius. The next day the Eucharist service was also celebrated here by the Metropolitan. On this visit to Mepral, Mar Athanasius stayed with the Puthenveetil Chackochen valliappan, the second son of Judge Great Grandpa.

It was the custom in those days that when a new church was started, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated every day for the next 41 days. Kottayam Edavazhikel Achen, Niranam Pallimukkil Achen, and Vennikulath Kakkuzhiyil Achen celebrated the Holy Kurbana during this period.

This was a period of great turmoil and controversy in the Kerala church. The young Palakunneth Mathews Mar Athanasius was consecrated as a bishop by the Patriarch of Antioch, His Holiness Ignatius Elias II in 1842 in Syria, and gave him the title and powers of the Malankara Metropolitan. The Metropolitan who was only 23 years old then, returned to Kerala in 1843. In a short time, many started worrying that he was leaning more towards the protestant reformation movement in the church sphere-headed by his uncle Palakunneth Rev. Abraham Malpan. There was also anxiety that the Metropolitan was shifting away from the Syrian Orthodox practices and traditions. Many resented this, and sent several complaints to the Patriarch. The Patriarch sent a delegate, a Syrian Bishop Euayakim Mar Coorilose, to Kerala in 1846 with the written permission to assume the administration of church if he felt that Palakunneth Mar Athanasius was moving away from the Jacobite faith.

After enquiries, the Patriarch asked Euayakim Mar Coorilose to assume the powers of the Malankara Metropolitan. Cheppad Mar Dyonysius, the former Malankara metropolitan before Athanasius, who was old and frail now, also requested the Patriarch for this transfer of power.

Judge Grandpa was originally with Mar Athanasius and he had great hopes in this well educated young bishop. In fact when Mar Athanasius returned from Syria as a Metropolitan, it was Judge Great Grandpa who took him to Thiruvananthapuram and introduced him to the then king, Maha Raja Swathi Thirunal.

But Judge Grandpa did not like the rough and tactless approach of the new bishop on many issues. For example, Grandpa was embarrassed when the young metropolitan refused to take his boots off on his first appointed audience with the king, as was the custom in those days. In spite of Judge Grandpa’s advice that he should respect the customs and traditions of the land, the English educated young Mar Athanasius thought it was below his dignity as a bishop to take boots off before the king. After this, there were only very few contacts between Judge Grandpa and Mar Athanasius. Grandpa was in Cochin to receive Euyakim Mar Coorilose when he arrived to investigate the actions of Mar Athanasius.

Euyakim Mar Coorilsose on several occasions was the guest of Judge Great Grandpa, staying in the guest house adjacent to his Moonnamadam house in Mepral. One of his granddaughters (daughter of his 2nd daughter Aleyamma, who was married in Chalakuzhiyil family) got married to the bother of Euyakim Mar Coorilose. The present Bishop of the Marthoma diocese in America, Euyakim Mar Coorilose is a great-great-great grandson of the Judge Great Grandpa.

Mar Athanasius refused to surrender his title and powers as the Malankara Metropolitan to Euyakim Mar Coorilose as ordered by the Patriarch. This resulted in a dispute that went before the government and a government committee decided in favor of Palakunneth Mar Athanasius. But the committee gave permission for any new churches built after this decision to choose the side they wanted. This decision came only a few weeks after Mepral Church was started in a temporary shed. It is said that people changed the roof of the church overnight and claimed that theirs was a new church. Three months after Palakunneth Athanasius conducted the first service, people brought Euayakim Mar Coorilose on AD1861, ( ME.1036, Makaram 6th) and the foundation stone for the church was laid. The next day Mar Coorilose celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the temporary church. The church was dedicated on that day in the name of St. John, the Baptist.

Edavazhikal Fr. Kuriakose and Ayiroor Chemprontha Fr. Scaria conducted the regular services as there were no priests in Mepral at that time.

The Corepiscopa, Very Reverend Poothicote Cherian Thomas (1846-1912), the son of Poothicote Puthen Purackel Cherian valliappan, was ordained as a deacon by the Patriarchal delegate Euayakim Coorilose in 1862 (ME 1037 Dhanu 22). Fr. Cherian Thomas is commonly referred as the great Poothicote Achen by his contemporaries.

In the meantime Kaniyanthra Padijareveetil Fr. Joseph Ninan often helped with the services in the Mepral church, though at that time he was one of the vicars of the Niranam and the Thalavadi churches. Fr. Ninan was married to Annamma, the youngest daughter of Judge, Great Grandpa. For this wedding a Dowry of 300 rasis were given to Ninan who was a deacon at that time. That was the largest amount of dowry given to bridegroom those days.

Rasi is a small gold coin. 10 silver coins make one rasi. The rasi was so small that it could be hidden in the mouth if approached by robbers or bandits.

It was only natural that Cherian Valliappan and his brothers sought the help of their brother-in-law, Fr. Ninan for the services in the Mepral church. Further, this Kaniyanthra Ninan Achen was a staunch supporter of the Patriarchal delegate, Euayakim Mar Coorilose and valiantly stood for the Jacobite Orthodox faith. He strongly objected to the reformation ideas of the Malankara Metropolitan, Palakunneth Mar Athanacius.

In the meantime, deacon Poothicote Cherian Thomas completed his education in Kottayam Old Seminary and in due course got ordained as a priest. As the first vicar of the St. Johns Church, Poothicote Achen was a great success. As an eloquent speaker and organizer, Achen led the church very successfully, and became an eminent leader of the Christian community in Central Kerala. He was very dedicated to the Jacobite Orthodox faith and traditions like his father Cherian valliappan, and his uncles.

During the Mulamthuruthy Synod of all representatives of Orthodox Jacobite churches in Kerala, called by Patriarch Ignatius Peter III in 1876, Mathew Chathanthra, the elder brother of Poothicote Achen represented the Mepral church in the synod meetings, and his signature appears on the records. According to the same records, Kaniyanthra Padijareveetil Rev. Fr. Ninan represented the Niranam and the Thalavadi churches in the synod.

The relations between Poothicote Achen and Kaniyanthra Fr. Ninan were very cordial. After all, Fr. Ninan was married to Poothicote Achen’s father’s sister. Further, Poothicote Achen’s wife Kunju Mariamma was the daughter of Fr. Ninan’s younger brother Varkey of Kaniyanthra Thazhathu family.

The present church building with bricks and roof tiles was built in 1883 when Poothicote Achen was the vicar.

When the church was built, cement was not available in Mepral There is a story about what they used instead of cement to seal the bricks. They were using powdered lime stones and a special slime, the sticky liquid that comes out of the skin of a common fish in Mepral called varal. It is beyond imagination to think how many varal fishes they caught so that all the bricks in the church could be sealed...

Poothicote Achen had very cordial relations with the saintly diocesan Metropolitan Parumala Mar Gregoriose (1848-1902). Before Mar Gregoriose left for his journey to the Holy Land in 1895, he was invited to Mepral church and a contribution was made towards the expenses for his journey.

Unfortunately Parumala St. Gregoriose died in 1902 at the age of 54. After that Ramban Vattasseril Ghevarughese became the right-hand man of the then Malankara Metropolitan Joseph Pulikkotil II.

Kaniyanthra Padijareveetil Fr. Ninan passed away in 1892 and he was buried in the Mepral church cemetery. His position in the Mepral church was taken over by Kaniyanthra Vathapallil Fr. Ninan. He was also a priest in the Niranam church. He was an unmarried monk and he later moved his residence to Mepral and was conducting services in the Mepral church on alternate Sundays

Vattasseril Ramban became very close to this Kaniyanthra Achen. He made some unannounced visits to Mepral church which Poothicote Achen did not approve of. Ramban’s position is not any higher than a parish priest in the church hierarchy except that Ramban takes an oath of celibacy. Rambans have no powers over a parish priest.

One time Vattasseril Ramban came to the church on a Sunday unannounced and demanded to conduct the Eucharist service and Poothicote Achen refused permission. Vattasseril Ramban angrily returned to Kottayam and made some allegation against Poothicote Achen to the Malankara Metropolitan, Pulikkotil Joseph Mar Dyonysius II. This resulted in the suspension of Poothicote Achen in 1904 by Pulikkotil Mar Dyonysius.

We have to view the situation of Poothicote family on church matters at that time with circumspection. Unlike Kaniyanthra family where all its members stayed with the Jacobite Orthodox faith, in the Poothicote family, the reformation movement of Palakunneth Athanacius had some effects.

At least 3 sons of Judge Great Grandpa, Puthenveetil Chackochen, Medayil Kunjachonda, and Chavidiyil Kochu Koshy favored some reformation in the Jacobite church. Closeness of several of our Valliappans to Palakunneth Mar Athanacius and the British missionaries made them longing for some progressive changes in the church. It should be noted that this was before the protestant Marthoma church and St. Thomas Evangelistic Association was officially formed in 1889 in Kerala.

Palakunneth Mathews Mar Athanasius died in 1877. Though Mar Athanasius had some inclination towards the reformation movement of his uncle Fr. Abraham Malpan, he lived and died in the Jacobite Orthodox Church. Most of the time he followed the orthodox Syrian liturgy, and at the ordination of priests, he instructed them to be faithful to the church and to be obedient to its spiritual head, the Patriarch of Antioch. There is no evidence that he was ever officially excommunicated from the Church by the Patriarch.

Though reform minded, Mar Athanasius was very zealous in keeping the traditions of his ancient church. An anecdotal story in our family, which I have heard in my younger years about him from the older people, sheds some light on this. The story goes like this.

It is an important tradition in the Jacobite Church that though a deacon of our church can marry, once after a deacon becomes a priest, he can not marry. Priests also can not remarry even if they become widowers. A priest’s widow is also forbidden to remarry. Palakunneth Mar Athanacius insisted that everybody in his church obeyed these ancient traditions of the Syrian Church.

Poothicote Medayil Kunjachonda was a very religious and devoted person, and he was also one of the first English educated persons in Kerala. He was very close to the English missionaries and somehow he married a widow who was formerly married to a priest. After this marriage, one day he visited Palakunneth Mar Athanasius in the Niranam Church. The Metropolitan was very angry and temporarily lost his temper, and hit Kunjachonda with his hand, shouting that a priest’s wife should be like a mother for the church members, and no one should remarry her even if she becomes a young widow. Kunjachonda as usual was very clam and quite in spite of the provocation from the Metropolitan. But his brother Kizhakeveetil Kochujachen was watching this from a distance and he really got angry and approached the metropolitan. Metropolitan who realized the danger of the situation held on to both hands of Kochujachen and whispered in his ears, “Please, do not humiliate me before the public. Let us go inside and talk.” Both of them calmed down soon, and each apologized to the other for the angry behavior.

Though Poothicote Achen was strongly on the Jacobite Orthodox faith, he was very considerate about the views of his uncles and cousins about the reformation. Also Poothicote Achen conducted services at least in part in Malayalam, when most other priests were conducting services in the Syriac language only. This lead to the allegations that he was using the reformed liturgy of Palakunneth Abraham Malpan, and that he was a secret follower of Mar Athanasius. It should be noted that apart from some progressive views of reformation, Palakunneth Athanacius was highly respected by all in Central Kerala for his social and political leadership of the Christian community as a whole.

The Mepral Marthoma Emmanuel Church was built only in the beginning of the 20th centaury and till then St. Johns church was the parish church for all members of the Poothicote family. The Poothicote Achen was the vicar for all of them till the Marthoma Church was formed in Mepral.

Metropolitan Joseph Pulikotil Mar Dyinysius was from the northern part of Kerala, who could not appreciate the social and family ramifications of the church dispute in Central Kerala. So it was under the persuasion of Vattasseril Ghevarughese Ramban, who had an axe to grind against Poothicote Achen, that Achen was suspended by Pulikotil Mar Dyunysius in 1904.

Poothicote Achen refused to accept the suspension. This resulted in a division in Mepral church. One group was supporting Poothicote Achen and the other group was supporting Kaniyanthra Achen. Kaniyanthra Achen had the blessings of Ramban Vattasseril Ghevarughese. The dispute resulted in several clashes and the Mepral church was soon closed by the order of the court.

But on orders of Patriarch Ignatius Abdullah II, a compromise agreement was reached between Poothicote and Kaniyanthra sides after much negotiation.

According to this agreement dated on (Kanni 29), 1910, and recorded in the Alleppy district court as a compromise in case no. 1076/268, both sides agreed to be under the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch and to obey the bishop appointed by him.

In 1909 Pulikotil Joseph Mar Dianasius died and Vattasseril Ghevarughese Ramban was consecrated as Malankara Metropolitan with the title Ghevarughese Mar Dianasius by the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Abdullah II.

After getting ordained as Malankara Metropolitan, Vattasseril Mar Dianasius started to rebel against the Patriarch himself.

On his visit to Kerala in 1909, the Patriarch asked Poothicote Achen, Kaniyanthra Achen, and Vattasseril Mar Dianasius to appear before him in the Puthupalli church. All of them obeyed the order and appeared before the Patriarch. After a full investigation, the Patriarch excommunicated the Kaniyanthra Achen for disobedience and violations of the cannon laws of the Church. Poothicote Achen was elevated by the Patriarch as a Coepiscopa for steadfastly following the Orthodox faith of the church, and he was asked to continue as the vicar of Mepral church. The prominent Rev. Konatt Malpan, the priest trustee of the Jacobite Association in Kerala also applauded the strong stand taken by Poothicote Achen.

Soon Vattasseril Mar Ghevarughese was also excommunicated by the Patriarch from being the Malankara Metropolitan for rebelling against the traditional practices and the authority of the Patriarch as the spiritual head of the Church. Later in 1912, Vattasseril Mar Dianasius caused a permanent schism in the church by establishing a Catholicate in Kerala independently of the parent church in Antioch.

People who continued in allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch were known as Bava Party and those followed Bishop Vattasseril Mar Dianasius were called Metran Party. (After 1972 separation, they are known as Jacobite Syrian orthodox Church and Indian orthodox Church respectively.)

In Mepral, Poothicote family stood with the Bava party and the Kaniyanthra family by Metran party.

When these things were happening, Mepral church was closed by the order of the court. But the Patriarch gave permission to Poothicote Achen to conduct the Eucharist and other sacramental services at his home for the faithful.

Poothicote Cherian Thomas Achen died in May, 1912 (ME Makaram 7). Though church was closed at that time, it was opened for his burial services, which were conducted by Chathanthra Achen and Aviyot Achen.

Poothicote Chathanthra Rev. Fr. P. M. Abraham followed as the vicar on the Patriarchal side. He was ordained as a priest by Patriarch Ignatius Abdullah II in 1912 in Alway seminary church.

In 1917, Kaniyanthra Vathapallil Ninan Achen also died and the Kaniyanthra Alexander Corepiscopa became the vicar on the metran party.

Fortunately Fr. Abraham and Fr. Alexander were priests with great vision and Christian love. In spite of the controversies and cases between the Bava party and Metran party going on in other churches in Kerala, these two priests cooperated and conducted services on alternate Sundays in Mepral Church very peacefully.

Chathanthra Achen (Fr. Abraham) was an educated and cultured soul. He was born in 1885. He took the ministry as a God’s calling and followed the dictates of his conscience. His sermons were very short, but very powerful. He encouraged children to study well and improve their chances in life. When ever I met him when I was a young boy, he enquired about my grades, and urged me to be the best in the class.

He also had a very realistic view about the conflict in the church. I remember talking to him one day about the church controversies. At that time I was a junior physician, and was in a medical team that treated Mar Augen Catholicose during a major illness. I came to Mepral on holidays and visited the Chathanthra Achen appachen as I called him. He told me he was in the group that visited the Holy land with Augen Ramban, Vattasseril Ramban, Poulose Coorilose, Kallaseril Punnose Remban and Fr. Kuriakose Kodiyattu in 1908. It was during this visit that Vattasseril Ramban was consecrated as Metropolitan Ghevarughese Mar Dianasius by the Patriarch Ignatius Abdullah II. He considered the dispute in the church as personal quarrels and ego trips by a few. He always prayed and hoped that the dispute in the Kerala church will one day be amicably solved.

It was Fr. P.M. Abraham who built an annex building in the church compound in memory of his predecessor, Very Rev. Poothicote Cor- Episcopa Cherian Thomas in 1929.

People of Mepral will ever be indebted to Kaniyanthra Corepiscopa, the Very Rev. Alexander for starting the first English school, the St. Johns English Middle School, in Mepral. He was instrumental for many good things in our community including starting the first post office in Mepral. He was in the forefront of many of the social and educational programs in our village. I still remember him visiting our house when I was very young and how gentle and loving he always was. Factions with in the church never affected his dealings with people. One of his daughters, Kunjaliamma was married to Baby of Poothicote Pathinettil family. Fr. Alexander died on Nov.25, 1955.

The love and respect of these two priests to each other, though they belonged to the opposite side in the church controversy, is best illustrated in the following.

The chief celebrant at the wedding ceremony of Fr. Abraham’s eldest son, Baby was Kaniyanthra Alexander Achen. Poothicote Abraham Achen was always there whenever and wherever Kaniyanthra Achen needed him in all his public activities.

There is another story that illustrates Poothicote Abraham Achen’s generosity and large heartedness. The story was told to me by Rev. Fr. K. Philipose (Late Philipose Mar Theophilose of the Indian Orthodox church). His mother was from Poothicote Payikandathil family.

This was a time when tension was very high between the two factions in the church dispute. Fr. K. Philipose came to attend a wedding of his cousin from the Poothicote Payikandathil family in the Mepral church. The priest who was the chief celebrant of the wedding ceremony on that day was a well known leader on the Patriarchal side from a neighboring church. When he saw Fr. Philipose in the church, he told him that he could not participate in the wedding service, as he was from the metran side. With great disappointment and sorrow, Fr. Philipose went outside the church and waited in front of the parsonage. At that time Poothicote Fr. Abraham was coming to the church and enquired why Philipose Achen was standing outside. When he heard the reason, he went inside the church and told the guest priest that if Fr .K. Philipose is not allowed to join the service, he was also not going to participate in the ceremony. The guest priest was forced to go outside and apologize to Fr. Philipose and bring him in to join the service.

There was peace in the Kerala church following the Patriarchal visit to India in 1964 by His Holiness, Ignatius Yacob III. It was during this visit Augen Mar Themothiose was installed as Catholicose by the Patriarch of Antioch, and both factions accepted Mar Augen as their Catholicose. Poothicote Fr. Abraham died in 1965 when this peace was prevailing in the church, as he always prayed and hoped for.

Following the death of Fr. Abraham, Poothicote Payikandathil Fr. George Kurian became the vicar of the church. Fr. George Kurian was a devout and saintly person, but his allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch was unalterable. He was ordained priest by Poulose Mar Philexinose (Later Catholicose Mar Basaliose Poulose II). As there was a temporary peace in the Malankara church, he became the parish priest for both the sides from 1964 to 1974. As the vicar of the church, he was highly respected and loved by all. He was there always for the poor and the sick irrespective of religious or factional differences, and he worked hard for the general improvement of the Mepral village.

By 1972, there were again disputes in the Kerala church. A group from the previous metran party wanted to severe all connections with the Patriarch of Antioch, and make the Kerala church an independent autocephalous church. This was against the sane advice of many elder leaders even on the Indian Orthodox side, like K.M. Cherian, the chief editor of Malayala Manorama, and bishop Philipose Mar Theophilose. K.M. Cherian has told me on several occasions how pained and saddened he was, as the peace he longed for and worked for a lifetime slipped away during the evening years of his life. The vocal extremist groups finally won, and the church was divided in to two factions again.

It was at this time that Poothicote Payikandathil Fr. George Kurian (1935-1995) was consecrated as Metropolitan Kuriakose Mar Coorilose by the Patriarch of Antioch in Damascus in 1974.

The Indian Orthodox faction refused to accept him as their bishop. This again resulted in controversies and litigation in the Mepral church, and it still continues.

Arrangement of worship services in the church continues by an agreement by both parties. Both conduct Eucharist services in the Church on different times on each Sunday.

In course of time Poothicote Kuriakose Mar Coorilose became a highly respected and revered bishop in Kerala by Christians and non- Christians alike. Unfortunately Bishop Mar Coorilose passed away on March 21, 1995, when he was only 60 years, and his mortal remains were interred in the Adoor Jacobite church.

After the division in 1972, the Indian Orthodox faction in the Mepral church was lead by Kaniyanthra Arumapettiyil Fr. Job Thomas. Later he was consecrated as Job Mar Philexinose, and presently he is the bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church in New Delhi.

Except for the factional controversy on church matters, the Poothicote and Kaniyanthra families were together in most other things. There were so many intermarriages between these two families during the past 7 generations. If one looks at the lineage of the members of the Poothicote family, many of them are likely to have a mother, grandmother, great-great-grandmother, or great- great-great-great grandmother from the Kaniyanthra family. Same is true of a large number of Kaniyanthra family members who will have a matrilineal link to the Poothicote family. Even when there were controversies, these two families cared, shared, and helped each other as they lived together in the same village for almost 300 years.

Often times in the past, the factional fighting at our local level was nothing more than a fun game of rivalry between two well to do feudal families whose men had a lot of leisure time at their disposal.

My grandfather Kunju Varkey, as he was nearing 90 years, told me a story that will illustrate this point.
One day in 1906, there was a heated argument between the Poothicote and Kaniyathra family members in the church, and my grandfather’s older brother Kunju Thekapurackel was also involved in the heated exchanges. Someone rushed to my grandfather who was at home at that time, and told him that his brother was involved in an altercation with Kaniyanthra family members. My grandfather very gently told the one who brought the news, “They may be having a little fun there after working all week. Even if there is an altercation, my brother is with his maternal uncles form Kaniyanthra family. They will protect him, but they also have the right to discipline him if they choose to do so. But if anyone does any thing wrong to you, please let me know, and I will make amends for that.” Nothing untoward happened that time.

Today most members of the Kaniyanthra family also have left Mepral village as Poothicote family did, looking for better pastures. But there is a lingering sense of love and bondage between the members of these two ancient families where ever they live.

The history of communities, institutions, and even churches, are often determined by events beyond the control of men. I have often wondered, what if the Saintly Parumala Mar Gregoriose did not die in 1902, but outlived Pulikkotil Mar Dyonysius II, and became the Malankara Metropolitan. The disputes in the Mepral church or that even in the Kerala Syrian Orthodox Church would never have happened in such a scenario.

Bava party versus metran party cases have lasted almost a centaury, litigated by the best legal brains in India, and it has involved four generations, and it is still continuing, matching very few other litigations in the history of jurisprudence.

But who can second-guess the imponderable wisdom of the Eternal One, who guide and direct the destinies of ordinary imperfect men?

Then, if the church had only perfect members, none of us could ever be its members.

In spite of all the imperfections of the past and present, Mepral St. Johns Church is dear and near to the hearts of many from Mepral, and especially to the members of the Poothicote family.