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History of the Diocese of Cochin

History of the Diocese of Cochin begins with the arrival of the Portuguese Missionaries in India. These neo apostles reached Kappad near Kozhikode on 20th May, 1498, along with Vasco De Gama, the famous navigator. History has it that their reception was far from friendly. In the violent encounter that ensued, quite a few of the visitors, including some anointed, were killed. As a result, Gama had to return to Lisbon. It is worth noting here that the first martyr among the Portuguese missionaries in Kerala was Fr. Fedro De Covilham.

A second expedition under Captain Alvarez Cabral, comprising 13 ships and 18 priests, anchored at Cochin on 26th November 1500. Cabral soon won the good will of the Raja of Cochin. Thus four friars could be assigned to do apostolic work among the early Christian communities scattered in and around Cochin. When King Goda Varma of Cochin was defeated by the Zamorin of Kozhikkode and kept prisoner at Vypeen, a third fleet under Admiral Albuqurque arrived on 3rd September, 1503. This new fleet with greater reinforcements defeated the Zamorin and rescued the Raja of Cochin. Out of gratitude, the Raja granted him permission to build a fortress at Cochin with a church at the centre.

The solemn blessing of the church was on November 1, 1503, after an elegant and magnificent procession in which all the Captains participated with the Holy Cross, the great sign and instrument of victory, held aloft. A Holy Mass in the Latin Liturgy was celebrated for the first time in Cochin. Later, as decreed by the King of Portugal, Albuquerque directed the priests, Franciscans and Dominicans, to proceed to the neighbouring villages to teach the Christians there.

When Admiral Francisco Almeida arrived in Cochin as the first Viceroy of the Portuguese India, he obtained permission to build a bigger church using lime and stone. Thus, on 3rd May, 1505, on the feast of "Invention of the Holy Cross", the foundation stone was laid for a new edifice. Subsequently, when the structure was completed, the new magnificent church was named "Santa Cruz".

At the behest of the zealous Catholic Emperor, John III, of Portugal, more Franciscan friars and secular priests reached Goa on 6th May, 1542. Along with them landed a group of highly trained missionaries of the Jesuit Order led by Fr. Francis Xavier ( St. Francis Xavier ), a brilliant scholar. In time he moved south to Cochin and studying the situation, sought help from his Jesuit General St. Ignatius and the Emperor for more missionaries from Portugal. St. Francis Xavier visited Cochin several times and stayed for more than 120 days, offering Holy Mass at the St. Anthony's Church built by Portuguese Franciscans. This church is in existence even today but is known as St. Francis Church now. Locally known as "Lenthapally" (Dutch church), currently it is under the Department of the Archaeological Survey of India as an historical monument.

Earlier, the whole of east had been placed under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Lisbon but on 12th June, 1514, by a Bull of Pope Leo X, Goa and Cochin became two important mission stations under the newly created funchal diocese in Madeira. Subsequently, many missionaries were sent to the region by the Portuguese King. Later, Pope Paul III, by the Bull "Aequem Reputamus" of 3rd November 1534, raised the funchal to the status of an Archdiocese and Goa to that of its suffragan, deputing the whole of India under the Diocese of Goa. Thus the importance of Cochin shot up and the Portuguese Viceroys furnished their town on the pattern of European cities, constructing well-planned roads, edifices, churches and monasteries. These are still visible in and around the present Fort Cochin.

On 4th December, 1524, Gama came to Cochin for the third time, now as the Viceroy of India. But on the 20th day of his arrival, to be precise on the day of Yuletide, he died. He was buried inside the nave of the Church of St. Anthony, the present St. Francis Assisi Church or the Dutch Church.

By the zealous activities of the missionaries of various congregations who arrived, the "Christ Order" in 1500, the Franciscans in 1503, Jesuits in 1541, Dominicans in 1551 and the Augustinians in 1579, all from Portugal , not fewer than 30,000 'St. Thomas Christians ' on the Malabar coast were restored to the union of the Holy See. In recognition of this achievement, the Roman Pontiff, Pope Paul IV, established, by his famous Bull "Pro Excellento Praeeminentia", dated 4th February, 1557, the Diocese of Cochin and declared Goa as its Archdiocese. The Pope also declared thereby the magnificent Portuguese Church of Santa Cruz as the Cathedral of the new diocese. Its boundaries extended from Canannore in the north to Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) down south on the west coast and the whole east coast of the subcontinen going up north and stretching further east including Burma.

The first Portuguese Bishop of the Diocese of Cochin was a Dominican, Dom Giorgio Temudo O.P. (1558-1567). He herded his flock efficiently, settled many disputes and acted as the peace-maker between the St. Thomas Christians and the native Christians. By that time many early Christians had migrated from the region of Crangannore and settled at Fort Cochin and Mattanchery, the western and eastern parts of Cochin. It is but obvious that the city was rapidly developing under the Portuguese. Augustinian, Franciscan and Jesuit bishops followed Dom Giorgio. The Diocese of Cochin stood witness to many an important historical event during the period. One among them really worth mentioning is the Synod of Diamper held on 10th June 1599, conducted by the Archbishop, Alexis De Menezes of Goa. It was after this synod in which many 'St. Thomas Christians' pledged their fidelity to the Church of Rome, that a new vicariate was carved out of the diocese for these new followers. Since then the Diocese of Cochin has had the privilege to give birth to many new dioceses. As a result, the once vast 'mother diocese' has now shrunk to its present diminutive dimension.

Since 1646 the administration of the Diocese was not easy as it was often interrupted by the conquests of Cochin by the Dutch. Some prelates who were consecrated as Bishops of the Diocese either in Goa or in Lisbon could not even reach Cochin and those who did either Cochin or Kollam could not take charge. As a result, many factions, rebellions and schisms sprouted. In order to bring these dissidents back to the fold, the Holy See started sending Carmelite Missionaries. Thus was established the Vicariate of Malabar in 1657 which, later, on 13th March, 1709, was changed into the Vicariate of Verapoly with Bishop Angelo Francis OCD as its first Vicar Apostolic.

In 1663 the Dutch Calvinists captured the city of Cochin and destroyed all the Catholic institutions of the Portuguese except the St. Anthony's Church (the Dutch Church) and the Santa Cruz Cathedral. The protestant Dutch used the former for their religious services and the latter as an armoury. Hence the Portuguese Bishops who were appointed later on, had to tend to their diocese residing outside the city of Cochin. The next important development was the conquest of Cochin by the British on 20th October 1795. They destroyed their enemy's armoury (old Santa Cruz Cathedral) first, of course but were more lenient towards the Catholics than the Dutch Calvinists.

During this juncture, due to the religio-political rivalries, the Holy See finally decided to hand over the major portion of the Diocese to the Vicariate of Verapoly. Thus on 24th April, 1838, the Diocese of Cochin was annexed to the Vicariate. This Papal Decree crated some rift between Portugal and Rome but was solved later. On 23rd June, 1886, the great Pope Leo XIII promulgated the famous Concordat, called "Humanae Salutis Auctor" by which the Diocese of Cochin was restored to its original status and placed again as a suffragan under the Archdiocese of Goa. Simultaneously the Vicariate of Verapoly was raised to archdiocese and the Diocese of Quilon was erected as its suffragan. The emergence of these two dioceses was from the old Padraoado Diocese of Cochin, which was erected on 4th February, 1557. Thus we can rightly say that Cochin Diocese, after Goa (1534) was the 'mother diocese' of all the bishoprics. From Cannannore in the north it stretched down to Cape Comorin and Ceylon in the south and went along the eastern coast of the peninsula all the way up north to include even Burma! The Diocese of Cochin is immensely pleased to see her progeny growing healthy and hearty though she herself has dwindled to the most diminutive in the country with only 236 sq.kms of territory!

After the Diocese was released from the 'care' of her daughter, Verapoly Vicariate in 1886, it was in a miserable condition. There was no Cathedral, nor any Bishop's House. The new Bishop Dom Joan Fereira lived in a rented house just in front of the gate of the present INS Dronacharya and later on at Alappuzha. He bought the current House (1888) from a Dutch family and began the construction of the existing Santa Cruz Cathedral. The 31st and the last Portuguese Bishop was Dom Jose Vieira Alvernaz (1942-1951). On 19th June 1952, by the Decree "Ea Redemptoris Verba" of Pope Pius XII, the new Diocese of Alleppy was erected dismembering Cochin again and the administration of the Diocese was brought into the hands of the indigenous clergy. The first native bishop of Cochin was Dr. Alexander Edezhath (1952-1975) who was succeeded by Dr. Joseph Kureethara (1975-1999) on 22nd December 1975.

The late Bishop Joseph Kureethara was very keen on developing the Diocese at the socio-religious sphere. His Excellency established many institutions including a college, schools, hospitals and charitable homes, erected parishes and churches and established a new religious congregation for women called the 'Sisters of Holy Eucharist'. After a prolonged illness Bishop Joseph Kureethara was called to his heavenly reward on 5th January 1999. Rev. Dr. Josy Kandanattuthara, the then Chancellor, subsequently became the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese. The Very Rev. Father served the fold and herded the flock diligently with his inborn qualities of humility and concern and care for all till the Diocese was blessed with the appointment of a new bishop by the Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, on 25th June 2000.

The new Bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. John Thattumkal, formerly a secular priest of the Diocese, is a member of the Congregation of the Fathers of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo. His Excellency had served the Diocese in different capacities like Judicial Vicar, Procurator, Pro - Chancellor prior to his joining the Religious Order. A brilliant scholar, he has taken his doctorate in Canon and Civil Laws from the Pontifical Urban University, Rome. His thesis on the social structure of the Catholic Church in India entitled " Caste and the Catholic Church in India" published by the Urban University had stirred a hornets nest way back in the 1980's. His Excellency's "UT UNUM SINT OMNIA OMNIBUS FACTUS SUM" is indicative of his outlook and attitude towards life,especially, spiritual. Within this short span of his reign the new prelate has put his own imprint on the history of the Diocese. Liked, loved and respected by the people in general and the faithful in particular, Rt. Rev. Dr. John Thattumkal has become quite notable among the Catholic Bishops and noteworthy among the intelligentsia. But he was suspended after some issues on faith and practices on 24 Oct 2008.

The present and 35th Bishop Dr Joseph Kariyil was formerly Vicar General in the Diocese of Cochin (2000 2005). He also held the posts of The Editor of Talent ( 1987-1992 ), Director of P. O. C (1992-2000), Bishop of Punalur (2005-2009).

BISHOPS OF COCHIN

1. Dom Giorgio Temudo O.P 1557-1567

2. Dom Henrique De Tavora O.P. 1576-1578

3. Dom Antonio De Baja 1578-1578

4. Dom Matheus De Medina O.S.A. 1579-1588

5. Dom Andrea De Sant Maria O.F.M 1588-1610

6. Dom Sebastianos A Santa Pedro O..A. 1615-1624

7. Dom Luiz De Britto A Menezes O.S.A. 1628-1629

8. Dom Francesco Baretto 1630-1630

9. Dom Miguel Da Cruz Rangal O.P. 1633- 1646

10. Dom Antonio Da Serpa 1647-1647

11. Dom Joao Celo 1650-1650

12. Dom Fabio Dos Reis 1668-1668

13. Dom Fernando Da santa Maria 1672-1672

14. Dom Antonio Da Santo Dionysio O.S.A. 1676-1685

15. Dom Pedro Da Silva O.S.A. 1688-1691

16. Dom Antonio Da Santa Teresa 1692-1692

17. Dom Pedro Pachecco O.P. 1694-1713

18. Dom Francesco Pedro Dos Martyres 1717-1717

19. Dom Francesco De Vasconselo S.J. 1722-1742

20. Dom Antonio De Conceisao 1745-1745

21. Dom Clement Jose Colocao Leita S.J. 1745-1776

22. Dom Sebastiao Da Costa 1777-1777

23. Dom Manuel De Santa Catherina O.C.D. 1778-1785

24. Dom Jose De Soledad O.C.D. 1785-1818

25. Dom Tomas De Noronha E Britto O.P. 1819-1819

26. Dom Joakim De Santa Rita Boethello 1832-1832

27. Dom Joao Gomez Ferreira 1887-1897

28. Dom Matheas De Oliveiro Xavier 1898-1908

29. Dom Jose Bento Martin Rebeiro 1909-1931

30. Dom Abilio Agusto Vas Das Neves 1934-1939

31. Dom Jose Vieira Alvarnaz 1942-1951

32. Rt. Rev. Dr. Alexander Edezhath 1952-1975

33. Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara 1975-1999

34. Rt. Rev Dr. John Thattumkal 2000 -2008

35. Rt. Rev Dr. Joseph Kariyil 2009 -