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Morth Mariam Church
Ankamaly, Kerala

Source: Photograph dt. December 22, 2003


St. Mary's Jacobite Syrian Church
Ankamaly, Kerala 683 572, India



Worship Schedule

Qurbono - Sunday 8:30 am
Qurbono - Weekdays 7:15 am

Alternate Saturdays: Intercessory prayer to the Mother of God with pachoru nercha (distribution of an offering of a sweetened rice preparation).

Main feast - Saturday & Sunday following Jan 14
St. Gewargis - May 7
Shunoyo (Assumption) - Aug 15
Sleebo (Holy Cross) - Sep 14
caneede feast - Nov 14, 15
St. Bahnam - Dec 10


Brief History

The Church of the Holy Virgin Mary Mother of God at Ankamaly is an ancient church and one of the most prominent in Malankara. It was the erstwhile seat of the Archdeacon of the Malankara Church (the local head of the Church) and hence held a pre-eminent position among churches in Malankara for many centuries.

After Apostle St. Thomas arrived India in AD 52 and sowed the seeds of the Gospel, about 400 Syrian families immigrated in AD 345 under the leadership of the merchant Knayi Thoma to a town named Mahadevar, near the famous port of Kodungalloor. This was the first known centre of Christians in India. Jews who had engaged in trade with the coast of Malabar had inhabited the city much earlier and had rights to land and other privileges there. Kodungalloor subsequently became less hospitable to Christians who took refuge in Ankamaly. Different sources of history differ on the circumstances and the time of the migration; however, they appear to agree that the adverse relations between the different trading communities in the commercial center influenced the migration and that a local chieftain of "Mangattu", also referred to as "Mangattachan", graciously welcomed Christians into the area and granted them many privileges including the right to establish a church, market and a town in 'Aakamalle' (later Ankamaly). One account has Christians arriving in Ankamaly in AD 384 and the church being established in AD 409. Another cites the reason for the migration to a conflict between Jews and newly arrived Arab Muslim traders in the early part of 9th century, in which Syrian Christians were forced to be partisans of the Jews; upon defeat of the Jews they migrated to Ankamaly. The chieftan granted land and special prerogatives and rehabilitated families residing there. The land for the Church was granted to the Syrian Christians next to his palace premises as a noble gesture. Thus the church was built with wood and thatched roofing in a location adjacent to the palace of the chieftan and in closer proximity to the palace than the other two churches in Ankamaly now under Roman Catholics. The archaeological department of Kerala has interpreted the inscription on a stone on the altar as the consent of the local chieftan for the establishment of the church.

For centuries the Church at Ankamaly and the Mor Sabor and Mor Afroth chapel at Akaparambu were a united parish and was administered by one council as is evident in the record of a general body meeting of 16-8-1069 (Malayalam Calendar). Akaparambu church had no cemetery in those days and pall-bearers carried coffins to Ankamaly for burial. (A cemetery was constructed at Akaparambu only in 1956 by late Mor Gregorios Vayaliparambil and the parishes were separated into two at that time). Both churches are adorned by beautiful East Persian miniature paintings, chandeliers and wooden carvings. The united parish maintained vast coconut groves at Udayamperur and vast rice fields in the name of Archdeacon of Malankara Church. This was financially one of the most wealthy churches in Malankara. The Syrian immigrants and Syrian merchants engaged in trade endowed both the churches with various gifts.


Source: North and South Altars, Photographs dt. December 22, 2003

According to tradition, Mor Yuhannon who represented the Malankara Church at the Holy Synod of Ephesus in AD 431 stayed at Kothamangalam and had visited Ankamaly church. The church was recognized as the pre-eminent among all churches in Malankara and was the seat of its local head. In his Hist. Orient. (a work on the customs in Malankara at the arrival of the Portugese), Ant. Gouvea quotes records at the Church of "Angamala" which show that it formerly used to send a suffragan to the Island of Socotra and another to South China. (Neale, J.M. Patriarchate of Antioch 1873, p.6, ff.3.)

Archdeacons of Pakalomattom family who administered from Ankamaly are Gewargis Kattanar, Yakob Kattanar, Alexander Kattanar, and Gewargis Kattanar (the Second). Gewargis the Second was buried in this Church.

The united parish defied the decrees of the Udayamperur Synod in 1599 and stood with Holy Apostolic Throne of Antioch and all the East, following the oath at the Koonan Kurishu in 1653. The Roman Catholic historian Fr. Bernard records that the Syrian Christians in Mangad, Kochi, Purakad, and Thekkumkur who were loyal to the Ankamaly Syrian church were threatened by local kings and Petty chieftans to attend the Udayamperur Synod in 1599, as commanded by the Portuguese. (Marthoma Christeeya Purapad pp. 16,19). The Raja of Cochin decreed that all assets of Syrian churches which abstain from Udayamperur Synod on 20th June 1599 will be confiscated. (The Indian Church of St. Thomas, p. 102). The Ankamaly Church defied the command and boycotted the Synod; the Portuguese historian Govaeo (quoted in Fr. Xavier Koodapuzha, Thirusabha Charithram, p. 620) states that all eighteen priests of the church abstained from the Synod. The militant Portugese bishop through threats and offers of gold and military support to the local king and chieftains managed to create a schism in the Church and established a Roman Catholic presence in Malankara. Twenty-four of the 69 churches, including the St. George's Church located next to the Church of the Mother of God at Ankamaly, came under their influence. The schism divided many families; to this day some ancient families of Ankamaly in both communities like Pynadathu have the same patronymic. The forty-five churches that remained in the mother Church, continued to be administered by the Archdeacon whose seat remained at Ankamaly.

After the Koonan Kurishu Satyam of 1653, the delegate of the Holy See of Antioch, Mor Gregorius cAbdel Jaleel of Jerusalem, arrived in Malankara and in 1685, consecrated a native of Malankara as the archbishop for Syriac Orthodox Christians of Malankara, Mor Thoma I. He was assisted during his reign by Ankamaly Vengoor Gewargis Kattanar, Kadavil Chandy Kattanar, Palliveetil Chandy Kathanar, and Anjimootil Itty Thoman Kathanar, who lead the Koonan Kurish Satyam. The seat of Mor Thoma I was at Ankamaly; he was buried in this church in 1670.

In 1789 Tipu Sultan of Mysore attacked Syrian Orthodox Churches in North Kerala and many Syrian Christians fled south and took refuge in Ankamaly. The forces of Tipu came as far as river Periyar where he was defeated by the forces of Dharma Raja of Travancore. Tipu succeeded in damaging churches in Ankamaly partially.

Granite Cross, Main Entrance

The British conquered Cochin from the Dutch in 1795. During the time of Col. Munro (19th century) the Church Missionary Society of the Anglican Church began to overtly infuse the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malankara with western and Protestant philosophies and practices. A Synod was held at Mavelikkara in 1836 to resist the CMS agenda, presided by Mor Dionysius IV. A padiyola (agreement in palm leaf parchment) was signed. The preface of the agreement states... 'and the vicars, priests and parishioners of Ankamaly and other churches...' Thus the pre-eminence of Ankamaly as the head church of Malankara was acknowledged. It was only from 1812, with construction of the seminary at Kottayam, with the help of the CMS, that Kottayam gained prominence over Ankamaly.

In 1808, during the time of Mor Dionysius the Great, an ancient Bible written in leather parchment preserved at the Ankamaly church was presented to the Anglican missionary Rev. Claudius Buchanan; this Bible is now in the archives of the Cambridge University Library. This Syriac Bible was brought to India by Fathers from the Holy See of Antioch; in its appendix were intercessory prayers to St. Mary and Mor Severios, and hence could not have had origins in the Church of the East (Ittoop Charitram p.151).

The Ankamaly Church was prominent among the 103 churches represented at the Mulunthuruthy Synod in 1876, presided by Patriarch Peter IV. Of the 130 priests and 144 lay representatives, the first dignataries to sign the resolution of the Synod were from Ankamaly church—Thazhathu Veettil Itty Thoma Kattanar, Chakkarayakathattu Daweed Kathanar, Kooran Yakub Kathanaar, Vayaliparambil Mathu Itoop, Ambat Mathu Thariyath, and Thelappillil Varghese Mathai. The Synod instituted the Malankara Association to manage the affairs of the Church and the community, with democratic representation from each member church; a Standing Working committee of 24 members was also formed in which Vayaliparambil Mathu Itoop represented the Ankamaly Church. Patriarch Peter IV also divided Malankara, which was until then a single diocese, into six dioceses. Ankamaly was one of them with Ambat Mor Kurillos Gewargis as the first bishop. Mor Kurillos established the Trikkunath Seminary at Aluva in 1892 as the bishophric but was entombed in the Ankamaly church in accordance with his wishes. The great saint of Malankara, Mor Gewargis of Parumala, often visited and stayed at the Ankamaly church, at the behest of Mor Kurilos. Mor Kurillos was succeeded by Mor Athanasios Paulos Pynadath and Mor Gregorios Gewargis Vayaliparambil Pynadath, both of whom belonged to the united parish of Ankamaly and Akaparambu.

Tomb of Mor Kurillos Gewargis Ambat (1835-1891)

Twenty-eight parishes listed below have originated from the Ankamaly church.

  1. Akaparambu
  2. Aluva
  3. Avanankode
  4. Azhakam
  5. Chakkaraparambu
  6. Edakunnu
  7. Karayamparambu
  8. Keezhpariyaram
  9. Kidagoor
  10. Koratty
  11. Ponnamparambu
  12. Mambra
  13. Manjapra
  14. Mattur
  15. Mekkad
  16. Mukkanoor
  17. Nayathodu
  18. Nedumbassery
  19. Neduvannur
  20. Peechanikkadu
  21. Pirarur
  22. Poikkattussery
  23. Poothamkutty
  24. Thavalappara
  25. Thottakam
  26. Thiruvillamkunnu
  27. Thuruthissery
  28. Vappalassery

The members of these parishes congregate at the mother church at Ankamaly every year for a locally commemorated feast of the `aneede (departed) on Nov 14 and 15, since many generations of their ancestors are buried at this church.

The church building retains the architectural features of ancient churches of Kerala, with similarities to certain architectural features of temples. The ancient cemetry, a double storied parish office and resting room for priests, and a parish hall (under construction) are situated in the church compound. A big granite cross, several centuries old, is located outside the church on the road leading to the church.

Through the centuries and to this day, this church has been a bastion of the Syrian Orthodox Christians of Malankara, with unswerving loyalty to the Holy Throne of Antioch and All the East. Today the parish maintains very good relations with adjacent Catholic parish; Catholics attend all major events of this church.

Paintings and Relics

An inscription (in kolezhuth, an ancient script prevalent before Malayalam) on the altar records that the church was re-modelled in AD 776.

Source: Photographs Bibu Philip Mathew Vayaliparambil, September 2002

Several beautiful paintings adorn the altars, sanctuary and walls, painted in natural dyes. The magnificent murals in the middle of the church depict heaven and hell. On the two altars are the icons of St. Gewargis and St. Bahnam. Paintings of Syriac iconographic tradition depict events from the Old Testament such as Abraham sacrificing Isaac and David slaying Goliath. The wooden gravings and inscriptions in Syriac on the wall are very attractive. The consecration of Marthoma I is also depicted in a mural.

Source: Photographs of interior wall paintings above the North and South doorways dt. December 22, 2003

Source: Photographs Bibu Philip Mathew Vayaliparambil, September 2002

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has reported on the rich heritage and history of the church. Research teams from Holland and Switzerland have taken photographs of the paintings which are now faded and are slowly deteriorating due to lack of expert care.

The holy zunoro (girdle) of the Mother of God was gifted to this church by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and was installed at the church on Nov 11, 1983.


The Church has a well administered Sunday School, Youth Association and Marth Mariyam Vanitha Samajam (Women's Auxiliary). A Scout movement was organised in this church as early as 1933 under the initiative of Mor Athanasious Paulos.


Kaniamparambil, Chor Episcopos V. Rev. Curian. "The Fame of Angamali Church and Holiness of Mor Kurilos" (Malayalam). Ambattu Mor Kurilos Centenary Souvenir, (Ankamaly, India: St. Mary's Jacobite Syrian Church), 1991.

Ayampillil, Jimmy Varughese. "Ankamaly—the sacred land where history sleeps." (Malayalam) Ambattu Mor Kurilos Centenary Souvenir, (Ankamaly, India: St. Mary's Jacobite Syrian Church), 1991.

Neale, J.M. A History of the Holy Eastern Church: The Patriarchate of Antioch., (London: Rivingtons, 1873; Gorgias Press, 2003).

Ittoop Charitram.

Marthoma Christeeya Purapad.

Philip, E.M. The Indian Christians of St. Thomas (1908; Changanassery: Mor Adai Study Center, 2002.

Koodapuzha, Fr. Xavier. Thirusabha Charithram.

Copyright © Syriac Orthodox Resources. All Rights Reserved.
Author: Bibu Philip Matthew, Vayaliparambil Pynadath (edited by Thomas Joseph)
Last Update: February 12, 2004