Kerala

A church linked to early plantation life turns 125

A file picture of the old structure of the Mount Carmel Church in Munnar.

A file picture of the old structure of the Mount Carmel Church in Munnar. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Mount Carmel Church in Munnar, the first Catholic Church in the high ranges, was set up for workers who mostly came from Tamil Nadu when tea planting was in full swing in the 1880s.

The church sheds light on early plantation life in Munnar.

As per documents, Fr. Alphonse, a Carmelite missionary from Spain, was instrumental in starting the church in a shed in 1898. He was among a team of 10 missionaries from Spain who reached the Varapuzha archdiocese. He travelled by foot from Varapuzha and with the support of plantation workers and management erected a shed for holding prayers.

“Due to the adverse climate in Munnar, the Mass was held only on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Fr Alphonse reached Munnar from Varapuzha and the held the Mass,’‘ says Fr. Michael Valayinchiyil, the parish priest.

He says efforts are on to trace a picture of Fr. Alphonse from the archives in Spain. Of the 10 missionaries, eight have been identified.

The missionary was buried inside the church in 1916 after he succumbed to black malaria. The present structure of the church was constructed in 1909, a year before the British constructed a church for Europeans in Munnar in the British-Gothic style.

“This was the first Catholic church that was fully opened for workers in Munnar. It was a meeting place and also supplied food items and met the medical needs of the plantation workers,” says Nikesh Issac, a local journalist, who had studied the plantation life.

According to him, there are documents in Spanish of the rites followed in the church. The importance of the church was not limited to conducting religious rites. It was also a place for social gathering as people met here to share their problems and purchase their necessities. The places of worship were symbols of community living followed in plantations even now.

The church has planned year-long programmes to observe its 125th anniversary. The first settlers in the high ranges reached nearly a decade later and many places of worship were set up in later years.

The Mount Carmel Church is the only church completely in Indian architecture.


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Printable version | Jun 8, 2022 9:21:40 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/a-church-linked-to-early-plantation-life-turns-125/article65457213.ece