St. Stephens Cathedral

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The St. Stephen's Cathedral at Manjanikkara was founded by Kassisso Skaria Malpan Elavinammannil in 1925.  Mor Ignatius Dayro and the church where the mortal remains of Patriarch St. Elias III rests is located adjacent to this St. Stephen's church.  Part of the property of this Dayro church was also donated by Elavinammannil family.

Kassisso Skaria Malpan, the founder of the St. Stephen's church was a parishioner of  the St. Thomas church at Omallur.  St. Gregorios (Parumala Thirumeni) ordained him priest for the Omallur church in 1895.  A few years after his priestly ordination he was appointed as the Malpan (teacher) of the Syrian (Old) Seminary at Kottayam to teach Syriac and liturgy to the deacons. It was during his life in seminary, the disputes between the Metropolitan trustee Mor Dionysius Vattasseril and the co-trustees reached its climax which finally resulted in a major split in the Malankara Syrian Church.  Finding it difficult to support the autocratic and rebellious style of functioning of Mor Dionysius Metropolitan who was controlling seminary affairs, Kassisso Skaria Malpan resigned from the faculty and returned to his home town at Omallur.

The disputes which resulted in the split of Malankara Syrian Christian Church had its repercussion in the Omallur church also.  Since it was the dissident group who were more powerful in this area,  the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christians met with certain restrictions; their spiritual father, Kassisso Skaria Malpan, had the permission from local authorities to celebrate the Holy Mass only once a month in his home parish.  It was during this period Rev. Deacon E S Kuriakose, the son of Kassisso Skaria Malpan, was ordained priest.  Since he, like his father, was unwilling to side with the Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Vattasseril, was barred from entering any of the nearby churches that were under the control of the Metropolitan.

Founding of the St. Stephen's Church

 Kassisso Skaria Malpan, his son Kassisso Kuriakose and the few Jacobite Syrian Christian faithful of Omallur who wanted to avoid the tense atmosphere prevailing there, wished to establish a new parish leaving the old church to the other side.  Consequently the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christians of Omallur church, under the leadership of Kassisso Skaria Malpan, assembled together in the house of Odayamuttathu Geevarghese (Onnonni) and took the decision to start a new church under the Holy See.  After much difficulties they got the permission of the government to construct a church and a cemetery.  Thus, on 22nd December 1925, Kassisso Skaria Malpan laid the foundation stone for the new church in the name of the first Christian Martyr, St. Stephen, in the 30 cents of land at Manjanikkara hills, donated to the Church by the Malpan himself.  The founder members consisted of 30 families, most of them were from poor peasant families. However their determination and hard work paved way for the construction of a new small church there within a short period.  The efforts of Kassisso Michael Alumootil (later Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Michael) in the construction of this church needs special mention.
On January 31, 1926, the new church was consecrated and the first Holy Qurbono in the church was offered by Rev. Fr. Skaria Malpan with the permission of St. Athanasius Paulose (Valiya Thirumeni), the then Malankara Metropolitan.  Kassisso Michael Alumootil, Kassisso Thomas Parackal, many other priests and a large number of faithful from nearby places attended the church consecration ceremony.  The very next day, on February 1st, the newly ordained priest, Rev. Fr. E S Kuriakose (son of Rev. Fr. Skaria Malpan) offered his first Holy Qurbono in the new church.  A few months later in April, Rev. Fr. Skaria Malpan passed away and was buried in the church property.  The Patriarchal delegate Mor Yulios Elias Metropolitan led the last rites.  Following the demise of his father, Rev. Fr. E S Kuriakose became the vicar of the St. Stephen's church; he was in charge of the church administration for more than 5 decades and passed away on September 30th, 1976.  The burial place of Kassisso Kuriakose Elavinammannil is located in the northern side of the Madbaho.

Preparations for the Patriarchal visit

 The small church constructed by Rev. Fr. Skaria Malpan in his own land at Manjinikkara, was located on a lonely hill; there was no road to reach there, no availability of water.  The Malpan hoped all facilities would be there soon.  The 30 odd poor families of the church where infact living in the midst of difficulties caused by the Church’s enemies.  It was around that time the then Patriarch of Antioch & all the East, St. Ignatius Elias III visited Malankara with a mission to establish peace in the divided Church.  Kuriakose Kassisso hoped a visit of the Patriarch to Manjanikkara will be a boon for the Syrian Church here and be helpful for its continued existence.

The repeated request of Vicar prompted H.H. Patriarch to accept his invitation.  But then the Vicar had to overcome many other challenges; no road to the church, no rooms for the Patriarch, Metropolitans, priest and other invitees to live in.  Water was not available on the hill.  It was a steep hill, no place for the devotees to stand.  He could not collect funds for all these from the economically weaker parishioners.  At this point, Kuriakose Kassisso took the challenges boldly.  First a new road, 4 km. in length was constructed.  People of the locality gave land for the road and church members volunteered the construction work.  Hill top around the church was leveled so that thousands of people could stand there, temporary sheds were constructed, many wells were dug and water was made available; everything was ready within a short time.

H.H. Patriarch St. Elias III at Manjanikkara church

On February 11th, 1932, His Holiness reached the Manjanikkara St. Stephen's church which was one of the poorest of all the Syrian parishes in Malankara.  The Patriarch came to this church after visiting the Knanaya Syrian church at Kallisserry.  A grand reception was accorded to the Holy Patriarch befitting his dignity and majesty.  The journey was tedious, but once he reached the church the cool breeze that blew incessantly on the hill top, the beautiful scenery around, the green valleys and fields, the serene atmosphere, tranquility – all attracted him very much.  He was very happy and pleased.  He told the Metropolitans who were near him that he liked the place very much and that he wanted to stay here permanently.  Hearing this, Kuriakose Kassisso, the vicar, told H.H. that he is very happy to have the Holy Patriarch here permanently, but he doubted on the meager facilities available in the church. To this Patriarch St. Elias replied “God will certainly look after this small church and its vicar. This church will become famous all over Malankara and abroad. You will see it”.  His prophesy has come true.  The church became very famous because of the tomb of St. Elias III who entered eternal rest during his visit here. 

 Just two days after he reached the church, on Saturday afternoon February 13th, 1932, St. Ignatius Elias III passed away and his mortal remains were entombed here.  The Holy sepulcher, Mor Ignatius Dayro and the St. Stephen's church, all attract people from all over India.  The tomb of this Holy Patriarch made this church and the place, a major pilgrim centre of Kerala. 

The St. Stephen's Cathedral at present

The main thronos (altar) of the cathedral is in the name of St. Stephen and those altars on the either sides are dedicated to St. Mary the mother of God and St. John the Baptist.  In 1975, the cathedral celebrated its golden jubilee and on January 7th 2000, the platinum jubilee of its establishment was celebrated in a grand scale.  The same year a permanent shed was constructed for the pilgrims, covering the mid space between the St. Stephen's church and Mor Ignatius Dayro and was named in memory of late lamented Mor Koorilose Kurikose Poothicote, the former Metropolitan of Kollam, Niranam and Thumpamon dioceses.  A two storied structure in the name of Fr. Kuriakose Kassisso is there in the church compound; the land where this structure is situated was also donated by the  Elavinammannil family.  The 'kurishumthotti' (shrine) of the church situated in the main road side was constructed and donated by Kandathil Mr. Geevarghese.  Very Rev. E K Mathews Corepiscopo and his brother Rev. Fr. E K Kuriakose of Elavinammannil family are the present vicars of this church.  Metropolitan Mor Milithios Yuhanon of  Thumpamon dioceses who is also from the Elavinammannil family belongs to this church.  This parish that started with 30 families has a strength of more than 260 families at present. Taking into consideration the special importance of this church, His Holiness the Patriarch on the request of the Malankara Episcopal Synod declared it as Cathedral of Thumpamon diocese in 2007.

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