MALAYATOOR, KERALA - Keralite Christians have something to rejoice about this summer as the Vatican has made a recent announcement declaring the centuries-old St. Thomas shrine at Malayatoor hilltop in Kerala as an international sanctuary.
The documents to this effect, which were signed by the Prefects of the two dicasteries (curial offices) of Vatican — Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches on February 11 this year, was made public recently by Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly for the Syro-Malabar Church, at a specially convened meeting of priests and religious representatives.
Local authorities claim that the move will help boost foreign tourism. Located 52km from Kochi, the Malayatoor shrine is situated atop the 609m high Malayatoor hill. The hilltop shrine where one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, St. Thomas, is believed to have spent many days in prayer, is the only shrine in India which has been given the prestigious status by the Vatican.
Following the declaration, the Malayatoor shrine now occupies a place among other famous Christian shrines like the Lady of Lourdes shrine in France.
Cardinal Vithayathil admitted that the decision by the Vatican came after a prolonged study. "It took a long time to make a final decision because they had to make a study of the history and various circumstances of the shrine," said the Cardinal. It is reported that a petition was filed in the Vatican in 1998 to declare Malayatoor as an international shrine.
Malayatoor hilltop, which is situated at Kurisumudi, a verdant hill in the Western Ghats girdled partially by the river Periyar, is 1,208 feet above sea level, and has been considered to be the caravan route to the third century's Hindu Chola kingdom.
According to local belief, the shrine is supposed to be one of the main churches established by St. Thomas in Kerala. One of the most important Christian pilgrim centres in Kerala, this holy shrine attracts devotees in very large numbers not only from Kerala but also from the neighboring states. The Malayatoor shrine attracts about four million pilgrims every year especially during the lent season that falls in April during Good Friday.
The Church has a life-size statue of St. Thomas and the imprint of the feet of the Apostle on a rock. At Malayatoor, the first Sunday after Easter is considered to be a very important day. Pilgrims, chanting the name of the Apostle ('Ponninkurisumala Muthappa'), climb the steep Kurisumudi hill to visit the holy shrine.