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Saint Mary's Forane, Kuravilangad Church

St. Mary's Forane Church (Marth Mariam Forane Church) claims to date to 105 AD and to be the site of the first Marian apparition in world history, with the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three young boys at a spring in 335 AD. Most of the year, the church functions as a parish church, a site for Masses, for burying the dead and for wedding receptions in an enormous parish hall. 

In several important ways, it serves as a reminder of the ancientness of Syro-Malabar Christianity in India, dispelling any sense of foreignness that others might try to give the faith. The appearance of the Virgin in 335 AD, and the printed signs describing it, show that Mother Mary chose to appear there, and make India her own, long before she did so in other lands. The parish is also custodian to the nearby graves of the Archdeacons of the “Thomas” Christians, Indian rulers who largely preceded the Portuguese missionaries’ arrival. The church’s large rectory also houses a small museum of village antiques, again connecting the church to the past. 

The parish feast, in January, is an enormous event in honor of St. Sebastian, a popular saint in India, whose devotion was brought by western missionaries.

The Kuravilangad church is also known for its Kappalottam or "racing ship," a commemoration of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. The event falls during a January three-day fast period in the Syro-Malabar church, known as the Rogation of the Ninevites. The Kappalottam, which takes place during the fast period, is a huge event where local men carry a large, brightly decorated 40-foot ship on their shoulders down the massive stairs from the church, into the streets. They run back and forth with the boat and rock it as if it were being tossed in the seas, so that eventually Jonah falls into the sea. The feast includes elephants, processions, brightly colored umbrellas and music. At the end of the three-day fast, there is feasting and veneration of the cross.

Practices & Values in the Syro-Malabar Church