Kerala: Syro-Malabar Catholics frequent shrines in southern India

  • Tonsured pilgrims before the statue of Velankannia Matha, Our Lady, in the basilica church.
  • St. Thomas Church, Pulluvazhy, has a celebrated roadside shrine with a statue of St. Anthony that draws a constant stream of visitors.
  • The miracle of the shrine of St. Anthony at Pulluvazhy is that the plant has grown so that it continues to leave the face of St. Anthony and the Christ child visible.
  • Devotee at the shrine of St. Anthony at Pulluvazhy, Kerala
  • Street vendors sell oil and candles to bring to the oil lamp at St. Mary's Forane church, Kuravilangad, Kerala.
  • Worshipers come to add oil to the lamps ad they pray, while circumnavigating the cross in front of St. Mary's Forane Syro-Malabar church.
  • Worshippers come to add oil to the lamps as they pray, while circumnavigating the cross in front of St. Mary's Forane Syro-Malabar church, Kuravilangadu.
  • St. George, a protector, is one of the most popular saints in Kerala. Here he is features at St. Alphonsa's shrine.
  • Empty boxes of special "Alphonsa" candles near the saint's memorial shrine; Bharananganam, Kerala
  • Devotees at the burial Shrine of St. Alphonsa, India's first native saint.
  • A view up the steep steps to St. Mary's Forane Kuravilangad, at dawn.
  • A freestanding shrine in the center of Kuravilangad is a spot where passersby will regularly stop to offer a prayer. Large and small shrines of this type are common in Christian areas of Kerala.
  • Pouring oil over a cross is a popular form of devotion in Syro-Malabar churches.
  • Worshipers line up to offer prayers at a Syro-Malabar church.

Shrines play an unusually big role in Catholic life in southern India. Almost all Catholic churches have shrines in front and inside. Towns with a significant Catholic population often feature a Catholic shrine near the center of town or at a crossroads, and there are many unofficial shrines built and maintained by individual families or groups of families. Worshippers stop by them steadily throughout the day, offering brief prayers, and signaling that these are active places of religious power, not simply relics from the past. Pilgrims make special trips to the more important of these sites and consider those pilgrimages as important occasions in their lives.

Syro-Malabar Catholics are found at large, national shrines in Velankanni, and have special attachment to St. Alphonsa's tomb at Bharananganam. The St. Mary's Forane, or Kuravilangad Church, in Kottayam, a Syro-Malabar church and shrine, draws its legitimacy from an appearance of the Virgin at a spring in 105 AD. There, worshippers often stop to pray at the giant cross in front of the church, circumnavigating it and offering prayers at various points as they add oil to the lamps surrounding it. They also come to pray at the well where Mother Mary appeared. At other churches, they may come by to offer a prayer as they pour oil over a brass cross for blessing.