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Diocese of Cochin

On the Malabar coast, India

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Cochin, Diocese of (COCHINENSIS), on the Malabar coast, India. The diocese was erected and constituted a suffragan of the Diocese of Goa, of which it had previously formed a part, by the Bull “Pro excellenti praeeminentia,” of Paul IV, February 4, 1558 (cf. Bullarium Patronatus Portugalliae Regum, I, 193). It was later reorganized according to the Concordat of June 23, 1886, between Leo XIII and King Luiz I of Portugal, and the Constitution “Human Salutis Auctor” of the same pope, September 1, 1886. It is suffragan to the patriarchal See of Goa (cf. Julio Biker, Colleccao de Tractados, XIV, 112-437). The diocese consists of two strips of territory along the sea-coast, the first about fifty miles long, by eight in its broadest part, the second thirty miles in length. There are two important towns, Cochin and Alleppi (Alapalli), in which the higher educational and charitable institutions of the diocese are situated.

I. HISTORY.—The chief religions professed in Malabar at the arrival of the Portuguese were: Hinduism, Christianity (the Christians of St. Thomas or Nestorians), Islam, and Judaism, the last represented by a large colony of Jews. From these the Catholic community was recruited, mostly from the Nestorians and the Hindus. Islam also contributed a fair share, especially when Portugal was supreme on this coast; among the Jews conversions were rare. To Portugal belongs the glory of having begun regular Catholic missionary work in India, and Cochin has the honor of being the cradle of Catholicism in India. The first missionaries to India were eight Franciscan friars, who set sail from Lisbon on the fleet of Pedro Alvarez Cabral (q.v.), March 9, 1500: Father Henrique de Coimbra, Superior; Fathers Gaspar, Francisco da Cruz, Simdo de Guimaraens, Luiz do Salvador, Masseu, Pedro Netto, and Brother Joao da Vitoria. Three of them were slain at Calicut in the massacre of November 16, 1500. The survivors arrived at Cochin on or about the 26th of that month, and settled there (except the superior, who went back with the fleet to obtain more help for the mission), thus laying the foundation of the Diocese of Cochin (Histor. Seraf. Chron. da Ordem de S. Francisco na Provincia de Portugal, III, 489, 494, 495). They were followed by large contingents of zealous missionaries, who worked from the city of Cochin as a center. The harvest of souls was rich, the Christians multiplied along the coast and in the interior, and in course of time a bishop was assigned to them.

The Nestorian Christians in the vicinity of Cochin naturally attracted the attention of the missionaries, and Fathers Simao de Guimaraens and Luiz do Salvador were soon occupied in refuting their errors and reforming their discipline and customs (Hist. Seraf., III, 497). These two missionaries were the pioneers of the Faith among the Nestorian Christians. Members of the same order continued this missionary work till the middle of the sixteenth century, when these missions were handed over to the Jesuits, who continued the good work with such earnestness and zeal that most of the Nestorian Christians were converted before 1600. The chief public record of their conversion is to be found in the proceedings of the Synod of Diamper (or Udiamperur), held in June, 1599, by Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, Metropolitan and Primate of the East (“Bull. Patron. Port. reg.”, a collection of papal and royal documents pertaining to the Portuguese missions in India, App. torn. I, 147 sqq.; see also “Subsidium ad Bull. Patr. Port.”, Alleppi, 1903). In December, 1502, the Nestorian or Syrian Christians (they used the Syrian language in their liturgy) presented to Vasco da Gama, who had arrived at Cochin, the scepter of their former kings, and applied to him for assistance against their Mohammedan neighbors. Gama formally accepted the scepter in the name of the King of Portugal. The Syrian bishop of those Christians promised obedience to the pope through the Franciscan missionaries, and two Nestorian priests accompanied Gama to Lisbon en route for Rome. Thus began the protectorate of the Portuguese over the Syrian Christians, a protectorate which lasted for 160 years (cf. Joao de Barras, “Asia“, December I, bk. V, ch. viii; also “Historia Serafica”). Till 1542 the Franciscans were the only regular missionaries in India, though they had the cooperation of some secular priests, as Father Pedro Gonsalves, Vicar of Santa Cruz church in the city of Cochin, and Father Miguel Vaz, a zealous preacher of the Faith, as well as of some isolated members of other religious communities, who had come out as chaplains to the fleets (“Commentarios do Grande Affonso d’Albuquerque”, 3d ed., 1774, I, ch. v, 19-20, and “Ethiopia Oriental”, II, bk. II, ch. i).

Among the pioneer priests of Cochin mention should be made of the Franciscans Joao d’Elvas and Pedro d’Amarante, who till 1507 preached the Gospel at Vypeen, Palliport, Cranganore, and other important places; Father Manuel de S. Mathias, with his eleven companions, who labored for the conversion of the pagans at Porrocad, Quilon, Trivellam, and elsewhere; Father Vincent de Lagos, who in 1540 established the college of Cranganore to train the Nestorian Christians in the purity of Catholic Faith, a college highly praised by St. Francis Xavier, and the first built in India. In 1542 it had eighty students (Amado, Hist. da Egreja em Portugal e colonias, Vol. VII, Pt. II, 117-21).

After St. Francis Xavier’s arrival in India, May 6, 1542, the Society of Jesus quickly spread over India, and the members were always most successful in the missions under their charge. St. Francis often visited Cochin, where the citizens gave him the church of Madre de Deus, and asked him to establish in the city a residence of the Society. It was accordingly founded by Father Balthazar Gago, S.J., in 1550. In the same year Father Nicolao Lancelot, S.J., built the residence and college of Quilon, and Affonso Cipriano, S.J., the residence of Mylapore; soon after the residence and college of Punicail were established, and the residence of Manar. In 1560 the King of Portugal built for the Society of Jesus the college of Cochin, and in 1562 a novitiate of the Society was established there. In 1601 the Jesuit Province of Malabar was founded, and Cochin was made the residence of the provincial. Among the early Jesuits must be mentioned in addition to St. Francis Xavier, foremost of missionaries, Fathers Mansilha, Criminal, B. Nunes, H. Henriques, F. Peres, F. Rodrigues; Brothers Adam Francisco, N. Nunes. Later, the Dominicans, Augustinians, and other orders followed the Society of Jesus to India. The Dominicans built their monastery and college at Cochin in 1553; some years later their example was followed by the Augustinians, and still later by the Capuchins. Cochin thus became the stronghold of the Faith, and it was the missionaries of Cochin who carried the Gospel through-out all Southern India and Ceylon, everywhere establishing missions, and building churches, charitable and educational institutions, all of which were endowed by the kings of Portugal.

Apart from the heroic zeal of the priests, the most powerful element in the propagation of the Faith was the protection the Portuguese Government always accorded to the converts. It provided them with good situations, employing them in civil offices, freed them from the molestations of their masters, elevated them in the social scale, exempted them from the operation of Hindu law, appointed for them a judicial tribunal composed of Catholics, which in rural districts was presided over by the local priest. It induced the rajahs to treat the converts kindly, and obliged them to allow their converted subjects all the civil rights, e.g. of inheritance, which their Hindu relatives enjoyed. (“Colleccao de Tractados”, treaties made with the rajahs of Asia and East Africa, passim in the first thirteen vols.; also “Archivo Portuguez Oriental”, Nova Goa, 1861, Fasc. III, parts I and II passim; “Oriente Conquistado”, Bombay reprint, 1881, I, II; P. Jarric, S.J., “Thesaurus Rerum Indicarum”, Cologne, 1615, I, III, on the Malabar Missions of the Society.)

The above-mentioned Bull of Paul IV, by which the diocese was constituted, raised the collegiate church of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz), the parish church of Cochin, to the dignity of cathedral of the diocese, and established therein a chapter consisting of five dignitaries and twelve canons. At the same time the pope gave the patronage of the new diocese and see to the kings of Portugal (Bull. Patr. Port. Reg., I, 194).

Until 1506 Hindu law, which was rigorously observed, forbade the use of lime and stone in other constructions than temples. Hence the early Portuguese, to avoid displeasing the rajah, built their houses of wood. Finally the viceroy, Francisco de Almeida, induced the Rajah of Cochin to permit him the use of lime and stone, and on May 3, 1506, the first stone for the fortress and city was laid by the viceroy with great pomp. It was the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, which thus became the patronal feast of the city, and gave to the parish church its title. The church of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) was begun in, or rather before, 1506, for in 1505 we find Portuguese soldiers contributing towards the construction of the church of Cochin 1000 xerafins (about $150, a large sum four hundred years ago), the result of an auction of the rich booty of a naval combat (Gaspar Correa, “Lendas da India“, I, 522; II, 182). Some years later this church was raised to collegiate rank, endowed by the king, and provided with a vicar and six beneficed ecclesiastics. It was a magnificent building, the mother church of the ancient Diocese of Cochin, which the Malabar, Coromandel and Fishery Coasts, and Ceylon once obeyed, and under whose teaching and discipline they flourished. There are now not less than eleven bishoprics in the territory of the original Diocese of Cochin. The first Bishop of Cochin was the Dominican, Father Jorge Themudo, an illustrious missionary on this coast. The Brief “Pastoralis officii cura nos admonet” of Gregory XIII, December 13, 1572, permitted the Bishop of Cochin, on occasion of the vacancy of the See of Goa, to take possession of that see and administer it till the Holy See provided for the vacancy. This is why many bishops of Cochin were appointed archbishops of Goa.

In 1577 Brother Joao Gonsalves, S.J., engraved at Cochin, for the first time, the Malealam type, from which was printed the first Malealam book, “Out-lines of Christian Doctrine“, written in Portuguese by St. Francis Xavier for the use of children. In 1578 Fr. Joao de Faria, S.J., engraved at Punicail the Tamil type, with which the “Flos Sanctorum” was printed in Tamil for the Fishery Coast (Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo, “India Orient. Christiana”, Rome, 1794, 179 sqq.; “Oriente Conquistado”, Vol. I, Pt. I, Cong. I, Div. I, § 23).

Cochin was taken, January 6, 1663, by the Dutch, after a siege of six months. The city was reduced in size; the clergy were expelled; the monasteries and colleges, bishop’s palace and 2 hospitals, 13 churches and chapels, were razed to the ground. The church of St. Francis of Assisi, belonging to the Franciscan monastery, was spared by the conquerors and converted to their own religious use. When the English expelled the Dutch, October 20, 1795, they kept this church for the same purpose; it stands today a witness to the events of the past four centuries, and is considered the oldest existing church in India. The magnificent cathedral was turned by the Dutch into a warehouse for merchandise. In 1806 it was blown up by the English.

From 1663 until the diocese was reorganized in 1886, the bishops of Cochin resided at Quilon. In 1896 work was begun on the Cathedral of the Holy Cross of Cochin by Bishop Ferreira, amid great sacrifices. In April, 1897, when almost complete, the building collapsed, entailing a heavy loss. Bishop Ferreira died at Goa, May 4, the same year. Bishop Oliveira Xavier took charge of the diocese in March, 1898, removed the debris of the fallen building and successfully carried the work to completion. The cathedral was opened for Divine worship, August 9, 1903. Brother Moscheni, the famous Italian painter of India, belonging to the Jesuit mission of Mangalore, was secured to decorate the church, but had hardly finished the sanctuary when he died, November 14, 1905. The cathedral was consecrated November 19, 1905, by Bishop Pereira of Damaun, Archbishop ad honorem of Cranganore.

II. RELIGIOUS CONDITIONS.—The Church of Cochin has suffered some rigorous persecutions. The most severe was that of 1780, commenced by Nagam Pillay, Dewan of Travancore, in which 20,000 converts fled to the mountains, to escape his cruelties, and many died as martyrs. Father Joao Falcao, S.J., was the only priest left to console the sufferers. There were other less severe persecutions in 1787, 1809, and 1829 (Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo, “India Orient. Christiana”, 165 sqq.; also “Church History of Travancore”, Madras, 1903, Introduction, 55). Ina general way there has always been a kind of mild persecution or animosity on the part of Hindu Governments and authorities against Christians. The growth of the Catholic Church is at present affected especially by the “Law of Disability” in force in the Native States of Malabar, by which a convert becomes a stranger to his family, and forfeits all rights of inheritance. The government schools, in which the young are reared in religious indifferentism, form also a remarkable hindrance to conversions, especially among the higher classes.

III. STATISTICS.—In all, twenty Bishops of Cochin have actually taken possession of the see (“Mitras Lusitanas no Oriente”, I, III; “Annuario da Arch. de Goa”, 1907). The total population of the diocese is 398,000; Catholics, 97,259. The number of conversions averages 300 a year. The diocese contains 30 parishes, 9 missions, 77 churches and chapels, 62 secular priests (5S natives of India), 4 Jesuits; 8 Anglo-vernacular parochial schools, with an attendance of 480 boys and 128 girls, 77 vernacular parochial schools, with an attendance of 6592. The Sisters of the Canossian Congregation number 15 in two convents. The following educational and charitable institutions are at Cochin: Santa Cruz High School for boys, under the Jesuit Fathers, and St. Mary’s High School for girls under the Canossian Sisters, both of which prepare students for the Indian universities; they have an average daily attendance respectively of 335 and 153; at Alleppi the Jesuit Fathers conduct the Leo XIII High School for boys, with an average daily attendance of 380; an orphanage with 16 orphans; a catechumenate with 5 catechumens; a printing office; an industrial school. They also have charge of the preparatory seminary of the diocese, in which 20 students are now enrolled. For philosophy and theology students are sent either to the patriarchal seminary at Rachol, Goa, or to the papal seminary at Kandy, Ceylon; at the former there are now 6, at the latter 5, students from Cochin. The Canossian Sisters at Alleppi conduct the following institutions for girls: St. Joseph‘s Intermediate School, attendance 160; a normal training school, attendance 7; a technical school, attendance 29; an orphanage with 56 orphans; a catechumenate, attendance 21, and a dispensary for the benefit of the poor. The religious associations of the diocese are as follows: confraternities, 64; congregations of the Third Order of St. Francis, 3; Association of the Holy Family, 1; Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, 2; Society for the relief of the Souls in Purgatory, 2; Sodalities of the Children of Mary, 6; Misericordia Confraternity, 1; The Apostle-ship of Prayer is established in all the parish churches, and the Association of Christian Doctrine in all churches and chapels of the diocese.


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