This is the story of a place with a 1000-year history of miracles… waves of miracles. Look back into history through the lens of faith… and there emerge the images on the screen of time. A teary-eyed devotee kneels in front of Saint Sebastian. The injury marks on the body of Saint Sebastian, which she had freed from the tree, had all disappeared.
Emperor Diocletian is wailing for redemption. At that moment, a ship is sailing towards India under the guidance of the angel Gabriel. When the ship reached Arabian Sea, the saint appeared on the north-east. When entering the archway to Madbaha, the holy form glowed like a divine star. All from Kanjoor assembled at the gateway to watch the miracle unfold. The story spread around. The Kanjoor church became a miracle shrine drawing from these folklores.
The Kanjoor church which has inscriptions depicting its thousand year history in old Malayalam script is the abode of solace for the faithful and a spot of curiosity for the travellers. Thousands assemble here on the 19th and 20th of January every year to watch the altar and the elephant lamp during the holy days.
The Kanjoor church near Angamaly is dedicated to Holy Mary and it is also a centre for pilgrimage honouring Saint Sebastian. The church attracts pilgrims and visitors alike. Built in Persian and Indian architectural styles, the church has a historically important setting with Madbaha, the elephant lamp etc.
The dais along the wall around the centre of the shrine's interior is very ancient. There are beautiful carvings on the dais from which the priests had addressed the masses from times where microphones or electricity were not available. These rare carvings have the motifs of elephants, flowers etc.
There are plenty of murals inside the Madbaha of the Kanjoor church. These include the lively depiction of infant Jesus appearing in the church, Angel Gabriel informing the good news to the Mother, The Last Supper etc
It is said that these murals had remained intact all these centuries because they were made of brick-powder, gold-ash, and leaf-sap. The monolithic baptism-cradle, the pillars of black-granite, heavily carved roof etc are the specialities to note. The ornamental lamps installed in the altar and the madbaha enhance the majesty of the shrine.
The twelve-foot high entrance gate is called the Elephant Gate. On either side of the gate, there are murals depicting the Tipu Sultan's attack of Travancore and the Portuguese army's defensive-formations. "Everything about the church including these murals are firmly placed in the hearts of the faithful," says Fr Joseph Kaniyamparambil, the priest-in-charge of the shrine.
The Kanjoor church had survived the Tipu attack. It marks a historical event in that the Kanjoor people assembled and prayed to Saint Sebastian to save them from the Tipu onslaught. The legend says that when Tipu prepared to attack the church, he heard a divine voice which asked him "Will you not let me sit here peacefully?" Hearing that, Tipu is said to have spared the church and the people of Kanjoor.
For the people of Kanjoor, Saint Sebastian has miraculous powers. The locals say that if you call him with genuine fervour, he will respond. There are many stories supposedly from real life experiences which say about the rescue of a man drowning in the Periyar and about infants regaining hearing abilities after being born deaf upon praying to Saint Sebastian.
There is another story involving Shakthan Thampuran. When he arrived at the church in a royal procession, he found a man blocking the entrance of the church despite seeing him. Angry at this, the king ordered the gateway to be razed. When he returned to the palace, he found his own gate being razed to the ground by an elephant. Realizing the power of the saint of the Kanjoor church, the king offered a lamp with elephant crown and another lamp with the motif of the elephant-rein. From that time onwards, the elephant lamp is paraded during the holy-days for public worship. The oil used in this lamp is believed to have medicinal properties.
The procession with ornamental umbrellas and traditional Kerala percussion (Panchavadyam) is said to be one of the largest of its kind in Asia. "People cutting across the religious lines muster here for the procession, declaring religious harmony," says the priest of the shrine.
The procession of the arrow is one of the main rituals of the shrine. Ornate umbrellas, silver Crosses and traditional Kerala percussion accompany the procession. Even though the church is near the Kochi International Airport, permission is granted to it for conducting fireworks on holy days.
The legends say that eagles guarded the body of Sebastian who was killed by the guards of Emperor Diocletian. The faithful say that eagles hover around the shrine during the procession and mark the presence of Saint Sebastian.