St. Stephen's Church, Kombuthurai, Thoothukudi
St. Stephen's Church is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Saint Stephen, located in the village of Kombuthurai in the Thoothukudi district of the Indian state of Tamilnadu. The church was built by St. Francis Xavier in May 1544. It was abandoned by the Jesuits until 1983. The church was taken care of by a people called the "katesar/kadaiyar pattamkattiyars", according to the wishes of St. Francis Xavier, who believed that they could take care of the work of Christianity in Thoothukudi as written in his letters.
History has it that St. Xavier used to take rest at Kombuthurai when he visited the missions of Manappad and Punnaikayal. At that time people called Karaiyars lived at Kombuthurai, but they went in course of time to various interior places to find their dwelling places. In a letter written from Manapad on 16-6-1544 by St. Xavier to one of his assistants named Francis Mansilas, it is stated that a church dedicated to St. Stephen was built at Kombuthurai, with the help of one Manuel de Lima. It is known that two miracles by St. Xavier took place at Kombuthurai.
Xavier in his letter to St. Ignatius of Loyola described how a woman suffering during her labor pains for three days was cured. In another letter he explained about a boy, whose dead body was carried to St. Stephen’s church at Kombuthurai just before the mass and his coming back to life with Xavier’s prayers. After the Karaiyars left Kombuthurai, it was practically abandoned. In 1930 a family from Punnaikayal came to live here. After that some families from Veerapandiyanpatnam took care of the church. This is the first phase of its history.
The second phase commenced in 1981 when people from Kadiyapatnam from Kanyakumari district came here to do fishing work. In 1983 Kombuthurai was accepted as a substation of Veerapandiyanpatnam. In 1991 the church was extended. It became an independent parish on the 20th of August 2003 and St. Stephen is established as the Patron saint. The feast is celebrated on the 2nd of January. People in and around of Punnaikayal, Veerapandiyanpatnam, Thoothukudi and Kurumbar make pilgrimages to this small shrine in the first week of January.
Miracles in Kombuthurai (Kadayakudi)
The first miracle in Kombuthurai which is also the first miracle of St. Francis Xavier in pearl fishery coast occurred in 1542, when St. Francis Xavier first visited the village. A pattangatti lady was suffering from labour for nearly three days. He baptized her and her family and within a short time, she delivered a child. Due to this miracle, the whole of this village along with its headmen and prince of the land converted to Christianity. Since then he visited the village numerous times.
The second miracle is believed to be the greatest miracle that Francis Xavier ever performed. A boy named Matthew drowned in the well which is called well of miracle, or well of baptism by the pattangatti, and was brought into the church just before mass, and through the prayer of the saint, he was revived from death.
Other facts on this church
This is the first church to be built by a saint in honor of another saint. This church was supposed to be dearer to St. Francis Xavier, as he mentions of the building of this church in many of his letters written in 1544. Even though for more than two centuries, there was no contact of this church with the clergy or diocese, the altar on which St. Francis Xavier dedicated the first mass, the cross in front of the church and the well into which the boy fell and water from which were used to baptize pattangatti, are still preserved by the katesar pattamkattiyars.
This church celebrate its feast twice a year, the older being in the middle Tuesday of February which is celebrated by the katesar/ kadaiyar pattamkattiyars, old inhabitants of Kadayakudi or Kombuthurai, Tuticorin from whom the name is derived, in memory of their conversion in 1542 and the dedication of a smaller church that was rebuilt in 1544 by them and dedicated to St. Stephen, first martyr of the church, who was handed over as the patron saint of the entire caste by St. Francis Xavier, on the last Tuesday in the Tamil month of Thai from the year 1543 which is the spring season that finds mention in letters of St. Francis Xavier to St. Ignatius in 1543. This feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr is the traditional feast of this church initiated by St. Francis Xavier himself.
The other being is celebrated on 2 January, which is followed from 1980's by people of nearby villages. This church was inactive after the inhabitants moved out of this place, due to suppression of Christians but exact reason has not been studied, but the mass were conducted on the traditional feast day and on special occasions such as a thanksgiving by pattangatti family, but the church, the altar on which the saint Xavier offered mass and the statues were taken care of by the pattamkattiyars.
This church and another church in Punnaikayal, which were once the dwelling place of Karaiyar or kadaiyar pattangatti, were funded by Manuel Da Cruz, the chief of pattangatti and king of pearl fishery coast. This church have been patronized by the pattamkattiyars, the chiefs of villages in pearl fishery coast and wardens of the churches of pearl fishery coast who consider this church to be their chief church just like the Paravars consider Our Lady of Snows Basilica, Tuticorin.
In 1983, this church was taken as a substation of Virapandianpatinam parish. During 1980-84, people from Kanyakumari came and settled here in search of livelihood. After nearly 461 years of existence, this church was made a parish on 20 August 2003 by Peter Fernando without the approval of traditional caretakers. On 2013, this church was rebuilt by the new inhabitants and was dedicated on 1 May.
St. Stephen’s Church
Kombuthurai, Tuticorin District
Tamilnadu - 628 204
Phone: 04639-242771, 246213.