Steeped in the history, the our Lady of Purification Church, Thankey, has comes to symbolize the transformation of a humble coastal village into a place of great significance on the map of Catholic faith in India, where Christianity is believed to have arrived in 57 AD on a trading ship along the St.Thomas the Apostle.
The place name Thankey is derived, by some accountants, from the Tamil language word thanghi, meaning a stopover or a night halt on what must have been in times of yore an arduous journey between the southern and northern district of what became Kerala, on Indians south-west cost. It is widely believed that Christian community existed in the region inclusive of Thankey in the first century AD. The amorphous community acquired certain contours and definite social shape under the guidance of the Jesuits who in 1579 established the Sant Andre mission Arthunkal about 5 km south of Thankey falling almost in a straight line with it on the west coast.
Vasco da Gama landed on the coast of Kerala in May 1498 on, what history books describe as his search of "Christians and spices" and the Portuguese arrival changed the situation rapidly and substantially. Thankey entered a historic face when the Jesuits began their missionary activities. A lot of new conversions in their walk and the acceptance of the Latin rite by Marthoma Christians. So the Church around area growing rapidly.
The first chapel was established here in 1583, was expanded in 1709 with money from Kochumareekka Muthy of Aarkatty family, a rich lady who on account of her prominence in society, was given privileged to guide the local chieftains on their journey using waterways that crisscrossed Thankey and its neighbouring areas. The Bishop of Cochin Diocese Joachim da santa rita Bottello raised Thankey to the status of an independent parish in 1832. The facade of the church that stands today was built in 1930.
The miraculous statue of the Passion of our Lord
It is the miraculous statue of the Passion of Our Lord that attracts thousands to Thankey every year in a pilgrimage marked by repentance and an earnestness to start a new life.
At once magnificent and poignant, the life-size statue of Our Lord at the Church captures for the pilgrim the messages of suffering and salvation, of the ultimate sacrifice and redemption. It is a pointer to a new life and a new horizon through repentance.
The statue depicts Jesus in all his sufferings. His flowing hair, blood drying on his brows, pierced palms, feet and the side, the crown of thorns, all
challenging a world of material glory.
And the parishioners are convinced of the miracles the statue has brought for them. Its arrival here in 1936 itself is surrounded by tales that indicate the extraordinary level of faith among the people.
The statue was brought here as a measure of reconciliation of the differences among the parishioners at a time when inequalities in the
society were at its extreme.
Fr. George Karott, the then parish priest decided that only a miracle could bring the people so fiercely divided over several social issues.
He hit upon the idea of bringing a life-size statue of Our Lord that would drive home the message of sacrifice.
However, it was the worst of times. Father Karott surveyed only extreme poverty among his parishioners. The circumstances compounded by a famine-like situation.
But the women of the parish proved resourceful. They squirreled away fistfuls of rice from their daily rations until they could sell it in the market to raise the money for the statue.
Since then, the 'Pidiyari (meaning fistfuls of rice) movement' has gone down in the Parish history as a remarkable achievement.
Msgr. Pullianath of St. Lawrance Church, Edacochin, blessed the statue. It is widely believed that hours after the statue was taken out of Edacochin in a catamaran its sculptor obtained holy death.
The journey from Edacochin, where the statue was made to Thankey has been detailed and tales of the journey are recalled with the vibrancy of a recent event. For instance, the British officer at Arookutty stopped the catamaran to levy tax. But a gust of strong wind broke the tax booth and the catamaran reached Thankey safe.
Several miracles were reported at the arrival of the statue in Thankey. And, the miracles continue to this day drawing people in their thousands to
Thankey, especially in the run up to the Holy Week and on Good Friday.
Kissing the statue of Our Lord in Thankey is considered a sure means to get answers to one's prayers and to fulfilling one's good intentions.
Pilgrims also make votive offerings of rice and oil at Church on Good Fridays. The rice thus offered is cooked and distributed to the pilgrims. Eating the gruel at the Church on Good Friday is considered a cure for diseases and an assurance of well-being. The oil is taken away by pilgrims as a holy reminder of their visit to Thankey and as a cure.
Thousands also make annual trips to Thankey on Good Fridays to make votive offerings either on their knees or rolling in the sand as a mark of repentance and determination to lead a new life.
By rolling in the sand or coming to make the offerings on their knees is also a way of participating in the sufferings of the Lord.
The arrival of pilgrims to the Thankey Church normally begins on Palm Sunday and peak on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Major Events During The Holy Week At Thankey
Deepakazhcha (presentation of lights) Maundy Thursday night symbolizes the pilgrim's urge to keep wake with the Lord in his Passion. The believers bring lamps (mostly 'Nilavilakku' - traditional lamps made of brass) from their homes, light them up at the premises of the Church on Maundy Thursday night and keep the wake through night. Bringing the lamps and keeping the wake are considered votive offerings.
Another remarkable practice that has gained wide currency is the offering of prayers at the tomb of the Lord at Thankey (Kallarajapam). This is believed to have grown out of the local practice of praying at the spot where the miraculous statue of the Lord is kept open in a glass and wood case for veneration.
Regardless of the caste and creed, thousands participate in the practice that has gained such popularity that bookings to offer the prayers at the tomb by pilgrims now run well into 2014. The bookings are for offering prayers at the tomb on the first Fridays of every month in groups.