Kuriakose Elias Chavara
Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara, C.M.I. (10 February 1805 – 3 January 1871) was an Indian Catholic priest and social reformer. He is the first canonised Catholic male saint of Indian origin and belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church based in the state of Kerala. He was the co-founder and first Prior General of the first congregation for men in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (C.M.I.), and of a similar one for women, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (C.M.C.).
St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, C.M.I.
കുര്യാക്കോസ് ഏലിയാസ് ചാവറ
St Kuriakose Elias Chavara of Holy Family
|Founder of CMI and CMC Congregations|
|Born||10 February 1805|
Kainakary, Kuttanad, Travancore, British Raj (now in Alappuzha district, Kerala, India)
|Died||3 January 1871 (aged 65)|
Koonammavu, Kingdom of Cochin, British Raj (now in Ernakulam, Kerala, India)
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
|Beatified||8 February 1986, Kottayam by Pope John Paul II|
|Canonized||23 November 2014, Rome by Pope Francis|
|Major shrine||St. Joseph's Church, Mannanam, St.Philomena's Forane Church, Koonammavu|
|Feast||18 February (Roman Latin Catholic Church) 3 January (Syro-Malabar Church)|
|Attributes||Catholic saint, founder and social reformer|
|Patronage||Press industry, media, literature, congregations|
Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born on 10 February 1805 at Kainakary, Kerala in a Nasrani Christian family as the son of Iko (Kuriakose) Chavara and Mariam Thoppil. Nasranis are Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syriac Christians) who are the ancient Christians of Kerala baptised by St. Thomas the Apostle in the first century. The name Kuriakose is derived from the Syriac Aramaic name ܩܘܪܝܩܘܣ (Quriaqos). He was baptised on 17 February 1805 at St. Joseph's Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Chennamkary. On 8 September 1805, St. Chavara was dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary at St. Mary's Church, Vechoor. The Chavara family has derived from the ancient Nasrani family Meenappally in Kainakary.
In his childhood, Kuriakose attended the village school. There he studied language and elementary sciences. He entered the seminary in 1818 in Pallipuram where Palackal Thoma Malpan was the Rector. He was ordained a priest on 29 November 1829 and celebrated first Holy Qurbana at St. Andrew's Catholic Forane Church Arthunkal Alappuzha. His special intention during the first Holy Qurabana was the realization of the religious institute which was being contemplated by Palackal Thomas Malpan, Porukara Thomas Kathanar, Brother Jacob Kaniathara and himself.
Kuriakose Elias Chavara joined with two other priests, Palackal Thoma Malpan and Porukara Thoma Kathanar to lead a monastic life. The name of the community they founded was Servants of Mary Immaculate. The foundation for the first monastery at Mannanam was laid on 11 May 1831 by Porukara Thomas Kathanar. Palackal Malpan and Porukara Kathanar died in 1841 and 1846 respectively. On 8 December 1855, Kuriakose Elias Chavara and ten other priests took vows in the Carmelite tradition. He was nominated as the Prior General of Mannanam monastery. The congregation became affiliated as a Third Order institute of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. From that point on they used the postnominal initials of T.O.C.D.
Kuriakose Elias Chavara was a social reformer who initiated reforms in the Kerala society much before Narayana Guru(1853) Chattambi Swamikal(1853) and Vakkom Abdul Khadar Maulavi(1854). Though he hailed from a Syriac Christian family, which occupied a higher social status, he played a major role in educating and uplifting people especially of the lower ranks of society.
Kuriakose Chavara started an institution for Sanskrit studies at Mannanam in 1846. A tutor belonging to the Variar community was brought from Thrissur, to teach at this Sanskrit institution. After establishing the Sanskrit institution in Mannanam, Chavara took the initiative to start a school in a nearby village called Arpookara. On this Fr. Parappurath Varkey wrote in the Chronicles of the Mannanam monastery: “While the work on the Mannanam School began, a place on the Arpookara Thuruthumali hill was located to build a Chapel and school for the converts from the Pulaya caste." Fr. Chavara was the first Indian who not only dared to admit the untouchables to schools but also provided them with Sanskrit education which was forbidden to the lower castes, thereby challenging social bans based on caste, as early as the former part of the 19th century.
It was during this time Bishop Bernadine Baccinelly issued a circular in 1864 which would act as the root cause of tremendous growth of education and hundred percent literacy in Kerala. It was a warning circular which stated, “each parish should establish educational institutions, or else they will be debarred from the communion”. The schools in Kerala are commonly called Pallikudams (school attached to Church (Palli)) because of this circular. Kuriakose Chavara took great interest in implementing the circular. He delegated the members of his Congregation to ensure the implementation of the order in the circular and to actively take up educational activities. Each monastery was to oversee these activities of the parish churches in its neighbourhood.
Kuriakose Chavara knew that the schools he started in Mannanam and Arpookara would be successful if the poor students especially dalits were given midday meals. It was his original idea. It inspired Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer to recommend this to King for being implemented in all government run schools. This practice is continued even today in government schools in India.
Kuriakose Chavara a charity practice known as Pidiyari (a handful of rice) to encourage people to make daily small donations to help the needy. The Pidyari scheme supported the Midday meal Kuriakose Chavara popularized in schools The Pidiyari scheme was implemented in the following way: Participants would daily set aside a small quantity of rice in a special collection pot. The rice collected would be brought to Church during the weekends and was used to feed the poor, especially students for midday meal. A pious organization was formed by Kuriakose Chavara called “Unnimishihayude Dharma Sabha” who took care of the Pidiyaricollection.
Kuriakose Chavara started St. Joseph's Press at Mannanam in 1846, which was the third printing press in Kerala and the first press founded by a Malayali without the help of foreigners. From this printing press came the oldest existing Malayalam newspaper in circulation Nasrani Deepika.
Service to the ChurchEdit
Kuriakose Elias Chavara introduced retreat preaching for the laity for the first time in the Kerala Church. He popularised devotions and piety exercises such as rosary, way of the cross and eucharistic adoration. He was the Vicar General of Syriac Rite Catholics in 1861 in order to counter the influence of Mar Thomas Rochos on Saint Thomas Christians.
In co-operation with Palackal Thoma Malpan and Thoma Porukara, Kuriakose Elias Chavara founded an Indian religious congregation for men, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. Chavara took religious vows on 8 December 1855 and took the name of Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family.
Kuriakose Elias Chavara was the Prior General of all the monasteries of the congregation from 1856 till his death in 1871.He was commonly called under the name 'Common Prior'. The activities of the members of CMI congregation under the leadership of Chavara created huge transformation in the society. This made priests and people to request Chavara to open religious houses in their area. He established seven new monasteries besides Mannanam. They are Koonammavu-1857, Elthurutrh-1858, Plasnal-1858, Vazhakulam-1859, Pulincunnu-1861, Ambazhakad-1868, and Mutholy-1870. In 1864, The Vicar Apostolic transferred St.Chavara to Koonammavu Monastery.
Carmelite Congregation for WomenEdit
In 1866, 13 February, Kuriakose Elias Chavara founded the first Carmelite convent for women at Koonamavu under the name 'Third Order of Carmelites Discalced' which would later become CMC and CTC Congregation in Syro Malabar Church and Latin Church respectively. While CMC congregation acknowledges and upholds the role of Kuriakose Chavara in their foundation, CTC congregation denies any role for him and considers Mother Eliswa as the foundress.
Kuriakose Chavara hoped and prayed for the establishment of a religious congregation for women in the apostolic Church of St. Thomas. According to Kuriakose Chavara the lack of convents was a 'pathetic situation,' which led to deep sorrow within him. He conceived the covent as a house of sanctity where the girls could learn spiritual matters, grow up as good Christians and work for the intellectual development and education of women to achieve social welfare.
Fr. Leopold Beccaro – who was a close associate and confessor of Kuriakose Chavara – with whom Mother Eliswa had communicated her desire to lead a life of chastity, during her meetings with him for confession and spiritual direction, wrote in Italian in his personal diary on 3 January 1871, the day of the demise of Blessed Chavara: “The founder and the first prior of the Tertiaries of the Discalced Carmelites in Malabar, who with extreme fatigue has founded the monastery of the sisters [e fondato con somme fatiche il monastero delle Monache]...” Again, in another important document, a short biography of Blessed Chavara written by Fr. Leopold himself, we come across the following affirmative statements: “Among these, specially, [he] earnestly desired to bring into existence an abode of virtues for the girls of Malayalam and a convent of sisters for learning doctrines and traditions of the Catholic religion as well as to make them grow as good Christian children... It is a fact known to all that even after the starting of the convent, he showed great fervour and interest to conduct everything in order and with virtues...” These two statements made by Fr. Leopold give uncompromising credence to the fact that Blessed Chavara had not only a deep and long-lasting desire to establish a convent for sisters, but had also made every effort, including the spiritual and administrative guidance in the realization of the project.
All the literary works of Kuriakose Chavara were written between 1829 and 1870. The literary writings of Kuriakose Chavara are unique in two aspects. First, it reflects the religious spiritualism of Christianity. Second, even after a century after the Kuriakose Chavara wrote, there are limited number of literary works with reference to Christianity.
- Chronics and historical writings
- Spiritual writings
- Prayer Texts
- Writings on Liturgy
- Writings related to administration
Chronicles and historical writingsEdit
The Chronicles (Nalagamangal) narrates the daily events not only of the monastery but also of the society. These writings were originally found in Malayalam, in Kuriakose Chavara's own handwriting. There are two manuscripts under the title 'Mannanam Nalagamangal.' Together with the events of the CMI Congregation the chronicles depict events associated with the Society and Kerala Church of that time. The book 'Complete Works of Chavara', Vol. 1 published in 1990 contains five Chronicles.
Atmanuthapam (The lamentations of a Repentant Soul)Edit
It is an autobiographical poem written in epic style – Mahakavyam (Mahakavya). The poem gives life to life of Jesus from birth to ascension into heaven and life of Mary from ascension of Jesus to assumption of Mary into heaven. The uniqueness of the poem is that Kuriakose Chavara brings his own life experiences from childhood.
According to Dr. K.M.Tharakan Atmanuthapam reflects Kuriakose Chavara's philosophy of life which in turn exemplifies a Christian religious life. Dr. Tharakan states, "...Humility, which is not self-contempt, and repentance are the foundation stones of the philosophy of his life. Thus the first step is faith in God. The second is the belief that one can reach God through Jesus Christ. The third is the conviction that without repenting and accepting Jesus, one cannot reach Christ... what a Christian obtains is the awareness of the noble qualities. These qualities are 'faith', 'hope' and 'love'. Only through these triple qualities, a Christian can attain Christ." 
It is intended to be sung when the corpus is placed in the coffin for public homage. The poem contains 1162 verses. The underlying message is that one should lead a virtuous and God-fearing life in order overcome the painful experience of death. The articles of faith related to the death of a man are enumerated and beautifully illustrated with stories or incidents, the poet heard or read.
Nalla Appante Chavarul (Testament of a Loving Father)Edit
It is the counsel to the Christian Families of Kainakari parish but its relevance to the families resonates till date. This insightful and down-to-earth document is the first of its kind in the known history of the Church, offers practical direction to families in leading a God-fearing as well as socially commendable life.
Anastasiayude Rakthasakshyam (The martyrdom of Anastacia)Edit
It contains 232 verses.
Dhyana Sallapangal (Colloquies in meditation)Edit
Dhyana Sallapangal consists of the reflective meditative notes of Kuriakose Chavara.
Eclogues (Shepherd Plays)Edit
They were the first dramatic plays in Malayalam in the pastoral (shepherd) genre or Eclogues of Italy. They were plays written for being performed during the Christmas season. Kuriakose Chavara wrote it between 1856 – 1858. He wrote 10 Eclogues (Shepherd Plays) and introduced them in the novitiate at Koonammavu Seminary.
The first Indian drama is Neeldarpan, published in 1860 and is written in Bengali by Dinabandhu Mitra on the miseries of the indigo cultivators. The first Malayalam play is considered Abhinjana Shakuntalam, translated into Malayalam by Kerala Verma Valiakovil Thampuran in 1882. Kuriakose Chavara wrote the 10 eclogues or liturgical dramas decades before. He could be considered the father of Malayalam drama.
These letters were written on different occasions to various persons or groups. There are 67 original copies of these letters. These letters are published in 'Complete Works of Chavara' Vol.IV. The chronicle in Koonammavu records three letters written to them by Kuriakose Elias Chavara. Even though the Chronicle states many letters and notes were written by Chavara, only three are recorded.
Even though Kuriakose Chavara wrote many prayer texts only six of them have been preserved. They are: i) Meditation: method of beginning – Meditation: method of beginning is an intercessory prayer to mother Mary seeking help to be with him during the meditation. ii) Prayer to the Blessed virgin Mary. Thanksgiving prayer to the blessings that received from mother Mary. iii) Morning Prayer to Most Holy Trinity – Thanksgiving prayer for the favours received. iv) Evening prayer to Most Holy Trinity – Thanksgiving prayer for the favours received. v) Prayer for custody of eyes – Prayers to be recited by priests to remain rooted in their fidelity to Jesus Christ. vi) Prayer to be recited by priests – Prayers to be recited by priests to remain rooted in their fidelity to Jesus Christ.
Writings on LiturgyEdit
Kuriakose Chavara wrote a number of liturgical texts that played an important role in reforming liturgy. They include the Divine office for priests, Divine office for the dead, office of the Blessed virgin Mary, prayers of various blessings, the order of Holy mass – Tukasa, liturgical calendar, forty hours adoration and prayer books for lay man.
In this category there are 16 writings that has been preserved. Some of these are written on palm leaves and others on paper. It deals with matters pertaining to administrative matters pertaining to the time of St. Chavara.
Prior Mango (പ്രിയോർ മാങ്ങ) is a variety of mango which Kuriakose Chavara popularised. It is named after him who was endearingly called “Prior” based on his position as the Prior or head of the religious congregation. At Mannanam monastery there was a mango tree which was planted and taken care of by Kuriakose Chavara. He sent the mango seedlings to monasteries and convents and told the members: Please plant the sapling of this sweet mango, which I name it as ‘Dukran’(Orma = memory) in each of our monastery. "This is to make you realize that myself and all men are weak and faltering and don’t have long life even as these mango trees which give sweet fruits." In a letter he wrote : " This Mango-tree (1870) and its seedlings leave a loving patrimonial memory for us" It is because of the association of Carmelite Prior Kuriakose Chavara that this variety of mango came to be known all over Kerala as "Priormavu" (the mango tree of the Prior). Prior Mango is considered as one of the premium variety of mangoes in Kerala and is often exported to its neighbouring south Indian states. He also planted prior mango tree in koonammav at St: philominas churuch backyard the tree is still remaining here and giving fruit to all season.
Kuriakose Elias Chavara died on 3 January 1871, aged 66, at Koonammavu. He was buried in St.Philomena's Forane Church, Koonammavu His body was later moved to St. Joseph's Monastery Church in Mannanam. His memorial is celebrated on 3 January as per the Syro-Malabar liturgical calendar. whereas his memorial is celebrated on 18 February as per the Roman Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Rite.
The following were the last words of Kuriakose Chavara: “Why are you sad? All God’s people must die some day. My hour has come. By the grace of God, I prepared myself for it since long.” Showing a picture of the Holy Family, he continued, "My parents taught me to keep the Holy Family always in my mind and to honour them throughout my life. As I had always the protection of the Holy Family I can tell you with confidence that I have never lost the baptismal grace I received in baptism. I dedicate our little Congregation and each of you to the Holy Family. Always rely on Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Let the Holy Family reign in your hearts. Don’t be sad about my dying. Joyfully submit yourselves to the will of God. God is all powerful and His blessings are countless. God will provide you with a new Prior who will be a source of blessing for the Congregation as well as for you. Hold fast to the constitution, the rules of our elders and that of the Church. Love our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with all your heart. Draw the waters of eternal life from that fountain as in the words of the Prophet Elijah. All the members of the congregation, especially elders must be charitable to one another. If you do so, God will be glorified by the congregation and which will be flourished day after day. Your charity will bring salvation to souls."
Scores of miraculous favours were reported by the intercession of Kuriakose Chavara. Sister Alphonsa, who later became the first saint of India, has testified in 1936 that Kuriakose Elias Chavara had appeared to her twice during her illness and relieved her suffering. St. Alphonsa had a holy relic of Kuriakose Elias' hair which was taken by one of his disciples Varkey Muttathupadathu. It was this relic which served Alphonsa to pray to Kuriakose Chavara and receive miraculous cure. The relic is now preserved in Mannanam.
The miracle which Rome approved for the beatification of Kuriakose Chavara was the cure of the congenial deformity of the legs (clubfoot) of Mr. Joseph Mathew Pennaparambil happened in April 1960. Joseph was born club-footed with congenial deformity of both the legs. On hearing that many miracles have happened through the intercession of Kuriakose Chavara, Joseph and his family started praying. They prayed almost a month. One day when Joseph and his sister were walking back from school, she asked him to pray to Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara for the cure of his legs and asked him to recite 1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary and 1 Glory be to the Father. As they walked reciting prayers suddenly Joseph's leg started shivering. Joseph pressed his right leg to the ground and he could now walk properly with right leg. They continued their prayers and on 30 April 1960, while Joseph and his sister was on the way to elder brother's house, the left leg too became normal. Since then he could walk normally. Joseph believes that it was the intercession Kuriakose Chavara which resulted in the miracle. Rome approved the miracle which led to the Beatification of Kuriakose Chavara as Blessed in 1984.
The miracle which was approved for canonization of Kuriakose Chavara to sainthood was the instantaneous, total and stable cure of the congenital squint (alternating esotropia) in both eyes of Maria Jose Kottarathil, a Catholic girl of age 9 from Pala in Kottayam District of Kerala State in India. Even though Maria was suggested to have surgery by five doctors, Maria and her family decided to pray to Kuriakose Chavara. On 12 October 2007, Maria visited the room and tomb of Kuriakose Chavara at mannanam with her parents. On 16 October 2007, the squint eyes disappeared. The miracle was approved by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints on 18 March 2014 which lead to the canonization.
Chronicle of CanonisationEdit
The official canonization process of Kuriakose Chavara started in 1955, Mar Mathew Kavukattu, arch-bishop of Changanacherry, received instructions from Rome to start diocese-level procedure towards the canonisation. On 7 April 1984, Pope John Paul II approved Kuriakose Elias Chavara's practice of heroic virtues and declared him Venerable. Kuriakose Elias Chavara was beatified at Kottayam on 8 February 1986 by Pope John Paul II in the course of a papal visit to India.
On 3 April 2014, Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decrees concerning the miracle attributed to Kuriakose Kathanar's intercession. This confirmed Pope's approval of Kuriakose Elias Chavara's canonisation. On 23 November 2014, he was canonised at Saint Peter's Square by Pope Francis along with Euphrasia Eluvathingal. Pope Francis stated that "Father Kuriakose Elias was a religious, both active and contemplative, who generously gave his life for the Syro-Malabar Church, putting into action the maxim “sanctification of oneself and the salvation of others."
- God the almighty granted more time to me than to my predecessors. This was granted to me not so much for me I know, as for the benefit of others. (From the Letter of St. Chavara to his nephew Fr. Joseph Chavara.)
- A good Christian family is the image of heaven, where persons are living together, by the bond of blood and affection, duly respecting and obeying their parents, and walking peacefully before the Lord and people, ensures their salvation, according to each one’s state of life.
- Just as without eyes one cannot see the material things of the world, so also without knowledge it will be impossible for us to see or understand the reality of this world and the eternity where God dwells in. As those who have no eyes are called “Blind”, so too those who have no learning are to be called “intellectually blind” Hence it is the responsibility of priest to teach the faithful and of parents to teach their children.
There are various images of Kuriakose Elias Chavara all over the world. The National Shrine of Saint Jude, Faversham, United Kingdom has a beautiful icon of the Saint. In 2004 a fire broke out in the Shrine Chapel which destroyed the murals which hung there, and it damaged much of the other artwork. The decision was made to install icons depicting saints inspired by the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert, and in commemoration of the 8th centenary of the Carmelite Rule in 2007. The icons were written by Sister Petra Clare, a Benedictine hermit living in Scotland, United Kingdom.
There are many museums associated with life and activities of Kuriakose Elias Chavara. They significant ones are:
St. Chavara Museum, Archives and Research Centre, Mannanam.
The Museum at Mannanam consists of the room he stayed, articles used by him, the documents written by him, the replica of the press he founded, the first school he started and above all it is located in the place where he founded the first monastery.
St. Chavara Kuriakose Elias Museum, koonammavu
This visitors of this museum can enter the room where St. Chavara died and can also see various articles used by him. This museum is associated with St. Philomena's Church Koonammavu. 
Chavara National Museum, Vazhakulam
The exhibits consists of a miniature model of St. Chavara's birth house, articles used by him and also various antique articles.
Chavara Museum and Art Gallery, Alappuzha
The exhibits in the museum consist of articles used by Saint Chavara such as his cot, the chair used by him in the boat. One of the special exhibit is the box which was used to transfer the remains of St. Chavara from Koonammavu to Mannanam. It also has old holy Vestments, antique utilities and boxes. A number of books about Chavara are also displayed. Yet another attraction is the miniature model of his birth house. 
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- ചാവറ കുരിയാക്കോസ് ഏലിയാസ് അച്ചനും മലയാള അച്ചടിയും.... marunadanmalayali.com (in Malayalam).
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- Diary of Fr. Leopold, volume 3:25 (CMC Archives, Aluva). A notable problem posed by some is that the crucial phrase “e fondato con somme fatiche il monastero delle Monache” is written in between the lines, and it would have been added later by someone. However, it must also be noted that not only this one phrase, but four other such superscriptions are made, including a grammatical correction in the same text.
- In a book titled The Founding Fathers of the TOCD in Kerala (originally written in Malayalam, in 1871, soon after the death of Chavara, but published in 1905), the author Kuriakose Elias Porukkara, the second Prior of TOCD for men, deals with the long cherished dream of Chavara to found a convent for women and how he had set the scope of this new community of religious women: “Being there [Koonammavu], [he] specially wished to make a convent of sisters as an abode of virtues for the girls of Malayalam, for learning doctrines and traditions of the Catholic religion and to grow as good Christian children. Trusting in the Lord Almighty, accepted the persons who were prepared as its foundation and made a convent temporarily with bamboo mat for them to stay. In a miraculous way, within eight months, collecting Rs. 8000 as alms by different means, built the convent and arranged all the necessary things and made the sisters stay there and he felt happy seeing their modest life and virtues; allowed them to make their profession and finally established the Blessed Sacrament in their chapel. Just as Patriarch Jacob loved most his youngest son Benjamin, he loved them most deeply, and took care of them as a mother takes care of her own children” (page 35).
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