History of St. Theresa’s Shrine

A Brief History of  St. Theresa’s  Shrine, Mahe, N. Kerala, South India.

The Shrine of St. Theresa of Avila at Mahe is one of the oldest Shrines in India and probably the oldest in Malabar.  Practically nothing was known regarding the origin and early history of this Shrine until recently when a valuable record.  “De Missione Mahinensi in Malabaribus Commentarius” by Rev. Father Ignatius A.S. Hippolytes, O.C.D. dated 2nd July, 1757 was discovered in the Carmelite Archives at Rome.  A copy of this record is also preserved in the Archives of the Propaganda at Rome.  According to this historical document Rev. Father Dominic of St. John of the Cross, O.C.D. an Italian, came to Mahe and established the Mahe Mission in 1723 when King Bayanor, the Raja of Kadathanad near Badagara was the ruler.  A small community of Christians grew up in this place and in 1736, the Shrine of St. Theresa was erected and in December of that year, was dedicated to this reformer of the Carmelite Order according to the solemn ritual of the Roman Catholic, Church Before 1736, the church was only a shed constructed with bamboos and coconut leaves.  The record above mentioned speaks of the intense zeal of the Carmelite Missionaries and that more than 2,000 adults, excluding children, were baptized, and received into the Church by them.

However, in 1760 this Shrine seems to have suffered some damage owing to the wars between the French and the British.  But in Mach 1779, this ancient Shrine was to a greater extent damaged or perhaps destroyed.  But later about the year 1788 the Shrine was thoroughly renovated or perhaps reconstructed by Abbe Duchenin.  A Government record dating back to 1874 referring  to this renovation of Shrine by Abbe Duchenin is preserved in the Revenue Office at Mahe.  The roof, however, was a thatched one at that time and only in 1874 it was replaced with Mangalore tiles.  The tower of the Church was renovated in 1855 and the clock on the tower which gives correct time even now to the whole town of Mahe was fixed up there in that year.  The clock is said to have been presented by some French Marines to the Church.  The Shrine was renovated again in 1956 and electrified.  On July 15, 1956 the renovated Shrine was opened for worship.  In 1958, the flooring of the Church and the plastering of the tower were redone.

During subsequent years, Avila Pilgrim Centre, Avila Bhavan (Sisters of Charity), St. Theresa’s Nursery and Primary School, Parish Hall and new presbytery were constructed.

  • The miraculous statue of St. Theresa od Avila is exposed for public veneration at this Shrine from the 5th to the 22nd October every year.  Documents do not speak about the origin of this miraculous statue, but two traditions exist.
  • This miraculous statue was supposed to have been carried in a ship along the West Coast and the ship is said to have stopped at Mahe and would not move, wereupon the crew understood that it was the will of St. Theresa of Avila that this particular statue should be enshrined at Mahe.
  •  Another tradition has it that this miraculous statue was caught in a fisherman’s net in the sea of the Mahe coast. This miraculous statue is the centre of devotion of the Christians as well as  non-Christians.
  • Ever since the establishment of the Shrine in 1736, a deep devotion has grown towards this great saint of God and is specially fostered by the non-Christains—Hindus and others—of Mahe, surrounding places of Malabar. All the people of Mahe and around have been considering St.Theresa of Avila as their Mother and her Shrine as a common Shrine not merely of Catholics but of all Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Countless favors are being granted at this Shrine yearly. Some extraordinary and wonderful graces are also reported to have been granted. It is piously believed that whatever is prayed for with confidence at this Shrine will be obtained through the intercession of St. Theresa of Avila. It is related that on more than one occasion when epidemics were raging around town, Mahe was saved through the intercession of its holy patroness.
  • Whatever the tradition, this antique statue of St. Theresa is unique in its craftsmanship and is unlike the other images of the Saint seen elsewhere.

As a result of the countless favors and extraordinary graces that have been and are being granted at this Shrine, devotees from various parts of India, as well as from various foreign countries like SriLanka, Singapore, Gulf countries, France, England and America have placed themselves under the motherly care of this wonder-worker of Mahe. People from all parts of India come on pilgrimage to visit this Shrine and invoke the blessings and protection of St. Theresa throughout the year, but specially during the feast time from the 5 th to the 22 nd October. A visit to this Shrine on the feast day, that is 15 th October will convince even a skeptic of the power of intercession of the great St. Theresa of Avila at Mahe. On these days devotees on account of the special favors granted  to them by this spiritual mother would be seen rolling  and moving along the road in front of the Church on their knees from the main door of the Church to the miraculous statue. Innumerable candles that are burnt at this Shrine during the year and specially during feast time as thanksgiving for the graces received, the hundreds of votive offering of silver and gold presented by devotees for favors all give an eloquent testimony of the received immense power of intercession of St. Theresa exercise from her miraculous abode.

The great devotion of non-Christians at this Shrine has a great significance. It shows that the Catholic religion and the Catholic mode of worship-the Church, its teachings and its ceremonies deeply attract and satisfy the innate religious sentiments of our Hindu and other non -Christian brothers, The great devotion to this wonder worker of Mahe should have been fostered and kept up by non-Christians for the past two centuries. However, strange it may seem. The majority of the devotees of St. Theresa and the pilgrims who pay homage at this Shrine are Hindus. For them St. Theresa of Avila the mother of Mahe as they call her – is the one patroness, guide and devoted mother. The unsophisticated and unprejudiced Hindus-men, simple women folk and children are irresistibly to their loving mother whom they invoke in all their tribulations, trials afflictions and cares. Those, who think that the Christian religion is alien to the Hindu mind and religious feeling should visit this Shrine on the 14 th and 15 th October. They will unite in love at the feet of this devoted mother.

The apologetical value of the Shrine cannot be underestimated. It is a great centre for the diffusion of Christian ideals – a centre where the people of Malabar are able to realize that the Catholic Church is a great spiritual and supernatural power. To thousands of non-Christians and others – who come to pay homage to their spiritual mother, the great wonder -worker from her spiritual abode, preaches, directly to their innermost hearts, Christ’s beautiful message of love and peace – that Christianity is the only true revealed religion, that in it they should find salvation for their spiritual aspirations and sentiments. Many indeed hear the voice of their dear spiritual mother. Should we not feel convinced that this great saint will grant to those non-Christians who place themselves under her motherly mantle, who are deprived without their own fault of the light of true faith, the most primary of all gifts -the salvation and sanctification of their souls at least through baptism of desire on their deathbed?