Palackal Thoma Malpan

© Jan. 2008. Palackal, Pallippuram, Shertallay, India (info@palackal.org). All rights reserved.


Portrait as envisaged by M. P. Manoj, Oil on canvas, c. 1995. Library, Acharya Palackal Jeevass Kendram, Alwaye, India [Founder: A. Mathias Mundadan, T. O. C. D. (1996)]. (Contemporary likenesses of the Malpan are not extant.)

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Palackal Thoma Malpan [പാലയ്ക്കല്‍ തോമ്മാ മല്‍പാന്‍ / பாலய்க்கல் தோமா மல்பான் / पालय्क्कल् तोमा मल्पान्] (b. circa * 1780 at [South] Pallippuram [ [തെക്കന്‍] പള്ളിപ്പുറം / ചേന്നംപള്ളിപ്പുറം / ഐരാണിക്കുളം], near Shertallay [ചേര്‍ത്തല / കരപ്പുറം], in Alleppey [ആലപ്പുഴ], Kingdom of Travancore [തിരുവിതാംകൂര്‍ രാജ്യം]; d. there, † 16th January 1841) was an illustrious secular priest [ഇടവകപ്പട്ടക്കാരന്‍] from the Catholic Church of St. Thomas [Syro-Malabar Church] then under the Vicariate-Apostolic of Verapoly [വരാപ്പുഴ] and later under the Archdiocese of Ernakulam [എറണാകുളം]; the senior founder of the first Cœnobite order of the St. Thomas Christians, the Third Order of Carmelites Discalced [കര്‍മ്മലീത്ത നിഷ്പാദുക മൂന്നാം സഭ / Carmelites of Mary Immaculate]; and the founder and Rector of the first Seminary run by the St. Thomas Christians, first at Pallippuram and later at Mannanam [മാന്നാനം] near Kottayam [കോട്ടയം]. (The title Malpan, from the Syriac word malpānā, denotes his status as a preceptor of priests.)

  • Left: The ancient Cross at Pallippuram (wood); believed to have been installed by St. Thomas the Apostle at Kokkamangalam [കോക്കമംഗലം] and shortly afterwards to have been cut off by saboteurs and thrown into the Lake Vembanad [വേമ്പനാട്ടു് കായല്‍], through which it floated up to Mattel Island [മാട്ടേല്‍ തുരുത്തു്], off Pallippuram. The ancient Christian community founded by the Apostle at Kokkamangalam thenceforth had its nucleus at Pallippuram.
  • Right: Crucifix at Pallippuram received by the Malpan from the Vicar-Apostolic of Verapoly. c. 10 cm in height. Now lost.

    After his ordination in 1807 consequent to studies under Thachil Abraham Malpan [തച്ചില്‍ അവുറാഹാം മല്‍പാന്‍] (the younger brother of Thachil Thariyath Matthoo Tharakan, Esq. [തച്ചില്‍ തരിയതു് മാത്തു തരകന്‍ അവര്‍കള്‍]), he was appointed the Secretary for the St. Thomas Christians and Counsellor to the Bishop Mgr. Raymond Roviglia of St. Joseph, O. C. D., Vicar-Apostolic during 1803-1815; he continued to be a counsellor to the Vicars-Apostolic for the rest of his life, even after he resigned the position of Secretary in 1815.

    As secretary and counsellor, he was instrumental to several reforms in the Catholic Church of Kerala: the practice of St. Thomas Christian priests and seminarians wearing cassocks [ളോവ] was introduced (previously, they had dressed in a way resembling the Jacobite clerics); the custom of episcopal visits [വിസീത്ത] to parishes was begun; the confessional [കുമ്പസാരക്കൂടു്] was made obligatory in all churches; walled cemeteries [സെമിത്തേരി] were built for all churches (earlier, the dead had been buried in the open compound); and confraternities [കൊമ്പിരിയാ, ദര്‍ശനസമൂഹം] were started in the St. Thomas Christian churches borrowing the custom from the Latin churches in Kerala; the confreres [ദര്‍ശനക്കാര്‍] assisted the orderly conduct of solemn feasts [കൊമ്പിരിയാപ്പെരുന്നാള്‍, ദര്‍ശനപ്പെരുന്നാള്‍], funerals, and other ceremonies.

    After leaving the position of secretary, he returned to Pallippuram in 1818. Since there were several acolytes desirous of studying for priesthood under him, the Malpan was compelled to start a seminary at Pallippuram, with Mangalath Chandy [മംഗലത്തു് ചാണ്ടി] of Pallippuram, later secretary and counsellor at Verapoly, as the first student. Among the first to join his seminary was Chavara Kuriakose [ചാവറ കുരിയാക്കോസ്] (1805-1871) of Kainakary [കൈനകരി], later Vicar-General for the St. Thomas Christians at Verapoly, then aged 13; the Malpan brought him up as if he were a son and considered him the spiritual heir. Seeking to bring order to the seminary, he wrote a regula [ക്രമച്ചട്ടം] for the seminarians, following it himself more stringently than all else. Even otherwise, he had kept an austere routine and diet from his early years.


    Seminary at Pallippuram (1818-c. 1855) founded by the Malpan; merged to the Seminary of St. Joseph, Mannanam (1833-1894); the edifice was pulled down c. 1978, together with the Pallippuram Church; Photograph: P. J. Kuncheria, Changanacherry.

    Considering teaching and scholarship as his vocation, the Malpan devoted his life to that aim. He took particular care that his seminary had an exemplary collection of books, especially modern books in Tamil and the few in Malayalam, printed chiefly by members of the Society of Jesus. He had a special interest in languages. Learning Tamil on his own, he translated the spiritual books in Tamil into Malayalam; as a consequence he began to be called in jest the `Tamil Malpan' [പാണ്ടി മല്‍പാന്‍]. He asked his students to scribe all the books they considered valuable, including liturgical books in Syriac. These may have inspired his disciple Fr. Chavara to start a Malayalam printing press at Mannanam, only the third of its kind in Kerala, in 1844. The Malpan also took every care to have his abler students learn other languages such as Latin, sometimes from European priests.

    Since his early years the Malpan seems to have cherished the notion of a Cœnobite order of the Dominican kind; his experiences in running the seminary might have strengthened the resolve. In this endeavour he found an eager and able collaborator in Porukara Thoma Kathanar [പോരൂക്കര തോമ്മാ കത്തനാര്‍] (1799-1846) of Kalloorkad [കല്ലൂര്‍ക്കാടു്], Champakulam [ചമ്പക്കുളം] (to which the Malpan's maternal family, Puthenpurackal [പുത്തന്‍പുരയ്ക്കല്‍], also belonged), who had known and admired the Malpan since his days as a seminarian. As for Fr. Chavara, as he says in his Chronicles [നാളാഗമങ്ങള്‍], he had always been of one mind with his Malpan in all matters. With the blessing of the Bishop Mgr. Maurelio Stabellini, O. Carm., Vicar-Apostolic during 1828-1831, the Monastery [കൊവേന്ത] was founded at Mannanam on 11th May 1831.


    Cenotaph for the Malpan at the Monastery of St. Joseph, Mannanam, beside the tombs of FF. Porukara and Chavara; this was installed after Archbishop Kandathil of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, to which the Malpan had been incardinated, declined consent to an attempt by the Third Order of Carmelites Discalced to transfer the remains from Pallippuram and reïnter them at Mannanam; the tombstone and epitaph at Pallippuram are now lost (after the Forane Church was pulled down c. 1978).

    Two years later, the Malpan started a seminary at Mannanam to teach priests both secular and religious; a new movement in the spiritual formation of St. Thomas Christian clergy, this became the cradle for several priests and bishops such as Mar Louis Pareparambil [പഴേപറമ്പില്‍ മാര്‍ ളൂയീസ്], Mar Matthew Makil [മാക്കീല്‍ മാര്‍ മത്തായി], and Mar Augustine Kandathil [കണ്ടത്തില്‍ മാര്‍ ആഗസ്തീനോസ്], from the St. Thomas Christians.

    He passed away in 1841 and was buried at the main altar in the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram (connected by tradition with the apostolate of St. Thomas in South India); judging from the account of Fr. Chavara, the funeral was worthy of a bishop.

    Selected bibliography

    1. `പള്ളിപ്പുറം പള്ളി നാളാഗമം' [Chronicle of the Church of Pallippuram] (in Malayalam), MS. Unpublished.

    2. Mangalath Chandy Malpan: `നാളാഗമം' [Chronicle] (in Malayalam), MS. Unpublished.

    3. Chavara Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family, T. O. C. D.: `നാളാഗമം' [Chronicle] (in Malayalam), Prior General, T. O. C. D., Karikkamury, Ernakulam, India, 1981. Original MSS c. 1841-1871 mostly at St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam, India. Bound in the present form by Jerome Poothottam of St. Mary, T. O. C. D., and analysed for authorship by Anselm Perumalil, T. O. C. D. An analysis of the provenance, chronology, and historical integrity of the MSS appears in the preface (unattributed), pp. xi-xxxii. Reprinted: 1985.

    4. Idem: `കത്തുകള്‍' [Letters] (in Malayalam), Prior General, T. O. C. D., Karikkamury, Ernakulam, India, 1982.

    5. Idem; Porukara Kuriakose Eliseus, T. O. C. D.: `മലയാളത്തിലെ കര്‍മ്മലീത്ത നിഷ്പാദുക മൂന്നാം സഭയുടെ സ്ഥാപകപിതാക്കന്മാര്‍' [The founding fathers of the Third Order of Carmelites Discalced of Malayalam] (in Malayalam), St. Joseph's Press, Mannanam, Kingdom of Travancore, 1905. Original MSS written by Fr. Chavara (titled `നമ്മുടെ കൊംവെന്തയ്ക്കു അടിസ്ഥാനക്കാരനായ പെ. ബ. പള്ളിപ്പുറത്ത് പാലയ്ക്കല്‍ തോമ്മാ മല്‍പാനച്ചന്റെ വര്‍ത്തമാനങ്ങള്‍' [The Chronicle of the Founder of Our Monastery, V. Rev. Fr. Palackal Thoma Malpan of Pallippuram], ff. 81-128, Book IV of Vol. I of the Chronicles of Mannanam Monastery. Describes the period c. 1785-1841.) and Fr. Porukara, Jr. (titled `പെ. ബ. പോരൂക്കര തോമ്മാ മല്‍പാനച്ചന്‍' [V. Rev. Fr. Porukara Thoma Malpan] and `പെ. ബ. ക. നി. മൂ. സ. ആഹാ കുരിയാക്കോസ് ഏലിയാ ദ് തുഹമ്മാ കന്തീശാ പട്ടക്കാരന്‍' [V. Rev. Fr. Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family, T. O. C. D.], c. 1880) at St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam, India. Reprinted: Karikkamury, Ernakulam, India, 1989. The original language has been modified in both printings.

    6. Leopold Maria Beccaro of St. Joseph, O. C. D.: `A short biography of Fr. Chavara', Mary Immaculate Press, Koonammavu, Kingdom of Travancore, 1872. Reprinted: Mannanam, India, 1970, 2003.

    7. Kanianthara Jacob of Our Lady of Purification, T. O. C. D.: `മാന്നാനത്തെ കൊവെന്തയുണ്ടായ വിവരം' [On the origin of the Monastery at Mannanam] (in Malayalam), MS, ff. 1-14, Book I of Vol. I of the Chronicles at St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam, India. Published: കര്‍മ്മലസന്ദേശം, n. 211, Mar. 2011, pp. 100-111.

    8. Geevarghese Parappuram of St. John the Baptist, T. O. C. D.: `നാളാഗമം' [Chronicle] (in Malayalam), MSS 32/B/17/2112 and 32/B/18/2113, c. 1902-1905 at St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam, India. Unpublished.

    9. Bernard Alenchery of St. Thomas, T. O. C. D.: `മലയാളത്തിലെ കല്‍ദായ-സുറിയാനി റീത്തില്‍ ചേര്‍ന്ന കര്‍മ്മലീത്ത നിഷ്പാദുക മൂന്നാം സഭയുടെ ചരിത്രസംക്ഷേപം (1829-1908)' [Synopsis of the History of the Third Order of Carmelites Discalced of Malayalam of the Chaldæan-Syrian Rite (1829-1908)] (in Malayalam), St. Joseph's Press, Mannanam, Kingdom of Travancore, 1908. Reprinted: Karikkamury, Ernakulam, India, 1989.

    10. I. C. Chacko, Illiparambil: `മാര്‍ ളൂയീസ് പഴേപറമ്പില്‍: ജീവിതവും കാലവും' [Mar Louis Pareparambil: life and times] (in Malayalam), M. M. Varkey, Mookkenchery (Ed.), Trivandrum, Kingdom of Travancore, 1937.

    11. C. J. Varkey, Chunkath: `The Syrian Carmelite Congregation in Malabar', St. Joseph's Press, Mannanam, Kingdom of Travancore, 1944. [A souvenir of the inauguration of College of the Sacred Heart, Thevara, Ernakulam, Kingdom of Cochin, 14 Aug. 1944]

    12. K. C. Chacko, Kadankavil: `Fr. Kuriackos Elias Chavara', St. Joseph's Press, Mannanam, Kerala, India, 1959. Reprinted: 1968, 1986.





    Centre: The main altar at the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram, where the Malpan lies buried (at the right (south); at the left is buried Mgr. Raphael de Figueredo Salgado, Vicar-Apostolic of Verapoly during 1688 - † 12 Oct. 1695); the altar is of remarkably baroque nature and shows European influences. The Pallippuram Church (together with the Church of St. Thomas, Kokkamangalam) is the maternal church of most churches in Northern Travancore and Southern Cochin.

    Left: Altar in honour of St. Thomas the Apostle at the Pallippuram Church, south of the main altar; the Pallippuram Cross was originally enshrined at the circular niche on the top (adorned by two peacock-like birds). Note that there is another statue of St. Thomas the Apostle at the bottom near right of the main altar.

    Right: The ancient Cross at Pallippuram (wood), now enshrined in a monstrance on another brass cross, and exhibited publicly only on special occasions.



    Centre: The façade of the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram, which was built under European influence in the sixteenth century and stands to this day. A replica of the old church was made in the body of the Forane Church of St. Mary, Muttom, Shertallay [Founded: 1023], a daughter church of Pallippuram; the dimensions of the Pallippuram Church were measured from the exterior to build the new church, which would thus be able to contain the old church within. A portrayal of the Pallippuram Church was printed, as suggested by the Vatican, on the menu of the Air India flight which brought Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Montini) to Bombay on the first Papal visit to India, 2-5 December 1964.

    Left: The filial Church of St. Thomas, Mattel Island [മാട്ടേല്‍ തുരുത്തു്], where the Pallippuram Cross floated up from Kokkamangalam.

    Right: The filial Church of the Holy Cross, Kurisupura [കുരിശുപുര / House of the Cross], where the Pallippuram Cross was enshrined before the Forane Church was erected in antiquity.



    Middle Left: The statue of St. Dominic de Guzman, O. P., at the bottom far left of the main altar; the Malpan's notions of a cœnobite order had Dominican nature. During the times when the Seminaries at Pallippuram and Mannanam coëxisted, the students of Pallippuram used to visit Mannanam on special occasions carrying this statue with them.

    Middle Right: Icon of Madonna and the Infant Jesus, at the centre of the main altar; tempera and gold on wood, date and author unknown; believed to be connected with the portraits by St. Luke and to have been brought from Europe; a portrait which is the subject of similar beliefs is at St. Thomas Mount, Madras, India; the pleasant visages and the book in the portrait are notable. The Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram, is one of the oldest Marian shrines in India.

    Far Left: Belled chalice [മണിക്കാസ] at Pallippuram Church.

    Far Right: The Church of St. Thomas, Kokkamangalam [കോക്കമംഗലം], was refounded after eighteen centuries and a half by Mar Louis Pareparambil on 19 Feb. 1900. A replica in stone of the Pallippuram Cross was installed there in 2002, the 1950th anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas the Apostle at the Malabar coast (South-West India).

    A photograph of the statues [of the Madonna, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. George, and St. Sebastian, together with the belled chalice] in the Pallipuram Church can be found at pp. 128-129 of Mgr. Joseph C. Panjikaran: `Christianity in Malabar with special reference to the St. Thomas Christians of the Syro-Malabar Rite', Orientalia Christiana, vol. VI(2) / n. 23, pp. 89-136, April 1926.


    Landscape envisaging the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram (left); the Malpan (centre); Lake Vembanad (centre); and the filial Church of St. Thomas, Mattel Island (right); by Artist Samuel, mural, c. 1997. Entrance, Acharya Palackal Jeevass Kendram, Alwaye, India [Founder: A. Mathias Mundadan, T. O. C. D. (1996)].