Magnificent Legacies

 HORTUS MALABARICUS : A contribution of a Carmelite Fr.Matheus

malabaricus-1-copyHortus Malabaricus (meaning Garden of Malabar) is a comprehensive book that deals with the medicinal plants  and their properties of the flora of 17th century Malabar. This great work  was originally written in Latin.  It was compiled over a period of nearly 30 years by the efforts of the then Governor of Dutch Malabar  Hendrick Van Rheede and published from Amsterdam during 1678-1693.
The Hortus Malabaricus comprises 12 volumes of about 500 pages each, with 794 copper plate engravings. The first of the 12 volumes that comprise the book was published in 1678, and the last in  1693 or  there is a version that  the last volume was published in 1703. It is believed to be the earliest comprehensive printed work on the flora of Asia and the tropics.   Mentioned in these volumes are plants of the Malabar region which in his time referred to the stretch along the Western Ghats from Goa to Kanyakumari. The book gives a detailed account of the flora of Kerala, along with sketches and detailed descriptions. Over 742 different plants and their indigenous science are considered in the book. The book also employs a system of classification based on the traditions adopted by the pre-ayurvedic practitioners of that era. Apart from Latin, the plant names have been recorded in other languages viz. Konkani, Arabic and Malayalam.
In 1663, the Portuguese were defeated by the Dutch in Cochin . The Portuguese , their descendants and the Catholics along with them were forced to flee into interior villages of Malabar  as the Calvinists  Dutch treated them as enemies.  The churches, seminaries, educational institutions , the renowned library in Cochin and the Portuguese buildings were destroyed by the Dutch.  Feroli has given a detailed description of the Dutch vandalism soon after the surrender of the Portuguese.  The religious articles and statues and pictures which were considered sacred by Catholics were all found out and destroyed and the Dutch ordered evacuation of all Catholics from the Dutch occupied areas.malabaricus
It was not possible for Fr.Matheus  to enter to the then Santa Cruz city of  Cochin because of the resistance of the Dutch. He and his colleagues  were forced to stay away from the town in an interior island called Varappuzha. It was during this period the attention of Fr.Matheus was turned to the medicinal plants of the locality and the enthusiasm  in him prompted to study about these plants and he sought the help of local people to identify and  learn the medicinal value of the plants of the locality.
From his initial observations, he prepared  a sketch in Latin about the  medicinal plants found  in the locality and drawn  their pictures  with narrations which was  named  “Virudarem Orientale”  ( means ‘Garden of East’).  From the historical accounts  that is available it is gathered that the  Virudarem Orientale  was originally prepared by Fr.Matheus  in several volumes.  Later Dr. Archaengel Maria of the Carmelite seminary in Longobardy, Rome compiled it together and made one volume in manuscript form and kept at the Pancresius Seminary Archives, Rome.  This can be considered as the  basic document and forerunner of Hortus Malabaricus.
By every probability, it was the scheme of  Van Rheede and Fr.Matheus to seek the help of local people in preparing the  descriptions and recording  the medicinal value of  plants.  It was also practically difficult  to get the real application of each plant unless an experienced local person engaged in the profession of  practicing  medicine certify the medicinal properties and curative properties of each plant and specially the particular portion of the plant  that is useful for treatment of a particular disease and the way it has to be used or applied.  It was in these circumstances  the local Ayurvedic physicians like Ranga Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit ,Appu Bhat and Itti Achuthan  were called to associate with the preparation of the description of plants.
When the work was started it became a necessity for Fr.Matheus to stay close to Cochin town.  The aged Carmelite priest find it an occasion to present before the Dutch Governor  his present requirement of a place to settle close to Cochin.  Van Rheede by then was convinced of the simplicity , gentle nature and intentions of  the congregation of  Fr.Matheus , allowed him to settle  in a place called Chathiath near to Vaduthala, the present northern part of  Ernakulam and also permitted to establish a church there and also at Varappuzha. Van Rheede gave the official permission to build the church engraved on a copper plate.   Thus established the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Chathiath and St.Joseph’s Church, at Varappuzha, in 1673.
 No doubt, Fr.Matheus was the lively spirit behind this ambitious project as based on his sketches each plant was drawn , corrected and perfected.  This aspect  was well recorded by the statement and certificate by Fr.Mathew himself  in the first volume of  Hortus Malabaricus.

 “ You are receiving here, reader friend, the Malabar Garden, in preparing which the noble and generous lord Henry A Rheede did his best, so also John Casearius, solely intend on bringing out  an accurate description of plants which this garden contains; as for me , who have my own part in this work as is evident from the former Foreword……I had done  in describing plants, to which  I could not attend because of my ecclesiastical duties, as indeed those gentlemen desired to be complied, both, and chiefly because of my writings on these plants had come into the hands of these  gentlemen……..Whatever I had collected from long experience about the properties of plants for the advancement of both  public good and also for the advantage of the Order of Indian Society and thus published my work which perhaps would have  otherwise remained obscure, in vain, and imperfect………….The work I had done in exploring the properties of plants, is not lost. Nothing is more in my desire than that those gentlemen may go ahead steadily in compiling the remaining part of  the Malabar Garden, and that they may not detract from further description because of the work. 

Given in the city of Cochin, the 30th day of the month of April of the year 1675.

Most humble servant in Christ

Brother Mathew of St.Joseph,

Discalced Carmelite of the Italian Congregation

Sathyanada Kahalam: Trumpet of the True voice

Sathyanada Kahalam was the first newspaper in Malayalam, a fortnightly that was launched from Koonamavu on October 12, 1876 by the efforts of Fr. Louis Vyppissery, of the Tertiary Carmelite Congregation of Manjummel, and his associates. Even though it was designed by Louis Vyppissery, Italian Missionary, Fr. Candidus, then superior of the Monastery, was designated as its first editor. The 16-page fortnightly featured a wide range of topics, from international affairs to local news and from government orders and court proceedings to mission news. The publishing centre was once shifted to Varapuzha and then to Ernakulam, when it was renamed as Sathyanadam. From 1900 it was issued thrice a month. Four years later it was converted into a weekly. In 1926 a change in format was introduced and the Sathyanadam joined the early ranks of ‘illustrated weeklies’. The fortunes of Kerala’s oldest existing newspaper underwent a change in 1970 when it merged with the Kerala Times, a daily that was inaugurated by its patron, Archbishop Dr. Joseph Attippetty on October 02, 1957. Sathyanadam thus became the Sunday edition of Kerala Times. During the course of its independent existence over slightly less than a century the Sathynadam, with eminent editors like P.C. Varkey, had made notable contributions to Malayalam literature and in the socio-political fields, safeguarding the interests of the Church as it catered to the needs of the entire people of the region as a communication media of great dignity and veracity.  Archbishop Dr. Attippetty had encouraged a band of prominent laymen of the Latin Catholic community in floating a company called the Nirmala Printers for publishing the daily, Kerala Times. When the company found itself unable to run the paper, the Archbishop took it over. He had built a modern complex for the IS Press at Ernakulam, near St. Albert’s College, from where the daily was published until 1999, when it ceased printing.

 St. Joseph’s Hospital, Manjummel

hospSt. Joseph’s Hospital, founded at Manjummel in 1887 under the auspices of the monastery of the Third Order of Discalced Carmelites of the Latin Rite, was the first Catholic hospital in Kerala and the second in the whole of India. Brother Nicholaus Verhooven, who had a degree to work as Assistant Surgeon and had embraced the Carmelite life, along with Brother Isidore D’Costa was in charge of the hospital. Brother Verhooven became famous as a great physician and was held in high esteem by the Maharajah of Travancore and his Government. Droamar, Carmelite drops and Scala were the three well-known medicines developed by Brother Verhooven. The hospital was taken over by the Archbishop of Verapoly during Brother Verhooven’s lifetime itself, but it was left to be managed by one appointed by the Manjummel Carmelite Congregation till 1963. Sisters of Charity were then entrusted with the task of running the hospital. In July 1991, the Provincial Council of the Manjummel Discalced Carmelite Congregation decided to take over the St. Joseph’s Hospital. Archbishop Dr. Cornelius Elanjikal gave back the hospital to Manjummel Province with all its assets and liabilities in March 1992.

First Catholic Translation of the Gospels


 The Old Testament was published with the name in Latin “Compendium Historiae Sacrae”(Sathya Veda Charithra Samgraham) in 1881 by a priest of the Manjummel Monastery. The name of the author is not specifically mentioned on the first page of the Old Testament copy. Instead of the name of the author, it is written “One of the priests in Manjummel Monastery” and this was published form the press of the Archbishop.

In 1905, Four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles was published as Vol. I by Tertiary Carmelite Fathers of Manjummel Monastery. This Volume I, with the name Novum Testamentum was printed in Ernakulam Industrial Press. The Translators’ names are printed in the front page. They were Fr. Louis Maria Vyppissery, Fr. Michael of Holy Family and Fr. Polycarp of St. Anna. This First Volume was translated from the Latin version Vulgata and it is published with commentaries.

The translation of the Book of Revelation into Malayalam was published in the year 1926.



Rev. Fr. Augustine Konnully – The mathematical genius

Many remember Fr Augustine O Konnully as a man of genius. The mathematician who had served as the principal of St Albert’s College in Kochi, was the author of several world famous books, the best being ‘On the Self Polar Tetrahedra of Three Conicoids’. However, back at home, he remained the unassuming mathematician who would go on to create theorems of his own and found the Vector Multipliers, a very important concept regarding high dimensional space.

He would publish several authoritative papers in international journals like American Mathematical Monthly, Journal of London Mathematical Society, Academia Nazionie Dei Lincei (Italy), Beitra Zur Algebra and Geometrie (Germany) and The Journal of the Australian Mathematical Society. He also introduced a new concept in mathematics which holds the name Vector Multipliers. He was also awarded the first Ph. D. in Mathematics from Kerala University, at a time when this was the only university in Kerala.

Konnully, who completed his garduation from St Joseph’s College, Trichy, was mentored by the late Reverend Fr Charles Recine, a great mathematician himself. Konnully spend one year as a teacher at the St Albert’s School and then later joined the college in 1949. He became the principal of the college in 1973 from where he retired. Soon, he was appointed as UGC’s Professor Emeritus for five years. During this time, he spend a lot of his days authoring several books.

Some remark him to have been a man of many ideas which was very evident with the way he carried himself.   “Many of his concepts are beyond our perceptions. This is how brilliant he was as a mathematician. We plan to conduct 32 series lectures on Konnully as part of his year-long centenary celebrations. The first event will be held at St. Albert’s College on his birth anniversary.Konnully spend one year as a teacher at the St Albert’s School and then later joined the college in 1949. He became the principal of the college in 1973 from where he retired. Soon, he would appointed as UGC’s Professor Emeritus for five years.