Historical Overview

The Archdiocese of Verapoly was originally known as the Vicariate of Malabar. It has its origin in 1659, with the arrival of Carmelite Missionaries, most prominent among whom was Father Joseph of St. Mary, better known as Joseph Sebastiani. They had been deputed under Father Hyacinth as Apostolic Commissar, by Pope Alexander VII to effect a reconciliation of St. Thomas Christians of the Syro-Chaldaic Rite, who had seceded from their Archbishop Francis Garcia S.J. The majority of them had in 1653 revolted against the Archbishop and forsaking his authority by taking an oath for the purpose at the foot of a cross-thereafter called the “Coonen Cross” situated in Mattancherry, had made their own Archdeacon the Archbishop. By the efforts of Sebastiani a large number of seceders were brought back to the true fold. Nevertheless, they refused to be under the authority of their lawful Archbishop or under any prelate of the Jesuit Order known as the “Paulists”.pan

Rome, being informed of the situation by Sebastiani in person, decided to entrust the Carmelites with the spiritual care of the Syro-Chaldaic Rite. For this purpose the Vicariate of Malabar was erected by Pope Alexander VII on 3 December 1659. Sebastiani was consecrated Titular Bishop of Hierapolis on 15 December 1659 and sent back to Malabar, with the title of Vicar Apostolic and Administrator of the Archbishopric of Cranganore. The new Vicariate eventually established its headquarters in the island of Verapoly.

The conquest of Portuguese territories in Malabar and especially of Cochin in 1663 by the Dutch and the consequent expulsion of all Catholic Missionaries from the territories occupied by the Dutch and elsewhere, threatened the very existence of the Malabar Vicariate. Nevertheless, it survived under the Indian Prelate Parambil Chandy (Alexander de Campo) whom Sebastiani had consecrated as his successor before he left Malabar in 1663. Before long Carmelites were allowed to resume their ministration which was by then extended also to the Catholics of the Latin Church who were under Portuguese protection.

On 13 March 1709 by a Brief of Pope Clement XI Malabar Vicariate was suppressed and the Vicariate of Verapoly took its place with Bishop Angelo Francisco as its first Vicar Apostolic.

By the Brief “Multa Praeclara” of Pope Gregory XVI, dated 24 April 1838, the Sees of Cranganore and Cochin which at that time included also Quilon, were annexed to the Vicariate of Verapoly which thus came to comprise the whole of Malabar. However in 1845, Quilon was severed from Verapoly as a Suffragan Vicariate.

When by the famous Apostolic Letter “Humanae Salutis Auctor” of Leo XIII dated 1 September 1886, the Hierarchy of India was established, the Vicariate of Verapoly was raised to the status of an Archdiocese with the Most Rev. Dr. Leonard Mellano of St. Louis O.C.D. as its first Archbishop who was the 17th in the line of the Vicars Apostolic.

Along with this in 1886 the diocese of Cochin was resuscitated and reconstituted with 34 Latin Churches taken from the Archdiocese of Verapoly and the “Diocese of Quilon.”

On 19 March 1887 the Catholics of the Syrian Rite were separated from the Archdiocese of Verapoly and placed under an Administrator Dr. Marceline Berardi of St. Teresa OCD, who was consecrated Co-adjutor to Archbishop Mellano. By brief “Quod Jam Pridem” of Pope Leo XIII dated 20 May 1887, the Syrians were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Verapoly and the two Vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam were erected with Dr.Adolpus E. Medlycott and Dr.Charles Lavigne as their Vicars Apostolic. Thus the Archdiocese of Verapoly came to consist exclusively of Latin Catholics.