St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral is located at Kottar, now a suburb of Nagercoil, which was once a very famous commercial centre at that time. It is one of the famous pilgrimage centres in India. It is also one of the oldest Churches in Tamil Nadu.
Next to Goa, where the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier is kept, St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral at Kottar is the famous pilgrimage centre in honour of St. Francis Xavier where peoples from all parts, irrespective of caste, creed, language and religion come to St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral to worship here. Pilgrims come here offer their petitions to St. Xavier or thank him for the already received favour from him. The favour given by St. Xavier in this Church is very powerful that his devotees have given him the proverbial name to address him as "Ketta Varam Tharum Kottaaru Saveriar" meaning "St. Xavier of Kottar, the Grantor of all favours".
Records say that, St. Xavier was canonized and attained sainthood in 1622, but the Church was dedicated to St. Xavier in 1605 itself. Hence the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral at Kottar is the first one in the whole world to be dedicated to St. Xavier.
Kottar, now a small town in the municipality of Nagercoil was one a celebrated commercial and business centre with its own name. Kottar is situated on the banks of the river "Pazhayaru". Here, the river makes a bend and turns towards the south to the sea. "Kottaru" in Tamil means the bend of the river, and hence the name to the town.
During the first century, Ptolemy visited here and gave it the appellation "Metropolis". This town is also mentioned by Periplus in the second century. Kottar consisted of people from many caste and creed. One of them were "Chavalakars" a kin to the "Paravars". St. Francis Xavier came from Goa to teach them and their counterparts in Manappadu area with Christian way of life
Even before the arrival of St. Xavier, Christians were living at Kottar due to the influence of St. Thomas, who had come to Travancore in the first century itself. Until 1602, the Kings of Travancore didn't allow people to construct a Christian Church. They were allowed only to build small temporary churches with thatched roof of palm leaves, bamboos and mud and also only at coastal areas of the fishermen villages.
In 1541, St. Francis Xavier (Francisco do Yesu y Javier), started his journey from Lisbon in Portugal and reached Goa in India in May, 1542. He started his missionary work in Goa and then in October 1542, left to the southern coast to teach the people with Catholic faith. Here he started his missionary work in Manappadu in Tuticorin and later in Kottar and surrounding areas in Travancore. During that time, under the leadership of Captain Vittal Rao, the Viajayanagar army along with the Pandian and Chola armies marched to capture Venad. As the Padagas army reached Kottar, the people panicked and fled from there. St. Xavier who was living in a hut in Kottar at that time, rushed to a elevated area in Vadasery, a place two kilometres from Kottar and stood like a colossus, holding a cross. The Padagas were frightened at this sight and retreated from invasion.
This was highly appreciated by the King, Unni Kerala Varma, who became closer and befriended the priest. As per the Church records, the King allotted him a piece of land at Kottar to construct a Catholic Church.
Since 1544 A.D, where the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral now stands had already a church dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus. St. Xavier prayed at this Church when he stayed at Kottar.
As per the church records, the present day St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral was built in 1600 A.D. In 1552 A.D. St. Francis Xavier passed away. In 1602 A.D., the Travancore Maharaja donated his land in Kottar to Fr. Andreas Pucchario for constructing a Church. In 1603, Fr. Andreas Pucchario constructed the Church with mud and wood, at the place where St. Xavier performed prayers. The church, at that time was called as Trinity Church. In 1605, Fr. Andreas Pucchario dedicated the Church to St. Francis Xavier and then peoples called it as "Saveriar Koil", meaning Xavier Church.
The St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral has a history of over 400 years. Peoples were attracted by the miracles that had taken place at Kottar. Many miracles were referred in the "Bull of Canonization" issued in 1623 A.D., by Pope Urban VIII. One of the miracles is the raising to life of a month old baby which had died. It was carried to cemetery for burial. The parents had faith and promised to name the child as Francis, if it survived. The miracle happened and the child came back to life.
In the beginning of the 17th century, it is said that the offerings brought to this Church was huge, that through which five other churches were also maintained in the nearby areas. But due to wars and other calamities, those five churches got destroyed over the time. But the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral survived since this church was not only protected by the Christians but also by the Hindus.
In 1640 A.D., the Church was reconstructed with stones (Report of the Society of Jesus, 1644).
In 1643 A.D., the sacred relics of St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier were safeguarded here.
In 1752 A.D., the mortal remains of Devasagayam Pillai was buried at St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral .
In 1752 A.D., Fr. Gomes Andreas, the head of the "Society of Jesus", Cochin had sent a report in 1698 A.D., to Fr. Gonzales, the head of the "Society of Jesus", Rome stating that a big church at Kottar was built near the small church with stones.
In 1733 A.D., another report of the Society of Jesus, states "Kottar was a big town. It was the headquarters of all Christian Churches of that area. A big church was there and it was dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, the first foreign missionary to visit Kottar.
In 1865 A.D., the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral was extended on the West, North and South Sides, which looked like a cross. Tiles were replaced with construction of high dome above the main alter. A dome was also constructed at the St. Mary's small church.
In 1876 A.D., Jokin Fernandes, an architect from Kollam designed the main altar in wood. Also the wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier kept in the altar was brought from Goa.
In 19th Century, a mandap was designed and constructed by Architect John Louis Fernandes in the front of the Church with big stone pillars. The mandap represents the Indian culture. After the death of Architect John Louis Fernandes, he was buried in the mandap itself.
One can see many styles of architectures in this St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral .The old church and the vaulting were Romanesque. The extensions and the exterior are Gothic. The stone Mandapam in front is purely Indian. The St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral looks very great with pleasing appearance.
The first Bishop of the Kottar Diocese, Mt. Rev. Lawrence Pereira, was buried in the church on 05.01.1938.
During 1930, the saintly Bishop Aloysius Maria Benziger OCD of Kollam recommended that the Southern part of the Kollam diocese can be bifurcated to form the new diocese of Kottar. On May 30th 1930, Kottar Diocese was formed. St. Xavier's Church, at Kottar was declared as St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral . Msgr. Lawrence Pereira was its first Bishop. The rectory became the residence of the bishop until it is moved to the present lactation
In 1942 A.D., to commemorate the 400th year of St. Xavier's arrival in India, a Tower and the statue of St. Xavier on the top of it and a grotto of St. Lourdes nearby were constructed at the northern side of the Church. It was donated by J.A.D. Victoria of Manapad of Tuticorin Diocese. A small shrine to St. Ignatius who sent him to India, were added to the cathedral premises.
The fourth bishop of Kottar Diocese, Mt. Rev. Leon Dharmaraj, was also buried in the main altar of the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral . In 1956 A.D., when Fr. Barnabas was the priest of St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral , the western, southern and northern sides of the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedralwere extended further. The St. Mary's Church was taken over and became a part of the church.
In commemoration of the silver jubilee celebration of Kottar Diocese, a tall tower was erected on the northern side of the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral and blessed by Mt. Rev. T.R. Agnisamy, Bishop of the Diocese on November 24th, 1956.
The annual feast of St. Francis Xavier is being celebrated every year from November 24 till December 3, with great pomp, show, piety and fanfare. The District Administration declares a public holiday for the Kanyakumari District, on December 3 of every year. Only a few Christian Churches in India gets a local holiday from the Government. On the tenth day celebration, the highlight is the grand Temple Car procession with the statue of Virgin Mary and St. Francis Xavier. Virgin Mary Mother is decorated with Jewels and Ornament. People prostrate before the Temple Car Procession in order to observe their vows and penance. Even Hindus take part with great faith, in this Temple Car Procession, which is of a Hindu custom.
In 7th May 1974, Mt. Rev. T.R. Agnisamy, the second bishop of Kottar Diocese was buried in St. Mary's church.
The church compound wall was extended further on the northwestern side and a new exit gate was opened when Fr. Berchmans was the parish priest of the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral . Also in 2009, Fr. Berchmans constructed a new flag post covered with bronze which was in typical Travancore style. The flag post of St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral is so unique and beautiful that many churches in Kottar, Palayamkottai and Tuticorin Dioceses have converted their flag post to this model. A new tall statue of St. Xavier was erected at the entrance of the church in 2009.
In 2010, Fr. Berchmans brought artisans from Goa and renovated the main altar of the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral . The wooden portions of the main altar, the statue of St. Xavier and wooden portion of St. Mary's Church were covered with gold and now they glitter brightly. In Tamil Nadu nowhere we can see such a beautifully glittering altar and the statue of St. Xavier.
The Mt. Rev. Peter Remigius, the fifth and the present Bishop of the Kottar Diocese and the parish priest of the Cathedral are taking steps for upgrading the St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral to the status of Basilica.
The glory, fame and miracles of this ancient St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral at Kottar are growing day by day and also will grow more in the centuries to come.
The renovation work of St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral at Kottar was started on 09.12.2016 and the renovated Church was dedicated on November 18, 2017 and the function was presided by His Excellency The Bishop of Kottar Fr. Nazarene Soosai. The function was taken as Triple Function (முப்பெரும் விழா),ie. St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral Renovation dedication function, St. Francis Xavier's Completion of 475 years of coming to India and Kottar Church Festival. The function was followed by Holy Supper. When did the name ‘ Kottar ' changed into ‘Nagercoil'?
Kottar is situated in a part of Nagercoil today. But in ancient times, the whole of Nagercoil was called as Kottar, according to the literatures, inscriptions, palm leaf manuscripts and travelogues of foreigners. Kottar was once a big city which flourished in commerce, religion and arts. When Kottar did change its name as Nagercoil?
The travelogue of Pliny, who lived in 1st century A.D and a book of Ptolemy, who lived in 2nd century A.D boasts Kottar's business resources.
The Roman naturalist and writer, Pliney the Elder (who lived in between 23 – 79 A.D.) mentions Kottar as a commercial metropolis, having trade links with his contemporaneous Italian merchants.
Doctor Galdwell, one of the most authoritative Indologists of modern time's mentions, that Ptolemy, a Greek mathematician, astronomer and geographer who lived in Alexandria about 130 A.D., referred Kottar as Kottora Metropolis. This will witness to the fact that Kottar which is now the part of Nagercoil, was in its own right, a trading emporium even prior to the first century A.D.
Thirugnyana sambandhar, who lived in 7th century A.D portrays about the natural beauty, business resources and the specialized art of Kottar in his ‘Thirukkottaaru Padhigam', a part of ‘Dhevaaram'. He starts it with ‘Suchindrum Thalapuraanam', which also mentions the Kottar name reason.
In the literature "Pandi Kovai" of 8th Century, it is mentioned that, Ninraseer nedumaaran, a Pandian king who lived during the period of Thirugnyana Sambandhar invaded Kottar and conquered it. Thus he was called as ‘Kotaaru Azhitha Kon'.
An inscription with the information of Kottar was first found in Kommandaiyamman temple located at Vadasery. This inscription was carved during the 18th ruling year of Rajaraja chozhan, which is in the year of 1003 A.D.
15 of the 19 inscriptions found in Sozhapuram Sozharaja temple call this city's name as 'Thiru Kotaaru' and 'Kottar'. These inscriptions were of the period of Rajendra chozhan, Kulothunga chozhan, Venaattu mannan, Veerakerala varman and Paraakirama pandiyan.
The inscription from Puravaseri Perumal temple of 12th century A.D and from Pudhukkiramam Azhagiya Manavaala Perumal temple of 14th century A.D also calls this city as Kottar. The 12th century inscription found from Thalapathysamuthiram Naaganaadha Swami temple located in the highways of Tirunelveli – Trivandrum highways remarks this highway as "Kotaaru peruvazhi". So this refers that Kottar was a very popular city during the ancient times.
4 of 7 inscriptions found in Vadiveeswaram Azhagamman temple also call this city as Kottar. From the inscriptions carved during the 15-16th century in this temple, we come to know that the place where this temple is built was called as Vadiveeswaram.
The 14th century inscription found in Pudhukkiraamam Manavaala Perumal temple tells about Kottar and the Palace found there.
The 16th century incarnations found in Parakkai and kariyamaanikka puram temples mentions this city as ‘Kotaaraana mummudi chozhapuram'.
In 15th century the palm-leaf manuscript of Azhagiyapaandipuram mudhaliyaar points out this city as ‘Kotaaraana chozha keralapuram'. A total of 12 incarnations were found in Nagaraja temple by the archeologists of Tamilnadu. In which one of the incarnations of 17th century mentions this city as Kottar.
St. Francis Xavier, a Catholic Christian missionary came to Kottar in 1544 A.D and started to do religious charitable works keeping this city as head. In his period too this city has been called as Kottar.
In 18th century A.D, St. Paulinus, a western Christian religious missionary who stayed in Padmanabhapuram palace has praised the significant specialties of Kottar's business and arts. He also has said that people lived in Kottar are excellently ameliorated in music, dance and handicrafts. Dr.Caldwell, who wrote the Dravidian languages' ‘Oppilakkanam', has also included Kottar's greatness in his book.
Williams Tobias Ringeltaube, a protestant Christian Missionary came to Mylaudy in 1806 A.D to continue his missionary works in Travancore. After that Charles Mead came to Mylaudy in the December month of 1817 and continued the work of Williams Tobias Ringeltaube. As Charles found that he can't continue his missionary works in Mylaudy, he changed to Nagercoil in April 1818.
On 24th April 1818, in a letter written by Charles Mead, he has mentioned about Nagercoil. This might be the first record of the newly named city Nagercoil. This letter is included in C.M. Augur's book titled "History of Christians in Travancore" (Page 683-684).
Marry Miller, wife of William Miller who came here to do Missionary works from England stayed here for a period of 5 months and died on 21.01.1828. This information was carved on her grave at the cemetery backside of the Home church. This incarnation notifies this city as Nagercoil and this said to be the first incarnation found representing this city. It has been carved in English and Tamil languages.
After the arrival of Charles Mead, the west side of Nagaraja temple started to develop. After this development, the name Kottar was changed to Nagercoil. Not only was this, a Missionary School, the Home church, a printing press, a college, Missionary office, the Clock Tower also raised. As this place started to get develop, the name Kottar started to diminish and the name Nagercoil started to prevail due to the Nagaraja temple.
Following that in 1891 A.D, the Travancore Government fulfilled an act which brought Nagercoil, Trivandrum, Kollam, Azhapuzha and Kottayam under this act. This was the time where the old name of Kottar city officially got its name as Nagercoil.
Thus it is known that for the first time in history, this whole city was called as Nagercoil in a literature in 1818 and then on the incarnation in grave in 1828. With the help of these evidences we can see that in the early period of 19th century A.D., Kottar became a part of Nagercoil and this entire place is named as Nagercoil.