St. Anthony of Padua also known as Anthony of Lisbon was a Portuguese Catholic priest of the Franciscan order. Born in 1195 to a wealthy family in Lisbon (Portugal) he dedicated his life to the service of the poor and downtrodden. He left all the wealth his family had and completely gave himself to Christ. He is known for his forceful preaching and expert knowledge of scriptures. His faith in Infant Jesus was so immense that Infant Jesus descended on St. Anthony’s hands. St. Anthony performed several miracles during his lifetime helping many in need. He died on 13 June 1231 in Padua (Italy) at a very young age. 13th June is celebrated as St. Anthony’s feast across the world.
Though born in Lisbon, Portugal his priesthood life was spent in Padua, Italy. Owing to this reason his nativity is referred to Padua rather than Lisbon. He was one of the most quickly canonized saints in Catholic history. Vatican has proclaimed St. Anthony as the “Doctor of the Church”. He is also the patron saint of finding things or lost people.
One of the most revered saints in Tamilnadu is “St. Anthony of Padua”. We can come across several churches dedicated to St. Anthony who is believed to hear our prayers and bless us. St. Anthony’s churches in Broadway & Pudupet (both in Chennai), Kamuthy, Uvari, Puliampatti are some of the prominent ones in Tamilnadu. No wonder many Catholics in this state are named after St. Anthony (Anthony, Antony, Anton, Anto etc.).
St. Anthony’s influence on Paravars
Paravars across Muthukulithurai have great reverence for Saint Anthony. Most of the Paravar villages have a church dedicated to St. Anthony. Alexander Sir has many times written about the famous St. Anthony’s church in Kamuthy. The feast of St. Anthony in Kamuthy is celebrated by people of all religion with much fanfare.
In Uvari the church of St. Anthony is home to an ancient wooden statue. Legend says that the crew of a Portuguese ship which sailed near Uvari about 450 years ago contracted cholera. The ship’s carpenter carved an image of St. Anthony from a block of wood and prayed for help. Everyone in the ship was immediately healed and the entire crew regained its health. When the ship docked at Uvari, the sailors placed the statue inside a hut in the village. The church in Uvari was upgraded to a Shrine. St Anthony is said to perform many miracles daily, and this church is visited by pilgrims from all over southern Tamilnadu.
St. Anthony’s church, Puliampatti
Let’s look at one of the famous churches of St. Anthony in Puliampatti (Tuticorin District). Located at a distance of around 23 kms from Palayamkottai and 45 kms from Tuticorin, this church falls under the Palayamkottai Diocese. St. Anthony’s Shrine is the earliest shrine in the Diocese of Palayamkottai.
The history of the shrine starts with a miracle done in mid 17th century by St. Anthony to a local man named Thommai. He was a devout catholic and used to visit another village called “Santhai Pettai” where a small church had been built in honour of St. Francis Xavier. This church is located in the place where St. Francis Xavier is believed to have stayed for a while during his travel in the Muthukulithurai region. We have previously seen how St. Francis Xavier had travelled from Kanyakumari to Vembar covering all coastal villages.
Thommai had 12 sons and 1 daughter, unfortunately all his eleven sons died one after another at a very young age. The last son survived along with the daughter. The girl grew up and she got married but her husband died within 15 days of their marriage. Thommai’s only son was attacked with measles and he felt very sad thinking about his family. One day St. Anthony made an appearance to Thommai and asked him to build a church. Immediately Thommai put all his efforts to build this church in honour of St. Anthony. At the same time he saw his son recovering from the deadly measles.
Being a poor man Thommai could not raise enough money to build a church. Again St. Anthony appeared before Thommai and asked him to approach the landlord of Maniachi (current town of Maniachi). When Thommai met the landlord, the landlord said that he too had a dream wherein he was instructed to donate land to build a church. Acquiring the land at Puliampatti, Thommai started the construction work of the church. He brought the beautiful wooden statue of St. Anthony from Santhai Pettai (Francis Xavier’s church) and placed it in the new church. Though the church was very small in size roofed with hay, miracles started happening to all who came to pray to St. Anthony.
Today people irrespective of caste, creed and religion flock to this church of St. Anthony at Puliampatti. On the 15th of February 1954, Puliampatti was created as a new Parish with Rev. Fr. A. Mariadoss as its first parish priest. By his earnest effort the small shrine was elevated to a bigger one and reopened by the then Arch Bishop J. P. Leonard SJ on the 13th June, 1961.
Many miracles take place in this church at Puliampatti. People possessed by evil spirits are taken to this church so that they are healed. Many diseases are cured and lost items are recovered after visiting this church.
St. Anthony’s church at Puliampatti, unlike the churches started by St. Francis Xavier develops its roots to Santhai Pettai where St. Francis Xavier came. Paravars from Tuticorin and many other villages visit this holy shrine frequently. Transportation facility is not quite good but buses run from Tuticorin at fixed timings. Please do visit this church and get the blessings of St. Anthony.
By Anton Niresh