Arthunkal was the capital of Muthedath
Kingdom, one of the pricipalities of Kerala, during the 16th century. Historians opine differently as to how Arthunkal got
that name.One among them is that it has evolved
from 'Arthhikulangara', the name of the place at that time. Arthhikulangara, in course of time turned 'Arthhikulangal' and
later on, Arthunkal. According to historian
George Schurhammer, the capital of Muthedath was known as 'Muthedathunkal' (at Muthedath) and it changed to 'Edathunkal' and
then Arthunkal. Portuguese Missionaries
landed in Kerala following the arrival of Vasco da Gamma. They visited Muthedath and found so many St Thomas Christians here.
They were not baptized, but their ancestors were. The Jesuit missionaries started their mission in Muthedath and Elayedath(the neighbouring principality). In 1579 A.D.,
the Jesuit priest Manuel Texeira from Goa visited Arthunkal on his way from Kochi to Kollam (Quilon). As on request by the
Christians, he arranged Fr Gasper Pius to be appointed in Arthunkal for their spritual services in 1581.
1560 A.D., the Christians and missionaries had been requesting the Muthedath King for the permission of an oratory, though
the king did not give much attention to. But following the incessant pestering from the Christians and considering the helps
the king had from the missionaries, he granted permission in November, 1581 to construct a church using wood and coconut leaves.
He also granted a few trees from his premises for the purpose. The Christians installed a wooden cross and constructed, with the co-operation of the local Hindus, a church,
where the king had given permission to. On 30th November, the church was consecrated in the name of St Andrew the Apostle.
The first vicar was Fr Gasper Pius S.J. On completion, the king of Muthedath came to visit the church and asked the vicar
to maintain the church suitably to be the House of God. Since then, many Hindus from the neighboring regions came to the church,
prayed to St Andrew and got their appeals fulfilled. In November, 1582, Fr Gasper Pius died of exessive hardwork, hot climate and malnutrition. Another Jesuit priest took
charge of the church, but stayed in Kochi.
On 30th November, 1583, on the feast day of St Andrew, 500 St
Thomas Christians were baptized. They were later known as 'Anjootikkar' (The Five Hundred People). A nair knigt with his 20
soldiers embraced Christianity on the same day, in presence of the King of Muthedath.In 1584 A.D., Fr Jacomo Fenicio S.J. was appointed vicar of Arthunkal. He started
the construction of a new church in stone and lime, with permission of the King, and completed it in 7 years. After Fr Fenicio
was transferred to Kozhikode, eight priests took charge in succession. Fr Fenicio was appointed again in 1619, and in the next year, he reconstructed the church. He
was much loved and was considered a holy man by the people and the administrators. People called him saint and 'Veluthachan',
meaning white father. 'Veluthachan' later became the popular name of St Sebastian. Fr Fenicio said to have performed lots
of miracles while he was still alive. Even Hindus believed in the power of his prayers and approached him for his blessings.
He was known as the second Apostle of the east and died in 1632. Huge was the crowd including kings flowed in, to pay him
the final tribute. His body was buried inside the church and people used to pray and light candles there. The tomb is still
preserved near the altar of the old church.
Fr Fonsaco, who took charge after Fr Fenicio, reconstructed the
church in 1640 with the elevation facing west. It is during his time, that the Miraculous statue of St Sebastian reached from
Milan. In the fall of 18th century, the church was taken charge by Carmelite missionaries. During their service or rather
on 29 November, 1829, Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias was ordained by Rt Rev. Dr Staballini, the then bishop of Verapoly who
was residing at Arthunkal Church.
In the second half of the 19th century, Fr Gasper Bylon de Mariatoris Kaithavalappil
was appointed vicar, to be the first local priest to take charge of Arthunkal Church. During the vicarship of Fr Vincent Das
Navis, in 1910, foundation stone for the present new church was laid. Fr Sebastian Presentation who was considered a holy priest, Msgr Silvarius Jackson who later
became the first Vicar General of the diocese of Alappuzha and Msgr Daniel Kurisunkal who completed the construction of the
present church, were the successors. Msgr Daniel Kurisunkal was followed by Msgr Peter Karumancherry, Msgr Andrew P. Thekkeveedu,
Rev. Dr Dominic Koilparambil, Rev. Fr Paul Arackal and Rev Fr Marian Jose Pereira.
The present Vicar Forane is Rev. Fr Pius Arattukulam
assisted by Rev. Fr Titus Chullickal, Rev. Fr Sebastian Sasthamparampil, and Rev Fr Joseph Jenesius Saiza. Rev. Fr Gasper
Koilparampil is the Parish Priest of Little Flower Church Ayirakthai. Rev Fr Raju Kalathil is in charge of St Rita's Chapel. St Andrew's Church, Arthunkal is one of the biggest pilgrimage
centres of Kerala. Though the church is in the name of St Andrew, it is the St Sebastian's feast, that has brought fame to
Arthunkal. The feast attracts tens of thousands of deists from all parts of Kerala and from the neighbouring states of Tamilnadu
and Karnataka. Every year, the feast gets off to a colourful start on the 10th January to the accompaniment of native music
and fireworks. The main feast is celebrated on the 20th January, when the statue of the saint is taken in procession. The
octave is on the 27th January. It is for the main feast that most of the pilgrims come. The Octave is considered the feast
of the local people
In good old days, most of the pilgrims used to come walking along the coast. Those from the
eastern regions used to come in country boats up to Chertala or Alappuzha and walk from there. The people of Arthunkal used
to arrange local accommodation for the pilgrims in their compounds, as most pilgrims used to spend one day or two in Arthunkal
after their long journey. This used to give rise to a community life spread across the whole village.
Now, with modern
means of communication, the pilgrim class that come walking has practically disappeared. But there are many who still choose
to trek the whole distance to the church as an act of special deism.