Historical Background of St. Lawrence Basilica, Attur-Karkala
By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network
Karkal, 26 Jul 2016: Following the declaration by Pope Francis elevating the shrine of St. Lawrence at Attur-Karkala to the status of Minor Basilica on 26 April 2016, preparations are underway for the Proclamation and Dedication of this shrine as Minor Basilica on 1 August 2016 in the presence of Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious men and women and a large number of devotees of St. Lawrence. With this mega event, the pilgrimage centre will be viewed in the new light as Minor Basilica. As the Diocese of Udupi has woken up to the unique occasion, and the diocesan authorities have been putting in all their energies and skills in making this event a great success, it would be appropriate to highlight on the historical background of St. Lawrence Basilica.
About St. Lawrence:
St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr of the Holy Catholic Church, has been venerated by his devotees and pilgrims flocking to his Shrine at Attur-Karkala numbering over a million every year. The fame of the Shrine, which is spread far and wide, more for the miraculous powers of the Statue of St. Lawrence, having its own history, has always been the centre of attraction, devotion and veneration. The history of this devotion is not a myth but based on the facts of the life of this great but simple and humble Servant of God, who was privileged to live and die a martyr.
St. Lawrence was born in 225 in Spain and was martyred on 10 August 258 in Rome. He was one of seven deacons who were in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. When a persecution of Christian broke out in Rome under the Roman Emperor Valerian, Pope Sixtus II was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, "Father, where are you going without your deacon?" he said. "I am not leaving you, my son," answered the Pope. "In three days you will follow me."
A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum.
When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”
Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”
The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “It is well done. Turn me over I’m done on this side!" And just before he died, he said, "It’s cooked enough now." Then he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic Faith might spread all over the world. After that, he went to receive the martyr’s reward. The feast day of St. Lawrence is observed on 10 August every year.
The Shrine of St. Lawrence at Attur-Karkala in the Diocese of Udupi is situated on the outskirts of Karkala town in Karnataka State. Placed amidst placid greenery, the Attur Parish and Shrine have a rich history with its origin tracing back to 1759. Moreover, it is known for its miraculous origin. Miracles, history, beauty, devotion, faith and social activities are all bound into one in this holy campus.
According to regional history, Christians in Karkala too had to face the brunt of persecution from the ruler of Mysore, Tippu Sultan (1780-1799) who took many Christians as captives to Seringapatam, the capital of his kingdom. Many of these Christians were forced to convert to Islam. Others were held as captives who were treated as slaves and were forced to do hard labour, tortured and even killed.
Following the death of Tippu Sultan in the battle with the British forces in 1799, a large number of the surviving captives returned to their respective places to build houses for themselves, their churches and their faith. The Parish Church in Karkala in those days was about 7 kilometres away from the present site which was earlier destroyed by Tipu Sultan. Those captives who returned from Seringapatam put up a small church building of thatched roof on the way to Nakre in 1801 under the leadership of a Goan priest.
Origin of the present Church and Shrine:
The Church at Nakre was too old for religious functions. Hence, the parishioners and their Goan parish priest were on the lookout for a proper location to build a new church. They carried with them the Statue of St Lawrence, one foot in height. On the way they went on praying to him to help them select a suitable site to put up a church in his honour. They crossed the Ramasamudra lake of Karkala, went up the Parpale Hill and came down on the western side. They found a spring flowing at the foot of the hill. As they were thirsty and tired, they placed the statue of St. Lawrence on the ground and quenched their thirst with the pure spring water and rested there.
Miraculous Statue of St. Lawrence
After sometime, they decided to continue their search for a suitable place. However, when they tried to lift the statue of St Lawrence, it would not move as if it was rooted firmly in the ground. On seeing this, the priest exclaimed: “Oh St. Lawrence, if you have selected this place, we will build the church in your honour in this very place”. Only after this promise the priest was able to lift the statue from the ground.
The Goan priest and the parishioners built a small church in the same site 1839. Gradually, this church turned out to be a centre of pilgrimage attracting people of all faiths. Devotees began to arrive from the surrounding places. Many favours were received by them through the intercession of St. Lawrence. The miraculous statue of St. Lawrence became a holy statue for veneration and the place gradually developed and was declared by the church as a Shrine.
As the Shrine began to develop as a pilgrim centre, pilgrims, irrespective of their faiths and castes began to visit the Shrine to pay their respects and fulfil their vows to St. Lawrence throughout the year because they believed that St. Lawrence was not only a powerful intercessor before God, but also a dispenser of favours and blessings. Today, the people of Attur-Karkala as well as devotees and pilgrims from far and near flock to the Shrine of St. Lawrence, in season and out of season, for the sole reason that St. Lawrence would fulfil their aspirations.
New Church Building in Memory of the Bicentenary:
Rev. Fr. Joswey Fernandes who took charge of St. Lawrence Shrine as the parish priest from 1993 to 2001 can be regarded as the pioneer of the expansion of the shrine. Many people who had visited the Attur Church prior to 1994 may still remember the narrow passage that existed between the massive hill and the old church building. As the devotion to St. Lawrence was expanding it was increasingly becoming difficult to accommodate in the church and the passages outside the multituds of pilgrims especially during the annual feast of the saint during the fourth week of January. Taking advantage of the rush and darkness, unscrupulous robbers used to deprive the people of their belongings and valuables.
Old Shrine of St. Lawrence
With the permission from Bishop of Mangalore Most Rev. Dr. Aloysius D’Souza, Fr. Joswey undertook the task of widening of the outer space. The work was temporarily halted during the rainy season. However, in 1994, a massive landslide with a huge amount of mud nearly buried the extended asbestos portico in front of the church. It took quite an effort, huge amount of labour and money to clear the mud. The Karnataka State Government sanctioned Rs.10 lacs for this work. People from different parishes volunteered to help in removing the mud. Even non-Catholic brothers joined in this task.
New Facade and additional Structure
Realizing the need to have additional space within the church, Fr. Joswey thought of restructuring the front portion of the old church and extending it further with aluminium sheet-roof and a magnificent and architecturally beautiful facade in front of the new structure, thus retaining the old church building with its facade. The new facade of the church was inaugurated by Bishop Basil D’Souza in January 1996. Fr. Joswey’s responsibilities did not end with the extension and new facade of the church. As fate would have it, in 1997, once again another massive landslide knocked down the extended aluminium roof and pillars causing huge damage to the structure. However, luckily the facades of both the old and new church-buildings were miraculously spared.
Fr. Joswey Fernandes
After clearing the debris of the landslide, the task of rebuilding the structure began once again in 1998. This time, the roof of the old church was extended up to the facade of the new church. In this process the facade of the old church had to be removed. The work of restructuring of the entire church complex was completed in 2001. Fr. Joswey also beautified the Miraculous Lake-Pushkarini with granite stones and provided steps up to the level of the water in the lake. Two massive gates for entrance and exit in front of the church, a new Grotto and the relic stand were also constructed due to the efforts of Fr. Joswey Fernandes.
The inauguration of the new church complex and the bicentenary celebrations of the foundation of the St. Lawrence Church at Attur were simultaneously held on the occasion of the annual feast in the last week of January, 2001. Bishop Aloysius D’Souza blessed and inaugurated the new church building.
Further developmental work in St. Lawrence Shrine was undertaken by Rev. Fr. George D’Souza who is the present Rector of the shrine since 2013. He undertook the task of further extending the space between the church complex and the hill by drastically cutting down the edge of the remaining hill thus providing considerably vast space for accommodating the pilgrims during the annual feast. In order to make provision of boarding and lodging for the pilgrims coming from distant places, Fr. George has undertaken the construction of a Pilgrim Centre (Yatri Nivas).
Fr. George D’Souza
Priests who served St. Lawrence Shrine:
Several diocesan priests have dedicated themselves to build, promote and spread the devotion to St. Lawrence since 1759. The number of priests having served the St Lawrence Church and Shrine is 37, the first being Rev. Fr. Francis Salvadore Lobo de Serel (1759-1775). Rev. Fr. George D’Souza is the present parish priest and Rector of the Shrine. There have also been Spiritual Coadjutors and Assistant Parish Priests. Being custodians of the holy Shrine, they have been instrumental in the steady growth of the Shrine. The Shrine has been well-patronized and continues to attract pilgrims year after year. The phenomenon is indeed a miracle of St Lawrence.
Annual Feast of the Shrine:
The large number of pilgrims visiting the holy Shrine every day, especially during the Annual Feast celebrated in the last week of January, which crosses over twelve hundred thousand (12 lakh as per 2015 records) and over a million throughout the year is a vivid testimony that Saint Lawrence does heed the petitions of everyone who approaches him with trust.
As the devotion to St. Lawrence grew day by day and since there was no possibility to communicate through the media, especially for the people who were far away from Attur-Karkala, it was agreed to celebrate the annual feast on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the last week in January so that devotees from far and near could visit Attur to celebrate the annual feast. This tradition has been kept up faithfully by the Shrine every year.
The annual feast, popularly known as ‘Karlada Santmari’ has been a special occasion for the families of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi Districts as well as from other regions. Prior to the development of modern transport, devotees used to walk all the way to the shrine or travel in bullock carts. With the improved transport system the number of pilgrims visiting the shrine during the annual feast has been increasing year by year.
The Church and Shrine have been treated as centres of peace, tranquillity, prayer, devotion and communal harmony. This was evident in 1994 and 1997 when, due to heavy rain, there was a landslide around the Parpale Hill and, as a result, the metallic pandal in front of the old church was damaged. The heap of mud also blocked the flow of water from the hill. This would have resulted in heavy damage to the church but devotees of all faiths from around Karkala and Attur rushed to the Shrine and cleared the large heap of mud, making way for the smooth passage of water.
In 2001 when the new Church was built as a memorial of the bi-centenary celebrations, a ninety feet high twin belfry was constructed based on Christian, Hindu and Muslim architecture which has been highly appreciated as a beautiful symbol of communal harmony in the Shrine. During Christmas season every year Inter-Religious get-together is held in which prominent religious leaders of different faiths are invited to address the gathering and promote communal harmony. This get-together is well appreciated and highlighted prominently in the local newspapers.
Preparation for Dedication as Basilica
After the establishment of the new Diocese of Udupi, the holy Shrine of St. Lawrence has become a part of the spiritual heritage of Udupi District. This holy Shrine of St. Lawrence at Attur-Karkala was elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica by Pope Francis on 26 April 2016. The public proclamation and dedication of the same will take place on 1 August 2016.