The History of Shirva Parish:
A curious and interesting history lies behind the origin and spread of Christianity in Shirva. As required documents are not available, it is difficult to write it elaborately. With the help of the few records available and with the prevalent tradition it has been possible to shed lights on a few topics.
Origin of Christianity in Shirva:
It is not possible to tell exactly when Christianity originated in Shirva. But it is commonly believed that it spread here during the period from 1534 to 1600 when Christianity spread in the west coastal districts of South Kanara and North Kanara.
Churches in Shirva:
The traditions confirm that Churches were founded here a few centuries back. It is certain that till 1911 two churches existed here, one upper church and the lower Church. We cannot tell definitely which of them was built earlier, but it is certain that the lower Church named N. S. de Saude Church was built earlier than the other. Tradition says that this church was located in Kodi near the 6th milestone on Shirva Katapady Road. Nayaks of Bidanore, specially during the days of Venkappa Nayak (1586-1630) brought the whole of west coast under their jurisdiction and laid solid foundation for a strong government. As Christians were good agriculturists the Nayaks encouraged them in their territory. This resulted in the spread of Christianity from the coastal area to the interland and in the erection of number of churches. It can be guessed that the Church at kodi was constructed at this period.
Another tradition says that a Church existed Mannettu a border of Shirva and Kuthyar village at the end of the 17th century. It is also believed that a Bishop passed away there and was buried and whose remains were taken away to some other place later.
When we paid a visit to this place the owner of the land showed us the remnants of a building destroyed centuries back and told us that the Church existed there. His ancestors had told him that the Church was destroyed by Tippu Sultan. One can still see the remnants of the walls. They were hidden by the plants and creepers. There is a field in front of it which does not yield anything inspite of best efforts of cultivation.
The owner of the plot also showed us a stone, which was about six feet in length and height and said that it was called Marystone. We could not see any carvings of Mother Mary or of others inspite of our minute observation. We do not know why this stone was called Marystone, but it is certain that it was one of the ruins of the Church.
Destruction of the Churches:
It was the time when Tippu was ruling Mysore. He suspects that the Canara Christians were helping the British in their battle with him. From 1783 to 1785 thousands of Christians of Mangalore and nearly places were massacred. Tippu’s soldiers destroyed Church after Church, which were dearer to the hearts of the Christians than their own lives. Tippu’s wrath fell on Shirva also and both the Churches at Kodi and Mannettu were leveled to the ground.
Reconstruction of the Churches:
After Tippu’s death in 1799 Canara Christians began to reconstruct the Churches. Before 1815 as many 23 Churches, including four in Mulki Varado, were rebuilt. Before Tippu destroyed the churches, there were four churches including the Saudi Church of Shirva in Mulki Varado. It is learnt that four Churches were rebuilt in Mulki Varado before 1815. It is presumed that Saude Church of Shirva was also rebuilt before this period. It was rebuilt not in the original place Kodi but about a few meters from the present Mahalaxmi Narayani Temple. At that time the temple did not exist there. Even now this area is called as Old Church area.
The upper Church, dedicated to St. Francis Xavier was built in 1859 by Fr. Joachim Borges. It was located in a place where the present cemetery exists.
The place where the lower church of N. S. De Saude was built was a gift from a well-to do Bunt family. The ancestors of late Chandayya Hegde’s famous Kodu House hold had no girl child in their family. It may be recalled that at this time Bunts followed Aliya Santhana Kattu where only women could be the owners of the land. They offered to donate a piece of land to the Saude Church if a girl child was born in their family. God heard their prayer made through Our Lady of Health and blessed them with a girl child. The Kodu Bunt family was thrilled and donated the land willingly as they had promised.
The Church authorities of Saude Church used to honour this Bunt family every year on the occasion of the parish feast. Fr. Gregory I. G. D’Souza stopped this practice.
Between 1831 and 1886 there existed a friction between The Bishops of Goa and Verapoly regarding the spiritual jurisdiction over the people. As in other parts of the district Shirva was not an exception. While the lower church of N. S. De Saude owed allegiance to the Bishop of Goa, the upper Church of St. Francis Xavier supported the Bishop of Verapoly. The people of both these churches tried their best to win the supporters to their side. The fact that for a long time the people of the same religion fought with each other regarding the spiritual jurisdiction of the two bishops was really sad.
The Parish Priests:
According to the records available Fr. H. S. Mirande was the parish priest of the lower church from 1872 to 1876. He was succeeded by Fr. Francis Xavier Alemco from 1879 to 1901 Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes worked as the parish priest. At this time there were no churches in Belle, Shankerapura and Mudarangadi. The people of these places had to come to Shirva to take part in the holy mass and to fulfill the other religious obligations. Fr. Gregory Anthony Menezes built a Chapel at Belle and arranged Sunday Mass there. In 1901 Fr. B. S. Furtado took charge as the parish priest. Fr.Gregory I. G. D’Souza who succeeded him in 1906 strove hard for the unification of the two churches.
It is already mentioned that Fr. Joachim Borger was the parish priest of the upper Church. It was he who built the Church there. Fr. Louis Noronha was the parish priest for two years from 1872. He built the parochial house. Fr. Manuel D’Souza who came in 1882 added sacristy to the Church. Then came Fr. Nicholas Cornero in 1885 and worked here till 1904. He was highly esteemed and influential and was able to get for the church many acres of land from the government free of cost. It was he who learned about 30 acres of land in Kadikambla to late Pascal Prabhu (Nazareth) and many acres of land in Kadra Hithlu (the present Majalbet ward) on moolageni. Beside he purchases a vast stretch of land for the Church.
He had to face many problems during the later part of his tenure. Fr. Rosario Lewes who came here in 1904 was instrumental in starting a post office and a weekly market (shandy) in Shirva. He also worked hard for the unification of the two Churches.
Amalgamation of the two parishes:
In 1906 Fr. Casmir Fernandes succeeded Fr. Rosario Lewes as the parish priest of the upper church. At that time Fr. Gregory J. G. D’Souza was the P.P of the lower Church. Both Fr. D’Souza and Fr. Fernandes were broad minded and could not tolerate the parishioners of the two churches which were only two furlongs (half a Kilometer) apart living like arch rivals. So they determined to work for the unification and succeeded in their efforts.
The people of the both the Churches held a general body meeting (zuntha) on 15th September 1910 under the presidentship of V. Rev. Fr. Sebastian Noronha, the Vicar of Kallianpur. At the meeting good council prevailed upon both the groups. As a result the historical resolution of unification was passes unanimously. According to this resolution both the Churches should be destroyed and a new grand church should be built in a neutral place. It was also decided that N. S. De Saudi (Our Lady of Health) should be the main patroness and St. Francis Xavier the second patron. Feast of Our Lady of Health was to be observed as the parish feast. The feast of St. Francis Xavier also was to be celebrated in the first week of December.
It was feared that the people might change their mind, so the location of the proposed Church was identified that day itself and a cross was erected there.
On 02-10-1910 Bishop of Mangalore published a decree. According to this decree the Chapel at Belle under the jurisdiction of the lower church was made a separate parish. Fr. Casmir D’Souza of the upper church was appointed first parish priest of the newly created Belle parish. Fr. Gregory D’Souza of the lower Church was made the first parish priest of the unified Church.
Construction of the new Church:
The efforts of the unification of the two Churches bore fruits but a difficult task lay ahead. That was the construction of the new grand Church. But people had faith in Fr. Gregory D’Souza’s ability and his leadership in accomplishing their dream.
Fr. Gregory D’Souza was well built and was very brave and was noted for his adventurous deeds. In those days people of Shirva were poor but they were Co-operative. Fr. Gregory D’Souza began to construct the church believing in god’s providence.
On 09-11-1911 Bp. Paul Perini, the Bishop of Mangalore blessed the corner stone and laid the foundation for the new Church. Shri Mathias D’silva of Katapady Zenagudde, who had the experience of building churches, was appointed the chief mason. The laterite stones for the church were taken from the pit, which was near the present St. Mary’s High school. The stones were so big that two strong persons were needed to lift them.
People had to make a great sacrifice and had to face many difficulties. Each family had to make shramadhan (voluntary work) fifty times besides contributing their mite. Each family gave their donation quite willingly and did the shramdhan with enthusiasm. Fr. Gregory D’Souza worked with the people and supervised the construction work. He used to climb the high walls and walk on the horizontal iron rods. This reveals his courage.
The Church was completed in February 1915. On 9th of February Bp. Paul Perini, Bishop of Mangalore blessed the Church and inaugurated it. The people as well as Fr. D’Souza were quite tired after toiling for 3 years and 3 months. But when they entered the Church they forgot their tiredness and were thankful to God and shed tears of joy. The same evening people assembled in the Church compound, sang folk songs and danced in happiness.
Fr. Gregory D’Souza started primary schools in Shankerpura and Mudarangadi and upgraded the Church primary school at Shirva to higher primary School. On 06-07-1919 Fr. Gregory D’Souza was transferred to Pejavara, and Fr. Monthu Menezes came in his place.
Fr. Monthu Menezes built the buildings for Mudarangadi and Pilar schools and constructed a Chapel at Pangala with St. John the Evangelist as the patron. On 14th April 1922, Fr. H. Gonsalves, who later became the Maker of Modern Shirva, came as an assistant. This was Fr. Gonsalves first assignment. After two years Fr. Gonsalves was transferred to Pangala. Fr. Monthu Menezes worked here for 10 years. Thottam became his next parish.
Fr.Reginald Pinto succeeded Fr. M. Menezes Fr. Pinto constructed the beautiful main alter donated by St. Mary’s club Byculla Mumbai and a fine pulpit donated by St. Joseph’s club, Sankli Street, Mumbai. He also installed new church bell donated by St Joseph’s club, Matharpakdi, Mumbai. Fr. Pinto was later transferred to Fr. Muller’s Hospital as the Director.
Loan and Repayment:
The Church had to take loan in order to do the above-mentioned developments. To repay the loan some land near the lower church was mortgaged to Late John Fernandes for Rs 2000/- and some land in Manchakal was mortgaged to Mr.Francis Barboza for Rs 2862. A few generous also helped to repay the loan.
In Shirva one can find many specialities. One of them is that there no tombs inside church like other old church. In other places one can see white patches inside the church. Here not a single white patch can be seen Holy place is kept as holy. The credit goes to our ancestors and to the priest who built this church. According to the resolution made no one should be buried inside the church. This is really appreciable.
Black Spot on a White Cloth:
Our narration will be incomplete if we don’t mention the event that had happened and should not take place in history of churches in South Kanara. Before his transfer in 1933. Fr. Reginald Pinto had handed over the management of Don Bosco’s Hr. Pr. School, Shirva, and St. Joseph’s Pry. School Pilarkhana and St. Francis School in Mudarangadi to the newly formed The Catholic Board of Education, Mangalore without informing the people. When Fr. James Sequiera who succeeded Fr. Pinto brought this to the notice of the people, they were completely upset. They sent representatives to the Bishop to request him to return the management to the local Church. But when their mission failed the whole of Shirva except four persons condemned Fr. Reginald Pinto’s action. The flame of their hatred was burning secretly under the ashes. At this stage the Bishop transferred Fr. James Sequiera to some other parish. When the people came to know that Fr. Sequiera’s transfer their anger knew no bounds. The following Sunday after the first Mass the people sent the priest out of the church, closed all the doors and took forcibly the keys of the sacristy. This news spread like wild fire. A horrible event had taken place. Bp Fernandes was camping at Moodabidri then. As soon as he received the news he was shocked. At once he sent Fr. Gregory D’Souza who was in Pejavara to Shirva. Fr. Gregory D’Souza held a meeting of gurkars and important persons. He requested them to be calm and handover him the keys of sacristy. But people did not hear his earnest request. Then Bishop turned to Fr. Gonsalves who was bold and quite young. The Bishop asked Fr. Gonsalves to go to Shirva and help Fr. Gregory D’Souza. One Thursday Fr. Gonsalves came to Shirva with a police Sub inspector. Five days passed since the closure of the Church. He encouraged Fr. Gregory D’Souza. The following Saturday evening eight priests assembled. The next day all the eight priests got up at 4 o’clock broke the locks opened the doors and began to offer Mass. In the morning people began to come to the church. At the very moment a large number of Reserve Police came in a van. Fr. Gregory D’ Souza took over the charge of the Church in the presence of a large crowd and requested the people to be peaceful Fr. D’Souza stayed here for two months. He handed over the charge to Fr.Gonsalves on 19-5-1934 and returned to Pejavara. With his calm diplomacy Fr. Gonsalves established peace in Shirva. Rightly Fr. Gonslaves is called the Peacemaker.