The Archdiocese of Verapoly lies in the civil district of Ernakulam of Kerala State. Since 1904 it has its headquarters at Ernakulam in the Corporation of Cochin. Within the corporation, the Archdiocese of Verapoly and the Diocese of Cochin (both the Latin Rite) and the Archdiocese of Ernakulam (of the Syrian Rite) have their headquarters. The Corporation of Cochin, according to the statistics of 1988 has a population of 513,000 of which about 220,000 are Catholics and 88% of the Catholic population is of the Latin Rite more than half of the Latins belonging to the Archidocese of Verapoly and the rest to the Diocese of Cochin and Aleppey.
The Archdiocese of Verapoly was originally known as the Vicariate of Malabar. It has its origins in 1657, with the arrival of Carmelite Missionaries, most prominent among whom was Father Joseph of St. Mary, better known as Joseph Sebastiani. They had been deputed under Father Hyacinth as Apostolic Commissar, by Pope Alexander VII to effect reconciliation of St. Thomas Christians of the Syro – Chaldaic Rite, who had seceded from their Archbishop forsaking his authority by taking an oath for the purpose at the foot of a cross – thereafter called the ‘Coonen Cross’ situated in Mattancherry, had illegally made their Archdeacon the Archbishop by going through a farcica ceremony .By the efforts of Sebastiani a large number of seceders were brought back to the true fold. Nevertheless, they refused to be under the authority of their lawful Archbishop or under any prelate of the Jesuit Order known as the ‘Paulists’.
Rome, being informed of the situation by Sebastiani in person, decided to entrust, the Carmelites with the spiritual care of the Syro – Chaldiaic Rite. For this purpose the Vicariate of Malabar was erected by Pope Alexanded VII on the 3rd December, 1659. Sebastiani was consecrated Titular Bishop of Hierapolis on December 15, 1659 and sent back to Malabar with the title of Vicar Apostolic and Administrator of the Archbishopric of Cranganore. The new Vicariate eventually established its headquarters in the island of Verapoly.
The conquest of Portuguese territories in Malabar and especially of Cochin in 1663 by the Dutch and the consequent explusion of all Catholic Missionaries from the territories occupied by the Dutch and elsewhere, threatened the very existence of the Malabar Vicariate. Nevertheless, it survived under the Indian Prelate Parambil Chandy (Alexander de Campo) whom Sebastiani had consecrated as his successor before he left Malabar in 1663. Before long, Carmelites were allowed to resume their ministration which was by then extended also to the Catholics of the Latin Rite who were under Portuguese Protection.
On the 13th of March 1709, by a Brief of Pope Clement XI, the Malabar Vicariate was suppressed and the Vicariate of Verapoly took its place with Bishop Agnelos Francisco as its first Vicar Apostolic.
By the Brief “Multa Praeclara” of Pope Gregory XVI, dated April 24, 1838, the Sees of Cranganore and Cochin which at that time included also Quilon, were annexed to the Vicariate of Verapoly, which thus came to comprise the whole of Malabar. However in 1845, Quilon was separated from Verapoly as a suffragan Vicariate.
When by the famous Apostolic Letter “Humanae Salutis Auctor” of Pope Leo XIII, dated September 1, 1886, the Hierarchy of India was established, the Vicariate of Verapoly was raised to the status of an Archdiocese, with the Most Rev. Dr. Leonard Mellano of St. Louis, ocd, as its first Archbishop, who was the 17th in the line of Vicars Apostolic.
Along with this in 1886 the Diocese of Cochin was also resuscitated and reconstituted with 34 Latin Churches taken from the Archdiocese of Verapoly and the Diocese of Quilon.
On March 19, 1887, the Catholics of the Syrian Rite were separated from those of the Latin Rite and placed under an Administrator, Dr. Marcelino Bernard of St. Theresa, ocd, who was consecrated Coadjutor to Archbishop Mellano. By the Brief “Quod Jam Pridem”, of Pope Leo XIII, dated May 20, 1887, the Syrians were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Verapoly and the two Vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam were erected with Dr. Adolpus E. Medlycott and Dr. Charles Lavigne as their Vicars Apostolic. Thus Verapoly Archdiocese came to consist exclusively of Latin Catholics.
Transfer of the Headquarters to Ernakulam
Before close of the XVIII century great changes had taken place in the regions in and around Cochin. The industrial, social, economic and educational developments made the island of Verapoly unsuitable for the activities of modern life. The need was therefore felt for shifting the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Verapoly to a more suitable centre for the efficient and effective administration of the Archdiocese.
During the last decades of the XIX century, Ernakulam became the heart and center of the Latin Catholic population. At that time , in Ernakulam the Latin Catholics numbered 3759 with two important Churches, while the Syrian Catholic population was only 350 souls with only one Church. In the areas lying within a radius of 10 km from the centre of Ernakulam there lived more than 46 percent of the total Archdiocesan population with 14 churches, having 28,340 parishioners, while for the Syrian Catholic population at the time there were only five Churches with 3,948 parishioners (Cf. Cath. Directory of India 1901). It was this state of affairs that prompted Archbishop Bernard Auguinzon to transfer the headquarters to Ernakulam in 1904 with due permission from Rome and be in the midst of his flock.
Even when the Syrian Vicariate of Ernakulam was raised to the status of an Archdiocese in 1923, the Syrian Catholic population was only 610, with one Church, while the Latin Catholics numbered 14,683 with four Churches within the Muncipal limits.
On July 14, 1930 by the Bull “AD Christi Nomen” of Pope Pius XI, the new Diocese of Vijayapuram, was formed and dismembered from Verapoly and its administration was 273 years. With this change, the Archdiocese came under the administration of the Indian clergy, except for the continuance of its head in the person of the Archbishop the Most Rev. Dr. Angel Mary, ocd.
The Indianisation was completed when on 29th November 1932 the Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Attipetty was nominated, Co-adjutor Archbishop to Dr. Angel Mary, ocd. Dr. Joseph Attipetty assumed the reins of administration on 21st December 1934 after the resignation of Archbishop Angel Mary the last in the long line of European Prelates to the Archdiocese.
On July 3, 1987 by the Bull “Quae aptius” the Archdiocese was again bifurcated and the Diocese of Kottapuram was formed and Rt. Rev. Dr. Francis Kallarakal who was appointed as its first Bishop took possession of the Diocese on October 4, 1987.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II, during his visit to India celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the Latin Rite at H.M.T. Grounds, Kalamassery, Cochin and thereafter visited the Saint Francis Assisi Cathedral, Ernakulam on February 7, 1986 and stayed one day in the Latin Archbishop House.