71 – A, DENNIS STREET
Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu India
The story of Protestant Christianity in South Travancore is the story of the people, striving for emancipation through spiritual means. It is a socio-political and religio-cultural struggle. In short is their search for dignity and identity. The history of the Syrian and Roman Catholic faiths were brought into Travancore by foreign ecclesiastics. The Protestant religion had honour of being introduced into the state by one of its subjects.
The Pioneer of Protestant Christianity
Maharasan, a devout Hindu, longing to find peace took a pilgrimgae on foot to the Temple at Chidambaram. On his return, this disappointed seeker from Mylaudy – a village 4.5 miles North – West of Kanyakumari – had a vision that changed his course. On an eventful Sunday in the year 1799, Maharasan heard Rev. J.C Kohlhoff, proclaim the words of life. In a short time he received baptism at Tanjore and returned to Mylaudy and took the name Vedhamanickam.
The First Missionary
Vedhamanickam’s steadfast faith and ceaseless toil won many to Christ. In need of an experienced person to guide his flock. Vedhamanickam requested Kohhoff to send them a missionary. In response to his request, Rev. William Tobias Ringeltaube came to Mylaudy, which was part of the area then called Travancore.
The First Church
Over a period of ten years (1806-1816), through opposition, sickness and loneliness, Ringeltaube succeeded in builing the mission on a firm foundation. The first Church was built at Mylaudy in September 1809 and converts were baptized. Schools and Churches were established in six more villages. Thus the Mylaudy Mission began to take shape.
The First Institution
A large Church was built in Nagercoil, which later became the Home Church of the Diocese. The mission was shifted from Mylaudy to Nagercoil, which is 19 kilometers from Kanyakumari. A seminary established in Nagercoil, trained young men to become Church workers. Wives of the Missionaries trained girls in skills like lace making and embroidary. Boarding schools were started for girls and education for women gained momentum. Even non – Christian boys and girls received education. A printing press was started in 1821 and by 1838 a medical wing of the mission was established.
Travancore was caste – ridden and those who belonged to lower castes were ruthlessly denied education, choice of vacation and even dignity. Further, they were oppressed with heavy taxes. The Gospel and education offered to the lower castes helped them to break some of the fetters that had bound the men and women for centuries. Through the tireless efforts of the missionaries with the help of the British rulers, slavery was abolished.