Niranam Church has a rich history of being the symbol of Christian faith in Kerala and a citadel of Orthodox Christianity since its inception in AD 54 by St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. St Thomas reached Kerala in AD 52 and started preaching the gospel. He founded 8 churches, which are called ‘Ezhara Pallikal’, meaning seven and half churches. These were at Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (Paravoor), Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamkode (the half church). St. Thomas who had great respect for the Holy Virgin, named all these churches after St. Mary. At Niranam, St. Thomas baptised many people and ordained people with social eminence as priests, to administer the church.
The church founded by St Thomas at Niranam was adjacent to Sri Thrikpaleswara Hindu Temple of Lord Shiva. Some adversaries of the new faith later took out the cross, founded by the Apostle and threw it into the neighboring river. When St Thomas returned to Niranam after two years (AD 54) he heard about this and went in search of the cross. He found it at a place in the down stream and again founded the church at that place, which is believed to be the present location of the church. According to the available records, the present building is the fourth, which was built in 1912. The third building was built in 1259.
Analysis of soil says that during the first century, Niranam and the surrounding places were costal region. Probably, it was a place where the river joined the sea. Some historians are of the opinion that the name Niranam derived from an old name ‘NeerMannu‘, which meant land with water. Presence of water bodies enabled travel through water and it is believed that the Apostle reached Niranam in a ship (it might be a big boat). During the 14th century, there was a great flood and the geography of the area changed a lot because the sea retreated exposing a lot of land.
Even today, there is a place at Niranam, near Kolarayar – a tributary of River Pampa – named ‘Thomathukadavu‘, which is supposed to be the spot where St. Thomas got down from the ship. The word ‘Thomathukadavu‘ might have emerged from ‘Thoma Vanna Kadavu‘, which means the jetty where Thomas came.
Niranam Church was the southern headquarters of the Orthodox Church in Kerala for centuries. Many of the Malankara Metropolitans (the chief bishops) ruled the church by staying here. The church is famous for its historical importance, loyalty to the Indian Orthodox Church, architectural beauty and some of its antiques. Almost all of the old churches in southern Kerala – whether belonging to Orthodox, Marthoma or Roman Catholic churches – were separated from this mother parish, during course of time.
Niranam Church witnessed a number of historical events in the church history including the establishment of a Catholicate in the Indian Orthodox Church in 1912. The first Catholicose and second Catholicose of the church were ordained at Niranam Church (in 1912 and 1925). Four of the Malankara Metropolitans of the church passed away while staying here and two were buried here.