St. Andrew's Church, Arthunkal is one of the famous pilgrim centres in South India. Though the Church is named after St. Andrew the Apostle, it is the feast of St. Sebastian that has brought fame to Arthunkal. The Christian presence in Arthunkal dates back to a very early period, to 7th Century or earlier. After the arrival of the Portuguese in Kerala Jesuit missionaries turned their attention to Arthunkal. They undertook missionary work in Arthunkal from 1530 onwards. As there was a ban on Christian conversion till 1560 peg mission to put up churches was hard to obtain. When Fr. Gasper Pais was appointed the first Vicar of Arthunkal he managed to get permission to construct a Church.
In 1581 the King of Kochin, Veera Kerala Varma, gave permission to build a Church in wood. It was the second Vicar, Fr. Giacomo Fenicio S.J. who managed to obtain permission from the King to renovate the wooden church in stone in 1602. He had spent 33 years in Arthunkal in two terms and is rightfully called the Apostle of Arthunkal.
Arthunkal rose to fame when in 1647 the miraculous statue of St.Sebastian was brought to Arthunkal from Italy in a ship. St. Sebastian was the captain of the body guards of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He was brutally killed and became a martyr in 286 AD on account of his faith in Christ.
People from all beliefs who were afflicted by epidemics prayed to St.Sebastian and were cured. And the feast of St. Sebastian in January began to attract thousands of people from every walk of life. Gradually Arthunkal became a pilgrim centre for people of all creed. The. Church built in stone in 1602 was renovated again in 1870 with a new facade and a bell tower. The new Church in granite (nibbles), the foundation of which was laid shortly after 1900, was blessed and opened for service in 1967. It took 60 years to complete the new Church. There is an ancient tradition followed to this day by the devotees of the Hindu deity, Lord Ayyappa, that they pay homage to St. Sebastian as they return from Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa.
Every year from January 10 to 27 the feast of St. Sebastian takes place attracting lakhs of people. The procession with the statue of St.Sebastian on 20th January is the main attraction of the feast. An ocean of people moves with the statue of St.Sebastian during the precession. Considering the antiquity and the fame of the Church, the Holy See after due process, has granted Basilica status to St. Andrew's Church, Arthunkal on 21St May 2010. The historic honour bestowed upon this church was solemnly declared on 1 Ph October 2010 during a Pontifical Mass presided over by His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Salvatore Pennacchio, the Apostolic Nuncio to India.
May St. Sebastian, the courageous witness of the- gospel of life and love in Christ, be the special protector of all who seek his intercession!