The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is celebrated annually by the Catholic Church on 14th September, as one of thanksgiving for the recovery of the True Cross from the Persians by the great Emperor Heraclius. Fragments of the True Cross were in due course brought from Jerusalem to many churches dedicated to the Holy Cross in the East and West. These churches sought to imitate the solemn ceremonies in use at Jerusalem in order to do homage to the Holy Cross. Possibly one of the earliest dedications to the Cross in India was the Church of the Holy Cross in Manapad. Throughout the year many pilgrims visit the church and thousands congregate during the festive season from first to fourteenth September.
Tradition has it that around 1540, a Portuguese trading vessel, while sailing around the Cape of Good Hope on its way to the East, encountered a violent storm and had its sails split and the hind mast snapped. The vessel ran the risk of foundering. The Captain, who was devoted to the veneration of the Holy Cross, implored and entrusted the safety of the vessel and that of the crew to the crucified Christ. He also made a vow that he would construct a cross from a portion of the splintered mast and have it planted on the shore where they alighted in safety. By chance, the vessel after having drifted for several days sought haven in the then well known port of Kulesakharapatnam.
The first miracle is said to have occurred when the cross was still in the form of a log cut off from the broken mast. It is said that when the log was lying on the shore an inhabitant of the village who had trampled on filth had cleansed his foot on this log. No sooner had he wiped his leg than he felt a pain and instantaneous swelling of the leg too. It was with the greatest difficulty that he was able to return home. That night the man had a vision in which it was revealed to him that the ailment was due to his defiling the log intended for a sacred purpose. He was asked to wipe the muck off the log, smear the log with oil, and then apply the same oil to his foot to cure it. Early next morning, the patient was carried to the log, and to the amazement of the crowd that had collected there, the man was cured immediately and able to walk back home unaided. This remarkable event made the planting of the Cross by the Captain an occasion of great piety and festivity. From then onwards, the name and fame of the Captain's cross spread throughout the Coromandel Coast.
Manapad was mostly inhabited by the Paravars who had embraced Christianity in 1532. However, for want of missionaries, the neophytes remained nominal Christians until the arrival and ministration of St. Francis Xavier. The saint who arrived in Manapad in October 1542 found two spots which impelled him to choose Manapad as his favorite haunt during his sojourn on the Pearl Fishery Coast. One was a grotto carved out of the rocky ledge, which he preferred to use for a home. This cave was known in pre-Christian era as "Valli's cave", a counterpart of the one at Tiruchendur. It is now a signal grotto having at its outer entrance a stone tablet inscribed: "This cave, the dwelling of a saivite sanyasi, has been sanctified by the prayers and penance of St. Francis Xavier". The lonely hermitage chosen by Francis Xavier depicts his thirst for austerity and renunciation.
The other spot that induced him to choose Manapad was the Captain's Cross with its raised platform and an overhead covering, almost providing a built-in chapel enabling him to offer daily the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. St. Francis Xavier toiled among the Paravars, instructing and ministering all along the Pearl Fishery Coast until November 1543 when he returned to Goa. He was again at Manapad in March, June, August and September 1544 and went to Travancore in November.
This is the well inside the cave where St.Francis Xavier resided. The water is sweet though it is only few feet away from the sea.
Xavier was held in high regard by the people of Manapad for his austerity, moral strictness, compassion, and wise counsel. During his stay there, with the help of the pandits of Manapad he translated the rudiments of the common prayers and trained the first catechists.
While at Manapad, the saint had two youngsters, Augustine Paiva and Anthony Miranda, trained as acolytes. One day at dawn when Augustine was on his way to the Captain's Cross where Xavier offered the Eucharistic Service daily, a few yards away on the pathway, he saw his companion Anthony lying still and frothing at the mouth. Augustine was terror-stricken by the sight of a deadly cobra crawling away. However, Augustine approached Anthony and tried to rouse him, but upon finding no pulse, ran to the saint's niche. Bursting into tears, he related what he saw. Unperturbed, the saint raised his head heavenwards, exclaimed some prayers and rushed to the scene. Blessing Anthony's body, he called upon Anthony to get up. To the amazement of all gathered there, Anthony Miranda not only got up, but followed the saint and assisted him at the Holy Mass as usual.
The first miracle of his life had such an impact that the people in and around Manapad started venerating him as a saint long before he was canonized by the Church.
After more miracles, the church of the Holy Cross was built in the year 1581, on the same spot encasing the Captain's Cross. It is said that contributions towards building of the church were spontaneously given by the inhabitants, and Rev. Fr.John de Salanova, the parish priest of the the only church in the village then dedicated to the "Queen of Heaven", was able to complete construction long before the scheduled time.
With the erection of the church, Rev.John de Salanova deemed that it was worthy to possess the relic of the True Cross. As such, in 1583 he appealed to Rome through the General of the Jesuits very Rev. Fr. Aquaviva for a fragment of the True Cross. Pope Gregory XIII graciously obliged. The relic is said to have arrived at Cochin in the first week of August 1583, since Cochin was then the mother of all the Latin Dioceses in South India and Ceylon. The most Rev. Mathew de Medina of the Order of Christ, the prelate of Cochin, is said to have received the relic. Having had it exposed for three days for the veneration of the faithful, he inaugurated the grand tour of the relic all along the coastal belt with halts in places of Catholic predominance. The procession is said to have reached Manapad a few days before the festival of the Exaltation of the True Cross. Many Catholics were said to have followed in procession with the relic. Thus it is that Manapad came to be a traditional place of pilgrimage to those of the Malabar Coast.
Though with the conferment of the fragment of the True Cross, the feast attained a certain dignity, it was only after the inauguration of the Confraternity of the Five Sacred Wounds of Our Lord that the festival won recognition as a major festival. The Confraternity was approved by His Holiness Pope Benedict XIII on 25th February 1725 and on May 28th of the same year was established in the Church of Holy Cross in Manapad. Thereafter the Confraternity of the Five Sacred Wounds of Our Lord has been instrumental in the celebration of the festival with pomp and piety.
The most solemnity and pageantry occurs during the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, when mostly maritime pilgrims throng to Manapad from the Coromandel and Kerala Coasts. They can be seen in village or family groups performing the Way of the Cross as they cover the fourteen stations built on the hillock, reminiscent of Jesus Christ's last journey on Mount Calvary. Presumably, it is this resemblance that prompted His Holiness Pope Leo XIII to refer to Manapad as "A Little Jerusalem". Incidentally, there are many who decline quick transport to trudge many miles as reparation for their sinful lives. For many, the hardship is eclipsed by joyful participation in a 300 year-old tradition, the procession of the relic of the True Cross when they join the thousands singing praises:
"Forth comes the standard of the kings!
- All hail, thou mystery adored!
- Hail, cross on which the life Himself died and by death our life restored!"
There has been much speculation about the crucifix that adorns the high altar of Holy Cross Church. The most popular belief is that the crucifix had come together with the well-known "Our Lady of Snows" statue in the Our Lady of Snows Basilica in Tuticorin. This assumption is untenable, because there was no church or priest in Manapad until sometime in the fifteen seventies. However, both the crucifix and the "Our Lady of Snows" statue originate from Manila, with the crucifix sent at a later date.
The two aforementioned items, as well as a statue of Child Jesus, were carried to Manila by Captain Ferdinand Magellan, a Spanish explorer who arrived in Cebu, Philippines, in March 1521. The first converts by Magellan were a chief named Humabon and his queen. The latter, baptized as Juana, was given the statue of Child Jesus, which came to be known as Santo Niño de Cebu, standing to this day above the high altar of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. This statue for many millions of Catholic Filipinos is a national heritage. Magellan's statue of Our Lady is a replica of the statue in the church of St. Mary of the Snows in Rome. It was gifted to Tuticorin by the Prioress of the convent in Manila in 1555. Subsequently, Fr. John de Salanova sought Magellan's crucifix for his newly constructed church of the Holy Cross in Manapad. The Prioress was cooperative due to the rare papal conferment of the relic of the True Cross to Manapad. The exact date of the receipt of the crucifix is unknown.