The Kerala Jews lived in safety, but it seems that most opted to emigrate to Israel after the new state was established in 1948. Some 75,000 Indian Jews left their homes, synagogues, schools and cemeteries behind; few families remained to look after the communities’ resources which inevitably began to moulder.
Parur Synagogue, 1615
Paradesi Synagogue, Cochin
Preservation plans for this Parur site were drawn up by an important Indian conservation firm, the same firm that had been commissioned by the Kerala office of the Indian Department of Archaeology to restore the nearby Synagogue of Chennamangalam. To reach the synagogue, turn from the main street of Parur onto Jews' Street. At the entrance to this street were two tall granite pillars, an indication that the Jews lived in a self-imposed ghetto.
Kadavumbagam synagogue, with Parur's ark and reading desk
St Francis Church, Kochi, 1503
Let us compare Parur synagogue to local Christian architecture, built in approximately the same era. St Francis CSI Church 1503 in Kochi is the oldest European church in India and has great historical significance as part of European colonisation of the sub-continent. The Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, died in Kochi in 1524 whilst visiting India. His body was, for some long time, buried in this very church.
Most importantly for this article, the casual visitor might not be able to tell the difference between St Francis Church's external architecture and Parur Synagogue's external architecture.
St Thomas Syrian Church, Parur, 1566
Examine St Thomas Jacobite Syrian Church 1566 in North Parur where the mortal remains of the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem were entombed. When founded, the new church was consecrated in the name of St Thomas the Apostle; the event was inscribed in old Tamil script, in a granite plaque embedded in the wall near the church’s front door.
St Mary’s Church in Bharananganam was first built in 1004 AD, initially a small church that may have looked like a local temple. When the Portuguese were in command of the affairs of the Christian communities, they wanted to rebuild churches in Christian style. Finally in the very early 20th century, St Mary's had become large and Gothic, although still built with local materials.
St Mary's Bharananganam
Bharananganam may not be the largest town in India, but St Mary's became very important when a local woman died and was eventually canonised. Pilgrims flocked to St Alphonsa's grave in the firm belief that illness could be miraculously cured there. The church was renovated just before Pope John Paul II arrived to honour St Alphonsa in 1986, the first ever papal visit to Kerala and India's first ever female saint.