Kerekatte – St Antony’s shrine

St Antony of Padua in Kerekatte

Nestled among the dense Western Ghats or Sahyadri mountains in Karnataka, about 35 kms from Kundapura town, lies a tiny village called Kerekatte and in this tiny village resides St. Antony of Padua, the Christian saint who specialises in finding lost things, without discriminating between rich and poor, caste or creed or even religion.

The renowned Varahi dam lies a little further away. Kerekatte is a compulsory stop for people passing by and I remember every time, we went to Varahi (that was one of the attractions then and the most convenient day trip locations for us) or Shimoga or Sagar, we used to stop there for a few minutes. There used to be a small thatched chapel and a huge statue of St. Antony on whose foot we used to light candles and pray.

On every visit back home, my mom makes it a point to take us there. She is a devotee of St Antony of Padua and visits the shrine every Tuesday for the mass and novena.Thinking about her devotion, I believe we owe our livelihoods and comforts to her prayers.

There are lots of interesting stories about Kerekatte. One of the most famous among them was that a farmer, found a small wooden statue while ploughing his fields and he did not know what to do of it, as he was not aware of whose statue it was. The legend says that he gave the statue to the parish priest of Kundapur, who kept it inside his cupboard. However, the statue went missing from there and mysteriously reappeared at the farmer’s house. The villagers got together and installed the statue for veneration as they felt that their prayers were being answered. The same statue is currently kept in the shrine. It seems when Blessed Fr Joseph Vaz, who was visiting the Basrur parish in 1684, identified that the statue was of St Antony of Padua. There is some evidence that Christianity or Konkani speaking community of Goa, first landed in Basrur and gradually spread across the Malabar coast.

The second story is much more interesting to young kids like us: – It seems there were two young girls, who were inseparable friends- one a Christian and the other a Muslim. The Christian girl passed away, and was buried and within days, the Muslim girl too passed away and was buried a little distance away. The next day, both the graves were side by side. I don’t know the truth behind this story and neither did I try to investigate as it seemed not too scientific.

Anyways, years had passed by , since I had been to Kerekatte. On my last trip back to India, my mom took me there. The shady winding roads, with dense undergrowth on both sides, made me feel nostalgic. The mountains and forests, have something in them which makes one feel emotional. The shrine had received a heavy uplift. The black statue was now housed in a nice enclosure, and a small church was born nearby.

Devotees in thousands and lakhs descend on the valley, where the shrine resides during the two feast days in February and June. Devotees, from all walks of life pay their respects to this saint, who is indeed miraculous. It is not yet comparable to the throngs who visit Attur.Nevertheless, the day is not far, when this will happen.

I visited the shrine with my mom on a Tuesday, attended the novena and also had lunch.  Meals are sponsored by devotees. I am ashamedof the fact that, I behaved like a tourist that day. I went around the shrine, took a few pictures of the surroundings, and bought a CD and novena book. Like any other lazy bum, I completely forgot about the book and the CD until the day before, when the book seemed to be peeping out of the shelf to grab my attention. Sure, it did and I began reading. Thanks to the pandemic and the subsequent lock down.

As I read through the pages, my urge to know more about St Antony of Padua increased and here I am sharing whatever I watched, read, heard about this powerful saint.

Fernando de Bulhões was born into a wealthy family just outside Lisbon, Portugal on August 15th, 1195.At a very tender age of 15; he joined the Augustinian order, in spite of his parent’s objection. He excelled in scriptures and academics and was transferred to the monastery of Coimbra, so that he could continue his studies without any distraction. He was considered to be, most knowledgeable on scriptures and was highly regarded by church officials. Something within Antony changed when mutilated bodies of the five Franciscan brothers were brought to his monastery for burial. These were followers of Francis of Assisi, who were brutally killed at Morocco. Antony too wished to die as a martyr and left his order and joined the Franciscan order in 1221, when he was 26 years old.

There is a saying that god has plans for everyone and he did have a plan for Antony as well.

The ship in which he was sailing for Morocco was caught up in a storm and wrecked on the coast of Sicily. Antony, instead of landing in Morocco was diverted to Sicily, where he was taken to a monastery by some brothers. He was not healthy and everyone in the monastery thought that he was just another ill monk. His health recovered and he became a kitchen assistant in that monastery. As I said earlier, god’s plans never fail. Everyone is sent to earth to fulfil a mission and come what may, god realises this mission through them.

We would have never heard about Antony, but for an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. The provincial suggested that one of the friars give a short sermon. There was no one ready. The Franciscan brothers present there, asked Antony to give the speech as they presumed him to be uneducated and an out of town priest. Antony delivered a simple yet fiery sermon where his abundant knowledge on scriptures was evident. This was the turning point of his life.

Francis of Assisi heard about the events and assigned Antony to preach in the northern Italian province. Antony was a tireless traveller, who preached and visited over 400 places in the Italy and France. I guess that is the reason why most travellers, passing by, stops for a few minutes before they continue their journey at Kerekatte. He gives strength to the travellers. During those days, the preachers used to live a wealthy life, unlike the poor people to whom they preached. One of the authors in my research draws a comparison of this situation, to a priest who drives his Mercedes to the slums, to preach to the poor. The situation in India is no different. Antony was different. Antony practised what he preached and so was loved by the people, just like Pope Francis, which decided to take the name of the illustrious boss of St Antony.

 I always used to wonder why he is called St Antony of Padua, though he was born in Lisbon. The research took me to a video and I realised that Padua was his Karmbhoomi. Padua during those days, was a place full of heretics and Antony chose this place to glorify the lord and what a job he did. !!. He spoke out against the atrocities happening in the city. This video had an interesting story line which I have not written in the previous paragraphs because the other books I read on the saint did not mention this story. The story goes like this:

The ship on which Antony travelled also had another famous survivor- the mathematician Fibonacci, who had formulated the Fibonacci series, which has caused many a worry to students in their school days. There were a few usurers (money lenders who charged high interest rates) in Padua who used to control the city. They knew about the shipwreck and also knew that if they get hold of Fibonacci, they would be wealthier. There was a usurer named Baldrico who was sent by his superior to oversee the capture of Fibonacci’s notes. Baldrico and his sub ordinate – a thief named Falco reach the place of the shipwreck, where Baldrico cheats Falco and takes away the mathematician’s notes. He makes up a story that a monk has stolen the notes and orders him to find the monk, who had the notes, which in fact were with him. Falco goes around Sicily in search of the monk, who would be his only way to wealth.

Falco meets Antony to whom he reveals that he is looking for a monk, who is a survivor of the shipwreck. Antony doesn’t reveal to him that he is the one who is after. The thief becomes his ardent follower. When Antony entered Padua to teach theology and preach people, Falco followed him, but was captured by Baldrico and his men. It was now that Falco realised that Baldrico had driven him on a wild goose hunt, as he never wanted to share the riches. An incident happened here, which would glorify God through Antony. Baldrico accidently kills his partner and gets Falco arrested on false charges of murder. During the trial, Falco asks Antony to represent him and Antony stuns everyone by agreeing to represent him. On course of the trial, Antony speaks against the heretics and usurers and condemns them all. Some of the usurers change their hearts and come back to god’s ways. Antony with his oration and courage to speak out against atrocities changed Padua forever.

Despite failing health, Antony preached in Padua winning many souls back to God. The energy he spent on preaching people left him exhausted and to spend a few days in rest and prayer, he went to a small town nearby. But he knew he was dying and decided to get back to the city he loved. His followers arranged for a wagon for him to get back to Padua, but he dies midway at Arcella, a little distance away from Padua. He was given a funeral in Padua and was buried there. He was 36 when he died. He was declared saint just 13 months after his death. He was known as “Hammer of heretics”. He is counted one among the incorruptible saints as his tongue is still intact.

Staring at the distant green and dense mountains, my mind seemed to be in complete peace. I strongly recommend this shrine to everyone- believers and non-believers alike. Kerekatte is magical.

I know it was a long article and I remember my grandmother telling stories of saints, at nap time during the summer vacations. The visit to Kerekatte certainly inspired me to learn more about St Antony and with this article I hope I was about to bring him a little closer to you.

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