The origin of Syriac Christianity in India is closely connected with the evangelization of India by the Apostle Saint Thomas. This Apostolate is asserted both by literary and local ancient traditions.
This article examines 1) Kerala Syrian Christian, 2) Saint Thomas the Apostle in India, 3) St Thomas Mission in India, 4) Who were the converts in First Century ?, 5) The Liturgy used by Saint Thomas Christians , 6) The tomb of the Apostles at Mylapore, 7) The transfer of relics to Edessa, 8 ) Hierarchical dependence on the Persian Church, 9) Syond of Diamper-Coonan Cross Oath, 10) Subsequent divisions in the Community, 11) Few Indian Origin MSS prior 16th century, 12) The Nasrani People, 13) Nasrani People Today.1
1. Kerala Syrian Christian
The ancient Christians of India were known as Christians of Saint Thomas. They are also known as Syrian Christians, since they have been using Syriac for liturgical purpose with or with out admixture of Malayalam.2
Anybody who is born in a Kerala Syrian Christian family are generally termed as Syrian Christians or Nasranis or Nasrani Mappilas Those who belong to the churches which follows East or West Syrian rite for their worship are generally termed as Saint Thomas Christians or Syrian Christians or Nasranis.
Syriac Christianity is a culturally and linguistically distinctive community within Eastern Christianity. It has its roots in the Near East, and is represented by a number of Christian denominations today, mainly in Kerala, India and in the Middle East.
The Church of Saint Thomas Christians was hierarchically dependent on the Church of Seleucia or better Seleucia-Ctesiphon, later on called as the church of Babylon or Church of East. The Christians of Saint Thomas were under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon ( known differently as Church of Babylon, East Syriac Church, Church of East, Chaldean Church, Assyrian Church ). Till the year 1597, these Christians were governed by the Bishops send by the Patriarch of this church. ( first Persia proper and then Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon).After the celebration of Syond of Diamper in 1599, the Church was made subject to the jurisdiction of Latin Bishops under the Patronage ( the Padroado) of the Portuguese Crown. The response of the Church from the part of the Archdeacon, the Kathanars and the faithful at large towards the policies of the missionaries and the Latin prelates was that of great opposition. Thus, there was a revolt and consequently a division followed in the Church with the historic Coonan Cross Oath in 1653 and subsequent happenings.
Until the middle of the XVII century, the Thomas Christians were all one in faith and rite. There after, divisions arose among them, and consequently they are today Catholics and non- Catholics of different rites, the latter belonging to different denominations.3
Syro Malabar Church and Chaldean Syrian Church are the Kerala Churches which follow the East Syriac rite.
Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church ( Jacobites) , Malankara Orthodox Syriac Church ( Orthodox) , Malabar Independent Syrian Church, Mar Thoma Church and Syro-Malankara Catholic Church are the Kerala Churches which follow the West Syriac rite.
Syro Malabar Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and are Sui iuris.
Malankara Orthodox Syriac Church ( Orthodox) is autocephalous and Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church ( Jacobite) is part of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, both accepting the spiritual jurisdiction of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and latter under the Patriarchate.
Chaldean Syrian Church in India is part of the Assyrian Church of the East. Mar Thoma Church is in communion with Anglican Church and Malabar Independent Syrian Church is an independent church.
2. Saint Thomas the Apostle in India
Muziris and Nelcyndis -There is a great deal of evidence available to demonstrate the strength of commercial links between India and West Asian world during the period St. Thomas has arrived in Malabar. Gold and Pepper were the central articles of trade. Knowledge of monsoon was available and possibility of more rapid travel to Malabar coast was a reality during Apostolic time.
Southern India had maritime trade with the West since ancient times. Egyptian and Roman trade with India flourished in the first century AD. The monsoon winds which blow South – West from April to October and North-East from October to April, have influence on social, cultural and political life of Kerala. The knowledge that if the vessels are moved according to the trends of the winds a traveler from the Gulf of Aden can reach the Western coast of India or Kerala. With this discovery it was possible to reach Kerala from the Gulf of Aden in 40 days.
The discovery of the monsoon winds was very useful to the traders from Egypt, Syria, Greece, Rome and Arabia and it greatly facilitated the trade between Kerala and the western world. The southern coast of the Indian subcontinent (hypothesized by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus to be the place mentioned as Ophir in the Old Testament) inevitably became a gateway from the Mediterranean world to the Far East.
The people there traded in teak, ivory, spices and peacocks, and the area was endowed with a magnificent coastline with numerous ports from Mangalapuram to Kodungallur, also known as Cranganore. In the ancient times it was called as Muziris in Latin and Muchiri in Malayalam. The trade routes brought with them not just riches but also stateless nations and nascent worldviews.
Muziris (Kodungallur) and Nelcyndis or Nelkanda (near Kollam) in South India, are mentioned as flourishing ports, in the writings of Pliny (23-79 AD). Pliny has given an accurate description of the route to India, the country of Cerebothra (the Cheras). Pliny has referred to the flourishing trade in spices, pearls, diamonds and silk between Rome and Southern India in the early centuries of the Christian era. Though the Cheras controlled Kodungallur port, Southern India belonged to the Pandyan Kingdom, that had sent embassies to the court of Augustus Caesar.
The Apostle in Malabar – According to tradition, Saint Thomas the Apostle came to Malabar and established Christian communities here. Though the tradition that the Apostle Saint Thomas preached the Gospel in South India and died there as a martyr can not be convincingly proved, there is much to say in favor of its historical value.
The Indian tradition of the Apostate is a combined tradition consisting of Malabar, Mylapore/Coromandel and the East Syriac Church. The earliest record about the apostolate of Saint Thomas is the apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas, written in Syriac in the Edessan circle about the turn of the third century. A number of passages in other writings of the third, fourth and the following centuries speak in unambiguous terms about the Indian apostolate of Saint Thomas. The major Churches are unanimous in their witnessing to the Indian Apostolate of Saint Thomas from fourth century onwards.
Following are the early references to Saint Thomas in India arranged chronologically,
3rd Century: Syriac Acts of Thomas ( c 200), Clement of Alexandria, Syriac Doctrine of the Apostles, Origen ( c.231, quoted in Eusebius).
4th Century: Amobius ( 305), Eusebius of Caesarea ( d.340), Ephrem ( d.373), Gregory of Nazianzus ( d.389), Cyrillonas ( 396), Ambrose ( d.397), De Transitu Mariae.
5th Century: Gaudentius of Brescia ( d. after 406), Jerome ( d.420), Theodoret of Cyrus ( 427), Paulinus of Nola ( d.431), Martyrologium Hieronymianum, Balai ( c.460).
6th Century: Jacob of Sarug ( d 521), Passio Thomae ( c. 550), Gregory of Tours ( d.594)
7th Century: John of Saba ( c 630), Isodore of Seville ( d.636) etc
Acts of Thomas, St. Ephrem, Syriac Doctrine, Jerome, Gaudentius, Paulinus, Gregory of Tours, Calandars, Sacramentaries, martyrologies are testimonies about the Apostolate in India belonging to the Syrian Churches. The testimonies from Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Eu,sebius, St. John Chrysostom , liturgical books belong to the Alexandrian and Greek Churches.
The Ethiopian Calandar of the 12th Century belong to the testimony from Ethopian Church about the Apostolate in India.
Medlycott ( 1905), AC Perurnalil ( 1952), Vath ( 1925), Hambye ( 1952) are some of the detailed studies published on these texts .
3. St Thomas Mission in India
According to Indian tradition, Saint Thomas came by sea and first landed at Cranganore about the year 52 AD. He converted high caste Hindu families in Cranganore, Palayur, Quilon and some other places, visited Coromandel coast, making conversions crossed over to China and preached Gospel there. The Apostle returned to India and organized the Christians of Malabar under some guides from among the leading families he had converted and erected few public places of worship.
These first century churches established by St Thomas, according to tradition, were, from north to south: Palayoor near Guruvayoor/Kunnankulam, Cranganore (believed to be the ancient Muziris of Pliny, and the Periplus, on the north bank of Periyar River today), Paravur on the south side of Periyar, Gokkamangalam or Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal or Nilakkal (the only inland church) and the Lakes or Kaayals, and finally Kollam. The visit of the Apostle Thomas to these places and to Mylapore on the East coast of India can be read in the Ramban Song of Thomas Ramban, the Verradan Pattu, Margam Kali pattu and others.
There is an opinion among the historians that St. Thomas, a Jew himself by birth, visited India in search of Jews settled here. According to the Act of Thomas, the first conversion was of a Hebrew girl at the court of King Gundaphor. There exists a strong tradition supported by historical, inscriptions, numismatics, archaeology, literature about the arrival of St. Thomas, his mission, death, burial and about the relics of his mortal body. No other country or people make such claim about St. Thomas mission, apostolate or his martyrdom.
The widely accepted belief is that during his mission he was killed by fanatics and was buried at Mylapore in the state of present Chennai (Madras), South India.
4. Who were the converts in First Century ?
According to tradition, Saint Thomas came by sea and converted high caste Hindu families, the Nambudiris, in Kodungallor, Palayur, Quilon and some other places. However, there is a doubt about who actually were the first converts. The tradition, the position accepted until recently that Namputhiris were the first converts, was questioned by W Logan. According to him, Namputhiri Brahmans did not reach South India until the late Seventh or Eight century. Jews were also in Malabar and they were also among the first converts.
Some of the prominent families which claim conversion from Namputhiris are Pakalomattam, Sankarapuri, Kalli, Kalikav, Koykkam, Madeipur, Muttodal, Nedumpally, Panakkamattam, Kottakali. The Thiruvankkodanmar who are now dispersed in Kundara, Palai, Valavur, Thumapaman, Piravam etc had Kudumi until three generations back. Some families from Karunagapply, Harippad, Kayamkulam maintain that they are Buddhist converts. Some other families maintain they are Jewish in origin and some others as descendents of the Persian Christians.
5. The Liturgy used by Saint Thomas Christians
The only definite ecclesiastical language Church in India had was Syriac unitl the arrival of western missionaries in India. The fact that not one of the scores of dialects spoken by India in first century has been used as an ecclesiastical language proves that the Christians of India had their spiritual relationship with Syriac.
Some historians are of the opinion that Thomas established the early liturgy here in Aramaic (Syriac). St. Thomas provided only the rudiments of the liturgy, but it contained all the elements which later on developed into the full structure. The prelate Bishop John from India in Council of Nicea conducted in 325 followed the Syrian-Chaldean liturgy. It is said that for keeping the uniformity Apostle introduced the liturgy in Syriac. Syriac, the classical form of Aramic was not unknown to the people of Kerala. The early presence of Jewish colonies, archeological evidences, coins and earlier Syriac writings attest that.
Given the ample evidence of East Syrian relation with Church of St Thomas Christians, there is a good probability that the liturgy was introduced by St Thomas in Syriac, as a sudden change of liturgy language in the first three centuries by any other missionaries was quite impossible.
The continued use of Syriac language for the Church is partly because they believed the language was close or similar to the actual language that Jesus and the disciples spoke. In fact, for this high-caste Indian Christian community, Syriac had the same social function as Sanskrit had for the neighboring Hindu high-caste society.
The Older hudra MSS contained three Anaphora for use in Chaldean Church. Mar Esai Hudra also contains three Anaphora. It is generally accepted that the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, Nestorius and Theodore were in use among Saint Thomas Christians at the time of Synod of Diamper in 1599 AD.4
6. The tomb of the Apostles at Mylapore
The Indian tradition, in which elements of the traditions of Malabar, Coromandel and the Persian Church intermingled firmly held that Thomas the Apostle died near the ancient town of Mylapore. His mortal remains were buried in the town and his burial place was situated in the right hand chapel of the Church or house known after his name. The Portuguese excavated it in 1523. Despite of this a number of Scholars who made a casual examination of the records made statements that the Portuguese excavations were “ unreliable”.
Beginning with the Acts of Thomas ( C.200), almost in every century there are one or more testimonies about the existence of tomb in India. The location of the tomb as given in Seventh century is ( Calamina or Qalimaya) and Myluph or Meilan ( 12th-14th centuries). From the end of 14th century onwards there are many references to the tomb and all these references are beyond any doubt, to the Church and tomb of the Apostle in Mylapore.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese were told of this burial place by the natives and others and were taken there by Armenian Merchants on a pilgrimage. This was in the year 1517. From that year onwards the Portuguese began to visit the place and even settled down in Mylapore. In a few years they discovered many other places and monuments in the vicinity of Mylapore such as the Big Mount and the Little Mount. In the year 1523, they excavated the tomb and found a few relics therein.5
The Portuguese could find only fragments of a skull and a few bones with some other things. If these were St. Thomas’s where were or are the other parts of the skull and the bones ?
7. The transfer of relics to Edessa
Saint Ephrem (+373), says that the body of Saint Thomas was translated from India to Edessa. Saint Ephrem and his contemporaries and those who preceded believed that they were of Saint Thomas brought from India. In India, the Saint Thomas tomb was almost found empty. Bickel ( Carmina Nisibina) concluded that a part of the relics was left in India while the rest was taken to Edessa.
An ancient East Syrian Calender has for July 3 an entry which says : “ July 3, Thomas who was piereced through by a lance in India….”. It also says his body is in Edessa where it was translated to by the merchant Khabin. “Chronicon Edessenum” , says that in the Greek era 705 ( 393 AD), on August 22, the relics of Saint Thomas were solemnly deposited in the Church dedicated to the Apostle in Edessa. The relics were already there years ago.
The “Acts of Thomas” hint at a stealthy removal of the body of the Aposlte to the west after his burial. The Accounts that speak of the translation of the body of Saint Thomas say that it was translated from India. Greogory of Tours ( +595) reproducing the words of the travellor Theodore, who had visited India writes, “ ..in that region of India where he ( Saint Thomas) first rested, there is a monastery and a church of admirable dimensions carefully adorned and kept up”. He also says that the remains of the Apostle Thomas were in Edessa.
Am’r son of Matthew ( Christian Arab writer, 1340), Marignoli ( Papel legate in China, 1394), Nicholas de Conti ( Italian merchant, 1425-1430) respectively refers to a monastery and a church when they deal with the tomb of the Apostle in Mylapore.
The Saracen writer, Muffazul ( 1358) mentions that the pilgrimage of the Saracen’s would not be complete unless they starting from Ceylon had visited “ the monastery of Mar Thomas” where there was kept “ the hands of Mar Thomas” “ one of the disciples of the Messiah”.
This monastery is none other than the one the East Syrian bishop who came to Malabar in 1504 mentions in their letter to the Patriarch. In the report they say that the house ( umra) of the holy Apostle Thomas in Mylapore began to be inhabited by Christians who were thinking of its restoration.6
8. Hierarchical dependence on the Persian Church
The “Chronique de Seert” informs us “ that during the Patriarchate of Shahlupha and Papa, say about AD 295-300, Dudi ( David), Bishop of Basrah, on the Persian Gulf, an eminent doctor, left his see and went to India, where he evangelized many people”. Many are supposed to have accepted his leadership and submitted to his preaching. David was considered by the chronicler, as one of the eminent doctors of the Persian Church.7
John of Persia and Greater India is found in the Syriac list of the Fathers of Nicaea in 325 AD. According to the history of Gelasius, writer in the second half of the 5th century, John the Persian was the Bishop of the whole of Persia and Greater India. Saint Ephrem who died in 373 AD, wrote many hymns on Saint Thomas and the references in these possibly imply the existence of Christian community in India established by the Apostle.
Towards 425 AD Mar Komai assisted by an Indian priest Daniel translated into Syriac the Epistle of Saint Paul to Romans. M’ana, the Bishop of Riwardasir ( Persia) about the year 470 sent a Syriac translation of the works of Diodore and Theodore to India.8
The “Christian Topography “ of the East Syrian monk Cosmas Indicopleuste, belonging to the 6th century, is the most important testimony of this early period. He visisted India between 520 and 525 and speaks of ZChristians in Scotra and tehri clergy, who were ordained in Persia: in Ceylon there was a Church of Persian settlers with a priest ordained in Persia, a decon and minor clergy: both at Male ( Malabar Coast) and Kalliana ( Kalyan near Bombay or Quilon ), a bishop ordained in Persia and a Christian community lived.
These accounts especially the texts of Cosmas Indicopleuste are a definite indication of the hierarchical connection of the Christians of India with the Persian Church. More information about these relationship is there in the letters of two Chaldean Patriarchs, Mar Ishoyahb III and Mar Timothy I.
J S Assemani, speaks of a certain Bod, who at the end of Sixth century bore the title of Periodiota ( Periodeutes) who seem to have come to India and Iran under the Catholicos Ezechiel ( 557-581). The title meant a delegate of a Bishop entrusted with teaching and visiting Christian communities, generally in country side or in regions situated away from centers. This mission is said to have been prompted from some heretical threat, perhaps even Manichaeism. This story which is not completely reliable, makes the Bod conversant with Sanskrit even to the extent of translating in to Syriac the Book of Kalibagh and Damnagh, according to the sources Asseamanii uses.9
At the close of the 6th century, a certain Bishop Maruta ( also called Parwa) was ambassador of the Byzantine Emperor Maurice ( 582-602) to the Sassanid Emperor Khosrau II ( 590-628). In Seleucia- Stesiphon, the capital, he met the Eastern Patriach Sabrisho I ( 596-604), and received as presents from him perfumes and gifts, which used to be sent to the Patriarch from India and China.10
At the time of Patriarch Ishoyabb II ( 628-46) priests mostly belonging to the monastic order, and Bishops from his Church were sent to India: this indicates likely the strengthening of the existing bonds between the Indian Christians and the East Syrian Church. The custom of sending Middle East clergy to India lasted with ups and downs beyond the middle of 16th century. It appears that the Christians in India first depended on the Metropolitan of Perat d’ Maisan ( Basrah) and on that of Rew Ardasir in south west Iran since 5th century. How ever the Church in India obtained its own metropolitan see sometime in the 7th or 8th century presumably in Kerala.11
On two occasions Christian immigrants from the Persian empire, from Iran or Iraq landed in Kerala and joined the already existing community here. The first group reached about AD 774/795. It was led by a bishop called Thomas, perhaps the monk Thomas consecrated by Catholicos Timothy I. The second party of immigrants reached Quilon either in 813/825 Ad or a century later in 910 AD. They were lead by two Bishops called Proth and Sabor and by the merchant Sabrisho.12
According to the only preserved Syriac manuscript written in Kerala during the medieval period the Metropolitan of India under Catholicos Yahballaha III ( 1281-1317) was in 1301 AD Bishop Jacob. The title of Metropolitan was “ Metropolitan and Door of All India” and in the Vatican MSS of 1301, the bishop is named “ Metropolitan and Director of the Holy Church in India “
9. Syond of Diamper and Coonan Cross Oath
The Portuguese, after initial professions of friendship, started a concerted effort to subject the Malabar Church to Roman obedience, replacing the Chaldean bishops with Portuguese ones and Latinizing the Malabar liturgy.
Mar Abraham, the last Syro- Chaldean Archbishop of the Thomas Christians died in 1597. George ( of Cross) , his Archdeacon, according to the custom and by virtue of appointment of Mar Abraham, took up the administration of the Archdiocese of Angamale.
Dom Alexis Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, summoned all the priests, other clerics and four lay men elected from each church, even from the churches he had not visited under the pain of excommunication in 1599 for the Syond of Diamper . About 130 ecclesiastics and 660 laymen ( elected and specially invited) met at Diamper in the territory of Kingdom of Cochin. The Chaldean Patriarch was condemned as a heretic and schismatic, and they were made to swear that they would not accept any bishop except the one immediately nominated by Rome.
Fr. Roz SJ was nominated as successor to Mar Abraham on Nov 5, 1599. Bishop Roz SJ, centralized in himself all the authority reducing almost to nothing the powers of Archdeacon. In 1608, the Archdeacon complained and did not get any reply. He was even excommunicated though absolved in 1615. This Archdeacon was George ( of the Cross), whom Mar Abraham had recommended to be his coadjutor and who was the nephew of the George ( of Christ), Bishop elect of Palayur. Quarrels again broke out between Archdeacon in 1618, when he was not made the Administrator when Roz SJ went to Goa. Bishop Roz SJ died on Feb 16, 1624 and was succeeded by Britto Stephen SJ.
Initially relationship was friendly between Bishop Britto Stephen SJ and Archdeacon. Archdeacon again wrote to Papal Nuncio in Lisbon complaining that no reply was received for the petition of 1608 and other things he requested Dominican Donato to be made the coadjutor to Brito SJ. The Nuncio recommended the petition and Rome nominated Donato as coadjutor to Brito SJ. But Donato was killed by pirates on his way to Malabar. Tensions increased between Bishop Brito SJ and Archdeacon. Brito SJ signed a document by which he could not nominate, remove or suspend any vicar nor excommunicate anyone with out the consent of the Archdeacon.
Archdeacon George ( of the Cross) died c 1634 and was succeeded by Archdeacon Thomas. Bishop Britto SJ died in 1641 and Garcia Franics SJ succeeded him. A regular fight ensued between the new Archbishop and the new Archdeacon Thomas. Bishop Garcia SJ had to yield to the Archdeacon in many things and it is said that the Archdeacon had secret correspondence between the Nestorian, Coptic and other Patriarchs, but according to some he wrote only to the Chaldean Patriarch.
In 1652, Ahatallah arrived in Mylapore who informed the Saint Thomas Christians that he is the Patriarch of All India and China who has all the powers given by Pope. In the name of Mary, Mother of God, he invited all the Thomas Christians to rally around him. The whole Thomas Christian community was roused and insurrections took place everywhere. Fr. Manoel de Leira SJ, from Mylapore informed the Portuguese about the movements of Ahatallah. The Portuguese authorities arrested and deported him to Goa via Cochin.
The Archdeacon reached Cochin with a number of soldiers and demanded to see Patriarch Ahatallah and to examine his credentials. He said he would not demand the Patriarch’s release if the credentials were found false. The Portuguese agreed first but soon they deported Ahatallah to Goa with out showing him or his credentials to the Archdeacon and his followers. The behavior of Archbishop Gracis SJ has been haughty. A false rumor was spread that Ahatallah was drowned by the Portuguese off the coast of Cochin. The Archdeacon wrote to the Portuguese Captain that they wont obey any Jesuit and let any other four religious order come and they are ready to obey with out hesitation. All moved to Mattancherry near Cochin tied a long rope as tradition says to the open ari cross called the Coonan Cross and holding the rope swore they would never be under the Paulists. ( ie, the Jesuits). All the Thomas Christians except a few ( 400 or 500 or 4000) adhered to those who had taken the Coonan Cross Oath on Friday, January 3rd 1653.
10. Subsequent divisions in the Community
A meeting was held at Edapally and then again at Alangat on May 22, 1653, twelve priests imposed their hands on Archdeacon Thomas calling him Archbishop Mar Thomas I. A letter said to be of Ahatallah was also produced. The meeting also provided four councilors to Archdeacon. Alexander Parampil of Kuravilangadu, Alexander Kadavil of Kaduthuruthy, George Vendur of Angamale and Anjilimootil Ittithomman of Kallicherry were the four councilors.
A manifesto was also produced and it was said that Jesuits did not paid attention to the mandate of Pope and that the Archbishop was ordained by the order and command of Patriarch Ahatallh who came by the order of Pope.
Rome send Carmelites in two groups under the Propagada Congregation to Malabar headed by Fr. Sebastiani and Fr. Hyacinth. Fr. Sebastiaini arrived first in 1655. He began directly deal with the Archdeacon, Mar Thomas I. Fr. Sebastianini gained the support of many, especially with the support of Alexander Parampil, Alexandar Kadavil and the Vicar of Muttam, ( the three councilors of Mar Thomas I were reconciled with Bishop Gracia SJ before the arrival of Sebastaini according to some Jesuit reports) . By 1657, the Carmelites had succeeded in reconciling forty-four churches. Chandy Perambil (Alexander de Campo) who was a relative and councilor of Archdeacon Thomas headed the movement. Except few Southist Churches none were ready to be under Jesuits.
Fr.Sebastaini, went back to Rome to submit the Report leaving behind Fr.Matheo. In his absence the other group of Carmelites under the Fr.Hyacinth arrived and negotiated with the Archdeacon Thomas . But since another Archdeacon was appointed by Bishop Gracia SJ and he was not ready to give up his position, Mar Thomas I resumed his former stand.
Sebastiani came back in 1661 as Bishop and Administrator of Cranganore. Bishop Gracia SJ had already died in 1659. Between 1661 and 1662 the Carmelites, got around eighty-four churches, leaving only thirty-two churches to the Archdeacon Thomas who was ordained as Mar Thoma 1. The author doesn’t know how “partial control ” churches are included in this list.13
Based on this, these 84 Churches and their congregations where the body from which Syro Malabar Church have descended and the other 32 Churches and their congregation where the body from which Syriac Orthodox and their subdivisions Mar Thoma Church ( Reformed Syrians-1876 AD), Orthodox- Jacobite Split ( 1910-1912 AD), Syro Malankara Church ( 1930 AD) have descended. Chaldean Syrian Church ( from Catholics- 1874 AD) and Thoziyur Church ( from Syriac Orthodox- 1772 AD) has less population since there formation.
The Dutch defeated the Portuguese and captured Cochin in 1662 and forced all other Europeans to leave Malabar. The Carmelite Bishop Sebastiani had provided a list of eighty-four churches as under them to the Dutch Governor.Bishop Sebastaini, then consecrated Alexander Parampil as the Bishop. Fr. Matheo, who was a botanist, gained the favor of Dutch government and stayed back in Malabar.
In 1665, Mar Gregorius a Bishop send by the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch arrived in Malabar and was received by Mar Thomas I.
In the mean time, two new terms, Pazhayakuttukar to represent Catholic Syrians and Puthankuttukar to represent Jacobites also emerged. According to Paulinus of Saint Bartholmew, these names were already existing before the arrival of Mar Gregorius from Syriac Orthodox Church, that representations were already sent to Rome and that those who had decided to abide by the decision of Rome were called Pazhaykuttukar and others as Puthankuttukar.
In an another report, which was send to Propaganda by two Carmelite missionaries in 1698 AD, mentions that Syrian Christians as a whole had 107 parish churches and four other churches which were not parishes, thus making a total of 111 Churches. Of these, 67 belonged to Catholics: 32 belongs to the Syriac Orthodox: and 12 were partly Catholic and partly Orthodox.14
Succeeding centuries were eventful among both the Syriac Orthodox Jacobites and Catholics with periodic efforts for unity.
10.1 Succeeding centuries Among the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites)
The Jacobites were governed by the successors of Mar Thomas I. Mar Thomas I was followed by Mar Thomas II, Mar Thomas III, Mar Thomas IV, Mar Thomas V and all related to Mar Thomas I and to one another. The Jacobites of India also received Bishops from Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. In 1676, Mar Andrew Alveus and in 1685 a Catholicos Mar Basil and Mar John came to Malabar. In 1741 Mar John came from Jacobite Patriarch. In 1751 Mar Basil, a Catholicos and Mar Gregory and Mar John came to Malabar. Mar Thomas VI succeeded Mar Thomas V in 1765. Mar Gregory and Mar John consecrated Mar Thomas VI as Mar Dionysius I.
In course of time, the Syriac Orthodox Jacobites of India was eventually administered as an autonomous church within the Syrian Patriarchate. They gradually adopted the Western Syrian language and Antiochene liturgy.
The Anjoor ( Thozhiur) Church known today as Malabar Independent Syrian Church originated at the year 1772, when Mar Cyril was expelled from Travancore and Cochin by Mar Dionysius I. Mar Dionysius I was followed by Mar Thomas VII. He died in 1809 after having instituted his successor Mar Thomas VIII. Mar Thomas died in 1815 and was followed by Mar Thomas IX.
All the prelates from Mar Thomas I to Mar Thomas IX were related to one another. In 1815 an influential priest Rabban Ittoop got himself consecrated as Mar Dionysius II at the hands of Mar Philoxenos, the then Bishop of Anjoor Church. With government help he deposed Mar Thomas IX and took control. The same Anjoor Bishop again consecrated the Vicar Generals of Mar Dionysius II as Mar Dionysius III. The Anglican missionaries became very influential among the Jacobites during the regime of Mar Dionysius III.
Mar Dionysius III died in 1825 and Mar Dionysius IV succeeded him. To oppose the Protestant doctrine, Mar Dionysius IV got down Mar Athanasius from the Jacobite Patriarch. But he wanted to depose Mar Dionysius IV and the bishop of Anjoor and become the sole ruler of Jacobites of Malabar. He was deported from Malabar. The Jacobites and Anglican missionaries parted ways in 1837 after negotiations and some 6000/12000 Jacobites joined Anglican Church. They remained as a separate entity until they joined Church of South India.
The Jacobites friends of Anglicans were entertaining the desire to reform the Jacobite Church in Malankara according to the doctrine and practice of Anglican Church. They send a deacon, Mathew to the Jacobite Patriach. He was consecrated as Bishop Mathew Mar Athanasius. With the credentials of Jacobite Patriarch he reached Malabar in 1843 and proclaimed himself head of the Jacobites of Malankara. Mar Dionysius IV, informed the Patriarch about the Anglican tendencies of Mathew Mar Athanasius. Mar Qurilos was send to Malabar by Patriarch with blank papers. Mar Dionysius IV died in 1855 and Mar Qurilos was ordered to leave Malabar. Mar Stephanos also came from the Patriarch. Mean time Pulikottil Joseph, a priest who was managing suit against Mathew Mar Athanasius was consecrated by the Patriarch as Mar Dionysius V.
Mathew Mar Athanasius died in 1875 and his successor Thomas Mar Athanasius carried on law suits against Mar Dionysius V. Finally Mar Dionysius V got victorious and others, therefore formed an independent church, the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church ( the reformed Syrians) , which introduced many doctrinal and liturgical changes of a western Protestant character.
In 1912, there was a split among the Indian Syriac Orthodox Jacobites which resulted in two parties the Bishop Party and the Patriarch Party. The two sides were reconciled in 1958, but again split happened by the actions initiated by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch in 1975. In the 1995 judgment of Supreme Court of India, it has been ruled that there is only one Orthodox Church in India and it is split in to two factions. These are known as Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church and Malankara Orthodox Syriac Church.
In 1930 the Syro-Malankara Church came into being as an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church when some Jacobites under the leadership of Mar Ivanios united with Rome; they continued the use of Antiochene liturgy.
10.2 Succeeding centuries Among the Catholics
The Catholic Syrians were ruled by Mar Parampil Chandy ( Alexander de Campo) . In 1674, he requested Rome to elect a coadjutor and proposed his nephew, Mathew for the position. Carmelites arrived in India in 1676, with special Dutch passports ( as Dutch wont allow any other European to work in their areas) and they were asked by Rome to elect an Indian. They elected Raphael Figueredo in 1677, who was not a Syrian Catholic but born as an Indian in the sense that he was a half caste Portuguese. This election shook the confidence Syrian Catholics had in Carmelites and quarrels started to arise. Bishop Raphael Figueredo was later suspended and Custodius de Pinho was appointed as the Vicar Apostolic in his place. Mar Parampil Chandy died in 1687. Raphael Figueredo and Custodius de Pinho died in 1695 and 1697 respectively.
In 1694, the nephew of Mar Parampil Chandy, Mathew was nominated as the Archdeacon under Padroado. In 1700, Angelus Francis was nominated as Vicar Apostolic of Malabar under Propaganda. Since no Portuguese Bishop would give him Episcopal consecration, he was consecrated by a Chaldean Bishop Mar Simon of Ada who arrived in Malabar. Ribeiro SJ was nominated as Archbishop of Cranganore in 1704. In 1704, many Catholic Syrians met at Kaduthuruthy and manifested their desire to be under Carmelites. Archdeacon Mathew and party was against Carmelites but all were asking a Bishop of their own rite. Catholic Syrians were given permission to pass under Propaganda, if they disliked the Padroado. Another Chaldean Bishop Mar Gabriel came in 1709 and some 22 churches of both Catholic and Jacobites joined him. The churches under Padroado was comparatively enjoying peace in consideration to churches under Propaganda jurisdiction. The representatives of 73 churches under Propaganda met at Angamale and they had a mind to reinstate the ancient office of Archdeacon. The Carmelitie Visitor Apostolic Lawrence Justiniani rushed to the place and put his signature on all their proposals except one.
Mar Cariattil Thomas ( Prelate 1782-1786), Paremmakal Thomas and Sankurikal George were Administrators under Padroado. After Mar Cariattil’s death Paremmakal became the administrator of Cranganore. Under him the representatives of all the 84 Churches assembled at Angamale and executed the famous Angamale Padiola.
When Paremmakal was living a deputation went to Chaldean Patriarch and one of them Pandari was consecrated as Bishop and send to Malabar. After the death of Paremmakal, Kattakkayam Abraham was elected as Administrator and Mar Pandari came out as his supporter. Sankurikal George was appointed as administrator in 1800. While Paremmakal was the Administrator of Cranganore, all the Catholic Thomas Christians were under him, ie under the Padroado jurisdiction. After his death they again began gradually divided between Padroado and Propaganda jurisdictions. This continued till the suppression of the Padroado jurisdiction in 1838 and when all came under the Propaganda.
In 1802, Propaganda nominated Guriel Mar John, the Chaldean Bishop of Salmas as Visitor Apostolic of Malabar to pacify them. In 1861 Mar Rokos Thomas came to Malabar and began to exercise jurisdiction. Fr.Chavara persuaded Mar Rokos Thomas to go back and accompanied him till Cochin where he took a ship to Basora in 1862. The Churches that had followed Mar Rokos Thomas were allowed to choose between Propaganda and Padroado ( restored) jurisdiction. A priest named Thondanatt accompanied Mar Rokos to Mesopotamia and he was consecrated at the hands of rival Patriarch ( Assyrian) and returned to Malabar. After coming back he started living like a priest. Mar Mellus Elias came to Malabar in 1874 and some 30 Padroado and 2 Propaganda churches followed him. Mar Abdiso Thondanatt also joined Mar Mellus Elias. Another Bishop also came from Chaldean Patriarch, named Mar Jacob and he went back to Mesopotamia chiefly due to the efforts of Nidhiry Mani Kathanar. Mar Mellus Elias was forced to go from Malabar in 1882 and before going back he entrusted his followers to Mar Abdiso Thondanatt and to Augustine ( a Chaldean Corepiscopus who had come to help Mar Mellus Elias) and in 1908 they received a Nestorian ( from the rival line Patriarch ) bishop, Abimlech Mar Timotheus and those who followed began to be known as Chaldean Syrian Church.
In 1887, two Apostolic vicariates of Kottayam (Changanacherry) and Trichur were created for Syrian Catholics.
11. Few Indian Origin MSS prior 16th century
Before the Syond of Diamper of 1599, there were many Syriac MSS in India, which contained extensive biblical, liturgical and patristic literature. The Syond how ever ordered the destruction of books and this order was actually carried out at Angamale, Chinganore and elsewhere.15
The following are a list of the surviving Indian MSS which has been preserved in various libraries as mentioned. This list is incomplete.
a) Codex Syriac Vatican N- XII- It contains a Church Lectionary of the Pauline Epistles. The Colophon gives the date that it was written in 1301 AD.
b) Codex Syriac Vatican N- XVII- It contains a Syriac New Testamnet written by Jacob, Metropolitan of India, in the town of Shingala ( Cranganore) in the Church of the Aposlte Thomas on a Thursday in the year 1510 AD
c) Codex Syriac Vatican N- IV- It is the book of the Prophets written on 18th February in the year 1556 AD by a priest Jacob, the disciple of Mar Jacob at the Church of Mar Shapur and Mar Yapot ( Piruz ?) at Phuraor.
d) Two Syriac MSS- Written in India by the Metropolitan Joseph in 1557 AD which containes the Synodical Canons of Addisho and the prayers of the novices .
e) Codex Syriac Vatican N- II- This holy book of New Testament was finished in the Church of our Lady Mary, the mother of light and life in the blessed town of Angamale on May 1558.
f) Codex Syriac Vatican N- III- Book written by George at the Church of our Lady Mary, the mother of light and life in the blessed town of Angamale on January 1558
g) MS Cod. Syr.Vat XXXV- This is dated 1562 written by Simon, son of Simon at the Church of our Lady Mary, the mother of light and life in the blessed town of Angamale.
h) Syr. MS No- 25 of Paris- This is written in 1504 AD after the arrival of Bishops from Mesopotamia.
12. The Nasrani People
In early Sixteenth century writings Christians of Malabar, appear to have spread over all the Kingdoms and principalities from the Southern portion of the territory of Calicut up to the northern half of the lands of the Quilon and to some extent even beyond that limit up to Cape Comorin. There were also Christians in Mylapor and Coramnondal Coast as attested by the traditions of Saint Thomas Christians.
They were found in greater numbers in certain localities and therefore these places came to be called as Christian localities and Cranganore and Quilon are two of them. The Majority of the Christians lived in interior regions called by the Portuguese the “Serra” and hence the Christians of Serra was the synonym for Thomas Christians in contradistinction from the new converts. The principle localities mentioned by some early sixteenth century Portuguese writers as Christian localities are Palyporam ( West of Vaikkam), Arretomto ( probably Arratungal), Maleas ( Malayattur ?), Turubuli ( Thodupuzha ?) , Maota ( Cherthala) , Batimene ( Wenmani) , Porca, Travancore, Pimenta, Tecancute, Paru, Cortute, Cartute ( Kaduthuruthy), Angamali etc.16
Some details are also mentioned in the letter send by the metropolitan Mar Jacob to the Chaldean Patriarch in 1504 AD after the arrival of four Bishops in Malabar. It states that “ The country in which Christians were living was called Malabar which had twenty towns, in all of which Christians lived with churches built in them. The three important of these towns were Crangol (Cranganore) , Palor ( Palayur) and Colam (Quilon). Nearby was the great and rich town of Calicut where idolaters were living. The Christians had abundance of everything and were meek and peaceful. Just previously they had begun to build new churches and some of them had taken up residence in Mailapore ( which was 25 days journey from Malabar, on the sea shore on the province of Silan, which is one of the province of India), with the intention of restoring the “House of the Holy Apostle Thomas” which is in that town.”
In the 1604 report of Bishop Francis Roz, the miracles associated with the churches of Palur ( Palayur) , Enamaque ( Enammakkel) , Mattam, Mattancher ( Mattancheri) ,Xaregate (?) , Balianate ( Velayanadu) , Mangate ( Alangad) , Paru ( Parur) , Corlengate ( Kuravilangadu) , Molandurte ( Mulanthuruthy) , Caramatete, ( Kadamattathu) Colingere ( Koanchery) , Muttam, Angamale are mentioned.
Bishop Roz ( 1604) , also distinguished five communities on the basis of the settlement of the Mylapore Christians in different places on the Malabar coast after their dispersion. These are Cranganore, Quilon, Todamala, Depur and Travancore Coast. Of these only the first two group kept their faith in some way or other while the others got lost to Christianity in the course of time.17
13. Nasrani People Today
Nasrani people today belong to various Christian denominations of the Saint Thomas Christian tradition belonging to Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches.
Nasrani people largely live in the districts of Kottayam, Ernakulam, Trichur, Tiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, Alapuzha and Idukki in Kerala State. They have also migrated to other cities in India like Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi etc. Others have migrated to the United States or work in the Middle East. Based on the Indian census report of 2004, there are presently approximately 5,000,000 Syrian-Malabar Nasranis from across the various denominations within the Nasrani community. Many Nasrani people own estates and engage in trade of rubber, spices and cash crops.They also take a prominent role in the educational institutions and healthcare institutions of Kerala and throughout India.
Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
Last Update: July 15, 2009
- Last Update July 12th 2009. If any of the statements are misleading, please bring that to my attention. The general references are from 1. L Brown- “ The Indian Christians of Saint Thomas”, 2. Mackenzie GT –“ Christianity in Travancore”, 3. Medlycott-“ India and the Apostle Thomas”, 4. Mingana-“ The early spread of Christianity in India”, 5.Mundadan-“ The Arrival of Portuguese in India and Saint Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob”, 6. Mundadan-“ Sixteenth century traditions of Saint Thomas”, 7.Nedungstt-“ Syond of Diamper resvisted” 8. Placid- “ Thomas Christians”, 9. Placid-“Varthamanappusthakam”, 10. Perumalil, Hambye- “ Christianity in India”, 11. Tisserant- Hambye- “ Eastern Christianity in India”.
In the Syond of Diamper and subsequent happenings, many details are not included as the objective was to cover them in brief. [↩]
- The Thomas Christians, Placid Podipara [↩]
- The Thomas Christians, Placid Podipara [↩]
- Mundadan- “History of Christianity in India” p-199, Kanichikatil- “Divine liturgy in the vision of Narsai” p-107, Macomber – “The oldest known text of the Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari” [↩]
- Mundadan “ Sixteenth Century Traditions of Saint Thomas Christians. P-60-67 [↩]
- Placid- “ The Thomas Christians” [↩]
- Mingana “ The Early Sprad of Christianity in India” [↩]
- Mingana “ The Early Sprad of Christianity in India” [↩]
- Assemani “ Histoire Nestorienne” IV p-219-22, Hambye “ Some Eastern Evidences,”, p-187 [↩]
- Mundadon “ Origins of Christianity in India ( 1st-6th Century)” [↩]
- Rewardasir had the title of Metropolitan of Persia and the Islands of the sea. India as Metropolitan perhaps already under Catholicos Ishoyahb III ( 650-57) or Saliba – Sacha ( 714-28), but certainly since Patriarch Timothy I – Hambye- “ The Eastern Church “ [↩]
- Hambye “ The Eastern Church” [↩]
- Catholic Encyclopedia- “St. Thomas Christians”- Carmelite Period [↩]
- APF, Congregationi Particolari, Vol.30,f.807 [↩]
- Mingana-“ The early spread of Christianity in India” [↩]
- Mundadan-“ The Arrival of Portuguese in India and Saint Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob” [↩]
- Mundadan-“ Sixteenth century traditions of Saint Thomas” [↩]