The Christian community in Kerala and those especially at Quilon are intimately attached to the memory of two Bishops, known as Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz. They are generally presented as two saintly brothers, who came to India some time between 8th and 9th century from the parts of Chaldea or Persia. The foundation of City of Quilon is claimed as the work of Christian immigrants in A.D. 825. It is the year from which the Malayalam era ( Kollavarsham ) is reckoned. There exist consistent traditions about this settlement of Christians at Kollam.These two pious Saintly brothers were known as Church builders and a number of Churches built by them were known as Katheeshangal or Quadisagal.
Most of the Portuguese accounts of Sixteenth Century mentions about the existence of Christian community before the arrival of Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz in Quilon. The spellings of the names of these Prelates are written differently such as Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz, Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh, Mar Xabro and Mar Prodh etc. The name which appears in the Copper plate granted in AD 880 is Marvan- Sapir-Iso. A local Syriac document written in eighteenth century by a Mathew, states that the Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Parut (Piruz) came with the illustrious Sabr’isho to India. It is not clear if Sabr’isho was a merchant or one of the names used for the two saintly brothers.
This article analysis the 1) Earliest Reports about these Bishops, 2)About the name of these two Saintly brothers, 3) About the year of arrival4) Copper Plates granted in AD 880, 5) Katheeshangal (Quadisagal) , 6) About the Christians & Churches at Quilon , 7) Summary
1. Earliest Reports about these Bishops- Two Saintly brothers
|Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna||1533|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604|
|Mathew ( local document)||18th century|
1.Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna
The earliest report about these two Bishops seems to be the testimony of the ChaIdean Bishop Mar Jacob Ahuna, in 1533. About 700 years ago, (i.e, in the course of the 9th century), according to Mar Jacob Abuna, two saintly brothers, natives of Armenia, came to Quilon. They went to Cranganore and thence to Ceylon from there. One of them was named Xaor and the other named Aproits. They brought from Ceylon big logs of wood belonging to a temple. They brought these to Quilon and made use of them for building a church in some ground they obtained from the king of the place. The church stood there when Mar Jacob Ahuna gave his testimony in 1533 AD.
2.Correa ( 1564)
According to Correa ( 1564) these two saintly brothers preached and converted many to Christianity. On the seaside there was a stone near where they used to pray. ( This is also mentioned by Castanheda, Barbosa ). They worked many miracles. They died and were buried in Quilon. According to Correa, their remains were still there.
According to Dionysio ( 1578), he heard from the Christians of St. Thomas that these men came from Babylon. They also belonged to those Christians who had persevered in the faith after their dispersion and confirmed them in the faith. They converted others there by the number of the Christians increased. It was some 800—1000 years previously that that had happened during the time of Dionysio’s testimony. The first church they erected was a church at Quilon.
4.Gouvea ( 1604)
Gouvea ( 1604) connects the so-called Christian dynasty with the prosperity of the Christians which followed the arrival of these two men.
5.Bishop Roz Report ( 1604)
All the accounts and the general tradition of Christians of Saint Thomas mentions the place of arrival of these brothers as Quilon. Only Bishop Francis Roz (1604), Bishop of Angamale alone mentions their first landing place in Malabar as Malianquara (which for him meant “the land or port of Malabar”) which lay in front of Paliport ( North Pallipuram) to the northern side.
According to the oral tradition which Bishop Francis Roz heard among the Christians of St. Thomas, these brothers brought to that place (Malianquara) a big log of wood to build a church. In commemoration of this event the Christians used to assemble there from time to time with their prelates and celebrated Qurbana in great solemnity. According to this testimony, in the time of Mar Joseph, thirty or more years ago, over eighty thousand Christians of Saint Thomas assembled in that place. Bishop Francis Roz seems to be wrong here, as the feast he explains is the commemoration of the landing of Saint Thomas, the apostle at Maliamkara not of the arrival of these saintly brothers. This is clear from the letter of Amador Correia SJ (1564) published in “Documenta Indica”. Only eight thousand people assembled for the commemoration that year and it was not eighty thousand people.
The rest of the story, Bishop Francis Roz connects with Quilon.According to what Roz found in the Chaldean books, two brothers came to Quilon, built there a church and worked some miracles. What these miracles were, was not mentioned in the books. Tradition says thus: The brothers having no money to pay the workers, who had helped them to build the church, used to pay them sand as wages and this turned at once into rice. They built the church near the sea in the 100th year after the foundation of Quilon. Bishop Roz also goes on to speak of the Quilon grant, the Quilon Copper plates and the privileges accorded to the Quilon church by the king of the place.
According to him, this has happened some 679 years ago, as is known from the copper plates which are in the possession of the Tarega or the landlord of Tevalicare (Thevalakkara).
Finally Bishop Roz adds that the bodies of the two brothers lay buried in the church they had built. In some slabs of the tomb there is a writing in letters. The characters appeared to him Abyssinian and not Chaldean or Malabarian.
The Church after it was burned down was rebuilt by the Portuguese and only due to carelessness it go to the Diocese of Cochin. Hence its Vicar called Fr. Gregorio dos Reis put forth claims and levied the revenue for a year. This was what the Christians of Saint Thomas used to received for their church at Upper Quilon after they moved there. But the Bishop of Cochin gave orders that things should be settled as they were before.
The two brothers were popularly known as Quadisagal i.e., saints. Their feast was celebrated on the 19th of May. The Archbishop of Goa, during his visit to Malabar, changed the feast, fixing in its place the feast of SS. Gervase and Protase on the 19th of June according to the Roman calendar. These saints, whose names were similar to those of the said Chaldean brothers, were chosen in order not to displease the Christians.
Le Quien says that “These bishops were Chaldaeans and had come to Quilon soon after its foundation. They were men illustrious for their sanctity, and their memory was held sacred in the Malabar Church. They constructed many churches and, during their lifetime, the Christian religion flourished especially in the kingdom of Diamper.”1
Le Quien and other historians make mention of them as workers of many miracles and Syrian Christians held them in great veneration.2
A Svriac document written in Malabar at the beginning of the eighteenth century by a certain person named Mathew, recounts the tradition as following,
“In those days and in the days that followed, Syrian Fathers used to come to that town by order of the Catholicos of the East. and govern the diocese of India and Malabar because it was from it that the Syrians used to go to other parts until they were dispersed. Then in the year 823, the Syrian Fathers, Mar Sapor and Mar Parut (Piruz) with the illustrious Sabr’isho came to India and reached Kullam. They went to the king Shakirbirti, and asked from him a piece of land in which they could build a church for themselves and erect a town. He gave them the amount of land they desired, and they built a church and erected town in the district of Kullam, to which Syrian bishops and Metropolitans used to come by order of the Catholicos who sent them.”
2. About the name
|Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna||Xaor and Aproits|
|Correa||Apreto and Thor|
|Dionysio||Two saintly men|
|Gouvea||Mar Xabro and Mar Prodh|
|Bishop Francis Roz||Sapor and Aprot|
|Mathew ( local document)||Mar Sapor and Mar Parut (Piruz) with Sabr’isho|
The spelling of both names is uncertain. The Chaldean Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna calls them Xaor and Aproito. Correa writes them as Apreto and Thor. Gouvea, calls them as Mar Xabro and Mar Prodh respectively ( also quoted by Raulin). Bishop Roz writes them as Sapor and Aprot.A local Syriac document written in eighteenth century by certain Mathew states that the Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Parut (Piruz) came with the illustrious Sabr’isho to India.
The name which appears in the Copper plate grant is Marvan-Sapir- Iso. According to Mingana, it is the Syriac, Marvan Sabr- Isho, which means ” Our Lord Sabrisho”. Mar is the Syriac title of all Bishops and Sabrisho is a very common Syriac name meaning ” Jesus is my hope”. According to Mingana, therfore the name is not Sapor at all and what appears on the Copper plate is Sabrisho and this disposes the doubtfull hpothesis written by Burnelll, Rae and others.
Burnell ( The Indian Antiquary, 1874, P-310 ) mentions that in the charter of the Church, it is said to have been built by one Ishodatavirai. According to Mingana, the proper name is the well known Syriac name ” Isho dad” which is formed of a Syriac and Persian compunded meaning, ” Jesus gace” or ” Jesu-datus”.
Sapur and Pheroz are also Persian names. In the official list of the Persian dioceses, there was a Bishop of Pheroz and Sapur, holding the fourth rank in the East Syrian hierarchy.3
3. About the year of arrival
|Testimony||Year of Arrival|
|According to Malabar tradition||c.823|
|Quilon Copper Plates||Granted in the year c.880|
|Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna||c.833 ( 700 years before 1533)|
|Dionysio||c.778 (800 or 900 years before 1578)|
|Bishop Francis Roz||c.925 ( 679 years before 1604)|
|Mathew ( local document)||c.823|
Malabar tradition assigns the year 823. According to the Chaldean Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna some 700 years before 1533. Dionysio says 800 or 900 years before 1578, Goueva puts the year as 780. According to Bishop Franicis Roz 679 years before 1604.
Assemani believes that they were sent to India by the Chaldean Patriarch in about 992 AD. Le Quien ‘Oriens Christianus’ Paris 1740 col. 1275 gives the year 880
4. Quilon Copper Plates
There are five copper plates still in existence which contain the record of grants made to the Christians and others of Quilon. The first set of plates is dated the fifth year of Sthanu Ravi. This is dated Ca A.D. 880. The donor King gave certain perquisites and privileges to the Tarisa Church built at Quilon by Sahr’isho. The King gave some lowcast People as servants of the Church and exempted them from paying certain specified rates and taxes. He also gave them the right of entry to the market Any crime committed by these people would be tried by the Church. The Church was given also the administration of customs at Quilon, that is, the steelyard and weights and kappan ( probably the official seal).
A second set of plates were also given by King Ayyan and are of about the same date. The plates contain details of grants to the Tarisa Church, to the Jews, and to the Manigrammam.
Authentication of the Copper plates of Quilon : The Bishop Francis Roz report of 1604 gives some interesting details about an authentication done on the Copper plates of Quilon.
In 1601 October, by order of Dom Franics Ros, Bishop of Angamale, Cassanar ( Kathanar) Etymani copied and authenticated these Copper plates.
According to this testimony, it is said in these Copper plates that the king of Quilon gave to the Church or the Apostles the right over one percent of all things counted, measured or weighted. This is collected for the expenses of the church and also for the seventy-two honors.
The occasion for copying those plates was that the vicar of Quilon of the old Church which then came under the Diocese of Cochin claimed the whole of these revenues for the old church of Quilon. This Church during the time of authentication belonged to the Bishop of Cochin. Saint Thomas Christians, claimed that this was cheating, because from the same plates it is clear that the revenues were given not to the plot or to the walls of the church but to the Christians of Saint Thomas who possessed that church. The Christians of Saint Thomas had left that Church as they had transferred to Upper Quilon where they had a cross earlier.
The reason of the transfer, as is proved with testimonies sworn on the holy gospels, was that when the Portuguese arrived at Quilon, the Christians of Saint Thomas living there recognized them as people of one and the same law as themselves. These Christians saw them making the sign of the cross and so they accepted them. Afterwards the Portuguese had some quarrels with the Moors ( Muslims) , and the King intervened. Six or Seven Portuguese took refuge in the Church of the Christians of Saint Thomas. The King wanted to put the Portuguese to death and so he send a message to the Christians that he had nothing against them, as they are his vassals and that they should leave the church. But they did not want to leave but opted to die with the Portuguese. Hence the king burned the Church down and in it perished that Portuguese and forty Christians of Saint Thomas tighter with a deacon.
It was in these circumstances that the Christians moved to Upper Quilon and built a church there which they have now. And they used to levy the revenues which the said King had granted to the two Armenian brothers for the church they built. Because of the negligence of the Christians this revenue is not fully levied now, as is stated in the said olla. Finally Bishop of Diocese of Cochin, settled the issue ordering the rights to the Church of Christians of Saint Thomas.
5. Katheeshangal (Quadisagal)
The Churches at Quilon (?), Udaymperoor, Akaparambu, Kothanellur, Kadamattam (?) ,Kayamkulam, North Paravur are called as Quadisagal. The feast of these brothers were celerbated in 19th of May, which Menezes changed to 19th of June to that of SS. Gervase and Protase according to the Roman calendar. The Churches which were dedicated to Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz were later on re dedicated to All Saints and SS. Gervase and Protase.
6. About the Christians and Churches at Quilon
a) More details about Christians at Quilon from 14 &16th century records
The Franciscan John Marignola of Florence spent fourteen months at Quilon during the period April 1348- August 1349. He then returned to Europe via Mylapore, Ceylon and the Persian Gulf. He has maintained that Saint Thomas Christians ( as he uses) are much more numerous than the Mohammedans. As the Papel legate, he had received large gifts from the Christians. He also mentions that the Christians were the masters of the public weighing office.
In early 1500’s, according to Goes, there were some 2,000 families of these Christians in the whole Kingdom of Quilon. According to Empoli, in the town, itself there were 3000 of them residing around their Church and they were called Nazzareni Christians.
In Cochin, Vasco de Gama ( 1502) was visited by the queen of Quilon who came with the objective of establishing trade relations with the Portuguese. The King of Cochin was not averse to this, the Portuguese accepted the proposal and sent ships to load pepper. It was agreed to send two ships every year to take pepper. A Saint Thomas Christian named Matias ( Mathias) , living in the neighborhood of Quilon has helped the Portuguese in this.
Afonso d Albuquerque who came to India in 1503, made a peace treaty with Quilon, in which among the other things, arrangements were made to begin a factory in Quilon. In the “Commentarios” of Afonso d Albuquerque, it is mentioned that one of the clauses of this treaty was concerned with the judiciary rights of Christians of Quilon. This clause provided that the civil and criminal jurisdiction should be in the hands of the native Christians, as it had been previously. Antonio de Sa, the factor of Quilon was given the charge of exercising this power according to the counsel and advice of native Christians.
Albuquerque further recommend to the factor to provide well for the Church of native Christians which was called “ Our lady of Mercy” which was built according to these Christians miraculously by two saints, buried in two chapels inside the Church. There were three altars in it and three crosses, one of gold on the central altar, the two other of silver each on the other two altars. The Christians offered Albuquerque, the golden cross to be taken to King Manuel but the Captain declined to take it and accepted the silver cross. The Captain told the Christians that Cross would be a sign for the King that there are Christians in these part of India and that King would send ornamentations for the Church as it was customary among the Christians.
When Albuquerque, was about to leave Quilon, the Christians told him about their desire to get from the King of Quilon, all their rights and privileges restored. As noted from the Copper plate, previously the Christians had the right – that is the seal and the weight of the town was in their hands. The King took this right from them because of the fault of one person. Albuquerque answered that nothing for this was provided in the peace treaty and that he entrusted A de Sa, to speak to the sovereign of Quilon in the name of King of Portugal.
There are some documents which indicate that the Portuguese were also using the Church of Saint Thomas Christians at Quilon in 1505. In the same year the Church was burnt by Mohammedans merchants on their plot against their rival Portuguese. They attacked the Portuguese factor at Quilon at a time Portuguese where least prepared and killed the factor who had taken refuge in this Church as the Church was strongly built with stone and tiled roof. The Church was burnt down and the Mohammedans escaped after looting the factory before Portuguese military help came.
According to the information gathered by Bishop Francis Roz a century earlier ( as mentioned in his Report of Serrra 1604), some 40 Saint Thomas Christians and a deacon also perished in the fire. In 1516 a new treaty was signed by Quilon and Portuguese. This treaty besides ratifying the old judicial rights also made a provision that the church burnt down by the Mohammedans should be rebuilt at the expense of Queen of Portugal at her cost, in the original dimensions where the church stood. In 1520, the treaty was renewed and one of its clause stipulated that the queen should grant to the churches of the Christians, the rents and grants which had been formerly given to them. It appears from the second treaty that the burnt church was restored between 1516 and 1520 in accordance with the treaty of 1516.
In the Sixteenth century Jornada (1599) of Dom Alexis de Menezes, the Arch Bishop of Goa, the Portuguese historian Antonio de Gouvea mentions about the Olas of Copper sheets the Christians of Quilon showed him. Alexis de Menezes stayed many days at the Church at Teualecare (Thevallakara ).
b) More details about Churches at Quilon from 16th century records
It is difficult to make out from these Portuguese accounts on where exactly the first church of the community stood in Quilon.
In 14th century, there are references about two churches in Quilon, one dedicated to Saint Thomas ( was also called Our Lady of Mercy is some documents of sixteenth century) , likely that founded or rebuilt by the two Persian Bishops. The other of Saint George is known to have built by Friar Jordan Catalani. Though originally built for Latin use, this was taken over by the Syrians.
It is not certain that the Church, which was burnt by Mohammedans ( 1505) and rebuilt by Portuguese ( according to the treaty of 1516) was returned to Saint Thomas Christians or was used by Portuguese. It seems that this old Church where the saintly brothers were buried were used by Portuguese later and then went to Diocese of Cochin. In 1604, Bishop Franics Roz – Angamali diocese had under him, the new Church the Christians of Saint Thomas built at Upper Quilon, after the burning down of the old Church in 1505. The old Church which the Portuguese rebuilt was not under the jurisdiction of Bishop Roz, but was under the Bishop of Cochin, who had hardly any Saint Thomas Christians under him. This old Church is said to have taken by sea later.
One group of Portuguese authors maintain that the Church at Quilon was built by Apostle himself ( Barbosa, Castanheda, Goes, Barros) and another group says it was built by the two saintly brothers. (Abuna, Correa, Dionysio, Roz, Gouvea).
a) Reports about these Saintly brothers
|Testimony||Year||Named as||Year of Arrival|
|Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna||1533||Xaor and Aproits||c.833 ( 700 years before 1533)|
|Correa||1564||Apreto and Thor|
|Dionysio||1578||Two saintly men||c.778 (800 or 900 years before 1578)|
|Gouvea||1604||Mar Xabro and Mar Prodh||c.780|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604||Sapor and Aprot||c.925 ( 679 years before 1604)|
|Mathew ( local document)||18th century||Mar Sapor and Mar Parut (Piruz) with Sabr’isho||c.823|
b) Reports about Christians at Quilon
|Reported by||Year||Gist of the report|
|Barbosa, Castanheda, Goes, Barros||16th century||Church at Quilon built by Apostle Thomas|
|Abuna, Correa, Dionysio, Roz, Gouvea||16th century||Church at Quilon built or rebuilt by two Saintly brothers, Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz in 9th century|
|Correa,Castanheda, Barbosa||1564||Existence of Christians at Quilon before the arrival of two Saintly brothers.|
|Mar Abuna and others||1533||Arrival of Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz in Quilon in 9th century.|
|Tradition||Churches built by the Saintly brothers known as Katheeshangal (Quadisagal)- Quilon (?),Udaymperoor, Akaparambu, Kothanellur, Kadamattam(?), North Paravur, Kayamkulam|
|Many||c.880||Copper Plate grants to Church and Christians in 9th century|
|Franciscan John Marignola||1348||Numerous Christians at Quilon and they are masters of the public weighing office|
|Portuguese Records||1502||Vasco de Gama agreement to load two ships of pepper every year from Quilon. Thomas Christian Mathias helped in this.|
|Afonso d Albuquerque||1503||Civil and criminal jurisdiction concerning them in the hands of the native Christians. Recommendation for the care of Church where the saintly brothers are buried. Silver Cross as gift to Portuguese King from Quilon.|
|Bishop Roz and other Portuguese Reports||1505||Church at Quilon burnt by Mohammedan merchants|
|Bishop Roz and other Portuguese Reports||1516-20||Church burnt was restored but used by Portuguese and gradually came under the Bishop of Cochin|
|Bishop Roz and other Portuguese Reports||?||Thomas Christians moved to Upper Quilon and built a Church there.|
|Antonio de Gouvea||1599||Archbishop of Goa, Dom Alexis de Menezes stayed many days at Church at Teualecare (Thevallakara ). The Christians showed the Copper plates to Archbishop.|
|Synod of Diamper Records, Bishop Francis Roz||1599||Quadisagal – the feast was changed to 19th of June ( SS. Gervase and Protase ) from 19th of May of the two Saintly brothers. Slowly the Quadisagal was also re dedicated.|
|Bishop Roz and other Portuguese Reports||1601||Authentication of the Copper plates of Quilon due to a conflict between Thomas Christians at Quilon and the Vicar of their old Church which then came under the Diocese of Cochin.|
Note about the sources-
- Mundadan- ” Saint Thomas Christians 1498-1552″
- Mundadan-” Sixteenth Century Traditions of Saint Thomas Christians”
- Schurhammer ( 1934)
- Nedugant – “ Syond of Diamper Revisited”, Rome
- Mingana -“Early Spread of Christianity in India”
- Bishop Francis Roz Report- British Museum Manuscript BS Add MS 9853 titled “Report from Serra ( 1603/1604)” – Relacao da Serra – by the first latin prelate of Angamali.
Portuguese Records published in full
- Dr. Silva Rego – “ Antonio da, Historia das Missoes do padroado Portugues do Oriente, India Vol I ( 1500-1542)”
- Anonio da- “Documentacao para a Historia da Missoes do Padroado Portugues do Oriente”, India 12 Volumes ( 1947)
- Wicki Joseph SJ- “ Documenta Indica “ 7 Volumes, Rome ( 1948)
- Schurhammer SJ “ Franz Xaver, Sein Leben und seine Zeit” “ Die Zeitgenesischen Quellen zur Geschichte “ “ Epistolae S Francisci Xaverii” “ Historia seraphica da Ordem dos Frades Menores des “.
Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
Last revised- Dec 26th 2009.