Early references about the Apostolate of Saint Thomas in India, Records about the Indian tradition, Saint Thomas Christians & Statements by Indian Statesmen

Early references about the Apostolate of Saint Thomas in India, Records about the Indian tradition, Saint Thomas Christians & Statements by Indian Statesmen 5.00/5 (100.00%) 3 ratings

Tradition says that at the dispersal of the Apostles after Pentecost, Saint Thomas was sent to evangelize the Parthians, Medes, Persians and Indians; he ultimately reached South India, carrying the Faith to the Malabar coast, which still boasts a large native population calling themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” The Apostle is believed to have speared to death in Mylapore (Madras). His feast day is July 3rd and is the patron of architects.

The earliest record about the apostolate of St. Thomas is the apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas, written in Syriac in Edessa. A number of fragmentary passages in other writings of the third, fourth and the following centuries speak about the Indian apostolate of St. Thomas. The Indian traditions of the Apostolate of Saint Thomas consist of a combined tradition of Kerala, Mylapore/ Coromandel, and the East-Syrian Church. The Portuguese in early sixteenth century has recorded the tradition.

Saint Thomas Commemoration Stamp

Saint Thomas Commemoration Stamp

This article examines, 1) Acts of Thomas, 2) Early references about the Apostolate of Saint Thomas in India, 3. Which India meant ? 4) About the Indian Tradition of Saint Thomas and Records of the tradition, 5) Further references about Saint Thomas Christians, 6) Statements of prominent Indian Statesmen, 7) Statements of Religious Leaders .

1. The Acts of Thomas

The earliest record about the apostolate of St. Thomas is the apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas, written in Syriac in the Edessan circle (Edessa, today called Urfa, in eastern Turkey), about the turn of the third century A.D. Even though this work has been acknowledged as apocryphal, Gnostic in touch, and romantic in style, several scholars find in it a historical nucleus, which represents the second century tradition about the apostolate of St. Thomas in India.

The Syriac text is published by P. Bedjan, Vol. III (1892), W. Wright, (1871), A.F.J. Klijn (1962) gives an English text: A.E. Medlycott, (1905), pp. 221-25, indicates different versions and editions of the Acts, and pp. 213-97, provides a critical analysis of the same. J.Farquhar’s articles are also useful.

Act of Thomas Contents- King Gudnaper ( Gundapar) of India sent Haban to get an architect to build a palace. Habban took with him Thomas, who was sold to him by Christ. Both landed in Sandroqmaboza ( Andropolis in the greek version) . Thomas there converted the royal couple after performing a miracle. Both went to Gudnapar. Thomas got money to build the palace, but spent it for the poor. Thomas was imprisoned. Gudnapar’s brother Gad saw in heaven the palace built by Thomas. Thomas was released and the royal brothers baptized. Thomas went to the kingdom of Mazdai: baptized the queen: was imprisoned for having preached continence to the women of the palace. He died a martyr having been pierced through by the lances of the soldiers of Mazdai.

The Acts of Judas — Thomas, probably originated in a milieu of Upper-Mesopotamia, perhaps Edessa, and go back either to the last quarter of the second century A.D. or to the first years of the third. The author is a Syrian who is able to recognize the name ‘Thomas’ as a nickname derived from t’omo, which means twin; therefore he has preserved the real name, Judas, which, according to the old Syriac version of the Gospels, was the name of Thomas-Didynius. From this detail we can assumes that, in those days, the old version of the Gospels had not yet been replaced by the Peshitto.

According to the Acts, the Apostle St. Thomas preached the Gospel in the land of Gondaferes or Gundaphares. This prince is the Parthian King Guduphara, who was ruler of Afghanistan and the Punjab during the second quarter of the first century A.D. Most of the critics of the nineteenth century have refused to concede any historical value to the Acts of Judas—Thomas and nobody can deny that they are full of fabulous details.

It has recently been observed that it was unlikely for a writer of the third century to have invented the story contained in the document. It is remarkable that the sovereign’s name, which is a historical one, should have been preserved intact in a rather remote country, and all the more so as it has left no traces in any historical or legendary work of India, and has reappeared only in the nineteenth century on coins and on an inscription of Gandhara.

The Gudnapar ( Goundophoros in the greek version) could also be King Kandapa or Kandapar to whom the Coromandel traditions connects to Saint Thomas.

The highly documented study of A. E. Medlycott in 1905, the thesis of Fr. Dalhmann SJ in I912, and the articles of J. N. Farquhar in 1926, have effectively contributed towards lessening the suspicions of the critics about the Apostolate.

The presence of Saint Thomas in North West India doesnot exclude his South India mission. The Acts tells the departure of Saint Thomas from the court and kingdom of Gundaphares in order to continue preaching the Gospel in some other part of the India. This journey of the Apostle according to Farquhar, must have been connected with the Kushans invasion of the Indus valley, which occurred about AD 50.1

It is therefore quite possible that when driven away by the invaders, Habban, the kings merchant and his friend Saint Thomas chose as a place of safety one of those harbors of South India, Muziris for example, where there were many Jews, Syrians, Greeks etc.

In accordance with the tradition, the Apostle probably left the mouth of the Indus for Socotra, and from Socotra he must have reached Muziris, Cranganore.

Mazdai, in whose Kingdom the Apostle died could be the South Indian ruler of Pandya of the Coromandel coast who was Matsiadev , ie, King of the fish emblem as he was called. The name of the person seen in the Acts do not as a whole appear as Indian or South Indian might be due to the romantic nature of the Acts.

Medlycott believes that details given by the Acts on the life at Gundaphares’s court are better fitted to a Maharajah’s court than to the residence of a Parthian prince.2

Medlycott ( 1905), AC Perurnalil ( 1952), Vath ( 1925), Hambye ( 1952), Farquhar ( 1926), Dahlmann ( 1912) are some of the detailed studies published about this.

2. Early references about the Apostolate of Saint Thomas in India

Besides, a number of fragmentary passages in other writings of the third, fourth and the following centuries speak about the Indian apostolate of St. Thomas. From the fourth century onwards the major Churches are unanimous in their witnessing to the tradition.

The early references St. Thomas in India are chronologically: 3rd century: Syriac Acts of Thomas (C. 200), Clement of Alexandria, Syriac Doctrine of The Apostles. Origen (c. 2.41, 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), Passjo Thomae (c.550), Gregory of Tours (d. 594);. 7th century; John of Saba (c. 630), Isodore of Seville (d. 636) etc.3

Following are these references arranged chronologically. All these testimonies are of a date prior to the commencement of the Malayalam or Kollam era, i.e. A. D. 825. Many of these belong to centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325 AD.4

I.The Acts of Judas Thomas Century: 2nd/3rd (c. 180-230) Church represented: Syrian Sources.

Gist of Testimony : The Apostles cast lots as to where they should go, and to Thomas, twin brother of Jesus, fell India. Thomas was taken to king Gondophoros as an architect and carpenter by Habban. The journey to India is described in detail….After a long residence in the court he ordained leaders for the Church, and left in a chariot for the kingdom of Mazdei. There, after performing many miracles, he dies a martyr.

II. Clement of Alexandria Century: 3rd (d.c. 235) Church represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical Note : Greek Theologian, b. Athens, 150. After conversion, and touring Italy, Syria, and Palestine taught at the oldest centre of sacred science in Christian history viz. The Catechetical School of Alexandria where he succeeded his teacher Pantaenus. Defended orthodoxy against Gnosticism.

Gist of Testimony : Clement makes a passing reference to St. Thomas’ Apostolate in Parthia. This agrees with the testimony which Eusebius records about Pantaenus’ visit to India.

III . Doctrine of the Apostles Century: 3rd Church represented: Syrian Sources.It may be termed the primitive Manual of Catechism of the Church, representing its early usages, customs and belief.

Gist of testimony : “After the death of the Apostles there were Guides and Rulers in the Churches…..They again at their deaths also committed and delivered to their disciples after them everything which they had received from the Apostles;…(also what) Judas Thomas (had written) from India”.

“India and all its own countries, and those bordering on it, even to the farther sea, received the Apostle’s hand of Priesthood from Judas Thomas, who was Guide and Ruler in the Church which he built and ministered there”. In what follows “the whole Persia of the Assyrians and Medes, and of the countries round about Babylon…. even to the borders of the Indians and even to the country of Gog and Magog” are said to have received the Apostles’ Hand of Priesthood from Aggaeus the disciple of Addaeus (Cureton, pp. 32, 33, 34).

IV. Origen Century: 3rd (185-254?) quoted in Eusebius, cf. infra Church represented: Alexandrian/ Greek Biographical Note : Christian Philosopher, b-Egypt, Origen taught with great acclaim in Alexandria and then in Caesarea. Edited the Bible in six parallel Hebrew and Greek versions (the Hexapla). Many other works including his theological De principis and his polemical Contra Celsum.

Gist of Testimony : He is the first known writer to record the casting of lots by the Apostles. Origen’s original work has been lost; but his statement about Parthia falling to Thomas has been preserved by Eusebius. “Origen, in the third chapter of his Commentary on Genesis, says that, according to tradition, Thomas’s allotted field of labour was Parthia”.

V. Eusebius of Caesarea Century: 4th (d. 340) Church Represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical Note : Eusebius of Caesarea or Eusebius Pamphill, Greek historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History in 10 books.

Gist of Testimony : Quoting Origen, Eusebius says: “When the holy Apostles and disciples of our Saviour were scattered over all the world, Thomas, so the tradition has it, obtained as his portion Parthia….”

VI. Ephrem Century: 4th Church Represented: Syrian.

Gist of Testimony : Many devotional hymns composed by St. Ephraem, bear witness to the Edessan Church’s strong conviction concerning St. Thomas’s Indian Apostolate. Some lines from St. Ephraem appear in Medlycott’s translation elsewhere in these pages. ,

There the devil speaks of St. Thomas as “the Apostle I slew in India”. Also “The merchant brought the bones” to Edessa. In another hymn apostrophising St. Thomas we read of “The bones the merchant hath brought”. “In his several journeyings to IndiaAnd thence on his return, All riches, which there he found, Dirt in his eyes he did repute when to thy sacred bones compared”. In yet another hymn Ephrem speaks of the mission of Thomas “The earth darkened with sacrifices’ fumes to illuminate”. “A land of people dark fell to thy lot”, “a tainted land Thomas has purified”; “India’s dark night” was “flooded with light” by Thomas.

VII. Gregory of Nazianzus Century:4th (d. 389) Church Represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical Note : Gregory was born A. D. 330, consecrated bishop by his friend St. Basil; in 372 his father, the Bishop of Nazianzus induced him to share his charge. In 379 the people of Constantinople called him to be their bishop. By the Greeks he is emphatically called “the theologian’.

Gist of Testimony : “What? were not the Apostles strangers amidst the many nations and countries over which they spread themselves?…Peter indeed may have belonged to Judea; but what had Paul in common with the gentiles, Luke with Achaia, Andrew with Epirus, John with Ephesus, Thomas with India, Mark with Italy?”

VIII. Ambrose of Milan Century:4th (d. 397) Church Represented: Western Biographical Note : St. Ambrose was thoroughly acquainted with the Greek and Latin Classics, and had a good deal of information on India and Indians. He speaks of the Gymnosophists of India, the Indian Ocean, the river Ganges etc. a number of times.

Gist of Testimony : “This admitted of the Apostles being sent without delay according to the saying of our Lord Jesus… Even those Kingdoms which were shut out by rugged mountains became accessible to them, as India to Thomas, Persia to Mathew..”

IX. St. Jerome (342- 420)

“He (Christ) dwelt in all places: with Thomas in India, Peter at Rome, with Paul in Illyricum.”

X. St. Gaudentius ( Bishop of Brescia, before 427)

“John at Sebastena, Thomas among the Indians, Andrew and Luke at the city of Patras are found to have closed their careers.”

XI. St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431)

“Parthia receives Mathew, India Thomas, Libya Thaddeus, and Phrygia Philip”.

XII. St. Gregory of Tours (d. 594)

‘Thomas the Apostle, according to the narrative of his martyrdom is stated to have suffered in India. His holy remains (corpus), after a long interval of time, were removed to the city of Edessa in Syria and there interred. In that part of India where they first rested, stand a monastery and a church of striking dimensions, elaborately adorned and designed. This Theodore, who had been to the place, narrated to us.’

XIII. St. Isidore of Seville in Spain (d. c. 630)

“This Thomas preached the Gospel of Christ to the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians, the Hyrcanians and the Bactrians, and to the Indians of the Oriental region and penetrating the innermost regions and sealing his preaching by his passion he died transfixed with a lance at Calamina…a city of India, and there was buried with honour”.

XIV. St. Bede the Venerable (c. 673-735)

“Peter receives Rome, Andrew Achaia; James Spain; Thomas India; John Asia.

3. Which India meant ?

Several places such as Ethiopia, Arabia Felix etc once went by the name India. One can not exclude South India any way from this India. The South India in particular was known to the early Greek and Romans. Number of Roman coins, even those of the Republican period are occasionally discovered in Malabar and other parts of South India.5

Saint Jerome and Saint Ambrose had knowledge about the customs of the Brahmins who certainly were inhabitants of South India. Saint Ambrose, morever describing the journey of a Thebean says that he reached “ Muzirim totius Indiae citra Gangem emporium”. Muziris, was none other than Cranganore on the Malabar coast as is clear from early Roman and Tamil writings. The IXth century martyrology of Usuard ( Idibus Juli ) distinguishes the India of Bartholomew from the India of Thomas which latter, it says “ is on the confines of the wolrd” where “Thomas was pierced through”.

Saint Ephrem, Saint Gregory Nazianzus, Saint Ambrose, Gaudentius, Saint Jerome, Paulinus of Nola, several ecclesiasticl calenders, martyrologies and other works explicity connects Saint Thomas with India so much so that Dr. Mingana says for the Syrian and the Christian Arab writers, India and Thomas are synonyms.6

4. About the Indian Tradition of Saint Thomas and Records of the tradition.

The Indian traditions of the Apostolate of Saint Thomas consist of a combined tradition of Kerala, Mylapore/ Coromandel, and the East-Syrian Church. Some details of this combined tradition may be found in a few songs (e.g. the Rabban Song and other such songs), which now exist in written records. These records in the present form cannot be traced farther back than the eighteenth or the seventeenth century. The people of Kerala undoubtedly possessed a rich oral tradition, which was reflected fully or partially in their folk songs and even in written records. And all these various vehicles of tradition were available in the sixteenth century to the inquisitive Portuguese. They made ample use of these sources to put down their accounts in the form of letters, depositions, and well-composed histories. Such accounts went on accumulating during the whole of the sixteenth and well into the seventeenth centuries. They are today the richest, and perhaps the earliest written sources of Indian tradition on the mission of Apostle Thomas in India, his death, burial and tomb in Mylapore.7

The Portuguese accounts are more comprehensive and they drew freely on the oral tradition, folk songs, accounts and Syriac books, which the community possessed at that time. Almost all the local accounts, especially the Syriac books, were burnt by the Portuguese authorities during and after the Synod of Diamper.

The Portuguese gathered almost exhaustively the local traditions about St. Thomas and his Christians. From the time of their discovery of the tomb in Mylapore (1517) they were extremely careful to record whatever they heard from the people of the place. In 1533, at the order of the Portuguese king, an official inquiry was conducted which brought to light most of the local traditions. The Portuguese put these on record. Today there exist a wealth of information in various documents of which the following are of primary importance:8

A letter written by Manuel Gomes, one of the visitors to the tomb in 1517: which he penned it from Mylapore itself. The report of the inquiry of 1533. A letter from the citizens of Mylapore (called by the Portuguese as Sao Tome at the time of the composition of the letter). A few letters of Miguel Vas and of Francis Xavier are some of them.

These information from these primary sources may be supplemented with the descriptions given by such writers as Barbosa (1918-21), Barros (1777-78), Calado (1957), Castanheda (1551), Correa (1560-63), Gomes (1926), Gonçalves, D. (1955), Goncalves, S. (1957-62), Andrada (1540), Osorius (1571), Dionysio (1578), Monserrate (c. 1579), Valignano (1583), Maffei (1747), Andre de Santa Maria (1598-99 and 1601), Lucena (1600), Ros (1601 and 1604 and 1586/Hausherr (1928), Gouvea (1606), Couto (1603-11), Ramusio (1550). There are also a few other documents, like the gift deed donating the Little Mount to a certain religious order, letters of Ruy Vicente (1581), D. Leitao (1581), and A. Boves (1599). Also writings of later missionaries like Montforte (1751), Soledade (1705), Paulo de Trindade (1962-67), Sebastiani, Paulinus etc.

Many of these documents are published by J. Wicki ( 1948) and Silva-Rego ( 1947). Studies based on these are published in English by Schurhamrner (1957) and Mundadan.( 1970).

In general these documents are faithful records of what the Portuguese saw and heard. Still they are not free from some preconceived ideas of the writers and their own interpretation of the actual findings, and so we find it difficult at times to distinguish this biased interpretation from fact.9

Several attempts have been made to convert the oral tradition into writing. Bernard’s Malayalam history of the St. Thomas Christians contains a good deal of the oral tradition. L.W. Brown and Card. Tisserant reproduce some of it. Hambye, Placid explored this sources more systematically.

5. Further references about Saint Thomas Christians

The Chronicle of Seert states that in 300, Bishop David of Basra visited India, traveled the country and won converts. The Council of Nicea had an attendance of 318 Bishops and out of this one was from India. At the Council of Nicea during the writing of the Nicene Creed in 325 AD, Mar John, Archbishop of India In his signature to the decrees of the Council, gave his title as “Prelate of Metropolitan of Persia and the Bishop of Great India.”

In 340-360 AD ( 7th century ?) Thazhekad sasanam granted special privileges to the Nasranis. The edict was written on stone and provides proof of the early existence of Nasranis in Kerala.

Theophilus (surnamed the Indian), an Arian, sent by Emperor Constantius (about 354) on a mission to Arabia Felix and Abyssinia is another earliest account which draws attention to the Christians of Malabar coast. He had been sent when very young a hostage a Divoeis, by the inhabitants of the Maldives, to the Romans in the reign of Constantine the Great. His travels are recorded by Philostorgius, an Arian Greek Church historian, who relates that Theophilus, after fulfilling his mission to the Homerites, sailed to his island home. He visited other parts of India, reforming many things — for the Christians of the place heard the reading of the Gospel in a sitting, etc. The people referred to were the Christians known as a body who had their liturgy in the Syriac language and inhabited the west coast of India, i.e. Malabar.

“And thence he journey to other parts of India and did much to improve the church practises there- ie, in external customs: for example the custom of congregation to remain seated during the reading of the Gospel lessons and similar points in ritual. But with respect to doctrine he found nothing needs correction “

Ephrem the Syrian ( ca. 306 – 373) who is venerated by Christians especially among Syriac Christians throughout the world writes many hymns, poems and homilies about St. Thomas mission in India.

“‘Blessed art thou, like unto the solar ray from the great orb; thy grateful dawn India’s painful darkness doth dispel.
‘Thou the great lamp, one among the Twelve, with oil from the Cross replenished, India’s dark night floodest with light.”10

The facts relating to the Apostle St. Thomas evangelization of India are not attested only by the one individual, Ephrem the Syrian, but carry with them the assent of a whole Syrian Church, that of Edessa. A long public tradition in the church at Edessa honoring Thomas as the Apostle of India resulted in several surviving hymns that are attributed to Ephrem, copied in codices of the 8th and 9th centuries. References in the hymns preserve the tradition that Thomas’ bones were brought from India to Edessa by a merchant, and that the relics worked miracles both in India and at Edessa. A pontiff assigned his feast day and a king erected his shrine.

Moreover, as these hymns in great part became incorporated in the Liturgy of the Syrian Church, and were sung in that Church, first at Edessa, they have received the most emphatic support a Christian people can give to facts, the knowledge of which regards them in some special manner. The Thomas traditions became embodied in Syriac liturgy, thus they were universally credited by the entire Eastern Christian community there.11

The Early Church Fathers Clement, Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa and Rufinus wrote of the deeds of St. Thomas and support the traditions of the Mesopotamians and Christians of St. Thomas. Those who refer to Thomas in India include St. Ephraim, St. Gregory of Nazainzus, St. Gaudentius, Jerome, St. Paulinus of Nola, and St. Gregory of Tours.12

Cosmas Indicopleustes [Indicopleustes is Latin for ‘Indian Navigator’], who traveled to south India between 520 and 525 AD. He wrote about his experiences in 535. Cosmas documents the existence of large Christian communities in southern India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Socotra. He states:

“Even in the island of Taprobane in Inner India where the Indian Sea is, there is a church of Christians, with clergy and a congregation of believers… And such is also the case in the land called Male where the pepper grows. And in the place called Kalliana there is a bishop appointed from Persia, as well as in the Island of Socotra in the same Indian Sea.13

The Bishop of Tours in his In Gloria Martyrum, a work which he revised in 590, writes ‘Thomas the Apostle, according to the narrative of his martyrdom, is stated to have suffered in India. His holy Remains (corpus), after a long interval of time, were removed to the city of Edessa in Syria and there interred. In that part of India where they first rested, stand a monastery and a church of striking dimensions, elaborately adorned and designed”14

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, relating the events of the early history of England, mentions that the greatest of Anglo-Saxon kings who ruled over Southern England also venerated the memory of the Apostle of India and showed himself grateful for benefits received by his intercession. While King Alfred was defending the city of London, besieged by the heathen Danes, he made a vow to send gifts to Rome and to Apostle shrine in India. It was in fulfilment of this vow that King Alfred sent an Embassy with gifts to Rome, and to India to the Shrine of the Apostle:

‘The year 883[884]. In this year the army went up the Scheldt to condé, and they sat down one year. And Marinus, the Pope, then sent lignum Domini [a relic of the Cross] to King Alfred. And in the same year Sighelm and Aethâlstan conveyed to Rome the alms which the king had vowed [to send] thither, and also to India to Saint Thomas and Saint Bartholomew, when they sat down against the army at London; and there, God be thanked, their prayer was very successful, after that vow.’

The embassy of Alfred in 833 CE described the Syrian Christians as being prosperous and enjoying high status in the Malabar coast.

The history of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Infancy Gospels has an old reference about the Apostate in India,

“And the apostle Thomas, after he had taught the Indians, and the Chinese, and the Cushites, and [ the people of ] all the islands near and far, having crossed the sea in his [ journeys to ] preach, was one day preaching in India, when the Spirit revealed Himself in his heart saying, “O Thomas, rise up and go unto Jerusalem, and see the Virgin before she departeth from the world …”15

Indian Christians have also left us important accounts of southern India and its Christians. John the Indian ( also called as the Archbishop of India ) arrived in Europe in 1122 and told of miracles associated with St. Thomas that occurred in the land of India.16

In 1167, Rabbi Benjamin of Toledo unintentionally retraced the steps of St. Thomas in a voyage across Assyria and Babylonia on his way to India. He wrote of his quest to visit the Jews of the eastern lands. He describes southern India and the Jews that reside there as being “black.”17

John of Montecorvino, an Italian traveled from Persia they moved down by sea to India, in 1291, to the Madras region or “Country of St. Thomas” where he preached for thirteen months and baptized about one hundred persons; his companion Nicholas died. From there Monte Corvino wrote home, in December 1291 (or 1292), the earliest noteworthy account of the Coromandel coast furnished by any Western European. Traveling by sea from Meliapur, he reached China in 1294, appearing in the capital “Cambaliech” (now Beijing)18

Marco Polo also visited southern India and the Saint Thomas Christians. Marco Polo repeats the Saint Thomas’ visit to India, and also mentions visiting the place where he was buried in India in his writings Il Milione. Marco Polo traveled throughout India and the Far East from 1271 until 1292. He may have visited India in the year 1288 AD. Concerning the tomb of Saint Thomas, Marco Polo says, “The body of Saint Thomas lies in the province of Malabar in a little town. There are few inhabitants, and merchants do not visit the place for there is nothing in the way of merchandise that could be got from it, and it is a very out – of – the-way spot. But it is a very great place of pilgrimage both for Christians and Saracens [Moslems]. For I assure you that the Saracens of this country have great faith in him and declare that he was…a great prophet and call him Aariun, that is to say ‘Holy Man’ “

The houses as well of Saint Thomas the Apostle have commenced to be occupied by some Christians who are looking after the repairs; they are situated at a distance from our aforesaid Christians (of Malabar) of about twenty-five days,57 and stand in a city on the sea named Meliapor, in the province of Silan, which is one of the provinces of India.’19

Marco Polo also recounts the veneration of Saint Thomas in south India and miracles ascribed to him by the Mar Thoma people. He recounts another version of the death of Saint Thomas, which is very similar to the death of Krishna who while meditating in the forest is struck dead by the stray arrow of a hunter. Marco Polo states Thomas was accidentally killed by a Hindu in such a manner.20

A Syriac codex preserved in the Vatican archives, written in Cranganore in 1301 AD, refers to the Apostle Thomas as the founder of the Indian Church.

John of Monte Corvino, a Franciscan sent to China to become prelate of Peking about the year l307. He reported in a letter that he had spent more than a year in India, “wherein stands the church of St. Thomas the Apostle,” and that he there baptized in different places about l00 persons. He also maintained that there are Christians and Jews scattered around and there is persecution against them by heathens.21

Friar Odoric of Udine who arrived in India in 1321 witnessed these Christians of St.Thomas. He visited Malabar, touching at Pandarani (20 m. north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Kulam or Quilon, proceeding thence, apparently, to Ceylon and to the shrine of St Thomas at Maylapur near Madras. He writes he had found the place where Thomas was buried. He mentions that beside the tomb of St.Thomas, there are fifteen houses of the Christians .22

Father Jordanus, a Dominican, followed in l321-22. He reported to Rome, apparently from somewhere on the west coast of India, that he had given Christian burial to four martyred monks.23
Jordan Catalani a French Dominican missionary and explorer in Asia known for his “Mirabilia” describing the marvels of the East. In 1329, he furnished the best account of Indian regions and the Christians , the products, climate, manners, customs, fauna and flori given by any European in the Middle Ages – superior even to Marco Polo’s.24

In 1347, Giovanni de’ Marignolli visited the shrine of St Thomas near the modern Madras, and then proceeded to what he calls the kingdom of Saba, and identifies with the Sheba of Scripture, but which seems from various particulars to have been Java. Taking ship again for Malabar on his way to Europe, he encountered great storms.25

Another prominent Indian traveler was Joseph, priest over Cranganore. He journeyed to Babylon in 1490 and then sailed to Europe and visited Portugal, Rome, and Venice before returning to India. He helped to write a book about his travels titled The Travels of Joseph the Indian which was widely disseminated across Europe26

Nicolò de’ Conti is another Venetian merchant and explorer who traveled to India. He visited “Pacamuria”, “Helly” and Vijayanagar and capital of the Deccan before 1555. It was in India that he coined the phrase ‘Italian of the East’ to refer to the Telugu language, which he found had words ending with vowels, similar to Italian. He went to “Maliapur” on the east coast of India (modern-day Mylapore, in Chennai), where he visited the tomb of St. Thomas, who in Christian tradition is recorded to have founded a Christian community there. In his writing in 1469, he describes the tomb of St.Thomas as, “The body of St. Thomas lies honorably buried in a very large and beautiful church; it is worshiped by Christians and inhabit this city [Mylapore] to a number of a thousand. These Christians are scattered over all India, in like manner as are the Jews among us”

Ludovico di Varthema, is another Italian traveler and writer who visited Malabar in 1504, he describes the society, manners and customs of Christians of Malabar, as well as the topography and trade of the city, the court and government of its sovereign (the Zamorin), its justice, religion, navigation and military organization.27

“ In this city [Quilon] we found some Christians of those of St. Thomas, some of whom are merchants and believe in Christ, as we do. They say that every three years a priest comes there to baptize and that he comes from Babylon.”28

An Italian letter written from India at the same time continues to praise the devotion of Christians of Malabar Coast “In this kingdom [Cochin] there are many Christians converted by St. Thomas, whose apostolic life their priests follow with great devotion and strictness. They have churches where there is only the cross….From these people our men learned that the body of St.Thomas lies 150 leagues from Cochin, on the seacoast, in a city of small population called Mylapore.”29

Portuguese trader Duarte Barbosa in 1513 visited Malabar coast and his Portuguese transcript give a varid account of the Chrisitans in this coast.30

Several non-European accounts of India have been preserved written by Jews, Muslims. Arab and Jewish travelers to India lived among the St. Thomas Christians and wrote about their experiences. Accounts in Arabic travel narratives, like the one by Ibn Battuta (who lived in Malabar from 1342 till 1348), Amr ibn Matta (AD 1340) and Mafazzal ibn Abil Fazail (AD 1358), testify to the early traditions of the missionary journeys of Saint Thomas and the presence of a strong Christian community in India.31

The legends of Prester John of the Indies, popular in Europe from the 12th through the 17th centuries, told of a Christian patriarch and king said to rule over a Christian nation lost amidst the Muslims and pagans in the Orient. Written accounts of this kingdom are variegated collections of medieval popular fantasy. Reportedly a descendant of one of the Three Magi, Prester John was said to be a generous ruler and a virtuous man, presiding over a realm full of riches and strange creatures, in which the Patriarch of Saint Thomas resided. He was immortal, wealthy and powerful and also eager to join with Europe to fight a crusade against the Muslims. The legend of Prester John had three historical sources; the Saint Thomas Christians of India, the Christian Empire of the Ethiopian Coptic Christians, and the Nestorians of Mongolia and Central Asia and these attracted the Europeans to India.

Since the arrival of Portuguese we have a number of records as mentioned above in the form of letters, reports and short histories. These are more comprehensive and drew freely on the oral tradition, folk songs, accounts and Syriac books, which the community possessed at that time.

6. Statements of prominent Indian Statesmen

First day cover- Saint Thomas the Apostle

First day cover- Saint Thomas the Apostle

“You may be surprised to learn that Christianity came to India long before it went to England or Western Europe, and when even in Rome it was a despised and proscribed sect. Within 100 years or so of the death of Jesus, Christian Missionaries came to South India by sea. They were received courteously and permitted to preach their new faith. They converted a large number of people, and their descendants have lived there, with varying fortune, to this day. Most of them belong to old Christian sects which have ceased to exist in Europe.”

Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India (1947 – 1964) in the book “Glimpses of World History” (1934)

“Remember, Saint Thomas came to India when many of the countries of Europe had not yet become Christian, and so those Indians, who trace their Christianity to him have a longer history and a higher ancestry than that of Christians of many of the European countries. And it is really a matter of pride to us that it so happened.”

Dr. S. Rajendra Prasad, President of India ( 1952-62), from his speech at the Saint Thomas Day Celebrations in New Delhi on 18 December 1955.

“Christianity has flourished in India from the beginning of the Christian era. The Syrian Christians of Malabar believe that their form of Christianity is Apostolic derived directly from the Apostle Thomas. They contend that their version of the Christian faith is distinctive and independent of the forms established by St.Peter and St.Paul in the west. What is obvious is that there have been Christians in the West Coast of Indian from very early time. They were treated with great respect by the Hindus, whose princes built for them churches.”

“Christianity has been with us from the Second Century AD. It has not merely the rights of a guest but the rights of a native “

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, President of India (1962-67) in “East and West in Religion” ( 1958)

“Christianity in India dates back to the days of Saint Thomas, one of the original disciples of Lord Jesus. Since then, it has flourished here and added a new dimension to India’s rich cultural heritage. With deep root in the soil, Indian Christianity has developed an independent personality of its own- Christian in religion, Oriental in worship and Indian in culture. This local character has been sustained, and enriched over the last many centuries”

Giani Zail Singh, President of India (1982 – 1987) , from his speech on October 26, 1983, inaugurating the Paurastya Vidyapitham, Vadavathoor, Kottayam.

7. Statements of Religious Leaders

“This is a Church of most ancient Oriental Rite, which according to ancient tradition, goes back to the preaching of the Apostle Thomas: and in fact the Malabar faithful are even today designated by the title “Christians of Saint Thomas”

Pope John Paul II, on August 31, 1980

“It is an honor and special grace for me to come to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Thomas the Apostle here in Madras. As so many pilgrims before me have done, I too come to venerate the Tomb of the Apostle to India. This holy place speaks of the history of the Church in this beloved land. It calls to mind, not only Saint Thomas and his martyrdom, but all the others after him who have dedicated their lives to the preaching of the Gospel, all those who have borne witness to Christ both in word and in deed.”

Pope John Paul II on his vist to India in 1986, at the Thomas Shrine, Madras – 5 February 1986.

Pictures 1] Clement of Alexandria 2] Origen 3] Eusebius of Caesarea 4] Ephrem 5] Gregory of Nazianzus 6] Ambrose of Milan 7] St. Jerome 8] St. Isidore of Seville

Note - The studies published on the different texts and passages about the Apostolate of Saint Thomas in India are, Medlycott – “ India and the Apostle Saint Thomas ( An enquiry, with a critical analysis of the Acta Thomae” ( 1905), AC Perurnalil SJ- “ The Apostles in India, Fact or Fiction” ( 1952), Vath SJ – “Der Hl Thomas Der Apostle Indiens. Ein Untersuchung uber den historishen Gehalt der Thomas- Legende” ( 1925), Hambye SJ- “Saint Thomas and India“ ( 1952), J N Farquhar – “The Apostle Thomas in North India“, “The Apostle Thomas in South India“, J Dahlmann SJ – “ Die Thomas- Legende und die altesten historischen Beziehungen de Christentums zum fernen Osten” ( 1912).

The Portuguese accounts published from Portuguese archives about the Indian tradition and records of the Indian tradition are – 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 “.

Mundadan “ Traditions of Saint Thomas Christians” ( 1970) The arrival of Portuguese in India and Saint Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob 1498-1552” ( 1967) and Schurhammer SJ “ The Malabar Church and Rome during the early Portuguese period and before” ( 1934), “ The mission work of the Jesutis in Muthedath and Porakad in 16th and 17th centuries” ( 1957) are some of the studies based mainly on these documents.

Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
Last Update July 17th 2009

  1. J N Farquhar, “ The Apostle Thomas in South India” []
  2. A E Medlycott “ India and the Apostle Thomas “ []
  3. Mundadan- “Sources for the history of the St. Thomas Christian church in the pre-diamper period by Mathias []
  4. George Menachery – “The St.Thomas Christian Encyclopedia” []
  5. In 1947, 80 Gold and Silver Roman coins were obtained from Eyyal, a village near Cranganore. These are now at Government Museum Thrichur []
  6. Placid- “ Thomas Christians” []
  7. Mundadan, – “Sources for the history of the St. Thomas Christian church in the pre-diamper period” []
  8. Mundadan, – “Sources for the history of the St. Thomas Christian church in the pre-diamper period” []
  9. Sources for the history of the St. Thomas Christian church in the pre-diamper period by Mathias Mundadan []
  10. Hymns on paradise: St. Ephrem the Syrian, Breviary Clement David []
  11. India and the Apostle Thomas- A.E. Medlycott []
  12. The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India and Articles – Prof George Menachery []
  13. The Indian Christians of St. Thomas,Leslie Brown, P- 68. []
  14. In Gloria Martyrum, Bishop of Tours []
  15. The history of the Blessed Virgin Mary, P-105 []
  16. The Quest for Eastern Christians, 117-121 and Neill, A History of Christian Missions, Rogers,P- 122 []
  17. Christians in Asia Before 1500, Gillman and Klimkiet, P- 164 []
  18. The Mongols and the West, Jackson, Peter (2005 []
  19. The Travels of Marco Polo (New York: Penguin Books, 1958), Marco Polo and Rusticello of Pisa, P- 274 []
  20. The Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo and Rusticello of Pisa P- 276. []
  21. Odoric of Pordenone (Nendeen, Liechenstein, 1967), Henry Yule, trans. Cathy and the Way Thither vol. II ,P-142. []
  22. Odoric of Pordenone (Nendeen, Liechenstein, 1967), Henry Yule, trans. Cathy and the Way Thither vol. II. []
  23. Dawn of Modern Geography, iii, C. R. Beazley,215-235 []
  24. Dawn of Modern Geography, iii, C. R. Beazley,215-235 []
  25. Historia Tartarorum ecclesiastica, part i., Mosheim p. 115 []
  26. The Quest for Eastern Christians, Rogers, P- 117-121 and Neill, A History of Christian Missions, Neill , P-122. []
  27. Historia Tartarorum ecclesiastica, part i., Mosheim p. 115 []
  28. Christians in Asia Before 1500, Gillman and Klimkiet P-175 []
  29. The Quest for Eastern Christians: Travels and Rumor in the Age of Discovery (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, Francis M. Rogers, (1962), P-122. []
  30. The Book of Duarte Barbosa by M. Longworth Dames []
  31. Christians in Asia Before 1500, Gillman and Klimkiet,, P-164. []

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  1. Perhaps we are not giving enough importance to testimonials from liturgical calendars. Liturgical calendar describes dictates the rhythm of the life of every church.

    There are many information’s available from liturgical calendars. Each days associated passages of Holy Scripture, Saints and events for commemoration, and many times special rules for fasting or feasting that correspond to the day of the week or time of year in relationship to the major feast days.

    St. Thomas evangelization and death in India is very well documented in liturgical calendars of almost all eastern churches. Can that be also included ?

    Post a Reply
  2. Pre-Portuguese Christianity in India: Kollam and Syrian Christians
    Kollam (Nelcynda) shares fame with Kodungallur (Muziris) as an ancient
    sea port on the Malabar coast of India from early centuries of the
    Christian era. Kollam had a sustained commercial reputation from the
    days of the Phoenicians and the Romans. Pliny (23-79 AD) mentions
    about Greek ships anchored at Musiris and Nelkanda. Musiris is
    identified with Kodungallur (then ruled by the Chera kingdom) and
    Nelkanda (Nelcyndis) with Quilon or Kollam (then under the Pandyan
    rule). Kollam was the chief port of the Pandyas on the West Coast and
    was connected with Korkai (Kayal) port on the East Coast and also
    through land route over the Western Ghats. Spices, pearls, diamonds
    and silk were exported to Egypt and Rome from these two ports on the
    South Western coast of India. Pearls and diamonds came from Ceylon and
    the South eastern coast of India, then known as the Pandyan kingdom.

    Cosmas Indicopleustes, who visited Malabar Coast in 522 AD, mentions
    about Syrian Christians in Kollam. He wrote, “In the island of
    Tabropane (Ceylon), there is a church of Christians, and clerks and
    faithful. Likewise at Male where the pepper grows; and in the town of
    Kalliana there is also a bishop concentrated in Persia” (Reference:
    Travancore Manual). The Nestorian Patriarch Jesujabus who died in 660
    A.D. makes special mention of Quilon in his letter to Simon,
    Metropolitan of Persia. In 822 A.D. two Nestorian Persian Bishops were
    sent to Kollam and Kodungallur to look after the Syrian Christian
    faithful. Mar Sapor was the Bishop of Kollam and Mar Peroz (Proth) was
    the Bishop of Kodungallur. Mar Sapor who is also called as Mar Abo
    lived his last years at Thevalakara. His remains were buried in the
    Martha Mariam Orthodox Church at Thevalakara which was built in the
    4th century. This church which carries the tomb of Mar Sapor is 25 km
    far from Kollam City.

    The Malayalam Era named after Quilon began in 824 AD. Malayalam Era is
    called ‘Kolla Varsham’ after Kollam, because of the importance of
    Kollam in the 9th century A.D. It signified the independence of
    Malabar from the Cheraman Perumals. (Reference: Travancore Manual page
    244). For the services of the Syrian Christian merchants, King Stanu
    Ravi Gupta of Kollam, granted the copper plate grants in 824 A.D. to
    Mar Sapor Iso, transferring to the Tarasa Church and community in
    Quilon, lands near the city with hereditament of low caste slaves.
    (Reference: Travancore Manual page 244).

    Merchant Soleyman of Siraf of Persia visited Malabar in the middle of
    the 9th century and found Quilon to be the only port in India touched
    by the huge Chinese ships on their way from Canton to the Persian Gulf.

    The rulers of Kollam (formerly called ‘Desinganadu’) ,then, also had
    trade relations with China and exchanged embassies. According to the
    records of the Tang Dynasty (618 AD to 913 AD) (Reference: Travancore
    Manual, page 244), Quilon was their chief port of call and was given
    the name ‘Mahlai’ by them. The Chinese trade decreased about 900 AD
    and was again revived in the 13th century. Marco Polo, who visited
    China’s Kublai Khan’s court, on his return journey to venice,
    travelled through Kollam and gave an interesting account of the
    flourishing port of Kollam (Coilum, as referred to by him) and its
    trade relations with China in the East and the Western countries.
    Chinnakada, (China-kada), the city center, was so named after the
    Chinese merchants. The increase in commercial activity resulted in
    establishment of flourishing Chinese settlement at Kollam.

    Marco Polo, the great Venetian traveller, who was in Chinese service
    under Kublai Khan visited Kollam in 1293 A.D. on his return trip from
    China to Venice. He found Christians and Jews living in Coilum
    (Kollam). He also found merchants from China and Arabia. He has given
    a detailed account of Kollam in his writings, that are reproduced in
    the Travancore Manual.

    According to Ibn Batuta, Kollam was one of the five ports, which he
    had seen in the course of his travels, in the 14th century.

    The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a trading center
    at Kollam in 1502. In 1661 the Dutch took possession of the town. The
    remnants of the Dutch forts can be found at Thangasseri. In the 18th
    century Travancore conquered Kollam, followed by the British in 1795.
    Velu Thampi Dalawa of Travancore, worked towards the improvement of
    the Kollam town. He helped build new markets and invited merchants and
    traders from Madras (now Chennai) and Tirunelveli to set up trade in
    Kollam. Kollam, to this day has a thriving business in cashewnuts,
    coir and spices.

    -Joseph Ponnoly (I posted this note on Wikipedia to update the
    inforamtion on ‘Kollam’).

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  3. Dear Joseph Ponnonly

    Thanks for the write up on Kollam. Like John and George mentioned earlier in another post, often we dont discuss about Kollam and Nilackal. Thanks.

    Post a Reply
  4. India and St. Thomas and act of thomas
    The region north of the Indus River, which now resides in Pakistan, was at various times under the conrtol of the Persians, the Greeks, the Indo-Greeks, the Indo-Scythians, the Bactrians, and the Parthians. This region was known to each as the Hindu, a Persian word. In Hebrew, the word Hindu became Hodu, which is the word found in the first passage of Esther (and is the only use of the word in the Bible).

    It does not mean the sub-continent that we now call India, and was specific to the Indus/Hindu Kush region. It is so noted by Justin and by several coins found across several centuries. The Indo-Greek kings (26 of them) were called “Kings of India,”

    Dio Cassius and Strabo recount the story of one Zarmoros, an “Indian” sent by the king of India (Pandion), who set himself on fire during the Mysteries of Eleusis in 20 BCE. This Pandion was a petty king who had gained a small territory within the Parthian empire (along with about 40 other petty kings) during a lapse in western hegemony. The Parthians soon regained control of this region of the Hindu.

    I did not mean to imply that Roman historians called Parthia or Persia by the name of India, but rather that the region of India was recognized as the eastern part of Parthia, just as it was earler a part of Persia and later recognized as the eastern part of various other empires such as the Scythians and Bactrians.

    The Greek author Philostratus describes Apollonius’ journey into “India,” but again, he is describing a trip to the Punjab.
    When the Thomasine legends speak of Gondopharus inviting Thomas into India, it is speaking again of the Indus valley. This king’s capital was Taxila in modern day Pakistan.

    The Greeks and Romans knew exactly where India was. It was the region immediately surrounding the Indus River, but it frequently made up part of these other empires. The Romans of the first and second century had no grasp of how far east these empires ran (even Alexander never went any further), so everything east was simply India, for lack of a better name.

    For our purposes, all of our extant evidence points to the Indus valley as the most eastern possibility for any of the described events. That’s close, but no cigar, being a thousand miles or more from the reputed first Jewish and Christian enclaves.

    I’m not particularly interested in this aspect of our studies, but I do have an interest in historical accuracy. Jews may very well have ventured into deep southern India. Christians may well have founded early churches there. But all we have are legends with no corroborating empiracal evidence

    Post a Reply
  5. Dear DJ,
    I am increasingly agreeing with your views. There seems to be more legends than facts.

    Some of us have taken this DNA matter seriously and we are trying our best to forge ahead. This is becoming increasingly interesting with kind of unexpected results popping up.

    At this rate, I think we will know the truth in about 10years time.

    Wish you would also contribute by having your DNA done (if you are a Malabar Nasrani)

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  6. Dear Admin,

    Here’s one more reference which I happened to stumble upon …

    “And the apostle Thomas, after he had taught the Indians, and the Chinese, and the Cushites, and [ the people of ] all the islands near and far, having crossed the sea in his [ journeys to ] preach, was one day preaching in India, when the Spirit revealed Himself in his heart saying, “O Thomas, rise up and go unto Jerusalem, and see the Virgin before she departeth from the world …”

    This is from p 105 of “The history of the Blessed Virgin Mary ” (English translation of the Syriac) which can be found:
    http://www.archive.org/details/historyofblessed02budg. It is a compilation of various stories from the various Infancy Gospels. As such, it is an old reference, since some of those works date from the 2nd century if not earlier.

    This is a good work to read, on its own merit, for Syriacophiles/Orientophiles and for those interested in some of the old stories concerning Jesus’ childhood and youth, as well as St Mary’s life that the Gospels do not deal with.

    What makes this reference particularly interesting to me (and I’m generally disinterested in stories about Thomas coming to India) is it distinguishes India from Cush, so there’s little doubt that the author is referring to our India, and not Ethiopia or Arabia. Moreover, the author mentions China, and the islands further, and a sea route … which may be used to argue against the usual Thomas-stopped-in-Parthia/Pakistan-(and not, say, Kerala or Mylapore).

    Not proof, of course, but an interesting, unambiguous, old reference.

    I didn’t find any mention of this above (of course, I could have missed it).

    Post a Reply
  7. I have revised this article . Thanks to John Mathew for the reference from Infancy Gospels. Please let me know if any further corrections or inputs are required.

    Post a Reply
  8. I would like to make a movie of Thomas in India. Would anyone like to join forces in this endeavor? First we make a treatment. I have culled some ideas from Acts of Thomas and other legends.

    Post a Reply
  9. Hello Peter Van Gorder, welcome aboard. You can count on me for the project and I have valuable information to share with from my perspective angle. I was planning to meet a film maker and here you are. There are lots to discuss and the picture is very rosy than it looks. The original story is so twisted and turned that we are now simply following the absurd.

    Not so recently, HH the Pope had issued statements that St. Thomas never visited India and that all Jews are not responsible for the death of Jesus. How can they be so sure about it.? To dig deep one should have access to the countless documents tucked in the archives of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. They know something about it and I am able to guess the true story. It has got all the elements for a blockbuster movie. Ciao!

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  10. Hi Peter van Gorder,
    Movie on St Thomas Christian is a great idea.Start with Alexander the Great ordering Syrian settlements in the coast along Red Sea and India. These selllements were meant to be exporting factories feeding Alexandria.Syria in those days meant to be most of the semetic world.The trade shift from Tyre to Alexandria was a grand plan of Alexander the Great. Romans followed suit and made it huge.
    Search for the lost tribe of Israel for evangelisation and coming of St Thomas to Malabar are later stories.
    Best of luck.
    E Varghese

    Post a Reply
  11. Hi Peter Van Gorder,

    The mission of St. Thomas is of great importance to us Christians living in Sri Lanka.
    Willing to help you in any way possible. ([email protected])

    Best of Luck

    Post a Reply
  12. There is a document in the Portuguese National Archives of Torre do Tombo with a copy of the inscriptions found in the main door of S. Thomas tomb – when the Portuguese rediscovered it in the XVI century. Unlike the Great Mount cross (now at the church of Our Lady of Expectation) with inscriptions written in Pahlavi (dating to some time between the VII and IX centuries) – these ones are in modern Syriac characters and, as far as I know, are not yet deciphered.

    Anyone knows more about it?


    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  13. Dear Paulo Alfonso,

    Very interesting.

    If those inscriptions are in modern syriac, I am surprised why it was not decifered yet. During the time of Portuguese excavations in Saint Thomas’ Tomb, the Thomas Christians of Kerala were well familiar with the language syriac. Their liturgies were in syriac language untill 1960s. Even today, there are several syriac scholars in Kerala among different Thomas Christian denominations- both East syriac and West syriac. So, there is no reason why those inscriptions were not decifered !

    The inscriptions on the Mailappore Cross are in Pahlavi language. As everybody knows, decifering ancient pahlavi is difficult, but we have several scholars studied about it and we have a few satisfactory and acceptable explanations. These inscriptions denote the Phalavi phase of the Thomasine Christianity in India related to the South Persian province of the Church of the East.

    If you can provide a copy of the document with these syriac inscriptions, we can approach one of the many syriac scholars in Kerala to analyse it.

    Post a Reply
  14. Dear Thomas Antony:

    Many thanks for your msg.

    >> Paulo Alfonso,

    Afonso, not A**L**fonso – I am Portuguese (Afonso, Affonso = Portuguese names), not Spanish, or French, where Alfonso or Alphonse are more common as a name…

    >> If those inscriptions are in modern syriac, I am surprised why it was not decifered yet.

    I can see 3 types of reasons for that:

    1 – Words and names get wrongly copied with time. You just got my name misspelled, e.g., as it happens often, unfortunately. In fact Afonso, comes from a Teutonic or Visigoth name. I already forgot the details, but it comes from Ildefuchs (meaning ready to, or fast attack). From Ildefuchs, evolved into Ildefonse, Alfonse, Afonso (in Portugal), etc. Regardless of the details here being correct or not (probably they are not totally correct) – the point is that with time, not only people copy names wrongly, but their meaning changes, or the origins are lost. So this may happen also with ancient languages, where at times is difficult to decipher old words/documents where names and words changed a lot from their original meaning/spelling.

    2 – Maybe it was already deciphered – if such document was sent to the Portuguese King, I would suspect an effort in deciphering such an important inscription must have been done. Maybe such work was also lost meanwhile – specially after the big 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of Lisbon (withe following fire and tsunami) including the Royal Archives.

    3 – I read a paper of Prof. Luis F. Thomas mentioning that he could not decipher the inscription. There are perhaps just around 100 historians in Portugal at great top level – with hundreds of centuries of overseas history to cover. Just to give you an example – Goa covers almost half millennium of Portuguese presence in India, that is older than some sultanates or Nababs, that came and went with time. Also the Portuguese territories spread up to East Timor – so basically there are too many topics of research and not enough academic/scientific personnel in Portugal. Just to give you a concrete idea – it is possible that a few forts/castle ruins exist in Masirah Island (out of the coast of Oman), yet no photos or any other info is know among the best Portuguese historians. Same thing applies to the Portuguese ruins in the extreme NW (not NE) of Qeshm island, in Bassadore (Basiduh) where nobody in Portugal in nowadays knows much about the extensive former Portuguese city in that Iranian island of today. So, the point here – no surprise nobody deciphered yet, since it is in a pile of huge documents at the National Archives that some people (like Prof. Luis Thomas – he is top best!!) got to know, but had no chance to further study the matter.

    >During the time of Portuguese excavations in Saint Thomas’ Tomb, the Thomas Christians of Kerala >were well familiar with the language syriac. Their liturgies were in syriac language untill 1960s. Even >today, there are several syriac scholars in Kerala among different Thomas Christian denominations- >both East syriac and West syriac. So, there is no reason why those inscriptions were not decifered !

    Maybe there are – read above. I agree though that maybe the problem can be solved – it is not a “lost” cause.

    >The inscriptions on the Mailappore Cross are in Pahlavi language. As everybody knows, decifering >ancient pahlavi is difficult, but we have several scholars studied about it and we have a few >satisfactory and acceptable explanations. These inscriptions denote the Phalavi phase of the >Thomasine Christianity in India related to the South Persian province of the Church of the East.

    >If you can provide a copy of the document with these syriac inscriptions, we can approach one of the >many syriac scholars in Kerala to analyse it.

    I just arrived to Portugal – but I believe I can get a copy of the document, before I return to the USA next week. I shall keep in touch when getting a copy.

    Best wishes,

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  15. Hi again:

    I meant hundreds of years, not centuries in the expression above, of course:

    ” …with hundreds of centuries of overseas…”

    My apologies for the “typo”.

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  16. Dear Paulo Afonso,

    I am very sorry for the spelling mistake. Apologies !

    Thank you very much for your efforts to get a copy of the document you have mentioned.

    Belgian Missionary, Rev Fr Henry Hosten has done extensive investigation and research about the antiquities of Madras and Saint Thomas Tomb area and wrote a book-Antiquities from San Thome and Mailappore’ and published in 1936.
    I have a quick read through the relevant pages and could not find any mention of such an inscription in syriac. He has mentioned about a lot of Tamil, Armenian, Latin, Portuguese, and Arabic inscriptions.

    Many of the inscriptions and antiquities are lost due to ignorance of the custodians and taken away to different museums in Europe. If this syriac inscription in the main door of saint Thomas Tomb was there during the time of Hosten’s research, he would not have missed it.

    So, if this document is preserved in Portuguese National Archives, it will be very important and it may give us valuable information about our history and heritage.

    Thank you very much for your help.

    Post a Reply
  17. To TA and Paulo,
    There should n’t be a great mystery why Aramaic and Pahlavi both are used. For Persian Chrisitians this will be like us Indians using English and Indian language. Aramaiv is religious, as Latin is used in Roman Church and we all use Peshitta the Syrian bible. Persian Christians even now call themselves Syrians though they are converted to different western evangelical churches.
    If anybody is making movie, please don’t spread the same old stories of Kerala Brahmins converting – in modern history there is no evidence of Arya Brahmins in Kerala in first century – we were completely a Dravida country.

    Post a Reply
  18. Peter van Gorder,

    First reveal the budget of the film.I mean an estimation. Take care of the storyline and script so that nothing wrong is potrayed.Wishing u success.

    Post a Reply
  19. Dear Thomas Antony et alia:

    No worries about misspelling my name – it was actually useful to illustrate the point of how inscriptions can get cryptic with time :-)

    About Hosten’s book – I can only say that the main church of S. Thomas tomb suffered many repairs, destruction (due to the wayyyy too many attacks/wars done against the Portuguese in S. Thome of Meliapor) and transformations since the Portuguese first repaired it in 1521-1523. It is difficult even to find photos of the old Portuguese cathedral, that included a dome over S. Thomas tomb. The Portuguese cathedral was demolished in 1893, giving place to the current one in neo-ghotic style, almost 150 years after the British occupation of S. Thome of Meliapor (and not just Madras). So if there was anything from the “original” tomb (as found by the Portuguese) surviving in the old Portuguese cathedral, I am not sure if that survived to its demolition and if there is any info. relative to it preserved somehow in the new cathedral. So it would not surprise me (somehow) that Hosten did not find anything about it in 1936.

    I am back into the USA and I managed to get a copy of the inscription in Syriac. I found it in a book/publication called:

    “As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo, vol. IV (Gaveta XV, Maços 1-15)”,

    Published in 1964, by “Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos” in the Gulbenkiana collection. This series of books published systematically many of the documents found in the Portuguese national (former royal) archives relative to the overseas territories.

    The ancient Portuguese part of the document says the following, accordingly to the paleographer
    Rosalina da Silva Cunha:

    “Estas letras abaixo striptas estam na porta primcipall da Igreja do
    bem avemturado apostolo Sam Tome”

    Which can be translated to English as: “These letters below written are in the main door of the church of the well adventured apostle San Thomas”

    Then below the Portuguese inscription follows the copy of the Syriac letters/inscription. If written from right to left they are 4 short lines. I can identify (looking at some Syriac alphabet tables) some characters, that would be the equivalent of the Roman alphabet m, l (L), s and h letters. I have no idea at all though of what it says.

    It was my turn to misspell Prof. Luis F. Thomaz name (with a z, not an s – as I wrongly wrote before). It was in his 1991 paper “The legend of S. Thome the apostle and the Portuguese expansion”, published in the academic journal “Lusitania Sacra” (in Portuguese, 2nd series, n.3) that I discovered about the existence of this inscription. Prof. Thomaz mentions that he could not decipher it. I know Prof. Thomaz speaks Malay and is an expert in the Portuguese presence in the extreme Orient territories, but I am not sure how well educated he may be in Syriac in particular. Since the paper dates to 1991, maybe meanwhile he managed to decipher it. I will try to get in touch with Prof. Thomaz again, that I met personally several times in the past – he is in fact one of the top best Portuguese historians, but nobody can master too many languages at once.

    Meanwhile I am consulting other Portuguese historians as well – but let me know how can I send you a photo of the inscriptions document then. I am not sure if we can publish it here, due to copyright issues (??), but I will gladly send a copy to any experts in Syriac in India you may indicate to me. Maybe the administrator of this website can clarify also the copyright matters and how to post a photo of the document.

    All the best,

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  20. Dear Paulo Afonso,

    If you email me a scan of the Syriac, I would be pleased to translate it into English for this NSC list and to provide further historical notes where I can: For example, on the age of the Syriac script used. My email address can be found on my website, on the introduction page, (just click on my name above this message, this link should take you to the correct page).

    Best wishes,
    Steven Ring.

    Post a Reply
  21. Hi Steven:

    Your work sounds fascinating (looking at your webpage). Thank you very much for your offer to translate it to the NSC list. It is good to have several different/independent possible translations.

    I just sent the document to your email now – and I already wrote the meaning of the ancient Portuguese legend above the Syriac characters in one of my last msgs to this list.

    Look forward to hear further from you and thanks a lot :-)

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  22. Dear Paulo,

    Thank you for taking the trouble to scan and to email me the page with the Syriac inscription. You mentioned to me in your email that Mar Thoma’s tomb was kept by a Moor! That explains a lot. Here is my preliminary transcription of the Syriac letters and a translation aligned with the 4 lines which make up this inscription:

    1. ܐܢܐ ܡܘܣܠܡ I am a Moslem.
    2. ܒܫܠܡ ܡܫܠܡ In peace he was perfected
    3. ܫܢܝ ܢܒ ܬܐܘܡܐ [in] the year 52. Thoma
    4. ܡܢ ܐܠܝܡܐ from Alema.

    NB: Alema (Elma) is a place in Syria. See:

    This inscription is written mostly in Syriac. It contains no Arabic forms apart from the word ‘Moslem’ in line 1, which is Arabic written in Syriac letters. Whoever wrote this was a Moslem who was literate in Syriac. The date can be narrowed down to between the Moslem arrival in Kerala (whenever that was?) and the period around the Portuguese arrival in the early 16th century.
    The Syriac script is Serta and so this inscription could have been written anytime after the 10th century AD when this script began to be more commonly used.
    The date ‘year 52′ is presumably Anno Domini, which is very odd because Syriac Christians in Malabar tended to use the Syrian dating system, even as recently as 100 years ago. This suggests to me that the author of our inscription was already familiar with a western tradition about the date of Mar Thoma’s arrival in Malabar, (AD 52). Again, this would suggest to me that the Portuguese may have arrived a few years before this inscription was carved above the door. Perhaps it was an attempt to claim ownership?

    Other Syriac transcriptions, translations, dates and interpretations are of course possible, but these are my initial findings. I am interested to hear what others might have to say.

    I hope you find this inscription interesting and exciting, I certainly do. I had no idea that there were Moslems who spoke and wrote Syriac in Malabar in the 16th century and I had not previously heard of any tradition linking Mar Thoma to Alema in Syria, (or perhaps the author of this inscription came from there?). Perhaps you, or others on this list can shed some more light on these issues?

    With best wishes,
    Steven Ring.

    Post a Reply
  23. To the administrator of this webpage: Malabar vs. Maabar in Marco Polo’s book


    Just a quick note on the following sentence used above (in the introductory text of this web page – but not the only one such mistake!) where Maabar is confused with Malabar, according to the descriptions of Marco Polo’s book.

    >> “The body of Saint Thomas lies in the province of Malabar in a little town.

    Maabar or Ma’bar is another name of the Coromandel coast – not to be confused with Malabar, as it is done in this webpage. The Muslims in particular used the word Maabar it seems – Malabar being separated from Maabar at Cape Comorim. The Portuguese also used Cape Comorim as some delimitation of the Malabar, Fisheries and Coromandel coasts. It seems Maabar may mean in Arabic something like “The passage”, or “the ferry”, according to notes in some of Marco Polo’s current web book/pages.

    So please correct that information: knowing one’s geography and being very careful with names is extremely important.

    Many thanks for putting up such a large body of information together – I am just trying to polish it a little bit more :-)

    Kind regards,

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  24. Dear Steven:

    Fantastic to read such a fast translation/deciphering of the
    inscriptions – very good :-)

    Some comments on your last post here:

    >You mentioned to me in your email that Mar Thoma’s tomb was kept by a Moor! That explains a lot.

    Yes, some Portuguese sources mention that during the first Portuguese
    visit to S. Thomas tomb (in 1517) they found a Moor taking care of it,
    keeping it clean and a lamp always burning as well. According to other
    Portuguese sources, it was not a Moor but a “gentio” instead (which is
    one Portuguese word used at times to describe a pagan – but can be
    very vague too…). If being a Moor, seemingly he recovered his vision
    from a miracle due to S. Thomas (so goes the story). Also (I can not
    confirm this yet – just using my memory here…) it seems the tomb was
    kept by the family of this Moor one or 2 generations before, again
    according to some Portuguese reports.

    Now if the keeper was a Moor – it does not mean he was the author of
    the inscription necessarily. It could be other Moor in principle,
    since even Muslims respected S. Thomas’ tomb as a holy place. S.
    Thomas of Meliapore was know for ancient Arabic (also Muslim) and
    Persian traders of the IX century as Betumah (the house or city of
    Thomas). So ever since those IX centuries visits, such inscription
    could have been written, in abstract no?

    > 3. ܫܢܝ ܢܒ ܬܐܘܡܐ [in] the year 52. Thoma

    S. Thomas was killed (according to some versions) in the Coromandel
    coast (not in the Malabar/Kerala Coast) in the year 72 AD. Is there
    any chance the inscription says 72 instead of 52 – given that this is
    the tomb of the apostle and not his arrival place (that was on the
    West coast of India, not in the East Coast, where he may have been

    The Portuguese called the city São Tome de Meliapor (to distinguish
    from the Portuguese overseas territories of São Tome e Principe, the
    islands in the Gulf of Guinea). Just to make sure we all have the
    geography correct – Meliapor is now a part of Madras (Chennai) in the
    East Coast of India. This is where the cathedral of S. Thomas is
    today, with his supposed tomb as well.

    (2nd part of posting next)

    Post a Reply
  25. Dear Steven,

    Thanks for your reading and explanation of the inscription.
    This is a very interesting inscription.

    I have a few thoughts about your reading.

    It has been documented by the Portuguese Missionaries that the care takers of the tomb was a Muslim.

    What is the meaning of “in peace he was perfected in the year 52″ ? Mar Thoma Sliha is believed to have arrived in Cranganore in AD 52 in Malabar coast. (I think Ramban songs mention about AD 50) The martyrdom was believed to be in AD 72 in Coromandel coast.

    As you said, Syrian Christians of Malabar used the Greek Era in almost all the documents, before the arrival of Portuguese Missionaries. Portuguese arrival was in AD 1498. Muslim arrival was in AD 629.

    Mailapore is not in Malabar, but in Coromandel coast.

    After the full stop in line 3, Thoma from Alema- could this be read together – the author of the inscription ?

    If this was written by a Muslim, then, as you said, he was well familiar with syriac also. Does it mean that it was the syriac christians in India who were converted to Islam en mass, as the spiritual source of Syrian Christians were the East Syrian Christian community in Mesopotamia, when most of them became Muslims, their co religionists in India also became Muslims (except the small pocket in Malabar, who were probably remained as syriac Christians as they were well united under the leadership of an Archdeacon).

    Post a Reply
  26. Dear Steven:

    My 2nd part of the post here – the system has been considering me as spam!!

    > The date can be narrowed down to between the Moslem arrival in Kerala (whenever that was?) and
    > the period around the Portuguese arrival in the early 16th century.

    Trade with the Malabar coast/Kerala is very old – goes back to Roman
    Empire times. Several Roman coins have been found in the area and
    references to such trade also exist in Roman records. So even
    pre-islamic Arabs where already trading with that part of the future
    Indian Union (today’s India).

    Given that the Nestorians, e.g., were already as far as the Turfan and
    Manchuria around the VII century – I would see as no surprise that the
    first Muslims arrived to the Coromandel also quite quickly – as soon
    as the “Persian” Sassanid Empire was taken by the Muslims (and Baghdad
    was developed into a greater city) in the VII century. This was not an
    easy time to the Nestorian Church (or Church of the East, however you
    may want to call it), since Seleucia-Ctesiphon was their “Vatican” at
    the time…being forced to move further north, towards Mosul ( near
    ancient Nineveh – an old Assyrian city).

    So why not having Muslims in the Coromandel as soon as the VII or VIII
    century already? Therefore also in Mylapore (that had Hindu temples at
    least since the VII century as well)…?

    >The Syriac script is Serta and so this inscription could have been written anytime after the 10th century >AD when this script began to be more commonly used.

    That is a fantastic piece of information – it time locates things
    better. Very good :-)

    >The date ‘year 52′ is presumably Anno Domini, which is very odd because Syriac Christians in >Malabar tended to use the Syrian dating system, even as recently as 100 years ago. This suggests to >me that the author of our inscription was already familiar with a western tradition about the date of Mar >Thoma’s arrival in Malabar, (AD 52).

    Agree with your presumption about AD. Indeed the Syriac priests still
    wrote back to their church in Assyria telling about the arrival of the
    Portuguese to India (both Malabar and Coromandel coasts) using the
    “Year of the Greek” accounting dates/system – and not the BC/AD

    (3rd part next)

    Post a Reply
  27. Dear Paulo M. J. Afonso,

    While I love to believe that Mar Thoma was buried in Mylapore, yet indications in ‘The Apocryphal Acts of Thomas’ show otherwise. I will not dispute that Mar Thoma did not visit Mylapore, but only challenge the belief that he was killed there. There are far too many names in Greek/Hellenized leanings in the book to show that was in Tamil country where he died.

    Melloula and the Calamine mountains are in Syria and my feeling is that Mar Thoma was killed there. These areas were very heavily Hellenized.


    The third paragraph of the following article mentions about ‘Quallamoun Mountains’ in Syria and also that there remains a tiny pocket of Aramaic speaking people still there.

    I guess, you know too well that to preserve Aramaic/Syriac is so difficult as it has severe persecutions upon them. It is truly a miracle that Aramaic is still there under Islam.

    Post a Reply
  28. Now, I am obviously no scholar but do a lot of reading and researching. The Acts of Thomas, is our best available source. I wonder why the grave of Mar Thoma is not opened and examined. Is it morally wrong?

    Muslims do have a tendency to venerate the tombs of whom they consider as ‘Saints’. Up inthe Western Ghasts, there is a place called ‘Vaghamon’ and there on a peak (highest?) called ‘Tangel Para’ is site where Muslims make annual pilgrimage in reverence to a saint of their faith who is claimed to be buried there.

    Some groups of Orthodox Muslims consider such reverence as paganism. This was what happened in North Africa, where tombs of Muslims saints were destroyed by fundamentalists Muslims.

    Post a Reply
  29. Dear Mathai Varghese:

    Many thanks for your post. I should start by saying that I am an atheist, so my approach to all this is based on the interest of history, and not a passionated or less passionated religious point of view. I try to keep as objective and rational as possible.

    >While I love to believe that Mar Thoma was buried in Mylapore, yet indications in ‘The Apocryphal Acts of >Thomas’ show otherwise.

    Does it show? Hmmm – many authors question the quality of information in the “Acts”; some even defend that S. Thomas did two travels to India; the Portuguese did find S. Thomas Christians also in Socotora, etc.

    Calamine/Calamina – may have been in ancient Meliapore, as it was the name of a fish the Portuguese heard from the fisherman when arriving to the location…among many other explanations (??) given to the origin of Calamina. Also the name of the king whose soldiers supposedly killed (according to the “Acts”) S. Thomas, is Mazdai/Meodeus/Misdaeus…and that could be a common name (from Mazdaism/Zoroastrianism) and not necessarily a proper name. So I would not totally trust the “Acts” just per se.

    To me what is most notable is that Indian Christians kept visiting Meliapore and the tomb of S. Thomas, centuries after centuries – probably never hearing about the “Acts”, in a time before the invention of the printed press (Gutenberg) and wide spread of books (especially originating a continent and many wars apart). I doubt the Church of the East/Nestorians would feed such idea for so long (of having the tomb in Meliapore) just “out of the blue” – what would they have to gain with it? Why Meliapore? Why not any other city, say in Kerala, if they would be lying about it, or the “Acts” are the correct info?

    So for me the popular tradition has some value, together with other data mentioned above. In any case, I am not totally/mathematically sure (as you question) of this either – but history is not mathematics.

    As to opening the tomb – it has been opened a few times in the past, last time I know was perhaps in the XVIII century, still under the Portuguese. This about the Meliapore tomb, of course – if you are talking about the S. Thomas’ tomb in Ortona (Italy), it is a different story/history.

    Best wishes,

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  30. Dear Paulo Afonso,

    I discarded Mylapore as the place of martydom of Mar Thoma until I read Abraham BenHur’s book ‘The Jewish Heritage of the Indian People’. Where he makes the ‘unthinkable’ claim that the dominant people of Mylapore … the Pattars… are indeed realted Pathans of Parthia/Afghanistan/Pakistan/India.

    Indeed, I reject his martydom even today, but am now more soft and leaning to understand that Mar Thoma did indeed visit Mylapore in search of the Pattars (Pattars are today’s Brahmins of that part India).
    Mar Thoma’s isntruction were to ‘go and get the 10 tribes’ and available indications are that Mar Thoma would have done just that. Large Roman coins and dolmens/West Asian burial sites in Tamil Nadu indicate that the Jews/HEbrews were indeed there. This is totally allien to our mind today and frankly I shake my head in utter disbelief. Even in my wildest dreams, I can not cook up such a fantasy. But logic and harsh reasoning shows that Mar Thoma would have gone to Mylapore.

    It has been a while since I read the ‘Acts of Mar Thoma’ and I know that the name Calamine plays a point therein. Infact, I remember the Admin of this site advocating that Calamine may mean ‘Kallumallai’ in Tamil or ‘Mount of Stones’ in English. The place where Mar Thoma was/is said to be buried is very familiar to me and it indeed is a mount with much rocks.

    The possibility of another Thoma to have been killed or buried there can not be ruled out, possibly an Armenian person or businessman by name Thoma. Armenians are known to have set foot around Mylapore many centuries ago.

    But your claim that the CoE supports that Mar Thoma was martyed in Mylapore is new to me. Can you please give the earliest reference to CoE’s belief in this? The CoE should know. This is a vital piece of information.

    Regarding your aetheism, no worries!!! Get to know Jesus through the lips of a Jew.

    Zechariah 8:23 “..This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'”

    Have you held onto to the tassle of a Jew? Perhaps you may not know what a hem of a robe/tassle (tzitzit) is. No worries!! Just google it.

    Post a Reply
  31. Dear Steven:

    Let’s see if I can publish the 3rd part of my post here.

    >Again, this would suggest to me that the Portuguese may have arrived a few years before this >inscription was carved above the door. Perhaps it was an attempt to claim ownership?

    I would be more careful here, because before the Portuguese, whoever
    this Moor author of the inscription was, there were other Western
    people in Meliapore before. For instance the Franciscan friar John of
    Montecorvino spent a few months in S. Thomas tomb and one of his
    travel companions died and was buried there (this by the end of the
    XIII century). So maybe such Moor got in touch with Montecorvino, or
    other famous individual Western travelers to the area, and from there
    learn the AD counting system. At the same time the wars between
    Christians and Muslims went across many crusader times – so I would
    say by the XVI century the AD system was a quite common “known thing”,
    perhaps. If the inscription is earlier, closer to the X century, then
    perhaps AD would look more a “rare” date to use. I understand your
    argument though – and somehow it makes sense that the writer of such
    inscription would want the newcomers (the Western Portuguese
    Christians – arriving almost 1500 years later after S. Thomas himself
    to India) to understand better his message and thus used the AD
    system. However, again, I would be more careful with any such
    conclusion – because it is not a linear one necessarily…but, why
    not, maybe a few years after the Portuguese arrival, is still

    (4th part next)

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  32. The debate about the authenticity of the Apostolate of Thomas in India has a lot to do with Politics of the different colonial churches came to India. The whole story of the divisions of Thomas Christians is also due to the colonial politics. The stupid Thomasine Christians of India fell into these propaganda- even still today.

    It was the Portuguese who came to Malabar first. They were Catholics. They found the Thomas Christians and propagated in Europe that they found an Apostolic Christianity in India and gave wide propaganda about the Apostolate of Thomas in India.

    Then the Protestants came. They had to oppose what the Catholic Portuguese say. They spent all their resources to find faults with the theory. We can see, most of the Protestant authors raise questions about the authenticity of the Apostolic tradition of Malabar and they put forward alternative theories- it was Thomas Cana, it was Thomas, the disciple of mani and so on. Many of the Thomasine children are following those arguments even today.

    If it was the Proetestants came to Kerala first, the situation would have been vice versa.

    Adolf Medleycote has discussed the Calamina theory well in his book. His arguments seems to be satisfactory also. I have described those in this forum before.

    Quallamoun Mountains area has syriac speaking christians still today. The term Quallamoun has a similar pronunciation as Calamina. I agree. But have those syriac speaking christians ever claimed that the tomb of Apostle Thomas was with them ?

    Mailappore is the only place that claims Apostle Thomas martyred and buried there.

    We have oral traditions for 2000 years. ( I agree, some may claim that these oral traditions were implanted by the Portuguese).Descriptions of several travellers and other testimonies and mentions in various liturgies from Church of the East to even Western confirms this tradition.

    Testimonies of ‘Joseph the Indian’ in AD 1502 is a witness from a native Thomas Christian. The writing of the early Portuguese missionaries also confirms the tradition of pilgrimage to Mailappore.

    Post a Reply
  33. Dear M. Thomas Anthony,

    I think we should study well the ‘Acts of Thomas’. This should give us good leads.

    But here is something to support that Mar Thoma was killed in India and not in Syria.


    “…This upheld by the Edessan Church
    Further proof may be adduced to justify this claim. A Syrian ecclesiastical calender of an early date confirms the above. In the quotation given below two points are to be noted which support its antiquity — the fact of the name given to Edessa and the fact the memory of the translation of the Apostle’s relics was so fresh to the writer that the name of the individual who had brought them was yet remembered. The entry reads: “3 July, St. Thomas who was pierced with a lance in India. His body is at Urhai [the ancient name of Edessa] having been brought there by the merchant Khabin. A great festival.” It is only natural to expect that we should receive from Edessa first-hand evidence of the removal of the relics to that city; and we are not disappointed, for St. Ephraem, the great doctor of the Syrian Church, has left us ample details in his writings. Ephraem came to Edessa on the surrender of Nisibis to the Persians, and he lived there from 363 to 373, when he died. This proof is found mostly in his rhythmical compositions. In the forty-second of his “Carmina Nisibina” he tells us the Apostle was put to death in India, and that his remains were subsequently buried in Edessa, brought there by a merchant. But his name is never given; at that date the name had dropped out of popular memory. The same is repeated in varying form in several of his hymns edited by Lamy (Ephr. Hymni et Sermones, IV). “It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India’s painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Edessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India…”

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  34. it could be yet true that syrian immigrations or persian central asian immigrants claiming st thomas came and died their place. but think malabar has it ancient past. ancient biblical history support thing exported malabar to israel. it has geniue jewish connection rather than any christian existance. and how it marvalously connect why the reason st thomas could really reach malabar preached to these populations and spread the good news and he surely able to converts brahimns families, royal families and some others. but all the jewish populations in malabar had different settlement area where they can get a fragment tree to get piece to burn in a pot and get a smoke inside synagoge which is we call it kundrikam. then timber elephan horn, peacock, etc. and these seven syagogle jewish settlement in different part of malabar forest areas turned out to become 7/12 church who kept jewish tradtions and accept esho as messiah. then these few brahimn convert families stated to blent in to these which make it way to become todays nasranis. only then after these syrian as orthodox traditon, nestorians as persian knew about malabar and dreamed to come to these place and knew these jewish people and jewish christian living malabar in their rights and privilages. then when there is more persecutions happened in middleast, some group started to migrate malabar. and these syrian pesrian group might have thier past that converted by some apostoles.

    Post a Reply
  35. Dear Steven:

    It has been almost impossible to publish anything here- given the limitation of characters and spam automatic detection errors. Trying the 4th part of the post now:

    By the time the Portuguese arrived to India, the S. Thomas Christians have been out of regular contact with their Assyrian Church for a long while. It seems only in the decades before the Portuguese arrival, finally new “bishops” (the Mar of the Nestorian Church) were sent to the Malabar coast.

    All this is told in the wonderful story of Joseph of Cranganore – who asked Alvares Cabral to sail to Portugal, Rome and “Babylonia” (higher Mesopotamia – probably Mosul, once again).

    Cabral made the official discovery of Brazil in 1500 AD, on the way to India – the 2nd Portuguese sea voyage to India, after the 1st of Vasco da Gama, a few years earlier. The S. Thomas Christians became the natural allies of the Portuguese in India, up on this cornerstone of Human Civilization History, when finally the Western and Eastern most Christians meet again – 1500 years later!

    However the Coromandel coast was more abandoned in terms of Assyrian bishops than Malabar itself –
    so it is not easy to know exactly what happened to the tomb of S. Thomas there. Joseph of Cranganore had visited “Babylonia” before and also knew the location of S. Thomas tomb, that some Nasrani/S. Thomas Christians would visit now and then.

    Joseph brought some soil from the tomb of S. Thomas to the Portuguese King Dom Manuel I, that was quite impressed with the offer and sent Joseph escorted from Lisbon to Rome and later back to India.

    (5th part post next)

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  36. Dear Steve: (5th part here)

    The point is – Meliapore was abandoned for a while…the Betumah went to ruins, by the time the Portuguese arrived there. So who was “the owner” of the tomb? Is difficult to assert exactly…

    Other than Montecorvino, other Western travellers report a church and big Nestorian Convent at S. Thomas tomb before the systematic arrival of the Portuguese . So again, obviously some Assyrian origin is related to the “owner” of the tomb…one would say…

    >Other Syriac transcriptions, translations, dates and interpretations are of course possible,

    –>Yes, it would be important to have other “blind” deciphering, without influence from yours, or from a Moor tomb keeper, or so…in order to have the “translation” as “clean” as possible…

    >I hope you find this inscription interesting and exciting, I certainly do. I had no idea that there were >Moslems who spoke and wrote Syriac in Malabar in the 16th century and I had not previously heard of >any tradition linking Mar Thoma to Alema in Syria, (or perhaps the author of this inscription came from >there?). Perhaps you, or others on this list can shed some more light on these issues?

    –> Oh yes – it is exciting!! It is not every day that one can decipher such an old inscription written supposedly over the tomb of a Christ apostle!! Yep!!…

    Again – this is the Coromandel, not the Malabar coast, as mentioned above.

    Alema – hmmm? I have no idea too…maybe this relates to the author of the inscription and not to S. Thomas himself necessarily, as you question….

    I hope my humble comments may help a bit. I am a Professor of Astronomy and researcher in astrophysics. History is a very serious “hobby” of mine – so I hope others can make better comments than mine.

    Steven – once again thanks for the fantastic work so far.

    Best wishes,

    Paulo Afonso

    Post a Reply
  37. Dear Mathai Varghese:

    As to the Church of the East knowing about the tomb of S. Thomas in Meliapore – see my other posts about Western travellers reports on the existence of Nestorian houses, a church and a big convent near the tomb. This 1 or 2 centuries before the Portuguese arrived.

    So there must have been some info. available to the CoE about Meliapore – or else why would they built a convent there and stay in the area for at least a couple of centuries?

    Also why would the Malabar Nasrani cross India, walking for more than 20 days, just to visit the tomb of S. Thomas in Meliapore? Like in the example of Joseph of Cranganore…

    Again history is not mathematics – but these are questions that require serious answers, in order to remove Meliapore from its real or putative importance in S. Thomas’ life.

    Another piece of evidence about the death of S. Thomas not happening in nowadays Syria (neither probably in ancient Assyria) comes from the Roman Emperor Alexander Severe.

    According to the Portuguese historian, Prof. Luis F. Thomaz, around 233 AD, after/when the Romans (under Severe) defeated the (Persian) Sassanids under Ardashir I (or Artaxerxes), the Syrians insistently asked Severe to send an embassy to India to bring the tomb of S. Thomas to Edessa – this being the origin of S. Thomas tomb in the city. Severe was friendly (for a pagan Roman Emperor) towards the Christians, and had their wishes becoming reality.

    Now – bringing the tomb of S. Thomas from India, though it may tell us that the apostle was not killed in nowadays Syria, still leaves open the question of how “India” is defined, or was defined back then? Ancient Mesopotamia was also called India? Anything near or beyond the Indus river? Or farther away already in the Bay of Bengal?

    The Romans did trade with the Malabar (ancient Musiris/Muziris/Mucciri) for a long time – so it is unlikely they would confuse the location of nowadays India with Mesopotamia or even with Gondophares’ Indo-Parthia (say…) and the places where S. Thomas may have been…but one never knows…

    I hope this helps a bit.

    As to being an atheist, Jews, Christians, the tzitzit, etc. – I can only recommend reading about the Pacific cannibals of the Cargo Cult. This is the paradigm of the genesis of human stories/religion – and how an USA Air Force cargo carrier became a god. Nietzsche “killed” god long time ago – but people are still, of course, free to believe in whatever they want, and even an atheist respects, of course, such right.

    Best wishes,

    Paulo Afonso

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  38. no wonder syrian persian should have connections with early chrisitan movement. once Jesus ressuredected, then the apostoles and so many jewish diciples, then the syrians people all withnessed the ultimate truth about jesus christ. and christianity flurished in antioch syria than in jerusalem. it was more safest place for many jewish christians to be in antioch and st paul all seem to missionary work in syrian antioch or damascus. then from there, these spreaded out to persian and so on. but who came to malabar is st thomas only. st thomas came malabar though roman ships or he was visting arragements to buld a palace or then he went back to jerusalam , then he again came back so on all these oral inforamation later written in syrian christian nasrani family history book and many of these family histroy and still stays unique.

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    Now, I have got a reading from eminent Syriac Scholar Koonamakkal Thoma Kathanaar of Beth Ephraim Dayara at Kuravilangadu, Kottayam, Kerala, India. (Kuravilangadu is a place where there was an ancient Dayara of East Syriac Monks, and Mar Younan, an East Syrian Monk was in the Dayara at Kuravilangadu for some time and still there is a place Youna kuzhy near Kuravilangadu. According to Karuthedathu palm leaf document, Mar Younan came to Malabar with Mar Denha, Mar Maravan and Mar Rabban in AD 905. Mar Younan was buried in Udayamperoor Church)

    Rev Dr Thomas Koonamakkal commented that some of the letters are wrongly written.

    This could be due to the fact that the document shows a copy of the inscription copied by a syriac illiterate-that means, the copyist wrote the letters from the original inscription without knowing what it is, but just drawing a picture of it.

    The reading of Koonamakkal Thoma Kathanaar is as follows.

    Line 1 – to Thomas peace
    Line 2 – In the name of Christ
    Line 3 – Rest until resurrection
    Line 4 – from God

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  40. Rev Dr Thomas Koonammakkal has added that there could be two possible readings for line 2.

    (i). In the name of Christ.

    (ii). In the peace of Christ.

    In his opinion, the original inscription was corrected by a later hand to get the second meaning. It is clear that somebody has attempted correcting the original inscription. May be the original inscription and correction were made by the same hand to improve the grammar and meaning of the text.

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  41. Dear M. Thomas Anthony,

    This inscription lacks clarity. Either the inscription was not expertly done (this is my opinion), or the copy is not good, or both because the Syriac letter forms are not consistent. For example the Syriac letters Lamed followed by Meem are sometimes written together and sometimes written separately. However, this does not prove that the inscription was altered. For example, these variations might have happened due to lack of space, or lack of skill.

    Secondly, without a proposed transcription of the Syriac letters by other scholars, it is difficult for me to comment on their translations and interpretations. I posted all three elements together; a proposed transcription and parsing of the Syriac letters, a proposed translation and a reasoned discussion about the script and the apparent contents of the inscription.

    Thirdly, and as your latest post demonstrates, it takes several attempts to decipher inscriptions. This is difficult, because we all want instant, 100% reliable and certain answers. However, historical work and work on inscriptions and manuscripts in particular, will seldom produce instant results. Nor are the outcomes entirely certain. For example, It took teams of scholars 50 years to publish editions of the Dead Sea Scrolls and even after all that work, many decipherments remain conjectural to this day, 65 years after their discovery!

    With best wishes,
    Steven Ring.

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  42. Dear Thomas Anthony:

    Please convey my many thanks to Rev Dr Thomas Koonamakkal for a very interesting translation – much appreciated.

    I am trying to get yet another deciphering from an Hungarian professor expert in Syriac too – will let you know when and if I get it.

    I have no further information than what I already posted here – the name of the publication (out of stock, from 1964) and that the document existed in the Royal Portuguese Archives in drawers of documents coming from many different overseas territories. The publication I mentioned is just a “near-random” collection of all such documents (now part of the Portuguese National Archives) in a particular huge drawer with a pile of documents (a mix from many former Portuguese territories on Earth, but mostly from XVI and XVII centuries).

    Quite many of these archives drawers have been digitalized and are available on line at the Portuguese National Archives website – but not yet this particular drawer and pile of documents where the Syriac inscription page was located. As far as I know there is no English version of if – but the information available is all what I mentioned already. Someone (in a not indicated date/year) sent a copy (probably with some mistakes, since the author of the copy was not familiar with Syriac) from the inscription in the door of the tomb to the Portuguese Royal archives. The ancient Portuguese comment above the Syriac inscription letters, I already translated it here into English – and unfortunately that is all that is known in Portugal too. I contacted a Portuguese history discussion list and some historians directly – and nobody could add anything else either. I will report back if I hear anything new from Prof. Luis F. Thomaz as well – since it was via his paper that I learn about such inscriptions.

    So I am afraid I have nothing else new to add. It would be good though to have Steven in touch directly with Rev Dr Thomas Koonamakkal, for the sake of discussing the different deciphering results.

    Many thanks once again for all your work.

    Paulo Afonso

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  43. Dear Steven

    Thank you very much for your efforts and expertise in decifering this very interesting inscription.

    I have consulted two experts, both of them commented that this is very difficult and some words are distinct.. Both of them have given me alternative readings also, as seen above.

    I am waiting for the permission to quote the other expert in here.

    I agree with you, without the proposed transcription, it is difficult to discuss.

    This is similar to the Pahlavi inscriptions on the several ancient granite crosses ( Saint Thomas Crosses) of South India- initially, several people have decifered with several different interpretations, but later, we could see some uniformity. Mr Winkworth is the one who first commented that all these are copies of a single inscription copied by an illiterate and hence letters are not inscribed correctly.

    Also, it has been documented that the shape of the syriac script also a bit different in India due to the influence of the local language.

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  44. Dear Paulo Afonso,

    You post 185764 is simply great. You have fed us with valuable information, which has eluded us for all this while. You have taken pains to give us this information. Thank you very much.

    Just today, I was advised by a freind that in order to understand Malabar Nazerene history, a good knowledge of world history and a world outlook is very neccessary. You have confirmed that advise.

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  45. Thought for discussion – in the Jewish custom, a person is considered Jewish if he or she is born from a Jewish mother . So using this Scenario, what if the Mother is J2 but the father is R2 or H or L . Where does the offspring fit it ? In Jewish Custom they are considered Jewish while in DNA term Non Jewish

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  46. Dear Steven Ring,

    Rev Dr Koonammakkal has kindly sent me his transcription.

    Line 1: lth’m’ shlm
    Line 2: bshm mshyh’
    Line 3: shly lnwhm’
    Line 4: mn ‘lh’

    In line 1, the first letter is small L. In the second word of the first line, the 3rd letter is small L
    In the second line, the first word is corrected into bshlm by the original writer or a later hand. In this line, the last h has a dot underneath.
    In the 3rd line, the third letter is small L. In the same line, the first letter of the 2nd word is small L. In this line, the last h has a dot underneath.
    In the 4th line, in the 2nd word the first letter is small L.

    I hope this will help you to make your comments.

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  47. Dear M. Thomas Antony,

    Yes, thank you for this transliteration. Mindful of the suggested translation offered by Rev. Dr. Thomas Koonammakkal, I can write out his suggested transliteration with some confidence:

    Writing the Syriac letters out in Syriac script:
    ܠܬܐܡܐ ܫܠܡ
    ܒܫܡ ܡܫܝܚܐ
    ܫܠܝ ܠܢܘܚܡܐ
    ܡܢ ܐܠܗܐ

    The translation suggested above by the same scholar was:
    Line 1 – to Thomas peace
    Line 2 – In the name (or peace?) of Christ
    Line 3 – Rest until resurrection
    Line 4 – from God

    I am very thankful to Rev Dr Thomas Koonammakkal for this second reading. Very interesting indeed. Here are my comments:
    Line 1: The third from last letter in the line is a very clear Semcath. This is one of the clearest letters in the inscription, very different to the letter sheen elsewhere inscribed here. Following this line of reasoning, the second word on line 1 is ‘salaam’ = peace (Arabic). If this is correct, I don’t understand how the first word on line 1 could be the name ‘Thoma’. The Syriac letters in this transcription suggest a pronunciation ‘Tema’ for this name. I am not a competent Arabist, but I don’t understand that. When I worked on my transcript, I didn’t see it right away, but if the letters are grouped differently the Syriac letters spell out the word meem-waw-semkath-lamed-meem = ‘Moslem’ (Arabic).
    Line 2: This line, in this version of the transcription is entirely in Syriac (not Arabic), because although I am not very skilled in Arabic, I know that the Syriac word msheeha = Messiah is missah in Arabic. This is strange, because according to this transcript, line 1 contains an Arabic greeting, but lines 2, 3 and 4 are entirely in Syriac. How likely is that?
    Line 3: The Syriac letters in line 3 are a very interesting puzzle. There is some agreement with my transcript for the 1st and 3rd letters. Thomas has suggested sheen, lamed and yod, and I suggested sheen, nun, yod as an abbreviation for sheen nun yod taw = ‘Shnit’ = year. I think the next word is a problem in this version of the transcript. There are several instances of the letter waw in the inscription, but I cannot see a waw which should be in the inscription of the word nohama = resurrection was inscribed. On the other hand I can see every letter of Th’oma represented in line 3. I did not see it at first, but if we work backwards from the end of line 3 it is easier for me to explain: The final two letters are not disputed by Thomas, we agree on meem then aleph. Then working to the right, I can see an imperfectly and rather triangularly engraved waw, then the bottom of a vertical stroke, which I think might be an aleph, then a rather clumsily engraved taw. Putting these letters the correct way around we have taw-aleph-waw-meem-aleph which is how the name ‘Thoma’ correctly written in Syriac letters.
    Line 4: Historically this may be the most fascinating line of this inscription. When I first looked at this inscription, I wondered whether Alaha = God might be the final word in line 4, but try as I might, I could not persuade myself that the penultimate letter is a ‘he’ because it really looks to me like a meem: It is just missing the lower ligature which may originally have joined it to the final aleph. Also, I can see a yod in there after he lamed, which cannot be there if ‘Alaha’ was inscribed. So, the last word on line 4 reads to me as aleph-lamed-yod-meem-aleph = Alema. This looks like a valid toponym for a town SE of Damascus in Syria. Could whoever inscribed this, be telling us that Mar Thoma Sleeha was from Alema?

    These are my comments.

    With best wishes,
    Steven Ring.

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  48. Dear M. Thomas Antony,

    On Hugoye list, Dr. Istvan Perczel of the CEU at Budapest suggested that this inscription might have a metrical structure. When I re-checked my proposed transcript, I noticed that it has exactly 4 syllables per line, and the endings of the first and second pairs of lines rhyme. The phonetic structure of the Mailapur inscription is as follows. The metrical and rhythmic structure of this stanza is very neat:

    ena mus-lem
    bash-lem mash-lam
    shnee-nav taw-ma
    men Alee-ma

    Best wishes,

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  49. Has anybody wondered about their DNA test. According to FDNA the haplogroup is decided from the 12 markers. What if the haplogroup for 12 markers is J , the 67 marker is L and the 111 marker is G . I think the haplogroup should be decided on the 111 marker and not by the 12 marker. If it is only by the 12 marker then the other tests are a waste of money. FDNA recommends the deep clade test where you have to pay to get the haplogroup. There is no need to pay when there is the Whit Athley predictor which gives one the haplogroup for free.

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  50. The Y dna haplogroup defined by 12 markers will not change even if you do 111 markers. Haplogroups are defined by SNP’s and not STR’s which denote the 12 or 67 or 111 markers. But 12 marker STR’s or allelle nos are adequate to define in a large % cases to predict the Y dna Haplogroup. STR’s of higher resolution help in matches in recent past. while SNP’s are one off events when a major mutation or an addition or deletion of a portion of the ydna occurs. These SNP’s allow whole of humanity to be divided into distinctive haplogroups.

    Syrian Christian dna project

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