A merchant or Bishop named Thomas of Cana ( also known as Knanaya Thommen or Thomas of Knanaya this being a recent addition) is connected with the history of the community of St. Thomas Christians. The details about this merchant or bishop are shrouded in mystery and there is no agreement on the year/period of his arrival, or from where he arrived, or on what grounds or whether he was a Bishop or merchant.
There exist a division among the Christians in Malabar as Northists (Vadakkumbhagar) and Southists ( Thekkumbhagar). The Northists (Vadakkumbhagar) are known as Christians of Saint Thomas. The latter, ie, the Southists ( Thekkumbhagar) are today known with the name “Knanaya”. This division as it seems, has started very late after many centuries after the arrival of Thomas of Cana in 9th century. The earliest Portuguese accounts are silent about such a division and we get some information only by the end of sixteenth century. All of the early Portuguese accounts mentions that there exist Christian community before the arrival of Thomas of Cana in Malabar.
This article examines 1) Arrival of Thomas of Cana ( Bishop Thomas of Cana ?), 2) About the name , 3) About the year of Arrival,4) Southist Version of the tradition ,5) Tekkumbhagar ( Southist)/ Knanaya 6) Bishop Thomas of Cana ,7) About the Northists and Southists division, 8 ) About the Churches at Cranganore 9) Summary
1. Arrival of Thomas of Cana ( Bishop Thomas of Cana ?)
Scholars like Dr. Mingana has been very critical on the legendary nature Kerala Christianity assigns to Thomas of Cana since eighteenth century. There is a tendency especially among Southists to exaggerate the events associated and contributions of Thomas of Cana. There is no general agreement concerning the traditions associated with the arrival of Thomas of Cana. Some assign him as a merchant, and others assign him as a Bishop ordained by Patriarch Timothy 1 in 9th century. Scholars such as J S. Assemani ( 1728) , Lequien ( 1740), S. Giamil ( 1902) , A Mingana ( 1926), Tisserant ( 1957), Hambye etc dates the arrival of Bishop Thomas of Cana in 9th century. According to many scholars Thomas of Jerusalem, a merchant and the Bishop Thomas of Cana are two persons who arrived in Malabar at different times in history.
a) Portuguese references about Thomas of Cana
Some reference about Thomas of Cana, can also be seen in sixteenth century Portuguese writings of Penteado (1518), Dionysio (1578), Correa (1564), Antonio Monserrate (1579), Antonio de Gouvea (1604), Chaldean Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna ( 1533) and on the report of the Bishop Franics Roz in 1604.1
|Testimony||Year||Gist of the Report|
|Penteado||1518||Armenian merchant. Quarrel between two sons of the merchant.|
|Mar Jacob Abuna||1533||Merchant died at Cranganore|
|Correa||1564||Adds the Merchant met and stayed with a Servant of Apostle Thomas at Cranganore before buying his own land|
|Dionysio||1578||Merchant, Thomas, married a woman of Cranganore. United Christians who are already there and those he converted|
|Monserrate||1579||Thomas of Cana found Christians in Quilon and Cranganore, who descended from the disciples of the Apostle Saint Thomas and he united them|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604||Thomas had a wife and a concubine. King gave him land.|
1. Penteado ( 1518)
The earliest reference is from a Portuguese report written by Penteado in 1518 .He narrates the origins of the Christians of St. Thomas both in Quilon and Cranganore to the king of Portugal. The first origins are from the Apostle Thomas. For the period after St. Thomas, as far as Cranganore is concerned, there came an Armenian merchant advanced in age. Since he had no hope of returning home, he bought an unoccupied land with all its income from the King of the place. He got the property rights both of land and water within the bounds of this land. According to the testimony there was evidence for this at that time. He had two sons. His elder son inherited the income of the land which the merchant bequeathed to the church, at the time of his death. The second son was made a judge over his slaves whom the father had bought, freed and converted. Between these Sons there arose disputes. Each gathered a faction around him. The elder son was defeated in a faction fight. He called in the Jews to help him. The Jews expelled from their land not only those Christians under the second son, against whom they were called in, but also the other Christians who had solicited their help. According to him, in 1518, these Jews are the masters over that land. They serve the king of Cochin while to the Christians are reserved merely the honor and the title.
2. Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna
Chaldean Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna in 1533 makes references about a merchant. He writes that, a merchant from the country of Canane came to Mylapore on pilgrimage. After finding that all the houses there are in ruins, and being convinced that nothing could be done to restore them, he passed over to Cranganore. In Cranganore, he bought some land and built on it a church which was there at the time Abuna gave his testimony. The merchant died while living there and was buried in it.
3. Correa (1564)
Correa (1564), follows Abuna’s version but adds that the Armenian merchant met in Cranganore a servant of the Apostle Thomas. The merchant lodged with him before buying his own plot of ground.
4. Dionysio (1578)
Dionysio (1578) puts the arrival of Thomas of Cana after that of Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz. He is described as a native of Babylon and a merchant. He embarked at Cranganore and began to trade. Being rich and influential, he made friends with the King of the place. The King gave him a plot of land of about 500 square yards to erect a church in honor of St. Thomas. He united all the Christians who were already there, and those whom he himself had made Christians ( converted) . He obtained many donations from the King for the church. According to this from that time onwards Christianity prospered. The merchant, Thomas, married a woman of that place, and became the peer of the Nairs, the aristocracy of the land, and a warlike people. Only the Nairs served the king because all other castes were low castes when compared with the Nairs. If a low-caste man happened to touch a Nair, the Nair would bathe to remove the pollution of the touch. They live on allowances from the kings. The Christians were the equals of the Nairs in status, and they too live on allowances made to them by the Kings. It would be 752 years since this Thomas came from Babylon. All this is known from an inscription on sheets of iron. Then the author adds that only this was known with certainty about the origins of these Christians from the information gathered from books and from tradition handed down by old people and by catanars ( Kathanars) , i.e., their priests.
5.Monserrate ( 1579)
Monserrate ( 1579) says when Thomas of Cana came, he found Christians in Quilon and Cranganore. They have descended from the disciples of the Aposlte Saint Thomas. These Christians were nominal and they married with Nairs. They just had crosses and Christian names. Thomas of Cana made them a united community and took care to preserve their superiority of caste.
6. Francis Roz’s ( 1603/04- From (British Library MS Add-9853)
Bishop Francis Roz‘s main information is derived from the interpretation of the Copper plates said to be of Thomas of Cana ( the interpretation of that time ?). It says during the time of last Xeram Perumal, Thomas Cananeo came from Babylon. He gave the King a good sum of money. He bought the whole of shrubland and founded on it the Church of Saint Thomas and the bazaar. Howerever, already many years before the Church was built, there was in that place Patanam a Church and a large village of the Christians.
In this Report on the Serra, Bishop Roz also gives an account of the translation of the Olla which the said Xeram Perumal gave to Thomas Cananeo. According to him ( interpretation of the olla ?) , the Xeram (Xoran) Perumal reigning at the time of Mercury of February, on the 7th day of March before the full moon, the same king residing in Carnelur (?), there arrived in a ship Thomas of Cana, a chief man, determined to see the surroundings of the East. The king being informed of it, went out to meet him. Thomas disembarked and stood before the king who spoke to him friendly and imposed on him the surname of Coquarangon Cananeo, after the king’s own name.
Thomas accepted this honor and went to settle down himself in his place. The king gave him for ever the town of Magoder Patanam. Afterwards the king assigned to the new-corner a place covered with brushwood marking its boundaries and asked him to build a town there. Thomas wanted the place for himself and the king granted it to him. Thomas built there a church and his own house; the corner stone of both were laid by the king himself. The whole place was converted into a town which was given by the king to Thomas as an inheritance. On an opportune day the church was inaugurated and the said Thomas entered the church and made his prayers.
Sometime after, Thomas went to the king and offered him presents and formally asked the king to give him and to his descendants the said land. The king accordingly measured 264 eIls with an elephant and gave it to Thomas and his descendants, together with 62 houses which they had built in that place, with gardens and trees, with the circuits and ways and boundaries and the interior pathways. Roz continues to describe the privileges and rights the king gave him.
Bishop Roz also says, “he could find the name of Thomas of Cananeo, among the names of the saints whom the decon names in the Mass, attributing to him that he gave a large sum of money to the King of Malavar to buy that ground of Cranganor”.
Further Bishop Francis Roz opinionated that , he consider “it to be fable what these Christians narrate, namely that the said Thomas had a wife and a concubine from whom are descended the two kinds of Christians living in this Malavar”.
Regarding the lineage Bishop Francis Roz says, these Christians are descending from Thomas of Cana on the father’s side. Their mother was a Malabar heathen who got herself baptized later.
2. About the name
|Mar Jacob Abuna||1533||From the country of Canane|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604||Thome Cananeo|
Penteado (1518) merely calls him an Armenian merchant without giving his name. Mar Jacob Abuna (1533) mentions from the country of Canane. Correa (1564) call him as Thomé of Canane . Dionysio (1578) call him as Quinai Thorné.He was mentioned as Mar Thomé by Monserrate (1579) and Gouvea (1604) and as Thome Cananeo by Roz (1604) .
The Malayalam form is generally Canai Thomman and is better expressed by Dionysio than others. Mar Thomé is from the Syriac.
3. About the year of arrival
The earliest available report seems to be of Dionysio. Dionysio ( 1578) gives the arrival of Thomas of Cana after Mar Sabrisho and Mar Piruz ie, after 9th century. Gouvea ( 1604) also dates the arrival in 9th century. The Dutch writer Visscher ( 1743) also gives the date as 745 AD. Hugh gives the date as 780 AD. Assemani in 900 AD. Paolo gives the arrival as 825 AD. Some of the 16th century records doesn’t mention the dates.
|Reported by||Year||Year of arrival|
|Dionysio||1578||After the 9th Century|
|Local document||18th Century||345 AD ( also according to current Southist tradition)|
The Southists ( Thekkumbhagar- Knanaya) tradition gives the year as 345 AD. This is based on an eighteenth century document.
4. Southist version of the tradition
The tradition current among the Southists ( known today with the recently coined term Knanayas) , is that about the year 345 AD, 72 families came to Malabar Coast along with a Bishop under the leadership of Cnai ( Knanaya) Thomman. This was based on the divine intervention of Catholicios of East to send Thomas, a merchant of Jerusalem for the service of Christians of Malabar as they were deprived of priests and partly reverted to idolatry.King Cheraman Perumal honored them with many titles and privileges which were recorded in some Copper plates.
This version is generally based on a record written in Malayalam and Syriac about 1770, and secured through the care of Gavril (Gabriel), a Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) bishop. The document is now preserved in the University library of Leyden. The contents of this document are not historically reliable.2
In 1939, Joseph Chazhikaden ( a member of Southist Community) promulgated a bold Southist legend. He published a Malaylam book ”Tekkumbhagasamudayam Charitram” [History of the Southist Community]. The English version of the book had the title, ”The Syrian Colonisation of Malabar”. The English title is not an exact rendering of the Malayalam title of the original book. This book is a rambling collection of the noble origins and tradition of the Southists. A major section is devoted to a remarkably extended division narrative between the Northist ( Christians of Saint Thomas) and Southist ( Thekkumbhagar) . Chazhikaden’s Southists are unique from the most ancient time and their uniqueness is not Christian but Jewish.
5. Tekkumbahagar ( Southists) / Knanaya
There are no evidences that Christians in Kerala were known in different distinguish names prior Sixteenth century.
The Malayalam name used to distinguish this division is “Tekkumbhagar“. The English equivalent is “Southist“. They are commonly known as Tekkumbhagar.
The Joseph Chazhikaden book (1939) is titled as “Tekkumbhagasamudayam Charitram” [History of the Southist Community]. The book of Dr. Jacob Kollaparampil (1992) is also titled as “The Babylonian origin of the Southists”.
In late 1980’s some Malankra Syriac Orthodox ( Jacobite) Southist has started using the name ”Knanaya“. In less than a decade, the new name Knanaya mostly replaced the old Tekkumbhagar ( Southist) among both the Malankara Orthodox Church ( Jacobite) and Syro Malabar Church ( Catholic) Southists.
The other name commonly used are ”Charam Kettikal” ( ash- tiers) . This name has its orgin from an old custom practiced by members of this community in carrying a little ash in the corner of the sari or dhoti (mundu). They were also known as “Anchara Pallikar” in 17th/18th centuries, meaning owners of five and half churches.
6. Bishop Thomas of Cana
Regarding this Thomas of Cana, some of the historians say he was not a merchant but a Bishop send by the Patriarch Timothy 1 in 9th century.
J S. Assemani, who came across the story, makes reference to the arrival in India of Bishop Thomas Cana, about A.D. 825. He believes that his ‘wives’ were the two cities of Cranganore and Angamale where he had jurisdiction.3
Furthermore, S. Giamil when studying the Leyden text and Assernani’s explanation logically concluded that there were two missions: first came the merchant, Thomas of Jerusalem, accompanied by Joseph, the anonymous Metropolitan of Edcssa. Then there arrived, in A.D. 8oo, Bishop Thomas Cana.4
A. Mingana while analyzing the Lyden text which mentions the arrival of Thomas of Cana in 345 AD writes, ” if this Thomas is an historical personage, he is different from Thomas Cana, another problematical Bishop of Malabar, in about 823 AD. The scene of this merchant Thomas is placed according to Malabar tradition in 345 AD. In this year the Catholics of East was Barba- Shemin , the nephew of the great Simon bar Sabba ( Bedjan- ” Acta Martyrum” ii, 296-303, Assemani-”Acta Mart,i,111-117, Sozomen -Hist. Eccl,ii,14etc) and was in prison from February 345 to 9 January 346, in which he suffered martyrdom. After him, the See was vacant for twenty years. Before the time Catholics was Shahdost, who was himself martyred in 342 and after him the See had become vacant for two years ( Amr-”De Pant” p-12, Mari-”De Pat”,pp 16-18, Bedjan, ibd,ii,276-280 etc).
In their short time of office, during the persecution of Sapor, not one of the above Catholics whose time was mostly spend in prison could have possibly attended to the business of a merchant Thomas from Jerusalem. The whole story is absolutely unhistorical.
I believe that this very late Malabar Syrian tradition might have made a stupid chronological mistake of about four centuries and a half : but then this unhistorical Thomas was a simple merchant and not a bishop, while the possibly historical Thomas Cana was a bishop. No one can fathom the depth of stupidity to which a late and worthless tradition may lead a critic”5
According to A. Mingana, the Bishop Thomas of Cana lived between 795-824 AD. His seat seems to have been a town in the coast of Malabar. There is hardly any reasonable doubt that if this Bishop Thomas has any historical personality at all, he is to be counted among the monks whom the Patriarch Timothy I selected, as the historian Thomas of Marga inform us, ordained bishops and sent to all the countries of the East.
So according to him, even if there is some historical background for the mission attributed to A.D. 345, it must be distinguished from the coming of Bishop Thomas Cana.
Cardinal Tisserant also mentions that there arrived Persian immigrants with Bishop Thomas about 774 or 795. There is a possibility of identifying Bishop Thomas with a certain monk, Thomas who was ordained as a missionary prelate by Timothy I.6
E R Hambye writes, the first group of Christian immigrants reached about 774/795 AD. It was led by a Bishop called Thomas, perhaps the monk Thomas consecrated by Catholicios Timothy I.7
7. About Northist and Southist division
There exist a division among the Christians in Malabar as Northists (Vadakkumbhagar) and Southists ( Thekkumbhagar). This division as it seems has started very late after the arrival of Thomas of Cana in 9th century. Most of the early Portuguese accounts doesn’t mention about any division among the Christians in Kerala. There is much controversy among the St. Thomas Christians themselves, in assigning the cause for the division as questions of prestige, nobility and caste are involved in the matter. These groups are known in Malayalam as Thekkumbhagar (Southists) and Vadakkumbhagar (Northists).
It is Bishop Franics Roz in the “Report on the Serra ( 1603/1604)”, British Library MS Add-9853 gives some information about the quarrels. It appears that this separation in 1603 lead to the building of separate churches. This was also limited in Cranganore.
The Southists generally claim that they are the descendants of Thomas Cana and of others who came with him from abroad and have kept their blood pure without intermingling with the natives. In 1939, Chazhikaden has taken it to another level claiming that the Southist are Jewish Christians. The Northist, ie Christians of Saint Thomas, according to them whether they lived in Malabar before or after the arrival of Thomas Cana, had mixed with the natives
The Northist version for the cause of the division is given in an old manuscript called Sloane MS, 2743 at the British Museum. The substance of the Northist version is that the Southists are descendants of those in Malabar (Cranganore) consequent to the arrival of Thomas Cana, who entered into marriage relations with the children of a native woman. This native woman was of the Mainatoo caste(Washer Women) who was a servant of Thomas of Cana. Other stories trace the origins of the Southists to a dobi, a washerwoman, whom Thomas of Cana took as concubine.
These arguments revolve on the legitimate and illegitimate children of Thomas of Cana. Traditions associated with Thomas of Cana was a shared tradition among the Christians in Kerala. These arguments might have been invented to express the odium and hatred each community bore against the other.
The Southist claims and charges are expressed in the book of Joseph Chazhikadan, “Tekkumbhagasamudayam Charitram” -History of the Southists- (in Malayalam) published in 1940. They have been disputed from the Northist side by Joseph Kurmanakan in the book, “The Southists and Northists” published in 1941. The latest is “The Babylonian origin of the Southists” published in 1992 by Dr. Jacob Kollaparampil. This is an extension of Chazhikadan theme, where Kollaparampil has refuted some of the charges and expanded on the latest noble Jewish Christian claims of the Southist.
a) Portuguese References about the Northist-Southist division
|Reported by||Year||Gist of the Report|
|Penteado||1518||Quarrel between the two Sons of Armenian Merchant and the consequences of the quarrel.|
|Mar Jacob Abuna||1533||No mention of any division among the Christians in Malabar.|
|Barros||1553||No mention of any division among the Christians in Malabar.|
|Correa||1564||No mention of any division among the Christians in Malabar.|
|Goes||1566||No mention of any division among the Christians in Malabar.|
|Dionysio||1578||No mention of any division among the Christians in Malabar.|
|Monserrate||1578||First clear report on division. Two wife of Thomas of Cana.|
|Gouvea||1604||Christians of Cana are the Christians with Thomas of Cana lineage. The division was not known among the Christians of Travancore and Todamala|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604||One group were the descendants of Thomas of Cana and the other, the descendants of those Christians who lived there before the arrival of Thomas of Cana. Those descending from Thomas of Cana are on the father’s side (for the mother was a Malabar woman convert).|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604||Gives reasons for the quarrels and what lead to the formation of separate churches at Carturte ( Kaduthuruthy) and Cotete ( Kottayam) for Thekumbhagar.|
|Bishop Francis Roz||1604||In 1603, quarrels at Udiamper ( Udaymperoor), and Candanate. Christians of St. Thomas descending from Thomas Cana are few. They are in Udiamper ( Udaymperoor) and in the big church of Carturte ( Kaduthuruthy) and the big Church of Cotete ( Kottayam) and in Turigure. ( Torure )|
1. Penteado ( 1518)
From the early Portuguese documents, Penteado in 1518 seems to assign the origin of the division when he speaks of the quarrel between the two Sons of Thomas of Cana and the consequences of the quarrel.
2.No mention of any division
Barros (1553—63), Goes (1566), both of who have recorded the origin and history of the Christians, have nothing to say about this division or of quarrels. Correa ( 1564) and Bishop Mar Jacob Abuna ( 1533) who knew the tradition of the arrival of Thomas of Cana also do not mention about the divisions. Even Dionysios (1578) who is well informed of the traditions of the Christians does not talk about the division.
3.Monserrate ( 1579)
Monserrate (1579) seems to be the first to give a clear and detailed account of this division. Thomas of Cam had two wives, one noble woman, and the other a slave though belonging to a good caste, (for it was the Custom of the nobles, to sell away those children born on inauspicious days). The proof of this is: besides the tradition of the ancestry there is among the Christians a strong feeling about birth and caste, those descending from the slave being considered lower. And that both the wives were noble, at least Nair women, is proved by this custom existing in Malabar, that there is no pollution between the Christians of St. Thomas and the Nairs, nor penalty of death, if there is marriage or friendship, all of which arise, according to the custom of the country, for castes higher or lower than these two. What is more likely is that the Christian community originated from both, that is from the glorious Apostle St. Thomas and Thomas of Cana; and also from many Nairs who were daily converted to Christianity. They are a Christianity of 72,000 souls and they are reduced to these two clans by the lie of the land and not because they were descended from those women but because some lived on the southern and the others on the northern bank.
Thus Monserrate gives first the local tradition about the division, and then he gives his own opinion. He says that the division was topographical. However, he does not deny that there might have been the other cause also. It is not clear from the text whether he intends to state, as his opinion, that the one group had its origin from the Apostle and the other from Thomas of Cana. It is difficult to interpret his views in that light when he says that most likely the Christians had their origin from both the Apostle Thomas and Thomas of Cana.
4. Gouvea ( 1604)
Gouvea ( 1604), while mentioning this division inform as that the division was not known among the Christians of Travancore and Todamala. According to him the Christians of Cana are the christians with Thomas of Cana lineage.
5. Bishop Francis Roz ( 1603)
Bishop Francis Roz ( 1603) who strongly defends the importance of the Christians existing in Malabar before the arrival of Thomas of Cana. He says that one group were the descendants of Thomas of Cana and the other, the descendants of those Christians who lived there before the arrival of Thomas of Cana. The descendants of Thomas of Cana always kept themselves without mixing with other Christians. There were two lineages among the Christians of Malabar and according to him, one descending from Thomas of Cana on the father’s side (for the mother was a Malabar woman convert); The other on the father’s as well as mother’s side, descending from the Christians of St. Thomas.
Thus according to Bishop Roz only the latter group (obviously the Northists) are to be called the Christians of St. Thomas. These Christians were more careful than the others ( Southists) to increase the membership of the church and hence received into their community many pagans whom they baptized.
Bishop Roz also indicates the cause of the antagonism between the two groups. Some of the people who had served the sons of Cana had some time or other gone over to the other Christians ( Northists) and received their protection (probably he means to say also that they became Christians). Hence the other party (sons of Thomas Cana), began to antagonize them (though they were rich and honorable), calling them their slaves. This gave rise to much discord between these two groups and there were many quarrels in olden times. It was owing to this that in Carturte ( Kaduthuruthy) and Cotete ( Kottayam) it was found necessary to build separate churches for the one and the other and each party keeping aloof from other.
In the year 1603 (according to him last year- this manuscript is written in 1603 and 1604) there had arisen among those of Udiamper ( Udaymperoor), and Candanate a big quarrel each one defending their own party. Bishop Francis Roz observes: It was a strange thing to see the aversion which one party had for the other, without being able to forget the old things and the fables, which they hold in this matter. The Christians of St. Thomas (here so he calls them also) descending from Thomas Cana are few. They are in Udiamper ( Udaymperoor) and in the big church of Carturte ( Kaduthuruthy) and the big Church of Cotete ( Kottayam) and in Turigure. ( Torure ?)8
b) Modern history of Thekkumbhagar
With the Coonan Cross Oath (1653) and subsequent happening the Christians of Saint Thomas were divided in two groups as Catholics and Jacobites. It is not very clear if there were any exclusive Southist churches during the Syond of Dimaper (1599) . After the Coonan Cross Oath (1653), some of the Portuguese records indicate that one or two Southist Churches ( Churches where they have the control in 17th century) reconciled with Arch Bishop Gracia before his death.
1) Among the Malankara Syriac Orthodx Church ( Jacobite)
One of the four councilors of Archdeacon Thomas was a Southist priest Anjilimootil Ittithomman of Kallicherry. The Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church ( Jacobites in India) were governed by the successors of Mar Thomas I after the ordination of Archdeacon Thomas. Mar Thomas I was followed by Mar Thomas II, Mar Thomas III, Mar Thomas IV, Mar Thomas V and all related to Mar Thomas I and to one another. They also received Bishops from Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. There was no division or separate hierarchy based on the segregation as Southist and Northist. The Malankra Syriac Orthodox Church ( Jacobite) saw divisions in 1774 and 1887 but the Southist were not party in this.
Creation of an “exclusive” diocese for Southist among Jacobites
After the incidents which lead to the formation of Malankara Mar Thoma Church (1877) , the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) Patriarch of Antioch Abdalla wanted to gain complete authority over Malankara Church. Mar Dionysios, the Metropolitan was a very able man. The Synod of Malankara Church did not want to give more authority than spiritual power to the Jacobite Patriarch. The Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) Patriarch was incensed. To take control over the Church and to get more people to his side, he consecrated two bishops. One of them was a Southist named Severios who was a close aide of Mar Dionysios, the Metropoliten of the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church.
By this the Patriarch did gain support of one prominent advisor of Mar Dionysios but he gave official recognition to a division among Syrians as Northist and Southist. Hence in 1910, a Southist diocese was officially formed and recognized in Malankara Syriac Orthodox Chruch (Jacobite) .
What Leslie Brown says in ‘The Indian Christians of Saint Thomas’ is that by this the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) Patriarch of Antioch gave recognition to a division among the Syrians which Menezes had tried to heal.
This diocese in Chingavanam was formed with 9 parishes in 1910 and now it has over 60 Churches under the diocese.
2) Among the Syro Malabar Church ( Catholics)
The Catholic Syrians were ruled by Mar Parampil Chandy ( Alexander de Campo). In succeeding century they were under two administration, the Propaganda and the Padrado. All the Christians were together in these administrations as well as during the time of Mar Cariattil Thomas ( Prelate 1782-1786), Paremmakal Thomas Kathanar. There were no separate hierarchy or administration system based on the division as Southist and Northist.
Creation of an “exclusive” Vicariate and then diocese for Southists among Catholics
In 1878, Rome decided on placing the Syrian Christians under separate administration, appointing two vicars Apostolic of the Latin Rite to govern them. One of those latin rite Bishops, Charles Lavinge, the Bishop of Vicariate of Kottayam ( Changanacherry) left behind the same legacy like his predecessors. For the first time in history, he appointed a separate Vicar General for Southist in January 1890. The Northist – Southist divide which was till then sociological in character got ecclesiastical dimensions among Catholics. In 1896 Mathew Makil was appointed as the Vicar Apostolate of the then Kottayam ( Changanacherry) Vicariate of Syro Malabar Church . As a priest he was an advocate for foreign rule among the Saint Thomas Christians. He has submitted petitions that the Southist among the Saint Thomas Christians wish to be under foreign rule.
His appointment created tensions and rift among the people. He has to fled to a Southist church in Kottayam to escape public anger. Based on the reports of missionaries, Rome created an exclusive Vicariate for Southist in 1911 at Kottayam with 12 parishes or churches under the Vicariate in Syro Malabar Church. Mathew Makil was appointed as the Bishop of Kottayam Vicariate in 1911.
This “exclusive” Vicariate was made a diocese in 1923 and as an Arch diocese in 2005. There are at present over 126 parishes under the Kottayam exclusive Southist diocese in Syro Malabar Church.
8. About the Churches at Cranganore
It is difficult to make out from these Portuguese accounts on where exactly the first church of the community stood in Cranganore. The old wooden buildings are said to last for four hundrad years.
According to Bishop Francis Roz ( 1604) , based on a Chaldean book he has read there were three Churches in Cranganore. One dedicated to the Apostle Thomas, another one to Saint Kuriakose and a third one dedicated to Our Lady.
According to Couto, the Apostle landed in Magadover Patanam near Parur and he speaks of a Church left by the Apostle himself there. Bishop Francis Roz also talks about the Parur and says that the present church at Cranganore during the Portuguese time was built by Thomas of Cana. According to Joao Carcere, at the time of his writing ( 1529), the Church which stood in Cranganore had been there from the time of the Aposlte and the pagans williningly or not, paid their respects and offerings to it. Some others such as Abuna, Dionysio, Monserrate mentions that the church at Cranganore was built by Thomas of Cana .
There is no general agreement about the tradition associated with Thomas of Cana. According to many authorities as explained above, there are two missions partially or fully associated with this tradition, first about the merchant, Thomas of Jerusalem, and then the arrival of Bishop Thomas Cana in 9th century.
Thomas of Cana, was a shared tradition among both the Northist and Southist, each one claiming part of the tradition. The early Portuguese records does not mention about any division as Northist and Southist or any families immigration as contained in Southist tradition while referring to the merchant or bishop Thomas. There are also no references about Jewish Christians origins of Southist. In fact, the early 16th Century documents mentions that this merchant or bishop won many converts in Malabar. According to the modern Kerala historians, the Cheraman Perumal’s came to Kerala history scene only after 8th century. It is very unlikely that such a thing happened in 4th century. The Copper plate is also not extant and it has been accused of a forgery by various parties.
The period of arrival of Bishop Thomas of Cana is 9th century as the records about the early tradition indicates. It also seems that the segregation of community as Northist and Southist happened after the arrival of Portuguese. This gradually lead to the formation of separate parishes or churches for the Thekkumbhagar. It seems that Bishop Franics Roz in the Report of Serra of 1604 is mentioning about this segregation while referring to the quarrels of Christians at Udiamper ( Udaymperoor), and Candanate in 1603 and about the churches which came in Southist control at Carturte ( Kaduthuruthy) and Cotete ( Kottayam) ( year not mentioned for the Churches at Kaduthuruthy and Kottayam).
Until the first decade of 20th Century this division as Southist ( Thekkumbhagar) and Northist ( Christians of Saint Thomas) was of sociological character. The ecclesiastical recognition of this division happened only in 1910 among the Malankara Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites) and in 1911 among the Syro Malabar Church (Catholics). That was an unfortunate turn of history. The ecclesiastical recognition and decision was influenced by political factors of the first decade of 20th century among Jacobites and Catholics than historical considerations. The only major unification effort between the Southist and Northist happened during the time of Nidhiry Mani Kathanar in the Catholics section.
Note about the sources-
- Mundadan- ” Saint Thomas Christians 1498-1552″
- Mundadan-” Sixteenth Century Traditions of Saint Thomas Christians”
- Schurhammer ( 1934)
- Nedugant – “ Syond of Diamper Revisited”, Rome
- Mingana -“Early Spread of Christianity in India”
- Bishop Francis Roz Report- British Museum Manuscript BS Add MS 9853 titled “Report from Serra ( 1603/1604)” – Relacao da Serra – by the first latin prelate of Angamali.
Portuguese Records published in full
- Dr. Silva Rego – “ Antonio da, Historia das Missoes do padroado Portugues do Oriente, India Vol I ( 1500-1542)”
- Anonio da- “Documentacao para a Historia da Missoes do Padroado Portugues do Oriente”, India 12 Volumes ( 1947)
- Wicki Joseph SJ- “ Documenta Indica “ 7 Volumes, Rome ( 1948)
- Schurhammer SJ “ Franz Xaver, Sein Leben und seine Zeit” “ Die Zeitgenesischen Quellen zur Geschichte “ “ Epistolae S Francisci Xaverii” “ Historia seraphica da Ordem dos Frades Menores des
Books on Southists/ Thekkumbhagar/ Knanaya
- “Tekkumbhagasamudayam Charitram” [History of the Southist Community] by Joseph Chazhikaden in 1939 ( Southist version)
- “The Southists and Northists” by Joseph Kurmanakan in the book in 1941. ( Northist version- Refutation of Southist claims)
- “The Babylonian origin of the Southists” by Dr. Jacob Kollaparampil in 1992 ( Southist version)
- “Northists and Southists : A Folklore of Kerala Christians” by Richard M Swiderski. ( third party study)
- “Moon God Siva and sacred Thomas -The religious community of the Knanaya in Kerala” by Dr. Kerstin Neumann ( third party study)
Please read the discussion, where different view points are better explained. The article content has been taken from some of the discussion points.
Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
Last revised- Dec 26th 2009.
- Silva Rego- “ Antonio da, Documentacao para a Historai das missoes do Padroado Portugues do Oriente India “ ( Penteado ( 1518) ), Dionysio ( 1578), Lima Felner- “ Lendas da India” ( Correa ( 1564) ), Joao De- “Da Asia” ( Barros , Lopes de- “ Historia do Descobrimento” ( Castenheda), Wicki Joseph – “ Documenta Indica” [↩]
- JPN “Land Anecdota Syriaca”, Leyden, 1862. Text translated and reproduced in S. Giamil, “Genuinae Relationes”, Rome , 1902 pp 552-64. A similar story is also published from a manuscript in Bodleian Library by F Nau in 1912 [↩]
- ‘J. S. Assemani, Bibliotheca Orienlalis, vol. III b, pp.ccccxli ff [↩]
- S Giamil, “Genuinae Relationes” pp 578-82 [↩]
- A Mingana – “ Early Spread of Christianity in India p-476 [↩]
- Tisserant- “Eastern Christianity in India” p-14 [↩]
- E R Hambye, “ The Eastern Church” [↩]
- Report on the Serra ( 1603/1604), Bishop Francisco Roz SJ, British Library MS Add-9853 [↩]