The Story of Joseph, the Indian; A Historical Appraisal of the Affairs of St Thomas’ Christians in the Pre Portuguese period
The Story of Joseph, the Indian; A Historical Appraisal of the Affairs of St Thomas’ Christians in the Pre Portuguese period
Joseph,the Indian is a famous character in the History of Medieval India. He was a Christian priest from Malabar who had travelled to Mesopotamia, Europe, visited the Holy Patriarch of the East and ordained as a Priest by Him, and also visited the Holy Patriarch of the Western Church- the Pope of Rome and declared the identity and ecclesiology of the St Thomas’ Christians to western Christianity. Joseph was interviewed by the Signoria of Venice and his accounts were written by an unknown European and have been published as 25 editions in seven different European languages. These accounts are considered as jewels in the history of that time period.
The narrations of Joseph, the Indian throw light into the history of St Thomas’ Christians in the immediate pre-Portuguese period. The pre-Portuguese history of St Thomas Christians is not well documented. Many accounts have been found from various writings; letters of Patriarchs and Prelates, inscriptions and oral accounts. Many books have been written about the history of early Christianity in Kerala in 16th and 17th centuries but all of them are Western in origin. The narrations of Joseph are the only available account from a native source who was a Prominent Priest at the period and hence these accounts are historically very significant.
Many authors have cited the narrations of Joseph, the Indian in their books. Rev. Fr Antony Vallavanthara C. M. I. has done a very unique research on narrations of Joseph, the Indian and their original publications. He has traced all the available texts and versions of narrations and has conducted a critical study about its contents, the authorship, and the original text and published a book “India in 1500 A D, The narrations of Joseph, the Indian.” published by Gorgias Press, USA. He has presented the initial sources of the narrations in Italian, Latin and Dutch with English translations in the book with his detailed analysis.
2.THE HISTORICAL JOSEPH THE INDIAN
We see Joseph in a number of different occasions in history. Authors like Germann and Mathias Mundadan have identified and connected the different citations about Joseph from different sources with logical arguments and made the story complete.
2a.Joseph’s first jouney to Babylon in AD 1490
Joseph was a member of the delegation of St Thomas’ Christians who went to the Patriarch of Babylon to bring Bishops for Malabar. St Thomas’ Christians did not have Native Bishops, for unknown reasons. They depended on the Church of the East for Prelates. There are periods where there were no prelates in Malabar. One such period was the time just before the arrival of Portuguese. (( 1.Mathias Mundadan, The St.Thomas Christians 1498- 1552, p55))
There are hints in the writings of Francisco Dionysio, the rector of the Jesuit College in Cochin, in 1578 that St Thomas’ Christians did not have any Prelates for about 40 years due to some differences among them and when they settled their differences, they sent delegates to Babylon to fetch Bishops in 1490. Joseph was among one of the three delegates who travelled to meet Mar Simeon, the Patriarch of Babylon (1437-1497).One delegate died on the way but Joseph and George arrived there safely. Both of them were ordained Priests by Mar Simeon at the Holy Church of St George at Gazerta. They were then sent to a Monastery of Blessed Eugenius where they found two monks with the same name, Rabban Joseph and the Catholicose Patriarch consecrated them as Bishops – Mar Thomas and Mar John for Malabar. Cathanaars Joseph and George returned with Mar Thomas and Mar John back to Malabar. (( 2.Rev. H Hosten, St Thomas Christians of Malabar, Kerala Society papers, Series 5, 1929, Trivandrum, p 226, quoting the historic letter by four Bishops from Malabar in AD 1504, Codex Syriacus III, Tom II Bibliotheca Orientalis, p 488 ))
The reception given to the Bishops and the delegation by the Saint Thomas’ Christians was reported by Schurhammer.
“When these same four came there with the help of Christ ,our Lord, they were received by the faithful with great joy, who carried before them, the book of the gospel, the cross, censors, and torches and they introduced them to the Christians with much pomp and with chanting of psalms and hymns. And they, the Bishops consecrated altars, and ordained very many priests, for the people had been without fathers for a long time”. (( 3.Schurhammer.The Malabar Church p 2f, cited by Mathias Mundadan, Thomas Christians 1498-1552 p56 ))
2b Joseph’s second journey to Babylon in AD 1492
Joseph travelled to Babylon again in AD 1492 accompanying Mar Thomas to submit the offerings of the Saint Thomas Christians to the Patriarch. This is reported by Germann. (( 4.W Germann, Die Kirche der Thomaschristen Gutersloh 1877 p317 cited in India in 1500 AD, Antony Vallavanthara, p59))
That means, Mar John stayed in Malabar and Mar Thomas returned. This second journey is mentioned in the Narrations of Joseph, the Indian also. Joseph’s narrations to Venetians as reported by Paesi tell us that “The said Joseph related that he had departed from the said town of Cranganore with a Bishop, his superior. Ascending a ship, he went towards the island of Ormus. From there he proceeded to the mainland where he stayed for three months and with the said Bishop, he went as far as Armenia to meet his Pontiff. By Him, this Bishop was consecrated and the said Joseph was ordained a Priest”.[ (( 5.Paesi cited by Mundadan The St.Thomas Christians 1498-1552, p58 ))
This second journey is mentioned by Fr H Hosten S J who states that Mar Thomas returned with first fruits and a slave. (( 6.The St Thomas Christians of Malabar AD 1490-1504, Kerala Society Papers series 5, 1929, Trivandrum, P226 quoting the historic letter by four Bishops from Malabar in AD 1504, Codex Syriacus III, Tom II Bibliotheca Orientalis, p 488 )) Mackenzie says Mar Thomas with Joseph returned to the Patriarch taking first fruits and offerings. (( 7.G T Mackenzie, Travancore State Manual II p149)) Assemani states that the onward journey to Babylon was in 1492 and Joseph returned in 1493 without quoting any authoritative references. (( 8.Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, cited by H Hosten, St Thomas Christians of Malabar, Kerala Society papers, series 5 p241 foot note 12. ))
2c. Joseph’s travel to Portugal
In AD 1500, The King of Portugal sent a fleet of 12 ships under the leadership of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Malabar. They arrived in Calicut on 13th of September with only seven ships arriving, the rest lost on the way. Cabral had disputes in Calicut with the Arab traders and Samorin, hence moving to Cranganore where the King of Cochin received Cabral “very kindly” (as per Narratives of Joseph the Indian). At Cochin, Joseph and his brother Mathias, both priests approached Cabral with an intention to go to Portugal, Rome, Jerusalem and Babylon. They sailed to Portugal on 10 January 1501 as reported in “Anonymous Narrative”, a book written by an unknown Pilot in the fleet of Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral. ((9.W B Greenlee, The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, London, 1937 p 87: Cambridge History of India, H H Doddwell, 1929 p 5 says it was the 9th)) “Anonymous Narratives” reports that : “and thus we were 12 or 15 days loading the ships in a distance from Cochin at a place called crangallo. In this place, there are Christians…..and from there, two other Christians came with us. They said, they wished to go to Rome and Jerusalem. The captain had great pleasure with these two men”. ((10. .W B Greenlee, The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, London, 1937, p 86Cf. Paesi Book III ch. IXXVIII, cited by Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 73)).
Joseph and his brother Mathias travelled with Cabral to Portugal. De Barros describes this in his book “Da Primeira Decada”, as quoted by Mathias Mundadan in his work “St. Thomas Christians 1498- 1552” clearly indicates that two brothers Joseph and Mathias, who had been educated by the Armenian Bishop who resided there. De Barrows wrote that they wanted to go with Cabral to Portugal and Rome and from there to Jerusalem and Armenia to see their Patriarch. ((11 A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 75)).
Mathias died on the way. All the three versions (Italian, Latin and Dutch) of the Narrations of Joseph the Indian confirm that Mathias died on the way and Joseph lived. Faria y Sousa reports that one of them died and the other returned. ((12. Fariya y Sousa, The Portuguese Asia or history of the discovery and conquest of India by the Portuguese translated by Cap. John Stevens, London, 1695, p 59, cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD p 75 ))
Barros and Gouvea reports that Mathias died in Portugal. A letter dated 1505 from the King of Portugal (Dom Manuel) to the King of Castile, giving an account of the voyages of 1500-1505, mentions two Christian priests who, with the permission of their prelate, had come from India to visit Rome and Jerusalem. ((13. .H Hosten, St Thomas Christians of Malabar, Kerala Society papers Series 5 p 242 citing J and Proc. A.S.B., N.S., vol XIX, 1923, p220)).
That means Joseph and Mathias arrived in Lisbon and Mathias died in Lisbon. All the three texts of narratives of Joseph agree that Joseph arrived in Lisbon in June but “Anonymous Narrative” says July. The two letters known to us dated 27th June 1501 and the other of Giovanni Affaidati dated 26th June 1501, both written from Lisbon, mention the return of Cabral’s ships and hence, they might have arrived earlier than 26th June, 1501. ((14. W B Greenlee, The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, London, 1937, p119-123, Novus orbis, Basileae, 1532, pp130-133, both cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 77 ))
According to the Latin text, Joseph was received by the King of Portugal and Novus Orbis conforms that the King received him with honour. The Italian text confirms that Joseph stayed in Lisbon until January 1502. (( 15 Latin text ch I in part IV, Italian text, ch I in part IV, Novus orbis, Basileae, 1532, pp 130-133, all cited in A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 77. ))
2d. Joseph’s journey to Rome.
Joseph stayed in Lisbon until January 1502 before travelling to Rome according to the Italian text of the narrations of Joseph.. He may have learnt some Portuguese within these six months. The Italian text also confirms that the King of Portugal arranged a companion for Joseph to Rome and from there they arrived in Venice in June 1502. ((16.Italian text ch I in part IV cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 A D, p 77))
It was in Venice that he was interviewed by the unknown author of the narrations of Joseph, the Indian. He was presented to the Signoria of Venice. Dutch and Latin texts confirm that from Rome and Venice, Joseph returned to Lisbon, but the Italian text is silent about this. ((17 A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 A D, p 78))
2e. Joseph’s visitation of Pope Alexander VI.
In the narrations of Joseph, he confirms that he had an audience with Pope Alexander VI. Joseph informed the Pope about the Christians of Malabar, their ecclesial system, hierarchy and so forth. He also talks about the East Syriac Catholicose Patriarch of Mosul and his right of appointing Bishops to Malabar
2f. Joseph’s third journey to Jerusalem and Babylon in AD 1503.
All the texts of “Narrations of Joseph” and the “Anonymous Narratives” talk about Joseph’s plan to visit Rome and Jerusalem. The Italian text confirms when it mentions about the companion deputed by the King of Portugal that he will accompany Joseph to Rome, Venice and Jerusalem. But none of the texts give any details of this last part of his itinerary.
Germann argues that Joseph went to Babylon and visited the Catholicose Patriarch in AD 1503 and he was instrumental in return of Mar Thomas back to Malabar in AD 1503. ((18 Die Kirche der Thomaschristen, Gutersloh, 1877, pp316-317, cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p80))
In 1503, the successor of Mar Simeon, Mar Elias, the Catholicos Patriarch consecrated three Bishops from the Monastery of St Eugene- Rabban David as Mar Jaballaha, Rabban George as Mar Denha, Rabban Masud as Mar Jacob. Mar Elias sent these three new Bishops together with Mar Thomas to the lands of the Indians, and to the islands of the seas, which are within Dabag, and to Sin and Masin- Java, China and Maha china- Great China. ((19 Rev. H Hosten, Kerala Society Papers, series 5, 1929,Trivandrum, p227)) Remember, Joseph brought Mar John and Mar Thomas to Malabar from Babylon in AD 1490.
The next year, AD 1504, they sent a historic letter in Syriac to Mar Elias, the Catholicose Patriarch of Babylon, describing about the Christians of Malabar, the vast regions in India and announce the arrival of Portuguese in India. ((20. Codex Syriacus 5 written in AD 1533, cited by Fr H Hosten S J, The St Thomas Christians in Malabar, Kerala Society Papers Series 5, 1929, Trivandrum, p 225))
Germann quotes Assemani to suggest that it was Joseph who prompted the Catholicose Patriarch to send Mar Thomas back to Malabar with the other three Bishops; however, there are no authoritative references.
2f. Joseph returns to India.
We do not know when Joseph returned to India. As we have already discussed, Schurhammer and Mathias Mundadan argues that Joseph came back to Kerala and became the chief priest at Cranganore in light of the testimony of Panteado in AD1518: “As soon as the priest who returned from Portugal, returned from his pilgrimage to Sao Tome- Mylappore – he scandalised with me…” (( 21.G Schurhammer, Three letters of Mar Jacob, Bishop of Malabar in Orientalia Bibliotheca Instituti Historici S J,Roma, Vol XXI, 1963p 345 cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p59)) .
Therefore, we have to assume that Joseph returned to Malabar before AD 1518.
3. JOSEPH AS A WITNESS ON TRADITIONS OF ST THOMAS CHRISTIANS.
Narrations of Joseph, the Indian throw light onto the traditions of the Thomas Christians of Malabar in the medieval period. As there are not many documents available about the traditions of St Thomas Christians before the arrival of Portuguese, Joseph’s witnesses are very important. Very many authors have used Joseph’s witness in their books.
The first account published about Joseph and his journey was in “Anonymous Narrative” written by a pilot in the fleet of Pedro Alvares Cabral, the Portuguese navigator who took Joseph to Portugal. (( 22.W B Greenlee, The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, London, 1937, p86, cited by Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p64 ))
“Anonymous Narratives” and “Narrations of Joseph, the Indian” are contemporary publications about Joseph.
The first published source of Joseph’s narrations is in Italian, from Vincentia- “Paesi Nouamente Retroudati” in AD 1507. There are seventeen editions of the narrations published from this source alone, in Italian, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese and English languages.
The second was in Latin called “ItinerariumPortugallensium e Lucilania in Indiam inde in occidentem ac demum ad aquilonem” came out in AD 1508 from Milan in Italy. The contents of Itinerarium were republished in AD 1532 as “Novus orbis Regionum ac Insularum” from Basel in Switzerland and from this, various different editions came out. There are seven editions from this source, in Latin, German and Dutch.
The third source is in Dutch language came out in AD 1706 as a booklet “Sonderlinge Reysen van Joseph den geboornen Indiaan” in a work called “Naaukereurige Versameling der Gedenk-waardigste Zee Land Reysen Na Oost en West Indien”. The booklet reported that it was a translation from Portuguese language for the first time.This shows that there was a Portuguese source. We presume that Joseph might have learned some Portuguese language during his stay in Portugal for at least six months and that he had a companion from Portugal. Hence, this edition is very important as it may be the most reliable source. Also, Fr Antony argues that the Italian source has a lot of Portuguese influence in the language and hence the original text might have been in Portuguese.
The fourth source is a collection of chronicles called “Fasciculus temporum” which contains narrations of Joseph, the Indian as an appendix. This source has been cited by authors like Gouvea, Germann and Nagam Aiyya.
3a. Joseph as the leader of St Thomas Christians
We see Joseph as one of the members of the St Thomas Christian delegation visiting the Patriarch of Babylon in 1490 to get priests and bishops to Malabar church. This was reported clearly in the letters of the four East Syriac Bishops to the Patriarch.
“In the year of Alexander 1801-AD 1490, there came three trustworthy Christian men from the remote regions of India to Mar Simeon, the Catholic Patriarch of the orient, to ask for Fathers -ahabata- and take them with them. One of them died on the way according to the will of the creator. The two others came safely to the Mar Catholicose who was then living in the town Gazarta Bet Zabdai and they were received by him with the greatest joy. One of them was called George and the other Joseph. Both of them were ordained priests in the holy church of St George in Gazarta by the Mar Catholicos. For, they were fairly educated”. (( 23.Rev. H Hosten, The St. Thomas Christians of Malabar, Kerala Society Papers, Series 5, 1929, Trivandrum p225, cited from Bibliotheca Orientalis, Tom III, Pars I p589- J S Assemani, and Early Spread of Christianity In India, A Mingana, Journal of John Rylands Library, Vol 10, No 2, July 1926, Manchester, p 36, translation from Syriac.;G Schurhammer, Three Letters of Mar Jacob, Bishop of Malabar, in Orientalia Bibliotheca Instituti Historici S J, Roma vol XXI 1963, p 334, cited by A Vallavanthara ))
Authors like Schuhammer, Germann and Mundadan argue that the Joseph who was ordained by the Catholicose was the same Joseph, the Indian Priest who went to Europe with Cabral to meet the Pope. Germann also reports that Joseph visited Babylon again in 1492 with Bishop Mar Thoma (Mar Yohannan stayed in Malabar) to meet the Catholicos and give the offerings to him. (( 24.Rev. H H Hosten, The St. Thomas Christians of Malabar, Kerala Society Papers, Series 5 p226, cited from Bibliotheca Orientalis, Tom III, Pars I p589- J S Assemani, and Early Spread of Christianity In India, A Mingana, Journal of John Rylands Library, Vol 10, No 2, July 1926, Manchester, p 36, translation from Syriac.; W Germann, Die Kirche der Thomaschristen, Gutersloh, 1877 p317 cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 59 ))
3b. Joseph as a statesman declaring the religio cultural identity of St Thomas Christians.
The most famous of these three witnesses of Joseph is his visitation to Europe in AD 1501 with Cabral and audience to Pope of Rome and narrating the religio socio cultural aspects of Malabar to the Venetians who reported these narrations and published in various European languages. Joseph must be the first St Thomas Christian visiting Europe. He used that opportunity well by declaring his religio cultural identity to the Europeans.
During his visitation to Pope Alexander VI, Joseph declared that Church in the East is governed by the Catholicos Patriarch at Babylon and his right of appointing Bishops to Malabar. When Joseph was asked about the authority to the Catholicose Patriarch, Joseph clarified that when St Peter, who was the Bishop of Antioch, had to move to Rome, he left a Vicar at Antioch. It is from him, the Catholicos get the authority to govern the Church in the East.
3c. Joseph as a fierce fighter to preserve the rite and jurisdiction of St Thomas Christians.
We see Joseph again in AD 1518 in Cranganore arguing with the Portuguese Missionary Alvares Panteado to keep the rite and traditions of St Thomas Christians and raising the famous argument- Mar Thomayude Maargavum Vazhipadum- the way and lineage of St Thomas. Panteado wrote in AD 1518 “As soon as the Priest, who returned from Portugal returned from Sao Tome, he was scandalises with me and asked me what I wanted. I said you should conform to Rome”. (( 25.G Schurhammer, Three letters p 345.cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 59. ))
It seems clear that Panteado was talking about the priest who had been to Portugal and is based in Cranganore. Schurhammer in his article “Three Letters of Mar Jacob, Bishop of Malabar” asks affirmatively when he talks about Joseph, the Indian, “is he not the parish priest of Cranganore who returned from Portugal”? (( 26.G Schurhammer, Three Letters of Mar Jacob, the Bishop of Malabar, Orientalia Bibliotheca Instituti Historici S J , Roma, vol XXI 1963, p334, cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD p 58.))
Mundadan also confirms the chief Priest of Cranganore mentioned here seems to be Joseph, the Indian who had been to Portugal. (( 27.A M Mundadan, Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob, p92 footnote 51 cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p59. ))
Mundadan also comments Joseph the Indian, whose mission to Babylon in AD 1490 and his trip with Cabral to Portugal and Venice, was no doubt an important man in the community and he was the priest and the rector of the of the main church of Cranganore. (( 28.A M Mundadan, Traditions of Thomas Christians, p123 cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p 60. ))
4. THE STORY NARRATED BY JOSEPH
The author of the narrations observes Joseph as a man of about forty years of age and dark coloured, medium size. An ingenious man of high integrity, truthful, an exemplary man with very great faith. He was a man of whom we will never be sorry to have made acquaintance. Joseph talked about a range of subjects from Christianity in Malabar with its ancient traditions and customs, socio economic cultural life of Malabar, especially the rites and rituals of Hindus and Christians, political scenario, agriculture, trade and economics, Sociology, theology, astronomy, animals, plants, a detailed explanation about coconut trees, its uses, wine and sugar making from coconut and more.
5. AFFAIRS OF SAINT THOMAS’ CHRSTIANS IN THE EARLY SIXTEENTH CENTURY
5a. Churches or Houses.
Joseph comments that the Christians take their houses for a certain price from the gentile king and pay annual rent. (( 29. Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, pp166-167, 231 )) By house, Joseph may have been talking about the house of worship. We can see this word in many ancient writings; House of St Thomas at Mailappore for example. Joseph may have been talking about the annual property tax. We know many Kings have waived the annual tax for the churches.
The houses of Christians are made of wooden walls. In fact, the temples of Christians are made like ours (European) except that they have only a cross in the church. On the top of the church also, there is a cross. Latin text clearly says no statues of saints in the church. On the foundation, there is a big cross. This may be the open air granite cross found in Kerala churches.
Duarte Barbosa and Antonio de Gouvea also report this. “They say mass on altars like ours with a cross in front of them.” (( 30. A Description of the coasts of east Africa and Malabar in the beginning of sixteenth century, Duarte Barbosa, composed in probably 1514-15, Hakluyt Society, London, 1865 p162. ))
“And the old ones were all built like the temples of the gentiles, but all full of crosses like those of the miracle of St Thome, which they call Cross of Saint Thomas.” (( 31. Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the sixteenth century Malabar, Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Publications, p245.))
Gouvea also reports about the open air granite crosses. “and no one can but see crosses in the whole of Malabar, even if it is in the most out of the way roads, which does not have its foot very well done, and inside it a place for the lamp which it lit throughout the night, having the care to provide it with oil, not less the Christians than the gentiles, which is not found in any other part of India, and much less in Europe”. (( 32. Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis:A Portuguese account of the sixteenth century Malabar, Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Publications, p187-188 ))
Rev. Dr Pius Malekandathil observes that there were two types of crosses venerated among the St Thomas Christians; one constructed outside the church, but in front of it along the wayside, very often with arrangements for lighting lamps (vilakkumadams) and the second type, inside the church, with Pahlavi inscriptions which, as Gouvea refers to as St Thomas Crosses. (( 33.Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the sixteenth century Malabar, Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Publications, p188, foot note 159. ))
Joseph also confirmed that the bells are not in use in the Christian churches. When they want to call the people for worship, they use the rite of the Greeks. It is not clear what the rite of the Greeks is? Before bells were popularised in Europe, Semantron was used by Greeks to call people to church. Semantrone is long piece of timber of iron which is beated to make sound. (( 34.Wikipedia article-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantron))
Antonio Gouvea reports that the bells in Serra ( malabar) were wooden. He visited a church in a low land on the border of the Kings of Thekkencoor and Porca ( Purakkadu- Chembakassery) where the bell was a thick stick hanging by two ropes with a packet of sticks by the side with which they made the sign for the christians to go to church. ((35. Jornada of Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Ed. Dr. Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Publications, Cochin. 340-341))
Aloysius Cadamustus, a Venetian traveller who started his tour from Europe in 1493, visited Calicut and reported that the city was inhabited by Indian Christians and he saw churches with bells. (( 36.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar, p80 ))
5b. About the Clergy.
Joseph clearly mentions that the Christians of Malabar had priests, deacons and subdeacons. Italian-diaconi et subdiaconi, L-levitas and hypodiaconas, D-leviten en onderhelpers. ((37.India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p172-4.))
The priests do not have tonsure. They kept hair at the top of the head. Malabar priests used to retain a tuft of hair on the head as did the Nampoothiris- the Hindu priests. Christian priests used to keep a cross on this tuft of hair. (( 38.India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p279.))
“The priests keep conjugal chastity that is after the death of the first wife, they do not marry another. But later, under the influence of the Portuguese, celibacy came into use.” Vallavanthara also quotes Fr Dionysio “A few years ago, the priests were married. Now, all keep celibacy, and if someone gets married, he remains suspended”. (( 39.A M Mundadan, Traditions of St Thomas Christians p 148 cited in India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p 284.))
5c.Monasteries and Nunneries
Joseph also mentions that they had hermitages with monks dressed in black clothes, who live in chastity, and also nuns. This doesn’t mean that the priests were celibate. The Italian text uses the same word for monks and priests but the Latin text uses different words- continentissime for monks and catissime for cathanaars.Fr Vallavanthara quotes Goes “They had monasteries of monks, who wear black dress. There are nuns too. Both monks and nuns live in great observance of honesty, chastity and poverty.” (( 40.A M Mundadan, Traditions of St Thomas Christians, p 119 cited in India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara p 284. ))
Carmelite Missionary Paulinose wrote that there were monasteries for men under the Nestorian Patriarch at Kuravilangadu, Edappalli, Angamali and Mylappore. These monks were the spiritual leaders of the St Thomas’ Christians. (( 41.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar,.p82.))
Osorius, a Catholic writer, who wrote about the Thomas Christians at the time of Emmanuel , King of Portugal that “there are among them, fraternities of monks and associations of virgins; yet they are cloistered in separate buildings and chastity is maintained with great care” (( 42.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar,p85-86 ))
5d. Hierarchical system of St Thomas Christians
For spiritual matters, the Christians have a great pontiff as the head who is called Catholica. There are 12 Cardinals under him and two Patriarchs, Bishops and Archbishops. (( 43 India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, pp168-171, 233.))
Joseph mentioned about his return to Babylon with a Bishop to meet the Catholicose. This is an evidence to his second journey to Babylon with Mar Thomas to submit the first fruits in AD 1498.
The term Patriarch is not very clear. It might have been a title of the head of the church in India and China. We know that when Mar Ahatalla came in AD 1653, he claimed that he was the Patriarch of India and China. Mar Andrews- kallada Mooppan claimed that he was a Patriarch. From these, we have to assume that it was a title known to Malabar Christians.
About the 12 cardinals. We know that 12 was an important number for Malabar Christians. Arch deacon Thomas Parabmbil was consecrated as Mar Thoma I by 12 priests as assistants. When Mar Kariattil passed away, we had 12 priest assisting Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar in the 18th century. There is a Malayalam manuscript available addressing Paremmakkal Thomman Cathanaar and 12 priests, found in the personal library of late I C Chacko. (( 44.India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p274 foot note 72.))
Joseph mentions that the Catholicose shave this head- tonsure- in the likeness of a cross.
Joseph also declared to the Pope of Rome, Pope Alexander VI- when he was asked, who gave this authority to the Catholica, that Saint Peter was the Pontiff in Antioch at the time of Simon Magus who molested the Christians in Rome and Peter had to move to Rome to oppose him, leaving a vicar in Antioch. This vicar is governing the oriental parts and he is called the Catholica, who is elected by 12 cardinals. They say that they do this with the authority of the Roman Pontiff.
Here, we can understand the word cardinal. Joseph might not have used the word cardinal. As these 12 people elect the catholicose similar to the cardinals who elect the Pope of Rome, the author of the narrations might have used the term cardinal.
We do not know what was meant by Joseph by saying, they say that they do this with the authority of the Roman Pontiff. We know from history that the Church of the East or the Church in Malabar was not in communion with the Roman Church at that time. There were many attempts in the past from the Church of the East for communion with the Rome from AD1247 by Patriarch Sabrisho V and by Mar Jaballaha III in 1288. ((45 Zubhi Zora, Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 247, Rene Leynant, Ed. Ponifical Institutium Studiorum Orientalium, Rome, 1994, p 348, cited by Mar Aprem Metropilitan, The History of the Assyrian Church of the east in the Twentieth Century with special reference to the syriac literature in Kerala, Ph D thesis submitted to Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, October 2000, p 20-21 ))
Rabban Sauma and Monk markose went to Rome and celebrated the East Syriac Qurbana there and made a deposition to the Pope “With the pardon of my faults and sins which I have received thee, O Father, I desire of thy fatherliness, O’ Holy Father that I may receive communion from thy hands, so that I may have complete forgiveness” ((46 Mar Aprem Metropilitan, The History of the Assyrian Church of the east in the Twentieth Century with special reference to the syriac literature in Kerala, Ph D thesis submitted to Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, October 2000, p20 quoting “The History of Jaballaha III, Nestorian Patriarch and his vicar Bar Sauma”, James Montgomery, New York, 1927. ))
In the council of Florence,(1438-1445) The Diocese of the Church of the East in Cyprus became in full communion to the Roman Catholic church and they later adopted the latin Rite. ((47 Mar Aprem Metropilitan, The History of the Assyrian Church of the East in the Twentieth Century with special reference to the syriac literature in Kerala, Ph D thesis submitted to Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, October 2000, p21 ))
These shows that there was a fluctuant situation in the relations between Church of the East and the Catholic Church from AD 1247 onwards and we do not know about any such recognision from the Roman Pontiff for the election of the Catholicose Patriarch of the Church of the East at the time of Joseph. This could be a misunderstanding due to language barrier also. This subject needs further research.
5e. Sacraments, rituals and feasts of Christians.
Joseph gives an account of different sacraments, rites and feasts of Saint Thomas’ Christians to the Signoria of Venice. ((48. India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, pp172-175, 235-237))
Joseph says,children are baptised 40 days after birth unless there is danger of life.
Gouvea also confirms that the Saint Thomas’ Christians did not baptise the children on the eighth day, but after a few months, sometimes an year, seven or ten years. ((49 Jornada Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar, Dr Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Cochin p238))
Joseph said, the Christians have confession and they receive communion. It is not very clear whether Joseph is mentioning about auricular confession. Dutch text clearly says, they confess like those faithful to Rome but Italian and Latin are not clear.Fr Vallavanthara discusses this issue well in the book India in 1500 AD with references. Panteado, the Portuguese missionary reported that he was told by the Malabar Christians that they had only general confession and that they confessed to God in a clear voice altogether. (( 50. A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD p 279 Cf. Mundadan, Traditions of St Thomas Christians, p172.))
In the canons of the synod of Diamper in 1599 and in the statutes of Bishop Ross in 1606, the term “kumpassaram” is used for sacrament of reconciliation. The word “kumpassaram” was derived from the Portuguese word “confessao”. This is the only European word used in Malayalam for a sacrament. This shows that this is a European introduction into Malabar Christianity. But, when the canons of the synod describe the details of the act of confession, it uses another Malayalam word “pizhamoolal”. Bishop Ross also states in his statutes that if there are people who have not made the confession who come for the “pizhamoolal”, they should have their sins absolved before coming to it. (( 51.Scaria Zacharia, rantu pracheena kruthikal p 132 cited in India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p281.))
This proves that confession and pizhamoolal are not the same. Therefore, we have to assume that there was a general confession or a sort of sacrament of reconciliation in practice in Malabar Christians prior to Portuguese which was pizhamoolal and the proper auricular confession- kumpassaram was introduced by the European missionaries.
Osorius who wrote about St Thomas Christians at the time of King Emmanuel of Portugal, says “no one comes forward to receive the eucharist unless by previous confession he has washed away the soul’s defilements”. (( 52.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar, p85. ))
This also confirms that there were some kind of general confession among the St Thomas Christians.
Quoting the Canons of the Synod of Diamper, Thomas Whitehouse says “In this Bishopric, no Christian has ever confessed upon obligation, and the great many not at all” showing that there were no confession similar to the Roman Church. (( 53.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar, p112 ))
Therefore, the words of Joseph may not confirm that we had confession as the Roman church did.
Gouvea describes the practice of penitence among Saint Thomas Christians before the introduction of confession by the Portuguese. A fireplace was set up in the church to which incense is put and all approaches the smoke and diverting the smoke to their chest with their hands believing that with that smoke, all their sins are going outside their souls. ((54.Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar, Dr Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Cochin, p238))
5e(3) Ordination of Priests.
Joseph did not mention anything about odination of Priests. But he has confirmed that there were Priests, deacons and subdeacons. Gouvea reported that they ordain at young ages like 17-20 years and they would wear ecclesiastical dress which is ordinarily some white drawers and a loose shirt thown over it. They were all married. ((55.Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar, Dr Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Cochin p240)) More details about the Priests are discusses earlier.
Joseph states that they consecrate the body and blood of our lord as we do with unleavened bread. He also adds that as we do not have wine because grapes do not grow in the region, they use dried grapes coming from china, put them in water and squeeze them to make a juice to use in the sacrament. (( 56.A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p174-175, p235.))
Duarte Barbosa also confirms this and adds the grapes come from ormis and mecca. “They communicate with salt bread instead of a wafer, and they consecrate of that bread enough for all that are in the church, and they give it to all of them. Each one who communicates goes to receive it at the foot of the alter with his hand. The wine is in this manner, because there is no wine in India; they take raisins which come from Mekkah and Ormuz, and put them for a night in water, and on the next day, when they have to say mass they squeeze them and with the juice they say their mass.” (( 57. A Description of the coasts of east Africa and Malabar in the beginning of sixteenth century, Duarte Barbosa, composed in probably 1514, Hakluyt Society, London, 1865 p162-3.))
There are evidences to say that the mode of communion- receiving the Eucharist was also different in Malabar. Eucharist was received in both the species- body and blood. Fr Vallavanthara refers to A M Mundadan’s book “The Traditions of St Thomas Christians” where Fr Mundadan quotes Panteado. (( 58. A M Mundadan, The Traditions of St Thomas Christians, p167, cited by A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, p28 ))
Osorius also confirms that the Eucharist is offerd to all in both kinds, without discrimination”. (( 59.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar, p 85.))
Gouvea describes the way of celebration of the Eucharist among Saint Thomas’ Christians. They used to consecrate cakes made of oil and salt which were cooked in a copper vessel by the deacons and young men of minor orders in a small tower in the church above the Madbaha while the Priest is singing the mass. At the time of consecration, these cakes are thrown down through a hole on the roof of the Madbaha in a basket of palm leaves. They used the wine of dried grapes or of palm. ((60.Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar, Dr Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Cochin, p 239))
5e(5) Anointing the sick and confirmation
Joseph said,they do not have extreme unction. The Latin text adds that instead they bless the body. (( 61. India in 1500 ad p 172-174.))
The Dutch text clearly says they do not have sacred oil, but instead, they bless the body. (( 62. India in 1500 AD A Vallavanthara, p 235.))
Therefore, Joseph confirms that there was some form of blessing the sick was prevalent among Malabar Nasranis. (vs. anointing the sick)
Thomas Whitehouse quoting the decrees of the Synod of Diamper of 1599 says” there has not been hitherto any use of the sacrament of extreme unction, in which, for want of Catholic instruction, there has been no knowledge of institution, effects or efficacy thereof” “ Holy oils having hitherto not been used in this bishopric in any of the sacraments” (( 63.Thomas Whitehouse, Lingering of lights in a dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar,112,116. ))
Gouvea says, they have no knowledge of confirmation and extreme unction. They did not use any oils in sacraments, but they anoint all the children after baptism with coconut oil or with the oil of sesame without any blessings. ((64.Jornada Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar, Dr Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Cochin p 238)). This confirms the practice of some kind of anointing alongwith Baptism which conforms with the Eastern Christian practice of giving Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist together at the time of Baptism.
Joseph has not spoken anything about the sacrament of marriage but said they do not divorce whether the marriage is good or bad. (( 65.Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD p 176-177,237))
Gouvea reported that there was no ecclesiastical ceremony in marriage. They throw a wire around the neck of the bride (thali) and do many other superstitious practices of the gentiles. ((66.Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar, Dr Pius Malekkandathil, LRC Cochin p 241))
5f. Gospels and Evangelists.
Joseph confirmed that the Christians of St Thomas had four evangelists and venerates the same number of gospels. Joseph also mentioned that there were many holy doctors in Malabar who can interpret the old and new testaments very wisely. ((67. India in 1500 A D, Antony Vallavanthara, p174-175,237 ))
5g. Feasts and rituals of St Thomas’ Christians.
Joseph narrates the feasts in the following order as in eastern tradition, starts with the central feast of resurrection. First the sacred day of resurrection with the following two days, then the octave of Easter with more festivity than any other feasts because it is on that that day did St Thomas put his hands on the side of our Lord and recognised that he was real not a phantom. After that, the day of ascension. Feast of the trinity, assumption of the blessed virgin, her nativity and purification. Nativity of our saviour and epiphany, and all the apostles and Sundays. The first day of July as memory of St Thomas, both Christians and the gentiles. (( 68.India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p175-177.))
Joseph spoke about the lent and the advent and comments that they fast on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Joseph confirms that they bury the dead. When someone dies, the Christians come together, and eat together for eight days and pray.
They make their last will and testament. The Latin text adds that the last will is honoured with much devotion. If someone dies without making a will, the closest relative will get the property. The wives go back to their paternal house taking their dowry once their husband is dead. They cannot marry within a year. (( 69.India in 1500 AD, A Vallavanthara, p175-176.))
5h. About Mailappore and the Tomb of St. Thomas.
Joseph describes about Saint Thomas’ tomb at Mailappore also. (( 70. India in 1500 AD, pp214-214, D 259))
From Cochin, 100 miles east is a cape called “cumari”. From “cape cumari” up to the river Indus is 500 miles where there is a very great gulf called oriza- Bay of Bengal. Here, Joseph uses the word river Indus instead of Ganges.
“Church of St Thomas is found in Milapar which is in this gulf. Church of St Thomas is as big as St Paul’s and St John’s in Venice. In this church placed the body of St Thomas who works many miracles. Both Christians and gentiles have great devotion to him”. (( 71. A Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD p214.))
Duarte Barbosa wrote in AD 1514-15 “And he began to persecute the said St. Thomas who withdrew himself to Cholamandel, and then to a city which was called Muylepur, where he received martyrdom, and there he is buried.” “…which is called Maylepur; in former times it was a considerable place of the Kingdom of Narsinga. In this city is buried the body of the apostle St. Thomas, in a small church near the sea.” (( 72.Duarte Barbosa, A description of the coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of Sixteenth century, Hakluyt Society, London, 1865 pp160-161, 174-175. ))
These accounts confirm the tradition of St Thomas tomb at Mylappore and contradict the later day propaganda that Mylappore tomb was an invention of Portuguese.
Joseph’s narrations are unique as this is the only information from a native source about the affairs of St Thomas’ Christians in the early 16th century. These throw light into the ancient traditions and rituals of St Thomas Christians of Malabar. Many of the information from these narrations are unknown to the present generation. Joseph’s narrations are invaluable for those searching into the identity and traditions of St Thomas Christians.
Thank to Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road Piscataway, NJ 08854 Tel: (732)885-8900 Fax: (732) 885-8908 (www.gorgiaspress.com) for permission to use images from the book “India in 1500 A D.The Narrations of Joseph, the Indian”
Author M Thomas Antony can be reached by email at – m dot Thomas dot antony at live.co.uk.
M Thomas Anthony, that was an excellent article on Jospeh the Indian. I also came across the below article in the blog Maddy’s Rambling which delves into the Cabral’s Journey back to Portugual. It also talks about some other Indian passengers on board the return trip.
the story is further covered in this more detailed blog on Jospeh.
Good article I’ve seen addressing in detail and seriously investigated.
“Joseph’s visitation of Pope Alexander IV.
In the narrations of Joseph, he confirms that he had an audience with Pope Alexander IV. Joseph informed the Pope about the Christians of Malabar, their ecclesial system, hierarchy and so forth.”
Was that Pope Alexander IV or Pope Alexander VI ? If it was Alexander VI, when did Joseph the Indian visited the Pope and what are the documentations available to prove this ?
Thanks for pointing out the mistake. It was Pope Alexander VI. I have corrected the article now. It was my mistake. I should have checked the facts before uploading. Thank you very much.
Thanks Alphy for your comments and introducing us to Maddy’s ramblings. As Maddy has written, Cabral accidentally took a few hostages from the King of Cochin (in exchange for Cabral people) to Portugal. I have read it in somewhere else. Maddy has more details of that. I think there is scope for more research into that area.
Dear Mr.Thomas Antony,
Very nice exposition.
Well researched article with a historical mind.
Appreciating you for your love towards the Mother Church.
In many accounts of old Malabar Christians, we see references to “Armenians”. E.g,. Thomas of Cana was an “Armenian”, some bishops from “Armenia” came to Malabar, etc.
Now, for the longest of time, I’ve dismissed this for what I thought was an error: “Armenian” being a corruption of the word “Aramean”. The latter seems to be more suitable, since Malabar Christians were generally Syriac Christians, and the Syriac Christians and the Aramean/Assyrian Christians of West Asia have obvious connections due to the use of the same East Syriac liturgy.
But … humor me here and consider the following bit of speculation, which comes courtesy of Fr. Joseph Cheeran, a “historian” of the Malankara Orthodox Church. Now, the MOC has various vested interests, as do all of the Churches in India. But Fr. Cheeran seems very different, in that he doesn’t seem to tow the standard MOC line. Not even the standard Puthenkoor line. He definitely has some nationalistic tendencies in viewing the Indian Church as one that is unique, but he’s done some fieldwork and so has some interesting things to say.
In his latest book (The Indian Orthodox Church of Saint Thomas) he cites Joseph the Indian’s statement, also reported in the article above:
“For spiritual matters, the Christians have a great pontiff as the head who is called Catholica. There are 12 Cardinals under him and two Patriarchs, Bishops and Archbishops.”
What’s interesting about this, according to Fr. Cheeran, is that this organization bears some resemblance to the Armenian Orthodox Church.
Historically, that Church has the following organization:
1. A supreme pontiff, who is termed the “Catholicos”
2. Two patriarchs underneath the Catholicos, who are termed Patriarchs (one at Jerusalem, and on at Constantinople)
This is strangely similar to what Joseph reports.
Now combine this with some other facts:
1. Mylapore had connections with the Armenians
2. the reports of “Armenians” in some Western accounts
It is interesting to consider whether the Indians had some connections with the Armenian Church as well.
Not that I buy this outright, but I am interested in pursuing this further, given Joseph the Indian’s account which is the first account of our people by one of our own.
is the raw account, translated into English, available anywhere online?
Cheeran’s book throws light regarding many historical facts about the Christians of Kerala. However his allegiance to orthodox faction blinded his eyes to write everything in favour of his faction made the book not a trustworthy one.
The Armenian Christian presence in Malabar and Mylapore, if available should be interesting.
I also read that the Assyrians (circa BC 550) also exiled the Isralites (Ephraim) to Armenia. There seems to have been Jewish presense in Armenia and further Persin exiles Jews from Armenia to Persia. This may make Armenians nearer to Malabar.
Yes! Armenia is claimed to be the first Christian Nation in the world, but we got to follow the lead as to who may have been the Apostle to go out to Armenia from Jerusalem to witness to the ‘Lost Sheep – Israel/Ephraim’. Humour me here too, I would not be suprised if the later foundation of Christianity in Armenia was built upon those first Ephraim Nazerenes who got baptized by the Apostle (whoever he was)
I am working on what I had promised earlier about Ephraim Nazerenes and Judha Nazerenes of Malabar.
Oopps! It was not circa BC 550 but circa BC 740 that Ephraim got carried away into exile to several parts (including Armenia) of the world by Assyria.