Alengad Sliva- The Neglected Jewel of the ancient Christian settlement in Alengad and the most ancient Christian artefact of Malabar.

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This paper has been published in the journal ‘The Harp, a review of Syriac, Oriental and Ecumenical Studies’. Citation details- M T Antony, Alengad Sliva- The Neglected Jewel of the ancient Christian settlement in Alengad and the most ancient Christian artefact of Malabar, The Harp, Vol XXX, 2015, Saint Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute, SEERI, Kerala, India.


Alengad Sliva- The Neglected Jewel of the ancient Christian settlement in Alengad and the most ancient Christian artefact of Malabar.


Alengad  Sliva ((1.Sliva is a Syriac word for Cross. Alengad Sliva is a granite bas relief plain Cross with Pahlavi inscriptions. It has a floral arrangements in the base and a descending dove touching the top of the Cross.)) is an ancient Persian Cross discovered in Kerala in 1931. It is a granite plain bas relief Cross with Pahlavi inscriptions. There are a number of plain Crosses of  similar design with three bud like arrangements at the ends of the arms with a floral design on the base and a descending dove on the top. This family of plain Crosses are called Persian Crosses, on account of the inscriptions in Pahlavi, a middle Persian language. These Crosses denote the strong connection of the Christians of Malabar coast with the Christianity in Persian Empire- the Church of the East and a definite Pahlavi phase of the East Syrian Christianity of Malabar.

Alengad Saint Thomas Cross
Alengad Saint Thomas Cross

Alengad is a village in Ernakulam District in the South Indian State of Kerala, 7 km from Aluva and 19 km from Kodungalloor . Saint Mary’s Church at Alengad is an ancient church established in the 14th century AD dedicated to Saint Mary, the Mother of the Lord Isho Misiha. (( 2.BERNARD THOMAS, Mar Thoma Kristhyanikal,( Book published in Malayalam language- Saint Thomas Christians ) Mar Thoma Sleeha Press, Palai, 1916 p 325.( The History of The saint Thomas Christians by Rev Fr Bernard of Saint Thomas T  O C D) ))

In ancient accounts, Alengad was called Mangate. (( 3.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Jornada of Dom Alexis De Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, LRC Publications, Kochi, 2003, p 594.))

Discovery of the Alengad Sliva

Alengad Cross was discovered by Rev. Fr. Joseph C  Panjikaren in 1931 found lying on the wayside unrecognised. (20 January 1931) This was thought as a milestone. This Cross was then placed in a wayside shrine near the Church at Alengad.

Alangad in the Nasrani History

Alengad is the birthplace of Mar Joseph Kariattil who was consecrated as the Archbishop of Kodungallur (Cranganore) in  1783  A D for the Catholics of the Syro Chaldean rite in Malabar but who died in Goa  in dubious circumstances before arriving in his See  in Kerala. (( 4.Angamaly Padiyola-01.02.1787 AD, page 3 of the copy,  Varthamana pusthakam, PAREMMAKKAL THOMMAN CATHANAAR, Oriental Institute of Religious Studies India Publications, reprint 1989  p480-481.))It was in Alengad,  the Archdeacon ((5. Archdeacon was the most privileged  position among the Thomas Christians.  A native Cathanaar holds this dignity which is next only to the Archbishop. He was the temporal head of the Church in Malabar. The Archdeacon of All India had certain ceremonial role also in enthroning the local King. Even when Archbishop Mar Abraham was present, Pope Gregory XIII has sent five Papal briefs to the Archdeacon, recognising the dignity of this title among the Nasrani community. (Rev Dr Xavier Koodapuzha, Bharatha sabha Charithram– History of the Church in India-p301, Rev Dr Xavier Koodpuzha, Mar Thoma Nasrani Sabha Vijnana Kosham– Encyclopaedia of Saint Thomas Christian Church- p124.) The Apostolic Commissary and Later the Archbishop, Joseph Sebastiani wrote  “Among the Christians of Saint Thomas, the position of the Archdeacon is next to the Archbishop. It is a very ancient privileged position which comes down in succession .It is a great dignity as it is according to the Greek (Eastern) Church. There is no other indigenous dignity neither secular nor religious, greater than Archdeacon, who is considered to be the prince and Head of the Saint Thomas Christians” Archives of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, Rome, Scritti riferitti nel Congr., General, Vol 233, f.111 ( Xavier Koodapuzha, Bharatha Sabha Charithram, pp 301-302) )) Thomas Parambil was “consecrated” by 12 Cathanaars ((6.The Syrian Christian Priests were called Cathanaars. It may be a Malabar version of the Syriac word Kassessa.  In the Portuguese documents, the word Kassanar is used. (Rev Dr Xavier Koodapuzha, Marthoma Sabha Vijnana Kosham,  p208)) as the Bishop for Saint Thomas Christians -Mar Thoma I,  after the famous Alengad yogam ((7. XAVIER KOODAPUZHA, Mar Thoma Nasrani Sabha Vijnana Kosham, (Encyclopaedia of Saint Thomas  Christians, )p 126))- the Synod of the Saint Thomas Christians- the Catholics of the Syro Chaldean rite in Malabar. This event, along with the Coonan Cross oath, was a Great revolt against the Portuguese Colonial Missionary enterprise in India, mark a milestone in the history of Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar. (This could be the very first rebellion against the European Colonial powers from native Indians.)  Even though canonically this act was not correct, it showed the great courage and self esteem of the Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar.  In 1598 AD, having no ecclesiastical authority over the Church of Saint Thomas Christians, the Portuguese Archbishop Alexis Dom Menezis of Goa, visited Alengad, as part of his visitation to most of the Saint Thomas Christian Churches in Malabar, in a bid to take over the  community under the Portuguese Padruado rule. In 1701, Mar Anjelos Francis was consecrated as a Bishop for Saint Thomas Christians by a Chaldean Bishop Mar Simon at Alengad, as the rest of the Roman Catholic Padruado Bishops refused to consecrate him, even when Mar Anjelus Francis was appointed by the Pope. ((8.PAREMMAKKAL THOMMAN CATHANAAR,Varthamana Pusthakam, Janatha Services Thevara, reprint 1987 OIRSI p45.))

Saint Mary's Church at Alengad
Saint Mary’s Church at Alengad

2.Historical accounts about Alengad.

Bernard Thomas

Alengad Church and the Christian settlement are mentioned in many ancient historical accounts. Rev. Fr. Bernard of Saint  Thomas has written that Alengad church was founded in the 14th century AD with the support of the King of Alengad. The Ruler of Alengad had donated land and property to the Church. The King has set aside 60 para nilam- about 6 acres of land- for the expenses of the lighting of lamps in the church. There was another property donated by the King  called ‘thalakoothu nilam’ (Property for Head ailments) which was given to the Church as a thanks giving by the King when the Queen suffered  severe head ache which was cured after prayers in the Church. ((9. BERNARD THOMAS,  Opus cit. pp 325-326.))

Antonio De Gouvea.

Antonio De Gouvea has written about Alengad in connection with the visit of Archbishop Alexis Dom Menesis. Gouvea described Alengadu was a big settlement of Christians. He visited Alengad Church during the time of a fierce war between Alengad and Parur. The Archbishop consoled the Christians in the Church and taught about the Roman Church and that  the Roman Pontiff was the Head of the Church in the world and the Vicar of Jesus Christ. (( 10.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus cit. p 137.))

Raulini Johannus Facundus Raulin and Paulinos De Bartholomew

Raulini Johannus Facundus Raulin  in 1740 AD  and Paulinus De Bartholomeo in 1790  AD mentions about the Saint Mary’s Church at Alengad and also about the Jesuit and Carmelite houses there. ((11. JOANNES FACUNDUS RAULIN, Historis Ecclesiae Malabaricae cum Diamperitana Synodo, Rome, 1745,p 428 cited by PIUS MELEKKANDATHIL, Jornada of Dom Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, LRC Publications Cochin, 2003 p136,

PAULINUS DE BARTHOLOMEW,  India Orientalis Christiana, Roma, 1794,p 267.cited by PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL ,Opus cit p 136.

Raulin was the former Superior General of the Order of the Hermites of Saint Augustine, translated the acts of the Synod of Diamper from Portuguese into Latin. As an introduction, he wrote a summary of the Jordana and a short History of Christianity in India. ( PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus cit. pxxi) ))

Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil -Duperron

In 1750 AD, French Orientalist Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil -Duperron visited Alengad. He  calls the church at Alengad as the most beautiful church in Malabar. He also mentions of an altar dedicated to the exaltation of Holy Cross on the top of a nearby hillock. ((12. DU PERRON, Zend Avesta,  p vol I p I.33 as cited by PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Jornada of Dom Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, LRC Publications Cochin, 2003 .p136 foot note 128 ))

3. Pahlavi inscribed granite Crosses of South India.

The first Pahlavi inscribed granite Cross was found by Portuguese Missionaries in the ruins of the ancient Church at Mailappur in 1547 AD. This was not a surprise at that time as there were  several of this kind of Crosses in Malabar as witnessed by Joseph the Indian ((13.ANTONY VALLAVANTHARA, India in 1500 AD, Gorgias Press, pp166-167, 231)), Antonio Gouvea ((14.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL,  Opus cit. p245.)) and Duarte Barbosa ((15. HENRY E J STANLEY, A Description of the coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of Sixteenth century by Duarte Barbosa,  London, Hakluyt Society, p188, 189, 202)). In AD 1873, the inscriptions found on these Crosses caught attention of A C Burnell and he discovered that these were Pahlavi inscriptions.  This lead interest in the two Pahlavi inscribed Crosses of Kottayam Valiyapalli during that time. The rest of the Pahlavi inscribed Crosses had disappeared by this time. The research about these inscriptions lead to discovery of more Crosses in the region- one in the St George’s Church at Kadamattom in 1923 AD ((16.J J MODI, A Christian Cross with a Pahlavi Inscription recently discovered in the Travancore State,  Journal of the  Bombay Branch of  the Royal Asiatic Society, vol II, August 1926, pp 1-18.)), another at  Ruha D Kudisha Church at Muttuchira in 1925 AD ((17.H HOSTEN S J, Antiquities from San Thome and Mailappore, The Diocese of Mailappore, p341)) and  in 1987 AD at Gervasis and Proctasis Church Kothanallur, Kottayam ((18.JOSEPH VAZHUTHANAPALLI, Archaeology of Mar Sliba, Oriental Institute of Religious Studies India Publications, Kottyam, p 16 foot note 30)). In 2001 AD, another Pahlavi Cross  was found in Goa in Agassim ((19.COSME JOS COSTA, Apostolic Christianity in Goa and in the West Coast, Xavarian Publication Society, 2009, p 75.)).

Crosses of Saint Thomas the Apostle- The Miraculous Sliva of Kodungallur.

These Crosses were called by the local Saint Thomas Christians as Saint Thomas’ Crosses as recorded by the early Portuguese writers in the sixteenth century. ((20.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus cit. p216, also foot note 177 on p 216- (Page 138 of Gouvea’s original work mentions about several crosses found inside the churches  are called as Saint Thomas Crosses).

PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus cit. pp244-245 and also foot note 190 on p 245 ))

The local Christians had an oral tradition that the Apostle Thomas arrived in Kodungallur and erected Churches there and installed a Cross there. This could be only an oral tradition based on the retrojection of the practice of veneration of Crosses in the post Apostolic period. This famous Cross was called miraculous Cross because it had played several miracles to the Christians and the gentiles as well. The local Kings had a great veneration to this cross and they sent oil to be lighted in front of the Cross. Antonio Gouvea has narrated that a Cross was placed in a wayside chapel with only one side open with railings and Archbishop Alexis Dom Menesis celebrated a solemn Mass in front of this Cross. From this we can assume that this Cross was placed in the altar of that chapel. Gouvea also describes a miraculous visual allusion while the Archbishop celebrated the Holy Mass ((21.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, opus cit. pp 216-217)). This famous Cross is not seen today. B T Anklesaria comments that the Cross found at Alengad was taken from Kodungallur (Crangannore) without specifying any source for the formation. ((22.B T ANKLESARIA, The Pahlavi inscription on the Crosses in South India, Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, Ed Jamshed C Tarapore, 1958, vol 39  p 82))

4 The Burnt Sliva of Alengad

During the visits of the Archbishop Menesis at Alengad,  Gouvea narrates that there was a small chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross on a nearby  hillock. Alengad was called Mangate at that time. Du Perron also mentions about the an altar dedicated to the exaltation of Holy Cross on the top of a nearby hill. ((23.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus cit. p 136 foot note 128 citing Anquetil Du Perron, Zend Avesta, vol I pI.33))

Gouvea describes about burning the Christian settlements in Alengad  by the suicide squads of the Kingdom of Parur. They burned the settlements, but the fire stopped at a Cross placed on the road made of sticks, (could be bamboo) with small crosses made of coconut leaf fronds hanging from its arms. This site was visited by the King of Mangate on the next day and acclaimed that the God of the Christians did not want that the fire should touch its sign. Gouvea also narrates a miracle of another Cross placed in the altar on the top of a nearby hill where the Cross and the altar that was made of stick- probably bamboo sticks-which survived when the whole chapel and roof burnt down. (( 24.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus cit. p359)) We can assume that the whole Church was made of bamboo sticks probably plastered with clay and cow dung in that time period. Here, the Cross was placed in the altar that was also made of bamboo. Miraculously, the altar with the Cross was preserved while the rest of the Church was burnt down. Most probably, this Cross that was placed in the altar was the Alengad Sliva.

We have witnesses of Gouvea ((25.PIUS MALEKKANDATHIL, Opus. cit p359.)), and also of Du Perron ((26.See foot notes 12 and 19 above.)) commenting about the shrine on the top of a nearby hill in Alengad  dedicated to the Holy Cross. On close inspection, we can see marks of burning and charring on the lower third of the Alengad Sliva. Anklesaria clearly mentions about the crack formed on the Cross. ((27.B T ANKLESARIA, Opus cit., p82)) This is also seen even today at the marks of charring. Now, we can assume that this crack and charring are evidence of this Cross being burnt in a fire. Therefore, Alengad Sliva could be the Sliva kept in the altar of a small shrine in Alengad dedicated to  Holy Cross.

We have many ancient Churches dedicated to Mar Sliva such as  Mapranam (AD 928) (( 28. accessed on 01/01/2014)) , Alleppey, Chennamangalam, ((29.BERNARD THOMAS , Mar Thoma Kristhyanikal- Saint Thomas Christians-Saint Thomas Apostle Press, Palai, 1916, p 324)) Cherpunkal ((30.BERNARD THOMAS Opus cit p305)), Manjapra ((31.BERNARD THOMAS, Opus cit., p 324)), Purakkad ((32.BERNARD THOMAS opus cit p 315)) and so on. We have examples of ancient churches with similar Crosses placed in the altar as reported by early European visitors  in Muttuchira ((33.H HOSTEN, Opus cit.p 351)) , Quilon ((34.A M MUNDADAN, The arrival of the Portuguese in India and the Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob,Bangalore, 1967, p 75, 73 cited by JACOB KOLLAMPARAMPIL, The Persian Crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994, p 30)) and Kumari Muttom ((35.HENRY E J STANLEY, A Description of the coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of Sixteenth century by Duarte Barbosa,  London, Hakluyt Society,pp162-3, 176)) and so on. So, we have to assume that this Shrine dedicated to Holy Cross on the top of a nearby hillock of Alengad could be a very ancient shrine, rather older than the Alengad Church.

5. Pahlavi Inscriptions on these Crosses.

The Pahlavi  inscriptions on these  Crosses have been studied by many experts. A C Burnell (1873), Dr Martin Haug (1874), Prof Baron De Harlez (1892)and Dr E W West (1986) and Dastur Darab Peshotan Sanjana (1914) deciphered and translated the inscriptions by studying the Mailppore Cross and the two Kottayam Crosses. Later, Dr. J J Modi wrote in 1924 about these inscriptions, after studying about the Cross at Kadamattom and in 1926, after studying about Muttuchira Cross also.

Readings of different scholars. ((36.B T ANKLESARIA, Opus cit.  pp67-70))

For ease for understanding and comparison, I have put the reading of Pahlavi inscription word by word with  number for identification and the translation after that. I could not get the word by word reading of Dr Martin Haug. Dr E W West has reviewed his own reading later and gave a new reading in 1896. The reading of Baron De Harlez and the translation was given in French language. I have translated it to English language using Google translate. Dastur Darab P Sanjana gave four readings and translations.

A C Burnell.(AD 1878)

1 min amn 2 mshiha 3 af alha-f 4 mdm 6 af rshd-i 7 aj 8 asar bukht 9 yin rijya  10 mn 11 vu drd i 12 dnmn ( The numbers denote the number of word)

( In punishment (?) by the cross (was) the suffering of this one: (He) who (is)  the true Christ and the God above , and guide ever pure.)

Dr Martin Haug (AD 1874 )

(Who believes in the Messiah and God  above and in the Holy Ghost  is redeemed through the grace of him who bore the cross.)

Dr E W West (AD 1874)

1 mun amen 2 meshikha-i 3 avaksha-i 4 madam 6 afras 7 aj 8 khar bukht 9 sulda i 10 min 11van va dard i 12 denmau

(What freed the true  Messiah, the forgiving, the upraising from hardship ? The crucifixion from the true, and the anguish of this.

Dr. E W West (amendment of reading in AD 1896)

(He)  whom the suffering of the self same Messiah, the forgiving and upraising , (has) saved, (is) offering  the plea whose origin (was) the agony of this.

Baron De Harlez  (AD 1892)

1 mun amen 2mesiha i 3 avakhsha i 5 madam 6 afras 7 aj 8 asar bokht 9 yin razya 10 min 11 van  dart i 12 denman

French language- Celui qui (est)  le vrai Messie le reconciliateur, le ressuscitant a jamais, purifie (sanctifie) par la vertu  (provenant) du crucifiement de lui (ou, du crucifiement celui-ci, ce qu’on voit ici)

English translation-One who (is) the true Messiah the Reconciler, raising him ever purifies (sanctified) by virtue (from) the crucifixion of him (or of the crucifixion it, what we see here)

Dastur Darab Peshotan Sanjana (AD 1914-  4 readings)

9 Rish-razya 10 min 11 van dard 12 dena 1 mun hemn 2 meshiha  3 apakhsha i 3 madam  6 afras 7 i 8 Chahar-bukht

9 Rish-razya 10 min 11 van dard 12 dena 1 mun hemn 2 Meshiha 3 apakhsha i 5 madam 6 Aprahim 7 i 8 Chahar-bukht

1 Mun hemn 2 Meshiha 3 apakhsha i 4 madam  5 afraji 7 i 8 chahar bokht 9 rish razya 10 min 11 van dard  12 dena 

9 Rasul-ish Yeh 10 min 11 van dard 12 dena

Such (was) the affliction (dard)  of the wounding  and spearing (rish- razya)  of him on the Cross (min van), who (was) faithful  (hemn) Meshiha, a forgiver, of superior dignity the descendant of Chahar -bukht

This (was) the affliction (dard) of the spearing  and wounding of him on (min)  the cross who (was)  the faithful Mishiha , the merciful one, the descendant  of the Great Abrahim, (who was)  the descendant of Chahar- bokkt

He of whom the faithful Meshiha (was)  a forgiver, (was) highly exalted; he (was) redeemed  from the four (regions of hell) ; this  (was due to) the affliction of the spearing and wounding  (of Meshiha)on the cross.

This (was) the affliction on the cross even of the messenger of Jehovah

Dr J J Modi (AD1923-1926)

9 Li zibah vai 10 min 11 Ninav val 12 denman 1 Napisht 2 Mar Shapur 3 Li (mun) ahrob 5 Mashiah6 avakhshah 7 i min 8 khar bokht

I, a beautiful bird from Nineveh, (have come) to this (country) Written by Mar Shapur. Holy Messiah, the forgiver, freed me from thorn( affliction)

C P T Winkworth.

C P T Winkworth published a detailed study about all these inscriptions in 1929. ((37.C P T WINKWORTH, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross inscriptions of South India, The Journal of Theological studies, April 1929, cited by T K JOSEPH, Ed Kerala Society Papers series 3 p159-166)) Winkworth  studied about all these Crosses except Alengad and Goa. He also consulted  with Dr Ernest Herzfeld who was well known for his extensive work in Persia. ((38.T K JOSEPH, Observations on C P T WINKWORTH, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross inscriptions of South India, The Journal of Theological studies, April 1929, T K Joseph, Ed Kerala Society Papers series 3 pp164-166)) Winkworth proposed that all these inscriptions are copies of an original, based on the finding that a few letters are upside down and a word as mirror image, raising the possibility that the copiers used series of rubbings or estampages to cut the new inscription where, the reverse side of the rubbing was used to produce the mirror image of a word and rubbing put on wrong way to create the upside down letters. He proposed that the smaller Kottayam Cross was the model for Kadamattam Cross, even the Mailappore Cross could be a copy of the smaller Kottayam Cross based on the calligraphic appearances. This theory was generally accepted in the Seventeenth International Congress of Orientalists in Oxford, 1928. ((39. C P T WINKWORTH, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross inscriptions of South India, The Journal of Theological studies, April 1929, cited by T K Joseph, Ed Kerala Society Papers series 3 p159-166))

Interpretations of Winkworth.

‘My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chaharbukht, the Syrian who cut this’. (( 40. C P T WINKWORTH, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross Inscriptions of Southern India, Kerala Society Papers, Series 3, p163.))

The revised interpretation by Winkworth 1930. ((41.T K JOSEPH, Revised Interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross Inscriptions of Southern India, Kerala Society Papers, Series 5, p 267-268.))

‘My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chaharbukht, the syrian who preserved this.’

‘My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chaharbukht who put it around.’

Recent Interpretations.

W B Henning. 1958

MRH-mn msyh ph s d QDM Y ch rbwt T Gywrgys MNW wn rt ZNH

Our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy about son of Chaharbuxt, son of George who erects this. ((42. CARLO G CERETI, LUCA M OLIVIERY, JOSEPH VAZHUTHANAPPALLI, The Problem of the Saint Thomas Crosses and related Questions. Epigraphical Surveys and Preliminary Research, East and West 52, pp 285-310))

Gerd Gropp 1970

May our Lord the Messiah have mercy on Gabriel, son of Chaharbokht, grandson of Durzad who made this  (Cross). ((43. GEORGE NEDUNGATT, Quest for The Historical Thomas Apostle of India; a re reading of Evidence, Theological Publications  in India, Bangalore,2008, p386 citing G GROPP, ‘Die Pahlavi-Inschrift auf dem Thomaskreus in Madras’ ,Archaelogisches Mitteilungen aus Iran, NF 3, 1970, pp 267-271.))

Philippe Gignoux. 1995

May our Lord the Messiah have mercy upon Sabriso, son of Chaharboxt the deft, who sculpted  this (Cross). ((44.GEORGE NEDUNGATT, Opus cit. p385-386 citing PHILIPPE GIGNOUX, ‘The Pahlavi Inscriptions on Mount Thomas Cross (South India)’, Solving Riddles  and  Untying Knots: Biblical , Epigraphin and Semitic studies in Honour of J C Greenfield, Eisenbrauns, 1995, pp 411-422.))

Carlo G Cereti, Luca M Oliviery, Fr Joseph Vazhuthanapalli-(CICAR-CASI)2002

MR Hmm msyh phs d QDM spys<x> Y ch rbwht Y swlzydy MNW bw(y)lt ZNE

Our Lord Christ, have pity on Sabriso, son of Caharboxt, son of Suray who bore (brought ?) this (cross) ((45.CARLO G CERETI, LUCA M OLIVIERY, JOSEPH VAZHUTHANAPPALLI, Opus cit.))

6. Epigraphy of Alengad Sliva.

Alengad Sliva was extensively studied by eminent Pahlavi Scholar B T Anklesaria in 1958 AD. The initial researchers studied about the inscriptions of different Crosses but had only three Crosses available- the Mailappur Cross and two Kottayam Valiya palli Crosses. Later, more Crosses were found at Muttuchira and Kadamattom. CPT Winkworth analysed all these Crosses, but  the Alengad Sliva was not discovered yet.

Mr B T Anklesaria had the opportunity to study all the Crosses and to consider all the previous learned deciphering during his reading. Anklesaria read the inscription on Alengad Sliva carefully analysing the reading of other scholars word by word and letter by letter, and came to a conclusion  as below.

1 Mo-la-he (Lord) 2 Masiha (anointed)3 Awa-khsai-ch (savior too) 4 u (and) 5 madam (supreme)6 apras (revelation) 7 ich  (too/of)  8 cha-ar-b-ap (four apostles)  9 Su-riha (Syrians) 10 man-u (whom)  11 bo-kht (saved) 12 dan-he ( this) ((46. B T ANKLESARIA, Opus cit.  p70.))

Mr Anklesaria discusses that from the time of Artakhsir i Papakan (226-230AD) up to the time of Narsih Sahpur (293-302AD),no conjuncts were used  in Pahlavi inscriptions, except for occasional intentional or unintentional writing together of ‘an’. From the time of Sahpuhr the III (383-388AD) the conjuncts ‘an‘ and ‘ph‘ started appearing in coin legends (coin inscriptions) The conjuncts ‘at‘ and ‘ap‘ on the coins of Khusru Kavat (488-531 AD) and ‘khv‘ , ‘ru’  and ‘ap‘ on the coins of Khusru Kavatan, ‘ra‘ or ‘rh’  on the coins of Varahran VI and  the conjunct ‘ache‘ as in the word ‘molache’ in our Sliva inscriptions are found in the coins of Hormazd IV ( 579-590 AD), Khusru II (590- 628 AD) and Yazdkart III (632-641 and 641-651 AD in exile) but never seen in MS Pahlavi ((47.B T ANKLESARIA, opus cit. p70)) In the Pahlavi inscriptions of these Slivas, there exist a large number of conjuncts. It has to be noted that these inscriptions use a mode of orthography found later in Pahlavi MSS. The oldest Pahlavi manuscript known to exist was written in the eighth century AD. ((48.E W WEST, Pahlavi Literature, p79 citing E SACHAU, Fragmente von Pahlavi-Papyri aus Aegypten, Z. f. Aegypt. Spr. 1878,pp. 114—116.

E W WEST, Pahlavi Texts, Cambridge University Collection vol I Introduction p xxi))

Anklesaria comments that the inscriptions on these Crosses are similar with only minor variations, some of the variations could be decorative modifications at the beginning and end. He thinks that the oldest of these Crosses could have been erected in, or soon after or earlier to the time of Sasanian Emperor Sahpuhr II (340AD) , but could not be earlier to the Paikuli inscription of King Nars-ahi (293-302AD) ((49.B T ANKLESARIA, Opus cit.  p80))

But it is not clear why he made an assumption that the latest date could be 340 AD or immediately after that year when there are features of orthography of Pahlavi MSS, the earliest that is still extant is of 8th century AD.

Anklesaria calls the Cross found at Alengad as Cranganore Cross in his article  without any specific references and comments that the Cross at Alengad  is the oldest, as it is the only Cross where we can find  the ninth word ‘suriha’ inscribed without any faults and also the conjunct ‘ich’ is written distinctly at the end of the third word- ‘awakhs–aisch’  and   in the seventh word  ‘afras–ich’. The conjunct ‘ich’ is distinctly cut in the smaller Kottayam Cross also. The ‘ch‘ of the eighth word ‘chahar-bap‘ is connected to the ‘ich‘ of the 7th word probably by mistake in both Kottayam Crosses but in Alengad Sliva, it is correctly cut separate from 7th word. The Alengad Cross is the only one in which the fourth word, the conjunction ‘u’ prefixed to ‘madam’.

In the Alengad Sliva, in the eighth word ‘ch-arb-o-ap-o-o’, two dots are found over the letter ‘r‘ which the engravers of Kottayam Crosses thought that these are to be attached to the letter ‘r‘ and cut it ‘har‘ instead of ‘ar‘ , thus altering the word ‘ch-ar’ to ‘ch-har’. ((50.B T ANKLESARIA, Opus cit. pp 81-82))

Anklesaria has clearly noted the crack on the Alengad Sliva formed by the fire as mentioned earlier. The crack is found on the lower part of the Sliva extending from  the word ‘b-o-ap’  on the left side breaking the the ‘a’ in the first part of the conjunct ‘ap‘ and the horrizontal line of the letter ‘b‘ below the conjunct ‘ap‘ to the first letter ‘b‘  of the eleventh word ‘b-o-kh-t-o’, making this ‘b‘ appear like ‘v‘ with a line under the letters ‘o-kh-t’.  This ‘b‘ is cut distinctly in the two Kottayam Crosses, the Mount Cross and the Muttuchira Cross. Thus, it appears that even when there are degradation of quality in many letters in other copies from Alengad Cross,  the degradation due to this crack found in Alengad is not copied to the rest of the copies. This is an evidence that the Alengad Sliva was copied before the crack was formed, validating the assumption that this crack was formed during the fire in AD 1603 as described by Gouvea.

7.Age of these Inscriptions.

The age of these inscriptions have been fixed at about 7th or 8th century AD by most of the Pahlavi experts. As the conjunct ‘ache’ is found from 579 AD but not seen used in 8th century Pahlavi MSS, we have to assume that the inscriptions could be belong to a period between  6th to 8th century AD.

As mentioned earlier, these Pahlavi inscribed Sliva-s are pointing towards a Pahlavi phase of the Church of Saint Thomas Christians in Malabar, when the Thomas Christians were hierarchically dependent on the Church of Fars which used Pahlavi as their liturgical language. Chronicles of Seert narrates that Mana, the Bishop of Rewardushir ( Fars- South Persia) wrote religious discourses, canticles and hymns in Pahlavi language and translated the works of Diodore and Theodore of Mopseustia into Syriac and sent them to India and the islands of the sea in 470 AD. ((51.A MINGANA, Early spread of Christianity in India, The Journal of the John Rylands Library vol 10 p 460))

It was  Patriarch Iso Yahb III (650-660 AD) or his successor Sliba Zcha (714-728 AD) who raised the Church of India to a Metropolitan See directly under the Patriarch of Selusia- Ctesiphon. ((52.PLACID PODIPARA, The Hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church, in Collected Works of Rev. Dr. Placid J Podipara CMI, Vol  I, p 666.))

Therefore, the Pahlavi phase might have extended a period from 5th century AD to 8th century AD and these Crosses might have been erected during these period, or brought to Malabar later by the Persian immigrants. If it was  the Persian immigrants who brought a Sliva with Pahlavi inscriptions and  they, or the local Christians made copies of it, then the age of the inscriptions may not be pertinent to the history of the Church of the Christians of Saint Thomas.

8. Conclusion.

Alengad Sliva seems to be the oldest of the  Pahlavi inscribed Crosses of South India  and the rest of the Crosses are copies of it. Thus, Alengad Sliva is the most ancient Christian artefact found in South India and is the most valuable antiquity of the Nasrani Syrian Christian Community of Malabar. This Sliva was venerated by the forefathers of the Christian settlement in Alengad during the period of Antonio de Gouvea and Archbishop Alexis De Menesis, but later neglected and dumped on the wayside without knowing what it is, until rediscovered by Rev Fr. Joseph Panjikkaren in 1931 AD.

This Sliva was adorned in the  Madbha of a shrine in Alengad, as recorded by the early Portuguese writers which was the custom of the native Christians. This shrine was made of bamboo and clay. Therefore, this shrine that was dedicated to the Holy Cross could have been the oldest Church of the Christian settlement in Alengad rather than the Saint Mary’s Church that was made of stones. We know that many of the ancient Churches of Saint Thomas Christians that were made of bamboo and clay were rebuilt by the Portuguese with stones. Thus, this Sliva was the  symbol of worship of the ancient Christian settlement of Alengad.

If this Cross was the Burnt Cross of Alengad, then the Sliva described by Gouvea in Kodungallur (Cranganore) town in front of which the Archbishop Menesis celebrated a solemn mass is still missing, could be hidden somewhere in the locality. There is scope for more investigations and excavations in the area.

Recently, the Christian Community of Alengad built a brand new Church- building demolishing the old one. It is sad that this invaluable momento, which was the most adorned Christian imagery of the local Christians before the introduction of various statues of Saints and statues of Misiha on the Cross,  is still neglected in a chapel on the side of the road unprotected in the damp environment.

The Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church has a duty to protect and preserve this most  ancient symbol of worship evolved among the local Christian community. The Holy Synod should take special interest in setting up a Christian Archaeology Centre to conduct further researches and excavations to find the missing Crosses like the one described by Antonio Gouvea and to protect and preserve the existing monuments.

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  1. kochouseph says

    For a large number of photos of various St. Thomas Crosses see The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India esp Vol.2, 1973 ed. Prof. George Menachery and The Indian Church History Classics Vol.1, The Nazranies, 1998, ed. G. Menachery. For details of granite crosses and other rock objects in churches see”Glimpses of Nazraney Heritage”, Geoege Menachery, 2005, with an introduction by Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan.

  2. Nidhin Olikara says

    An excellent article. Hope the Cross will stay safe.

  3. Mathew T. George says

    Is it silva or sliva. The cross are usually called sleeba, so was just wondering. I’ve seen Silva as an Anglo-Indian surname, as in de Silva. A friend tells me that it could mean “of the Cross”, like the Nasrani name Sleebachen. Totally confused now. Silva or Sliva?

  4. Xavier says

    Sliva /Sleeva is correct. Syriac letter ‘Beth” has both hard and soft sounds corresp. to /B/ and /V/. I understand that In West Syriac however, it is always the hard sound. Hence ‘sliba’.
    Letter ‘I’ is used for both long and short vowels generally in European languages. (Compare it with the spelling of “Rajiv” in Rajiv Gandhi instead of “Rajeev” as we would have in the English way.

  5. Jackson says

    Nice and informative article. By the way I have some doubts regarding your conclusions, you said that, these slibas and pahlavi inscriptions on them necessarily a pointer to the then contacts between Kerala christians and church of fars. But the problem is that the catholicate in the persian empire was under nestorian belief, and the majority of persian church was under nestorian belief too, if these persian crosses were established by these nestorians, then could they possibly wrote about God Yesuc Massiho, died in cross for our sins? Because nestorian church rejects this belief, instead they say the one who died in the cross was a mere human without the godliness. So it is possible that the people who established the crosses in south india,would have been affiliated to another creed, other than nestorian. It might possibly the Jacobite syrians of that region (who have the orthodox faith and lived along persian church-east syrian) behind these slibas. Please clarify it.

  6. M Thomas Antony says

    Dear Mathew T George,

    Sliva/Sleeva is the correct pronunciation of the Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar. This can be confirmed by the many number of ancient liturgical texts available in Syro Malabar and Assyrian Church of the East in Malabar with a dot below the letter ‘beth’ to pronounce it soft as ‘v’ rather than ‘b’. (Rukakha) This rukakha is applicable to letters ‘beth’, ‘gamal’, ‘dalath’,’ kap’, ‘pe’ and ‘ taw’.

    The pronunciation sliba/sleeba is West syriac.

    The pronunciation sliba/sleeba came to Kerala for the first time with the arrival of the Prelates from the Syrian Church of Antioch (Jacobites) in 1665 onwards. There is no evidence of any Jacobite presence or any West Syriac language usage in Malabar before that period.

    It has to be noted that the Western Scholars of Syriac are more familiar with the West Syriac rather than East Syriac and hence you may find the word ‘sliba’ in their books and articles.

    Even with East Syriac, there are many Malabar specific usages/pronunciations. For example, Malabar Christians write ‘Kaddisa’ and pronounce it as ‘kandisa’. Doubling of a letter occurs in a vocalised letter immediately following a short vowel. When East syrians double, the West syrians prolong the short vowel. There is no symbol for doubling in syriac.

    In Malabar, for doubling, a nasal sound is added to the letter ‘dalath’,’ gamal’ and ‘beth’. example ‘kandisa’, ‘ambida’ and ‘sangia’. The Western Scholars who are familiar with the Modern Syriac argue that this is a distortion in Malabar . But, this is an Aramaic way of pronouncing that agrees with the pure chaldaism where all the doubled letters receive a nasal sound. ( Ref. Thomas Arayathinal, Aramaic Grammar vol I p 12 quoting Joannes Buxterfius, Grammaticae Chaldaicae et Syriaicae-Libri tres)

    This may denote that the modern East syriac is distorted due to the influence of Arabic while the original ancient pronunciation was preserved in Malabar.

    Other examples are ‘Onitha/onisa’, ‘malkutha/malkusa’, ‘karosutha/karosusa’ etc. where ‘th’ is pronounced soft as ‘s’.

  7. Xavier Kalangara says

    Mr Thomas Antony has done an excellent elaboration on the usages. What he says about Malabar Christians retaining some ancient pronunciations is true to some extent. However I would suggest that we should not let that fervour cloud our reason. All the pronunciations are not pure in Malabar. Malayalam influence is very clear. For instance, ‘Onitha/onisa’, ‘malkutha/malkusa’, ‘karosutha/karosusa’ show Malayalam influence.
    All these have the letter ‘Tav’ with a diacritic mark below. That is pronounced exactly like “th” in English (not like the Malayalam ത). It is a fricative unlike the Malayalam ത. Since we can’t pronounce that right we have changed it to sound like English ‘S”. There are four Syriac letters which are transliterated as സ in Malayalam. It is evident that if there is no distinction between sounds of these letters Syriac wouldn’t have separate letters.

  8. M Thomas Antony says

    Thanks Xavier Kalangara for the clarification.

    Dear Mathew T George,
    De Silva is a common surname in Portuguese language. The meaning is ‘jungle’, ‘forest’ or ‘woodland’, not Cross.

  9. M Thomas Antony says

    Dear Jackson,

    Thanks for reading the article. Your comments about Nestorianism and that these Crosses could not be from Nestorian Church but could be from Jacobite faith is very interesting.

    The so called Nesorianism emphasises the human and divine natures of Jesus. They all believed that Jesus was Son of God and Jesus died on a Cross and and their faith upholds the divinity of Jesus, but they argued that the Jesus had two natures, God and Human. So, they never renounced Jesus or the crucifixion. It was also the so called Nestorian Church that venerated Holy Cross in the very early period even before the Churches in the West. The Holy Cross has a very important role in their Liturgy and worship which is reflected in their Liturgy of Hours and Holy Qurbana. The famous ancient hymn ‘Lakhu Mara’ is chanted in almost all the liturgical celebrations of the East Syrian Church (and also in Syro Malabar and Chaldean Church of the East in Trichur) is a very good example and confirmation of their faith expressing salvific works of Christ. Why would they use Holy Cross in their Liturgy and worship unless their faith approves the salvation of Human Kind by the sufferings and crucifixion of the Son of God ?

    If we analyse the various synods and doctrinal propositions of the East Syrian Church, we can assume that all the synods were in lines with Chalcedon, they taught Chlacedonian Doctrine very clearly and fully. (John Thoppil,Christology in the East Syrian Tradition, in East Syrian Theology, an Introduction, Ed Pauly Maniyattu, p174) )

    About the Jacobite theory-

    Do we have any evidence to say that there were Jacobites in South Persia ? Have they ever used Pahlavi language ?

    We have documentary evidence to say that Church of Fars- South Persia- used Pahlavi as their liturgical language and Chronicles of Seert narrates Bishop Mana, wrote religious canticles and hymns in Pahlavi and also translated the works of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopseustia into Syriac and sent to India and china and the islands in 470 AD. This information is validated by the fact that copies of these were excavated from Turfan in China in 1966 AD and is kept in the museum of Berlin.

    Do we have any documentary evidence of any connection with Jacobite Church before the arrival of Portuguese ?

    There is a large body of evidence for the connection of Malabar Church with Church of the East. A large number of documents and letters of various Patriarchs of the Church of the East available. Apart from the wishful thinking of a few Malabar ‘uniates’ of the West Syrian/Antiochene faith, there are no claims so far from the part of the Syrian Church of Antioch also about their presence in Malabar before Portuguese arrival.

    Your comments about Nestorianism is not correct. The so called Nestorianism seems to be a misunderstanding due to expression of the faith with certain ambiguous terms in Greek. Dr Adrian Fortesque writes ‘we saw that Greek words used in the Nestorian controversy are sometimes ambiguous and add to the confusion by the fact that we are not always sure what the people who use them mean .’

    There was some political elements also – the rivalry between Patriarchate of Alexandria and Patriarchate of Constantinople. Mar John, the then Patriarch of Antioch also supported Nestorius. In fact, the so called Nestorian teachings originated in Antioch.

    Nestorius preached against the use of the Greek term Theotokos. Instead he preferred the term Christotokos- Mother of Mishiha. What Nestorius taught was Mother Mary was the Mother of the humanity of Jesus, not the motherhood of the whole pre incarnational Godhead. This was understood by many as a denial of divinity of Jesus. This was overemphasised by the rivalry between Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople. Many historians who have studied the teachings of Nestorius are of the opinion that Nestorius was not a heretic. ( Mark Dickens, The Church of the East p 8).

    Adrian Fortesque comments in ‘Lesser Eastern Churches’ that the so called Nestorianism of East Syrians was only a vehement denial of the Monophytism. (p54).We can see later in the Council of Chalcedon, Monophytism was condemned. The Chalcedonian Doctrine can be considered as a modified version of the old Antiochene Doctrine of the so called Nestorianism.

    Even in Roman Catholic theology, the Crucifix icons and images were introduced in the 11-12 century. Prof E J Tinsley of the University of Leeds comments that the appearance of dead Christ on the Cross reflect the pressure to do justice to the reality of incarnation and the humanity of Christ.( The Religion, The Coming of a Dead and naked Christ.)

    The Christology of the Church of the East is based mainly on the work of Babai the Great of 6th century- ‘The Book of Union’ which describes about the union of Divine and Human natures of Christ. Babai’s interpretation can be considered as the best interpretation of the Antiochene position insisting on the perfection of the human nature of Christ and assumption of the form of servant by the Word of God.(John Thoppil,Christology in the East Syrian Tradition, in East Syrian Theology, an Introduction, Ed Pauly Maniattu, pp261-162 )The following hymn of Praise written by Babai the Great explains their theology well.

    One is Christ the Son of God,
    Worshiped by all in two natures;
    In His Godhead begotten of the Father,
    Without beginning before all time;
    In His humanity born of Mary,
    In the fullness of time, in a body united;
    Neither His Godhead is of the nature of the mother,
    Nor His humanity of the nature of the Father;
    The natures are preserved in their Qnumas (substance),
    In one person of one Sonship.
    And as the Godhead is three substances in one nature,
    Likewise the Sonship of the Son is in two natures, one person.
    So the Holy Church has taught.(Ref. Wikipedia article)

    Also, the reconciliation of Patriarch Iso yahb II (628-643 AD) in Antioch with the following appellation of the faith of the Church of the East that ‘our belief in a Christ who, as Perfect Man, was consubstantial with us; – and who, as Perfect God, was consubstantial with the Father, in one “Personalitas”( Wigram, An introduction to the history of Assyrian church p97)