Ancient Churches , Stone Crosses of Kerala- Saint Thomas Cross, Nazraney Sthambams and other Persian Crosses: Kerala has many churches of antiquity. Many lists exist about the ancient Churches and its year of foundation. There are mainly two types of rock crosses in Kerala Churches broadly classified as St. Thomas cross and Nazraney sthambams. There are also Persian crosses in other forms such as seen in Niranam and North Paravur Churches.
Ancient Churches , Stone Crosses of Kerala- Saint Thomas Cross, Nazraney Sthambams and other Persian Crosses
This article focus on 1.) Ancient Churches of Saint Thomas Christians in Kerala with year of foundation 2) Ancient Stone Crosses of Kerala 2.1) St. Thomas Cross- Locations of the Crosses in India- About the Saint Thomas Cross 2.2) Nazraney Sthambams -Locations of the Open Air Crosses- About the Open Air Crosses 2.3) Other Persian Crosse- Kottakkavu ( Parur) Cross- Niranam Cross-Nilakkal Cross.
1. Ancient Churches of Saint Thomas Christians in Kerala with year of foundation
According to tradition Saint Thomas, the apostle established Seven Churches or communities in Kerala. These are Palayoor, Cranganore, Paravur, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Kollam.
It has been suggested that the inland movement of St. Thomas Christians from the initial locations started from 3rd century onwards as part of their agrarian activities to bring more forest under cultivation. This resulted in erection of several churches at inland parts. In the succeeding centuries migrating Persian Christians and some local Christians concentrated more of their activities on the coast. The native St. Thomas Christians penetrated more and more to the inland parts. The immigrants from West Asia, who settled down in India at different periods of the history got intermingled and emerged in to the mainstream Saint Thomas Christians Community.
The important churches which were erected during this period based on tradition are as follows,1
|Church locations & Events||YEAR of Foundation|
|Saint Thomas the Apostle at King Gondaphares in North India||c. 40 AD|
|Saint Thomas the Apostle lands at Cranganore||c. 52 AD|
|Saint Thomas the Apostle builds churches or communities ( Palayoor, Kodungaloor, Parur, Kokamangalam, Niranam, Nilackal, Kollam)||c. 52-72 AD|
|Martyrdom of Saint Thomas the Apostle at Mylapore, India||July 3rd. 72 AD|
|Kuravilangadu Church founded||c. 105 AD|
|Pallipuram Church founded||c. 290 AD|
|Ambazhakad Church founded||c. 300 AD|
|Aruvithara Church founded||c. 301 AD|
|North Pudukad Church founded||c. 400 AD|
|Puthenchira Church founded||c. 400 AD|
|Chambakulam Church founded||c. 427 AD|
|Akaparambu Church founded||450 AD|
|Angamali Church founded||450 AD|
|Mattam Church founded||c. 480 AD|
|Muttuchira Church founded||c. 510 AD|
|Kaduthuruthy Church founded||c. 510 AD|
|Enammavu Church founded||c. 510 AD|
|Udayamperoor Church founded||c. 510 AD|
|Edapally Church founded||c. 593 AD|
|Chalakudy Church founded||c. 600 AD|
|Mylakombu Church founded||c. 600 AD|
|Kolenchery Church founded||c. 650 AD|
|Moozhikulam Church founded||c. 650 AD|
|Kayamkulam Church founded||c. 824 AD|
|Kothanalloor Church founded||c.826 AD|
|Athirampuzha Church founded||c.835 AD|
|Kottayam Church founded||890 AD|
|Nagapuzha Church founded||900 AD|
|Manjapra Church founded||943 AD|
|Mavelikara Church founded||943 AD|
|Kadamattom Church founded||950 AD|
|Pazhuvil Church founded||960 AD|
|Arakuzha Church founded||999 AD|
|Nediasala Church founded||999 AD|
|Kottekad Church founded||999 AD|
|Kunnamkulam Church founded||999 AD|
|Kadaplamattom Church founded||10th century|
|Kanjur Church founded||1001 AD|
|Kaduthuruthy Cheriapally founded||c. 1001 AD|
|Pala Church founded||1002 AD|
|Muttam Church founded||1023 AD|
|Cherpunkal Church founded||1111 AD|
|Vadakara Church founded||1096 AD|
|Bharananganam Church founded||1100 AD|
|Changanacherry Church founded||1117 AD|
|Thripunithara Church founded||1175 AD|
|Cheppadu Church founded||c. 1175 AD|
|Chengannoor Church founded||c. 1175 AD|
|Kudamaloor Church founded||c. 1175 AD|
|Ernakulam Church founded||c. 1175 AD|
|Mulanthuruthy Church founded||1225 AD|
|Kothamangalam Valiapally founded||1240 AD|
|Karthikapally Church founded||c. 1240 AD|
|Kuruppumpady Church founded||c. 1240 AD|
|Alengad Church founded||1300 AD|
|Muthalakodam Church founded||1312 AD|
|Njarackal Church founded||1341 AD|
|Koratty Church founded||1381 AD|
|Poonjar Church founded||c. 1381 AD|
|Alleppey Church founded||1400 AD|
|Kanjirappilly Church founded||1450 AD|
|Ramapuram Church founded||1450 AD|
|Kothamangalam Cheriapally founded||1455 AD|
|Kudavechur Church founded||1463 AD|
|Elanji Church founded||1522 AD|
|Poonjar Church founded||1542 AD|
In 1578, there were about Sixty Churches for Saint Thomas Christians in Malabar. The number of Churches increased during the course of time, and by the year 1644 there were about 94 of them.2
The Church buildings conformed to the Malabar style of architecture. The early builidings were built entirely of wood. Teak wood buildings are said to last for four hundard years as remarked by Fr. Paulinus in eighteenth century. Most of the old churches are beautifully decorated with plaster decorations, most commonly appearing the Virgin and Child. There are also crosses on various floriated designs and angles, images of male and female beings, half man, half fish, holding a ship above their heads. There are also images which has no religious significance such as man shooting a tiger etc.
The ancient Churches externally looked like non- Christian pagodas, the only distinction being the crosses that were put on the roofs and in front in the open air. The Churches also had flag staff. A flag hoisted on such a staff indicates that a feast is being celebrated in the church.3.
Ancient Churches , Stone Crosses of Kerala- Saint Thomas Cross, Nazraney Sthambams and other Persian Crosses
2. Ancient Stone Crosses of Kerala
There are two types of rock crosses in Kerala Churches broadly classified as St. Thomas cross and Nazraney sthambams. There are also Persian crosses in other forms such as seen in Niranam and North Paravur Churches.
There is a local tradition which states that Mar Sabrisho and Mar Peroz made a good number of conversions, built new churches and erected open air- crosses.4
2.1 St. Thomas Cross
The small interior type rock cross is called St Thomas cross or Persain Cross. These crosses are found at the following locations in India, St. Thomas Mount ( Madras), Kothanalloor, Kottayam [ 2 nos ], Kadamattam, Muttuchira, Alangad and Goa.
Similar crosses are also discovered from Anuradhapura [ 2 nos ], Sri Lanka and Taxila, Pakistan.5
Locations of Saint Thomas Crosses in India
The Saint Thomas Mount Church is at Our Lady of Expectations Church, under the Latin Catholic diocese of Chingelpet ( Madras-Mylapore). The Kadamattam cross is at St. George Syrian Church of the Malankara Orthodox Church. The Muttuchira cross is at Holy Ghost Church, under the diocese of Palai of the Syro Malabar Church. The Kottayam crosses are at St. Mary’s Church under the Southist diocese of Kottayam of the Syriac Orthodox Church.The Kothanalloor cross is at St.Gervasis and Prothasis church under the diocese of Palai of the Syro Malabar Church. The Alangad cross is at St. Mary’s church under the diocese of Ernakulam- Angamaly of the Syro Malabar Church. The Goan Cross is at Pilar Seminary Museum, Goa.
The Churches except the Kottayam belongs to the Northist under the Syro Malabar Church and Malankara Orthodox Church. The oldest of these churches are the Mylapore and Muttuchira Churches.The Mylapore Cross is considered as the oldest in India. Based on the type of the script used most of these crosses are attributed belonging to between sixth and eight centuries. Only the second cross of Kottayam, which has a Syriac inscription is dated as belonging to tenth century.
About the Saint Thomas Cross
This Cross been venerated by all St Thomas Christians from ancient times. They have inscriptions in Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and Syriac which indicate that they date to before the eight century.
These carved crosses are located inside the churches and are very decorative. These are not typical crucifix and are a plain cross which doesn’t show Christ on the cross. In Eastern Christianity and Syrian Christianity, the plain cross is the symbol of the triumph of Christ’s life over death. It is of symbolism in Eastern Christianity.
These crosses are also sometimes called Leaved Crosses or Persian crosses as they symbolize at the bottom a set of leaves. The leaves usually flow upwards either side of the base of the cross symbolizing the cross as the tree of life. But some of these crosses from Kerala the leaves are downward pointing. This is indigenous and this symbolism and tradition is not find in Persian or Middle East or even in Byzantine art.
2.2 Nazraney Sthambams
The giant open air rock cross are called Nazraney Sthambams. The plinth of these crosses represents lotus petals and lotus flowers and has a square base. It also has a variety of iconographic motifs, including elephants, peacocks and various other animals, depictions of the Holy Family and of the Crucifixion, to name a few.
Locations of the Open Air Crosses
These crosses are found in Kottekkad, Enammavu Mapranam ( Holy Cross Church Mapranam under the Thrissur diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Puthenchira ( St.Mary’s Forane Church under the Irinjalakuda diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church) Parappukkara (under the Irinjalakuda diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Veliyanad (under the Changanacherry diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church) , Kalpparambu (under the Irinjalakuda diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Angamaly ( Under the Eranakulam- Angamaly diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Kanjoor ( Saint Marys Church ), Malayattoor (Under the Eranakulam- Angamaly diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Udayanperur Under the Eranakulam- Angamaly diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Kuravilangad ( Under the Palai diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Uzhavoor ( Under the Kottayam ( Southist) diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Chungam ( Under the Kottayam ( Southist) diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Muttuchira ( Under the Palai diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Kudamaloor ( Under the Palai diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church), Niranam (St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church under the Niranam diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church) , Kothamangalam, Chengannur, Thumpamon, Chathannur and many other places.
About the Open Air Crosses
These crosses are very large, freestanding crosses which are found outside the churches. They are usually aligned to the west end of the church. On festival days and during processional days, people process around these crosses. People also burn coconut oil as an act of offering and reverence at the base of these large crosses on their pedestals.
The plinths represent lotus petals and lotus flowers as the cross is sitting on top of a lotus flower. There is a square base, it’s a circle on a square with a cross on top. The circle as the lotus flower represents the divine, heavenly aspect, on the square which represents the earth.
There are depictions of the holy family. There are imags of Mary and the Christ Child, also of the Crucifixion in these crosses. There is a variety of iconographic motifs including fish, various animals, elephants. The elephants are very much part of an Indian context.
There are even archway’s in older churches which shows two elephants either side of the cross on a plinth. The elephants are coming to venerate the cross. And on the other side of the archway, there are peacocks sitting either side of the cross. This represents the indigenisation of stone crosses and Christian symbols in India.
2.3 Other Persian Crosses
There are other ancient Persian Crosses found in Churches. The Author doesn’t know about studies of these crosses.
Kottakkavu ( Parur) Cross
The Saint Thomas Kottakkavu Church at North Paravur under the diocese of Ernakulam-Ankamaly of the Syro Malabar Church has an ancient Persian Cross.
This cross is engraved on granite stone believed to be done by Mar Sabore and Mar Prothe about 880 AD . This is now preserved in the chapel in front of the church.
There is another Persian cross at St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam under the Niranam diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
There was an ancient cross found from Nilakkal. A part of which is said to be at Kuvappalli. This came from the ruined Christian settlement of Nilakkal. It is said that it has an inscription in Roman or Greek capitals, but that is so illegible to read. The other portion of this cross left at Nilakkal was not found by Fr. Hosten when he visited the site again in 1924.6
1.Vazhuthanapally-“Archaeology of Mar Sliba”
2.Thadikkatt-” The Cross in different traditions”
3.A E Burnell- ” Some Pahlavi Inscriptions in South India”- Kottayam Cross
4.A Mingana-” The Early spread of Christianity in India”- Muttuchira Cross
5.ASR Ayyar-” A New Persian Cross from Travancore”- Kadamattam Cross
6.T K Joseph-” Another Persian Cross in Travancore”- Kadamattam Cross
7.T K Joseph-” A Pahlavi inscription around the Cross”- Kadamattam Cross
8. Varghese Pathikulangara-“Mar Toma Sliba, Saint Thomas Cross, Short Explanation, historical and Symbolical
9.Varghese Pathikulangara- “St.Thomas Cross – The Flowery Cross”
10.E W West-” Inscription around Crosses in South India”
11.CPT Winckworth-” A New Interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross- Inscriptions of South India”
12.George Menachery- “Ancient Kerala Christian Art”
13.Geo Thadikkatt-” Liturgical Identity of Mar Toma Nazrani Church”
14. Ken Parry -“Stone crosses of Kerala”
15.George Menachery- “Rock Crosses of Kerala”
16.Gerd Gropp-“Die Pahlavi Inschrift auf dem Thomaskreuz in Madras”- Mylapore Cross
17.Herman D’Souza- ” In the steps of Saint Thomas”
1. Kothanalloor cross at St.Gervasis and Prothasis Church, Kothanalloor under the diocese of Palai of the Syro Malabar Church. Many thanks to Thomas Antony for the picture.
2. Open Air Cross at St.Marys Church, Kuravilangadu, under the diocese of Palai of the Syro Malabar Church.
3. Persian Cross at Saint Thomas Church, North Paravur under the diocese of Ernakulam-Ankamaly of the Syro Malabar Church.
4. Persian Cross at St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam under the Niranam diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
Last Update- August 03/2009
- Based on the Catalogue mentioned by Pius Malekandathil – “St. Thomas Christians and the Indian Ocean “, pp 186,194-95,198-99.
– George Menanchery- ” The Nazranis” . The list is complied with additional details.The year of foundation are based on traditional dates. [↩]
- Joseph Thekkedath- “ History of Christianity in India” Page- 25 [↩]
- Placid- “ The Thomas Christians” page-86 [↩]
- A Mingana – ” Early Spread of Christianity in Indai p-508 [↩]
- More details about Taxila cross is not known [↩]
- The Author doesnot know if this is same as Saint Thomas Cross [↩]