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The Malankara Sabha

AD 52 : Arrival of Apostle St.Thomas


     St.Thomas was one of the disciples of Jesus. He is also known as Didymus, which means the Twin. Thomas means Twin in Aramaic and Didymus means Twin in Greek. He is generally known as the Doubting Thomas since he refused to believe the resurrection unless he has verified it himself. His acts are not found in the Acts of the Apostles.


But an apocryphal book written around 200 AD called "Acts of Thomas", describes it with embellishments and exaggerations.


But archeology and Indian traditions substantiate the basic historic events in this book.



A merchant Ambassador Habbanes (This is probably a Greek pronouncement of the name Appana) bought him. If so he was probably from the Kingdom of Pandhya Empire) being sold to him by Jesus the carpenter. He was the ambassador for King Gondaphores the Indo-Parthian Kingdom of Indus Valley Area (Sind, Pakistan, Baluchistan and Afghanisthan). He attended the banquet at the marriage ceremony of the daughter of Cheraman Perumal (the King of the Chera Kingdom) where he came across a Jewish girl in the King's court. During the period of seven days of his stay there, several Jewish people were converted to Christianity.


It is said that Thomas ordained one Prince Peter to be the head of the church of the Jews and left for Takshasila, (The English version of the name is Taxila which was a University City in the Indus Valley) the capital of Hondaphorus Kingdom. He established a church in that region before he traveled to other areas of India. These churches were annihilated during the invasion of Kushan and Moghal dynasty.


He returned to Kerala where he established seven and half churches with 75 Brahmin families as teachers and over 3000 converts from Kshatriyas, Nairs and Chettiars. These new converts were called St: Thomas Christians. This church is one of the most ancient churches in Christendom.



The seven churches are at Malankara, Palayur, Paravoor, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Kollam.


Apostle founded another church at Malayattur which is accorded the status of half church. Another traditioon claims this half church as the one founded in Thiruvithamcode. When the christians in east coast sufferred persecution St. Thomas took 64 families with him across the ghats over Aruvamozhi Pass into Venad. These were mostly converts from Chettiars of Nagercoil. The King of Thiruvithamcode offerred them refuge. The traiditon says that when the King offerred them sacred ash (Vibhuthi) they refused and so these Christians came to be known as Vibhuthi Dharia Chettkal.


Little is recorded of St.Thomas the Apostle; nevertheless thanks to the fourth Gospel his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the Twelve. His name occurs in all the lists of the Synoptists (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6, cf. Acts 1:13), but in St.John he plays a distinctive part. First, when Jesus announced His intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, "Thomas" who is called Didymus [the twin], said to his fellow disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). Again it was St. Thomas who during the discourse before the Last Supper raised an objection: "Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5). But more especially St. Thomas is remembered for his incredulity when the other Apostles announced Christ's Resurrection to him: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25); but eight days later he made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus: "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed" (John 20:29).


This exhausts all our certain knowledge regarding the Apostle but his name is the starting point of a considerable apocryphal literature, and there are also certain historical data which suggest that some of this apocryphal material may contains germs of truth. The principal document concerning him is the "Acta Thoma", preserved to us with some variations both in Greek and in Syriac, and bearing unmistakeable signs of its Gnostic origin. It may indeed be the work of Bardesanes himself. The story in many of its particulars is utterly extravagant, but it is the early date, being assigned by Harnack (Chronologie, ii, 172) to the beginning of the third century, before A. D. 220. If the place of its origin is really Edessa, as Harnack and others for sound reasons supposed (ibid., p. 176), this would lend considerable probability to the statement, explicitly made in "Acta" (Bonnet, cap. 170, p.286), that the relics of Apostle Thomas, which we know to have been venerated at Edessa, had really come from the East. The extravagance of the legend may be judged from the fact that in more than one place (cap. 31, p. 148) it represents Thomas (Judas Thomas, as he is called here and elsewhere in Syriac tradition) as the twin brother of Jesus. The Thomas in Syriac is equivalant to didymos in Greek, and means twin. Rendel Harris who exaggerates very much the cult of the Dioscuri, wishes to regards this as a transformation of a pagan worship of Edessa but the point is at best problematical. The story itself runs briefly as follows: At the division of the Apostles, India fell to the lot of Thomas, but he declared his inability to go, whereupon his Master Jesus appeared in a supernatural way to Abban, the envoy of Gundafor, an Indian king, and sold Thomas to him to be his slave and serve Gundafor as a carpender. Then Abban and Thomas sailed away until they came to Andrapolis, where they landed and attended the marriage feast of the ruler's daughter. Strange occurrences followed and Christ under the appearance of Thomas exhorted the bride to remain a Virgin. Coming to India Thomas undertook to build a palace for Gundafor, but spend the money entrusted to him on the poor. Gundafor imprisoned him; but the Apostle escaped miraculously and Gundafor was converted. Going about the country to preach, Thomas met with strange adventures from dragons and wild asses. Then he came to the city of King Misdai (Syriac Mazdai), where he converted Tertia the wife of Misdai and Vazan his son. After this he was condemned to death, led out of city to a hill, and pierced through with spears by four soldiers. He was buried in the tomb of the ancient kings but his remains were afterwards removed to the West.


Now it is certainly a remarkable fact that about the year A.D. 46 a king was reigning over that part of Asia south of Himalayas now represented by Afghanistan, Baluchistan, the Punjab, and Sind, who bore the name Gondophernes or Guduphara. This we know both from the discovery of coins, some of the Parthian type with Greek legends, others of the Indian types with the legends in an Indian dialect in Kharoshthi characters. Despite sundry minor variations the identity of the name with the Gundafor of the "Acta Thomae" is unmistakable and is hardly disputed. Further we have the evidence of the Takht-i-Bahi inscription, which is dated and which the best specialists accept as establishing the King Gunduphara probably began to reign about A.D. 20 and was still reigning in 46. Again there are excellent reasons for believing that Misdai or Mazdai may well be transformation of a Hindu name made on the Iranian soil. In this case it will probably represent a certain King Vasudeva of Mathura, a successor of Kanishka. No doubt it can be urged that the Gnostic romancer who wrote the "Acta Thomae" may have adopted a few historical Indian names to lend verisimilitude to his fabrication, but as Mr. Fleet urges in his severely critical paper "the names put forward here in connection with St.Thomas are distinctly not such as have lived in Indian story and tradition" (Joul. of R. Asiatic Soc.,1905, p.235).


On the other hand, though the tradition that St. Thomas preached in "India" was widely spread in both East and West and is to be found in such writers as Ephraem Syrus, Ambrose, Paulinus, Jerome, and, later Gregory of Tours and others, still it is difficult to discover any adequate support for the long-accepted belief that St. Thomas pushed his missionary journeys as far south as Mylapore, not far from Madras, and there suffered martyrdom. In that region is still to be found a granite bas-relief cross with a Pahlavi (ancient Persian) inscription dating from the seventh century, and the tradition that it was here that St. Thomas laid down his life is locally very strong. Certain it is also that on the Malabar or west coast of southern India a body of Christians still exists using a form of Syriac for its liturgical language. Whether this Church dates from the time of St. Thomas the Apostle (there was a Syro-Chaldean bishop John "from India and Persia" who assisted at the Council of Nicea in 325) or whether the Gospel was first preached there in 345 owing to the Persian persecution under Shapur (or Sapor), or whether the Syrian missionaries who accompanied a certain Thomas Cana penetrated to the Malabar coast about the year 745 seems difficult to determine. We know only that in the sixth century Cosmas Indicopleustes speaks of the existence of Christians at Male (?Malabar) under a bishop who had been consecrated in Persia. King Alfred the Great is stated in the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" to have sent an expedition to establish relations with these Christians of the Far East. On the other hand the reputed relics of St. Thomas were certainly at Edessa in the fourth century, and there they remained until they were translated to Chios in 1258 and towards to Ortona. The improbable suggestion that St. Thomas preached in America (American Eccles. Rev., 1899, pp.1-18) is based upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Acts of Apostles


Apostle St: Thomas martyred



Apostle Thomas was martyred in Mylapore near Madras. (Tradition calls this place Kalloor - the place of rock) in Tamilnadu State, India. The traditional date of martyrdom is 19th of December, 72 AD. His followers took his body and buried him in the tombs of the Chiefs. A merchant from Edessa in Syria who visited that region exhumed his body and took it to Syria where it was entombed in about AD 200. We could see these tombs in Mylapore and in Edessa


The Apostle's tomb at Mylapur


St. Gregory of Tours (Glor. Mart.), before 590, reports that Theodore, a pilgrim who had gone to Gaul, told him that in that part of India where the corpus (bones) of Thomas the Apostle had first rested (Mylapur on the east or the Coromandel Coast of India) there stood a monastery and a church of striking dimensions and elaboratedly adorned, adding: "After a long interval of time these remains had been removed thence to the city of Edessa." The location of the first tomb of the Apostle in India is proof both of his martyrdom and of its Apostolate in India. The evidence of Theodore is that of an eyewitness who had visited both tombs -- the first in India, while the second was at Edessa. The primitive Christians, therefore, found on both coasts, east and west, witness to and locate the tomb at Mylapur, "St. Thomas", a little to the south of Madras; no other place in India lays any claim to possess the tomb, nor does any other country. On these facts is based their claim to be known as St. Thomas Christians.


AD 189

In the year 189 A.D. Pantaenus who was a missionary sent by Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria arrived in Malabar. He found a Christian group with an Aramaic version of the Gospel of St. Mathew.



Other References to Thomas Christian Tradition



There are several references to Thomas' acts in India, which corroborates the general validity of the story, though the Acts of Thomas is Gnostic embellished apocryphal book.



St. Gregory of Naziaanzen (AD 329-390) refers to Thomas along with other Apostles work in Contra Aranos et de Seipso Oratio.


Ambrose of Milan (AD 333-397) wrote thus: "Even to those Kingdoms which were shout out by rugged mountains became accessible to them as India to Thomas, Persia to Mathew...." Ambrose De Moribus. Brach.



Jerome (AD 342-420) wrote thus: "Jesus dwelt in all places; with Thomas in India, with Peter in Rome, with Paul in Illyricum, with Titus in Crete with Andrew in Achaia, with each apostolic man in each and all countries." epistles of Jerome



Gregory, the Bishop of Tours (AD 538-593) in his In Gloria Martyrdom writes: "Thomas, the Apostle, according to the history of passion, is declared to have suffered in India. After a long time his body was taken into a city which they called Edessa in Syria and there buried. Therefore, in that Indian place where he firs rested there is a monastery and a church of wonderful size, and carefully adorned and arrayed."



Mar Solomon in 13th C wrote in his Book of the Bee as follows: Thomas was from Jerusalem of the tribe of Juda. He taught the Persians, Medes and the Indians; and because he baptized the daughter of the King of the Indians he stabbed him with a spear and died. Habban the merchant brought his body and laid it in Edessa, the blessed city of our Lord. Others say that he was buried in Mahluph (Mylapore) a city in the land of Indians.


An ancient body of Christians on the east and west coasts of India, claiming spiritual descent from the Apostle St. Thomas. The subject will be treated under the following heads:


Their early traditions and their connection with the Apostle St. Thomas


Interest in the history of these Christians arises from more than one feature. Their ancient descent at once attracts attention. Theophilus (surnamed the Indian) -- an Arian, sent by Emperor Constantius (about 354) on a mission to Arabia Felix and Abyssinia -- is one of the earliest, if not the first, who draws our attention to them. He had been sent when very young a hostage a Divoeis, by the inhabitants of the Maldives, to the Romans in the reign of Constantine the Great. His travels are recorded by Philostorgius, an Arian Greek Church historian, who relates that Theophilus, after fulfilling his mission to the Homerites, sailed to his island home. Thence he visited other parts of India, reforming many things -- for the Christians of the place heard the reading of the Gospel in a sitting, etc. This reference to a body of Christians with church, priest, liturgy, in the immediate vicinity of the Maldives, can only apply to a Christian Church and faithful on the adjacent coast of India, and not to Ceylon, which was well known even then under its own designation, Taprobane. The people referred to were the Christians known as a body who had their liturgy in the Syriac language and inhabited the west coast of India, i.e. Malabar. This Church is next mentioned and located by Cosmas Indicopleustes (about 535) "in Male (Malabar) where the pepper grows"; and he adds that the Christians of Ceylon, whom he specifies as Persians, and "those of Malabar" (the latter he leaves unspecified, so they must have been natives of the country) had a bishop residing at Caliana (Kalyan), ordained in Persia, and one likewise on the island of Socotra.


Local Traditions



Local traditions among the Christians include the Rambaan Paattu or Thomma Parvom"- a song about the Acts of Thomas written around 1600 by Rambaan Thomas. Rambaan Thomas of Malyakal Family descends from the first Bishop whom St. Thomas is said to have ordained. The poem is the oral tradition handed down through generations. It is said to have been originally written by the Rambaan Thomas, the Bishop Bishop.



Margom Kali and Mappila Paattu are series of songs of the Acts of Thomas and the history of the Malabar Church. They are sung in consonance with dance forms that are typical of the syrian Christians. Some of them are dance dramas performed in the open as part of the festivals of the church. These have no specific origin, but grew up in the course of hisotry.



Veeadian Paattu is sung by a local Hindu group (called Veeradians) in accompaniment of Villu - a local instrument - during Christian festivals. This form of art also dates back to unknown period handed down through generations and modified in that process.



The Early Christians of India



Tradition has it that the Apostle Thomas ordained two bishops, Kepha and Paul, respectively for Malabar and Coromandal (Mylapore). This is supposed to mark the beginnings of the first hierarchy in India. The Christians were called Thomas Christians. The Church of the Thomas Christians was one of the four great "Thomite Churches" of the East. The three others were the Edessan, the Chaldean (of Mesopotamia or Iraq) with Seleucia-Ctesiphon as its center, and the Persian (of Persia proper or Iran). These four Churches were "Thomite" in the sense that they looked to St. Thomas as to their Apostle. Among these Churches the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon emerged as the organizational centre, mainly owing to the political importance of this place as the capital of the Persian Empire. The Indian Church had close contact with these Churches. A connection to the East Syrian Church (Chaldean) was established after the arrival of another Thomas (Knai Thomman) and several families from Cana in the year 345 A.D. This infused new blood to the sagging old church established by St. Thomas. Later, we cannot say when but certainly in or before 7th century, it became hierarchically subordinated to the Chaldean Church, and the succession of indigenous prelates came to an end. In their place the East Syrian prelates started to rule. The apostolic Church of India was thus reduced to a dependent status. This dependence, which lasted until the end of the 16th century, prevented it from developing an Indian theology and liturgy with an Indian culture. During this long period, not a single indigenous bishop ruled over the Thomas Christians.


Until the rise of Islam, Aramaic (Syriac) was the commercial language throughout the East, including India. The Jews who spoke this language were very powerful in India. Aramaic (language of Jesus) was also the vehicle of evangelization. It came to be called Syriac, after Syrus who ruled over Mesopotamia, and became the official language of the Persian Empire around 550 B.C. When the East-Syrian Church began to exercise control over the Indian Christians, the Malabar Church became Syrian in rite with Syriac as the ecclesiastical language.


It is to be noted that even though the Persian prelates headed the Thomas Christians in India more than a millennium, their contribution to the ecclesial and cultural growth of the Malabar community seems to be insignificant; nevertheless, by its contact with the Western Church from the 16th century the Thomas Christian community was enriched by Western theological thinking and mission spirit which helped the ancient Christians of India to enter into a meaningful communication with the world of Christianity. Even today, there are some who dream about restoring the Chaldean "golden age!" For them, the Latin Church is foreign, but the Chaldean Church is indigenous to Indian Christians!


Socio-political Status of the Early Christians in India


The St.Thomas Christians had accepted the social structure which was built on the network of castes and subcastes. One's position in society was determined by the social customs one followed. The rulers of the country considered the Thomas Christians as high-caste and granted them great privileges and honours in written documents in the form of copper plates which became the Magna Carta of the Thomas Christians.


These Christians were respectfully addressed as "Nazarani mappilas", "sons of kings" or "first kings". They were of high rank and greatly reputed, well formed and of good behavior. According to Antony de Gouvea, no other caste was of similar value and esteem among the Malabarians as these Syrian Christians. A. Ayyar asserts that they were almost on a par with their sovereigns and were even allowed to have a military force of their own, using this military power to safeguard their special privileges. They were also protectors of certain low-castes and were called "Lords of seventeen castes". They could try all the cases of their subjects and even inflict capital punishment on them. Gouvea says that the Christians supplied the Raja (king) of Cochin with an army of fifty thousand gunmen, and the success of the king in war often depended on the number of his Thomas Christian subjects. This led non-Christian kings to build churches and endow them with tax-free lands. Many Christians served the kings as ministers and councilors. Rulings of kings that went contrary to their religion or privileges were not obeyed. Indeed, they would all, as a "Christian Republic", join together to protect their rights.


The characteristic note of the social life of the early Christians of India was that though Christian in faith, they remained strictly attached to the Hindu way of life. They have been described as "Hindu in culture, Christian in religion and Oriental in worship", a formula which was an adaptation and amplification of a slogan launched by Catholic lay leaders, urging Catholic involvement in India's struggle for independence.


For their earliest period they possess no written but a traditional history


These Christians have no written records of the incidents of their social life from the time of their conversion down to the arrival of the Portuguese on the coast, just as India had no history until the arrival of the Mohammedans.


Record of these traditions embodied in a manuscript Statement dated 1604


Fortunately the British Museum has a large collection consisting of several folio volumes containing manuscripts, letters, reports, etc., of Jesuit missions in India and elsewhere; among these in additional volume 9853, beginning with the leaf 86 in pencil and 525 in ink, there is a "Report" on the "Serra" (the name by which the Portuguese designated Malabar), written in Portuguese by a Jesuit missionary, bearing the date 1604 but not signed by the writer; there is evidence that this "Report" was known to F. de Souza, author of the "Oriente Conquistado", and utilized by him. The writer has carefully put together the traditional record of these Christians; the document is yet unpublished, hence its importance. Extracts from the same, covering what can be said of the early part of this history, will offer the best guarantee that can be offered. The writer of the "Report" distinctly informs us that these Christians had no written records of ancient history, but relied entirely on traditions handed down by their elders, and to these they were most tenaciously attached.


Of their earliest period tradition records that after the death of the Apostle his disciples remained faithful for a long time, the Faith was propagated with great zeal, and the Church increased considerably. But later, wars and famine supervening, the St. Thomas Christians of Mylapur got scattered and sought refuge elsewhere, and many of them returned to paganism. The Christians, however, who were on the Cochin side, fared better than the former, spreading from Coulac (Quilon) to Palur (Paleur), a village in the north of Malabar. These had fared better, as they lived under native princes who rarely interfered with their Faith, and they probably never suffered real persecution such as befell their brethren on the other coast; besides, one of the paramount rajahs of Malabar, Cheruman Perumal, had conferred on them a civil status. The common tradition in the country holds that from the time of the Apostle seven churches were erected in different parts of the country, besides the one which the Apostle himself had erected at Mylapur. This tradition is most tenaciously held and is confirmed by the "Report". It further asserts that the Apostle Thomas, after preaching to the inhabitants of the Island of Socotra and establishing there a Christian community, had come over to Malabar and landed at the ancient port of Cranganore. They hold that after preaching in Malabar the Apostle went over to Mylapur on the Coromandel Coast; this is practicable through any of the many paths across the dividing mountain ranges which were well known and much frequented in olden times. The Socotrians had yet retained their Faith when in 1542 St. Francis visited them on his way to India. In a letter of 18 September of the same year, addressed to the Society at Rome, he has left an interesting account of the degenerate state of the Christians he found there, who were Nestorians. He also tells us they render special honours to the Apostle St. Thomas, claiming to be descendants of the Christians begotten to Jesus Christ by that Apostle. By 1680 when the Carmelite Vincenzo Maria di Santa Catarina landed there he found Christanity quite extinct, only faint traces yet lingering. The extinction of this primitive Christanity is due to the oppression of the Arabs, who now form the main population of the island, and to the scandelous neglect of the Nestorian Patriarchs who in former times were wont to supply the bishop and clergy for the island. When St. Francis visited the island a Nestorian priest was still in charge.


Towards the middle of the 16th century, one of the priests assumed the role of a leader of the whole community of Malabar, and he was called the "Archdeacon". Etymologically, the term means "chief minister", and it gradually began to be used for the chief assistant of the bishop in the administration of the diocese. Though the bishop was sent from Persian Church, he was only the spiritual head who administered only the sacraments. Administration was in the hands of the archdeacon, and he was "the Prince", the civil head, of all the Christians of St. Thomas. He had great influence over kings, and was accorded the same status as the military political chiefs of the country. According to custom, he was the one to crown the king in order that the latter might indeed be recognized as such.


The life of the Christians was centered on the church. A good many of them settled around the church in rows of houses called angaties (bazaars) which later became business centers. Around the year 1600 there were some 64 churches, 168 Christian villages and 80,000 families. The administration of the Church was carried on by the assembly of the Thomas Christians called yogam (a sort of blend between a synod and a pastoral council, and also a significant expression of ecclesial communion and co-responsibility.) of which there were 3 kinds: the parish assembly, regional assembly and general assembly.


The parish assembly looked after the temporalities of the church, as well as the whole Christian life of the local community. This assembly decided cases of public scandal, inflicting punishments which sometimes amounted to excommunication. The assembly exercised ample powers in administering justice, in punishing delinquents, etc. Priests were ordained for a parish church. The assembly presented to the prelate, candidates for ordination with the implicit promise that it would maintain them. The assembly formed a structure similar to both the assembly of the caste Hindus (local or regional) and the assembly of temple administrators called ooralma which means "administration by the people of the place."


Matters that concerned more than one church of a region were dealt with by the representatives of those churches. Regional yogam was often constituted for the administration of justice. Thomas Paremmakal says, "According to the ancient custom of the Malabar Church, no punishment could be inflicted unless the crime was proved before the representatives of four churches." Matters of a general interest of the whole Church or community (social, political and religious) were decided by general assembly of the representatives of all the churches, wherein the Archdeacon played a special role. They were practically supreme, and in fact no higher ecclesiastical authority questioned their decisions.


The Christian way of life brought by the Apostle Thomas was called "Law of Thomas" and in the vernacular Thoma Marga. The term marga means "way", and has been used to denote the Christian way of life. Christianity as a "Way" (hodos) is also a biblical expression. It was originally a Buddhist term meaning "Buddhism as a way of life - the way of salvation or nirvana". When Christianity was introduced to South India, where Buddhism and Jainism were then the prevalent religions, it was considered to be the new "way" or marga. Christians were called margakkar or margavasi (those of the way). In recent times this word is often used to designate "the newly converted" and has a bad connotation in the background of the caste system. When people of low castes were converted to Christianity, those of the high caste began to look down on them - the new converts - with contempt. The Thoma Marga was the sum total of the Christian life and heritage, a mixture of Dravidic, Buddhist, Jainist, Jewish, Persian and Hindu influences.


Christianity in Kerala in the first 3 centuries




Both the Jewish as well as the local converts were in the beginning mentioned as St.Thomas Christians or Nazaranis (being followers of Jesus who was a native of Nazareth).  One of the earliest references to Christianity in India mentions the visit of Alexandria’s leading Theologian, Pantenus to the Indian Christians at their invitation in AD 190.  However this visit is contradicted by Eusebius, a 3rd century Christian Historian, who says Pantenus visited the Arabian regions, which were part of greater India (India Magnum). Any how the general belief is that the Christians existed in Kerala from the second half of the 1st century itself and it was St.Thomas the Apostle who established the Christian faith in India.


 In the course of time the infant Church established by St.Thomas is supposed to have been weakened.   The community had to pass through many an obstruction and so many oppositions, main reason being the “lack of ecclesiastical assistance”.  


Immigration of Cauverypoopatanam Christians at Kollam

AD 293


The Christians in the rest of the India suffered persecution. They therefore migrated to Malabar. One such mention is given thus: "The Vallala converts to Christianity in Kaveripoopatanam (The Puhur City of Cavery River) were persecuted by their king. So 72 families embarked on a ship and came to Korakkeni (Kollam), where there were Christians" From the Palm-leaf manuscript entitled "Keralathil Margam Vazhiyute Avastha", The Affairs of Christianity in Kerala. This copy of the Manuscript is dated around 1806

72 families to Hinduism by Manikka Vachkar at Kollam

AD 315



A certain sorcerer called "Manikka Vachakar" came to Kollam and converted back to Hinduism 116 persons belonging to 72 families from Puhur, 4 of about half a dozen families subsequently came from Coromandel Coast (perhaps from Puhur itself) and 20 families of local Christians (presumably from Quilon).


The Council of Nicea

AD 325


At this time the Christological discourse and controversies were raging in the West. The Council of Nicea was held to draw up the Nicean Creed in order to establish the cannon of faith. 318 bishops attended it among them was a Bishop Johannes, the Persian, for the churches of the whole of Persia and Greater India.



The Indian Church had ties with the Persian Churches right from early period. It is assumed that Indian Churches invited Persian priests to teach the Bible. The earliest bibles translated from Greek are found in Syriac. Malayalam did not have bible until recently. So it was necessary to have priests from Syria to reach and explain to the believers. The church administrations were completely controlled by the local elders while the clergy who were brought into the country provided the ecclesiastical services and doctrinal teachings.

Immigration of Knai Thomma

AD 345



A merchant named Thomas Cana trading on this coast became acquainted with this Christian Church and in the year 345 he brought to Cranganore a colony of four hundred Christians from Bagdad, Nineve and Jerusalem. It is assumed that they came because of the Persian persecution under Zorastrianism. Other sources indicate that they were sent by the Catholicos of Jerusalem to get information about the state of the Church in Malabar. Whatever be the reason, they were received kindly by the Cheraman Perumal who gave him permission to buy land and settle down. Among them was a bishop from Edessa named Joseph and several priests and deacons. From the time of this immigration the Church seems to have been on a much firmer footing. It is said that the Ruler of Cranganore, Cheruman Perumal, conferred special privileges upon Thomas Cana and on his people.These include all the honors to speak and to walk like a king. This copper plate was in existence till 1498. Copies of it are still found though the plates themselves are missing. This group kept their social identity and forms the Kananaya Christians. Thomas is said to have married a local woman and hence had two groups - known as Eastern Group and the Western Group. That this Church was now in communication with the Churches of Asia appears from the tradition that the body or part of the body of the Apostle was carried, towards the close of the fourth century, from Mailapur to Edessa.


There is one incident of the long period of isolation of the St. Thomas Christians from the rest of the Christian world which they are never tired of relating, and it is one of considerable importance to them for the civil status it conferred and secured to them in the country. This is the narrative of the arrival of a Syrian merchant on their shores, a certain Mar Thoma Cana -- the Portuguese have named him Cananeo and styled him an Armenian, which he was not. He arrived by ship on the coast and entered the port of Cranganore. The King of Malabar, Cheruman Perumal, was in the vicinity, and receiving information of his arrival sent for him and admitted him to his presence. Thomas was a wealthy merchant who had probably come to trade; the King took a liking to this man, and when he expressed a wish to acquire land and make a settlement the King readily acceded to his request and let him purchase land, then unoccupied, at Cranganore. Under the king's orders Thomas soon collected a number of Christians from the surrounding country, which enabled him to start a town on the ground marked out for his occupation. He is said to have collected seventy-two Christian families (this is the traditional number always mentioned ) and to have installed them in as many separate houses erected for them; attach to each dwelling was a sufficient piece of land for vegetable cultivation for the support of the family as is the custom of the country. He also erected a dwelling for himself and eventually a church. The authorization to possess the land and dwellings erected was granted to Thomas by a deed of paramount Lord and Rajah of Malabar, Cheruman Perumal, said to have been the last of the line, the country having been subsequently divided among his feudatories. (The details given above as well as what follows of the copper plate grant are taken from the "Report".) The same accord also speak of several privileges and honours by the king to Thomas himself, his descendants, and to the Thomas Christians, by which the latter community obtained status above the lower classes, and which made them equal to the Nayars, the middle class in the country.




The story as stated briefly in a letter written by Mar Thoma IV, one of the bishops of the Syrian church in the eighteenth century is as follows: -


"From this date (i. e. St. Thomas's death) the faithful diminished little by little in our country. At that time (4th century) St. Thomas appeared ill a vision to the Metropolitan of the town of Edessa, and said to him: "Wilt thou not help India?" and he also appeared to Abgar, king of Edessa, who was the king of the Syrians; and then by order of the king a nd the bishop three-hundred and thirty-six families composed of children and grown-up people, clerics, men and women, came to India under the leadership of Thomas, the Canaanite, from Canan, which is Jerusalem. All these sailed in the sea and entered Kodungalloor (Cranganore) our country. They inhabited it by special permission from the King Cheraman Perumal, who was ruling the country at that time. All this took place in A. D. 345. From that time the church of our country spread in all directions, to the numbers of 72 churches."


Another and a more detailed account of tile arrival of Thomas of Cana given by a 19th century writer belonging to the Syrian Christian community is given below: --


Christians of Malayalam (i.e. Malabar') were in a state of disorder for about 300 years from the time that Apostle Mar Thomas (i. e.. St. Thomas) visited Malayalam and established the Faith, as it had neither head nor shepherd. But by the Grace of the Lord, the Episcopa of the Syrian land called Uraha had a vision in his sleep, in which a person appeared to him and said, Grieve ye not for the flock that suitor and collapse in Malayalam, which I won even at the sacrifice of my life'? The Episcopa hereon awoke and at once announced the important tidings to the holy Catholic a of Jerusalem He thereon called together learned real arts (i. e., priests who are theological teachers) and others, and consulted them; and it was resolved that the respected Christian merchant Thomas of Cana residing in Jerusalem should be sent to Malayalam and the particulars ascertained through him. And thereon, lie was sent to Malayalam on a trading enterprise,


"This Thomas of Cana arrived at the Cranganore Bar and landed and saw and, from the cross they wore round the neck, recognized the Christians who were brought to follow Christ by the exertions of the apostle Mar Thomas, and who in spite of the oppressions of the heathens and heathen sovereigns continued to remain in the True Faith without any deviation. He struck their acquaintance and asked them about their past particulars and learned that their grievance was very hard on account of the want of priests and that the Church was, owing to that reason, in a tottering condition. On learning these particulars he thought delay was improper and l a ding his ship with the pepper etc., which he then could gather, sailed off, and by the Divine Grace, reached Jerusalem without much delay, and communicated to the Venerable tile Catholica of Jerusalem in detail all facts he had observed in Malayalam. And t hereon, with the sanction of Eusthathius Patriarch of Antioch, and odd persons, comprising men, women and boys, with Episcopa Joseph of Uratta and priests and deacons, were placed under the orders of the respectable merchant, Thoma of Cana, and sent off by ship to Malayalam, with blessing. "By the Grace Almighty God all these arrived at Cranganore in Malayalam in the year our Lord, without experiencing any inconvenience of distress on the way. On this, the people of Kottakkayal Community received them.... They acknowledged allegiance to Joseph Episcopa who came from Jerusalem as their metropolitan. And the affairs of the church continued to be regulated by Thoma and others. "Thoma went and obtained and interview of King Cheraman Perumal, the then ruling sovereign, who was pleased and said that he, the Lord of the land, would undoubtedly render all help. Not only was command issued to have all aid rendered to the Christians, but privileges of honour were also bestowed under title deeds with sign manual and engrossed on copper plates, the sun and moon bearing witness, to be enjoyed without any demur from any quarter as long as the sun, the moon etc. shall exist.

Persecution in Persia



King Shapur ruled over Persia during AD 309-379. He wanted to bring back the old Zoarostrian religion into the country. The first order was that the Christians should pay double tax in lieu of services in war. Mar. Shimum, the Catholicos of the time refused to take the order on ground that the Christians were poor and that the Bishop is not a tax collector. Consequently on Good Friday of AD 339 Mar Shimum and five bishops along with 100 clergy were executed at Susa, the capital of Elam. This was followed by severe massacre of Christians for forty years. In order to ovoid this massacre Thomas of Cana suggested the colonization of Malabar.


Arrival of Soper and Prodho



Besides the arrival of Thomas Cana and his colony, by which the early Christians benefited considerably, the "Report" also records the arrival on this coast of two individuals named Soper Iso and Prodho; they are said to have been brothers and are supposed to have been Syrians. The "Report" gives the following details; they came to possess a promonotory opposite Paliport on the north side, which is called Maliankara, and they entered the port with a large load of timber to build a church; and in the Chaldean books of this Serra there is no mention of them, except that they were brothers, came to Quilon, built a church there, and worked some miracles. After death they were buried in the church they had erected; it is said that they had built other smaller churches in the country; they were regarded as pious men and were later called saints, their own church was eventually dedicated to them as well as others in the country. Archbishop Alexis Menezes afterwards changed the dedication of these churches to other saints in the Roman calender. There is one important item that the "Report" has preserved: "the said brothers built the church of Quilon in the hundredth year after the foundation of Quilon." (This era commences from 25 August, A.D. 825, and the date will thus be A.D. 925). The second of the aforesaid copper-plates mention Meruvan Sober Iso, one of the above brothers. The "Report " also makes mention of pilgims coming from Mesopotamia to visit the shrine of the Apostle at Mylapur; some of these at times would settle there and others in Malabar. It may be stated here that the Syrians of Malabar are as a body natives of the land by descent, and the Syriac trait in them is that of their liturgy, which is in the Syrian language. They call themselves Syrians by way of distinction from other body of Christians on the coast, who belong to the Latin Rite. The honorific appellation bestowed upon them by the rulers of the country is that of Mapla, which signifies great son or child, and they were commonly so called by the people; this appellation also have been given to the descendants of Arabs in the country; the St. Thomas Christians now prefer to be called Nasrani (Nazarenes), the designation given by the Mohammedans to all Christians.

Copper Plates



The Text of the Copper Plates of Cheraman Perumal, Ruler of Cranganoor conferring of privileges to Thomas Cana and the Christians



May Coquarangon be prosperous, enjoy long life and live one hundred thousand years, servant of God, strong. True, just, full of good works, reasonable, powerful, over the whole earth, happy, conquering, glorious, and rightly prosperous in the ministry of God, in Malabar, in the great city of the great idol. While he reigned at the time of Mercury of February, on the seventh day of the month of March, before the full moon. The same king, Coquarangon being in Carnelur, there arrived in a ship Thomas Cananeo, a chief man, who had resolved to see the uttermost part of the east. And some men, seeing him, as he arrived, went to inform the King. And the King himself came and saw and called the said chief man Thomas, and he disembarked and came before the King, who spoke graciously to him. And to honour him he gave him in surname his own name, calling him Coquarangon Canneo. And he received this honour from the king and went to rest in his place. And the king gave him the city of Maggodayarpatanam forever. And the said king, being in his great prosperity, went one day to hunt in the forest, and the same king surrounded the whole forest. And he called in haste for Thomas, who came and stood before the King in a lucky hour. And the king questioned the soothsayer, and the king afterwards spoke to Thomas, saying that he would build a city in that forest. And he answered to the king, first making reverence, and said, "I desire this forest myself." And the king granted it to him and gave it fore ever. And at once, the next day, he cleared the forest and cast his eyes on it the same year, on the eleventh of April, and gave it as an inheritance to Thomas at the time and year aforesaid, in the king's name, who laid the brick for the Church and for the house of Thomas Cananeo, and made there a city for all of them, and entered the Church and there made prayer the same day. After these things, Thomas himself went to the king's palace and offered him presents, and afterwards he asked the king to give that land to him and to his descendants; and he measured two hundred and sixty four elephant cubits, and gave them to Thomas and his descendants for ever; and at the same time sixty two houses which immediately were erected there; and gardens and tress, with their enclosures, and with their paths and boundaries and inner yeards. And he granted them seven kinds of musical instruments, and all honors, and to speak and walk like a king, and that at weddings the women may give signal with their finger in the mouth, and he granted him distinct weight, and to adorn the ground with carpet and he granted the royal fans, and to double the dandal mark on the arm, and a royal tent in every part of the kingdom forever, and besides five tributes to Thomas and to his lineage and to his confederates, for men and for women, and for all his relatives, and his children of his law for ever. The said king




Witness these people


Codaxeri canden


Cherucara protachaten comeren - King's Chief door keeper

Areunden counden - King's councsellor

Amen Atecounden guerulen - Captain of the Army

Chirumalapro taitiriuicramen Comeren - Registrar f East side of Malavar

Preu i ualaitiataadi - singer of the King's Court

Perubal atia tacottocoude - Guard of the Gate

Bichremen Chinguen -King's Chamberlain


72 privileges

by Cheraman Perumal to Knai Thommen



72 privileges granted by Cheraman Perumal to Knai Thommen in the Cheppedu


These Cheppeds were grants inscribed on copper plates, of several privileges, given by the ruler of Malabar of the time Cheraman Perumal to Knayi Thomman in AD 345.


This Cheppedu consisted of two copper plates each about one foot long and two inches wide inscribed on both sides and tied together at its left with chains in iron. This Cheppedu was in the possession of the descendants of the Syrian colonists till the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498. But it disappeared with the Portuguese mysteriously soon after the Coonan Kurisu Sathyam.



Ambari (Howdah on an elephant)


Ankaram (courtyard)


Antholam (palanquin)


Ammoolam (tax gathering)


Arpu (cheers)


Aala vattam (Peacock feather fan)


Aana savari (Elephant riding)


Uchippoovu (Head Turban)


Kacha (Robes)


Kacha puram (Over coat)


Kankanam (Bangles)


Kaal thala (Anklet Rings)


Kaal chilambu (Anklets Bells)


Kurava (Tongue Cheers)


Kuthirasavari (horse ride)


Kuzhal (Bugles)


Kodi (Flag)


Kaikara (Hand Ornaments)


Kaithala (Bangles)


Cheli (a kind of tax)


Chemkombu (another tax)


Chenda (Drum)


Thamburu (String Instruments)


Thazha kkuda (Royal Palm Umbrella)


Ner vaal (Straight Sword)


Pattu chatta (Silk Coat)


Patturumal (Silk Handkerchief)


Pattumundu (Silk dothi)


Pakal vilakku (Day Lamp)


Padi pura (Entry Gate House)


Pathakkam (Necklace)


Panni pudava (Embroidary Robes)


Paravathani (Carpet)


Pavaada (Royal Cloth)


Pallakku (Palanquin)


Pavada (Royal Cloth)


Panchavadyam (Five Instrument Orchestra)


Pandal Vithanam (Pandal Decoration)


Pathinezhu Parichamel Kathruthwam (Control over the 17 Low castes)


Maddalam (Hand Drum)


Manarkolam (Platforms)


Mudi (Crown)


Mudikuzhabharanam (Head ornaments)


Mammoolam (Tax)


Methi adi (Wooden Chappels)


Raja vaadyam (Royal Orchestra)


Raja Sankham (Irippu) (Honour to sit in court with the King)


Rajabogham (Honor to eat with King)


Veena (String Instrument)


Deevetti (Indigenous Torch)


Thookku manchal (Swinging Cot)




Thoranam (Decoration)


Thol vala (Armpit Bangle)


Theendalkattal (untouchability)


Nada (Cheers)


Nayattuhubhogam (Privilege for hunting)




Nedizakuda (Royal Umbrella)


Nettipetti (Cloth Box)


Nettikettu (Head Dress)


Veera vaadyam (Heroic Bugles)


Veera madalam


Veera srimkhala (Royal Chain)


Viri panthal (Honour to errect Pandal)


Venchamaram (Royal Fan)


Sankhu (conch)


Sangu Edam Piri (Conch with left screw)


Sankhu Valampiri (conch with right screw)


Bhoomi Karamozhivu (land tax evation)


Nayattu (Hunting)


Paalamarangal (Forest concession)



Bishop Theophilus AD 354


Bishop Theophilos was a native of Maldive Islands, off Kerala coast. Emperor Constantine took him as a hostage so that the Maldive people will not plunder Roman ships as it passed that way. In Rome he became a Christian and became a Bishop. He visited India and noted that their worship practices differed considerably from those of other parts of the world. Particularly he noticed that Indians sang, heard the gospel and worshipped sitting down (which is the Hindu tradition) he thought they were outrageous and ordered it changed. Probably the practice of worship standing was introduced from that time onwards.


AD 425



It may be assumed that Indians sent their priests for training and studies to Syria. There was one Daniel who translated the commentary on the Epistle to the Romans from Greek to Syriac in Edessa. He signed it as Daniel, the priest, the Indian. Ecclesiastical language of India was probably Greek and Syriac as the teaching of Bible came from there. Greek inscriptions are found on the bells of several churches. Until very recently the liturgy was mainly in Syriac. We maintain the flavor of this liturgy even today by retaining several Syriac phrases like Amen, Kurialaison, Brakomor,Sthaumenkalos et. and several Syrian chants.


AD 522



Around AD 522, Cosmas Indicopleustes,a rich Christian merchant from Alexandria visited this coast. He says that in "Male" where the pepper grows, there are Christians and that at "Kalliana" there is a bishop, usually ordained in Persia. It is supposed that Male here means Malabar and Kalliana seems to be not Quilon but Kalyan near Bombay, but in order to form an opinion it is necessary to read his book called "Universal Christian Topology".He describes his visit:


"We have found the church not destroyed, but very widely diffused and the whole world filled with the doctrine of Christ, which is being day by day propagated and the Gospel preached over the whole earth. This I have seen with my own eyes in many places and have heard narrated by others. I as a witness of truth relate: In the land of Taprobane (Srilanka), Inner India, where the Indian sea is, there is a church of Christians, with clergy and congregation of believers, though I know not if there be any Christians further in this direction. And such also is the case in the land called Male (Malabar), where the pepper grows. And in the place called Kallia (Kollam) there is a bishop appointed from Persia, as well as in the island called Dioscores (Socotra) in the same Indian Sea. The inhabitants of that island speak Greek, having been originally settled there by Ptolemies, who ruled after Alexander of Macedonia. There are clergy there also ordained and sent from Persia to minister among the people of the island, and the multitude of Christians...."

Council of Ephesus

AD 431



Soon after the formation of the Church Heresy and variations in teachings were in existence in one form or other. During the Apostolic Period, they were settled with the mediation of the Apostles and Apostolic Synods and councils. The first of the council was the council of Jerusalem where the question of gentile inclusion in the church. However after the apostolic period this continued. Even today we have large number of theological systems varying ever so slightly. These movements arose powerfully around 400 A.D when Christianity became free from oppression and being a Christian became a prestige. In the year AD 425 Nestorius, a presbyter of the Church of Antioch became the Patriarch of Constantinople. He legitimately objected to the epithet of "Theokotos" "Mother of God" as applied to Mary since Mary was only the mother of the incarnation and not the mother who produced a God. This would imply that Mary was a Goddess. (We can now see how this epithet has led to the Marialotary and all the attempts to make Mary coredemptrix and equal in status with the trinity). In this sense he was indeed right. However he was understood to have propounded the concept that the Logos of God indwelt Jesus the man. Thus there were two natures in Jesus at the same time. If we are to judge by the Nestorian churches of today this was a misunderstanding.


Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria opposed this dual nature concept and insisted on the unity that Jesus was perfect man and perfect God without inconsistency. The controversy reached a climax when these Patriarchs excommunicated each other. However the conduct of the Ephesus council was totally deplorable that Nestorius was not ever given a hearing. By the time Nestorius arrived at Ephesus the council had voted against him and he was excommunicated and exiled. Its decision though universally accepted, the way the issue was treated is still considered deplorable. The Nestorius a genius theologian of the time was derided without even giving him a hearing. Nestorius certainly foresaw the consequence of the epithet Theokotos.

Council of Chalcedon

AD 451



The fight went on and in AD 451 the Nestorians claimed a victory in the council of Chaldeons in the year 451. In this council it was declared that in Christ the two natures were hypostatically united, without mixture, confusion and divisibility.


Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria and John the Patriarch of Antioch finally reconciled. Nestorians adopted the name Chaldeon Church and the Patriarch took the title of Patriarch of Babylon.


These in fights in the Middle East and Europe had its repercussions in India too. There exists a Chaldean church with few followings even today, though majority of the Christian churches remained faithful to the declarations of Nicea and Ephesus.

The Christian Dynasty of Villarvattom

A.D 510 - 1439



By this period, the great Empire of the Chera Kingdom came to ruins and an immense number of small independent Kingdoms came into existence. Their extents were limited. Thus the areas where Christians were in prominence established themselves into Kingdoms. Christians were traditionally good statesmen and warriors. Though there might have been several such centers of strong hold of Christians in Kerala, one particular Villarvattom Kingdom is mentioned often. This Kingdom Villarvattom Pana extended from the coastal islands of Chennamangalam, Maliankara and others to the north of and south of Udayamperoor. The capital of this kingdom was at mahadevarpattanam in the island of Chennamangalam and later it was shifted to Udayamperoor when the Arab invaders attached the island. Raja of Villarvottam in A.D 510 built the Udayamperror Church, which stands even today. There are several inscriptions in this church that supports this including the mention of one Raja Thomas who ruled in AD 900=center.



A.D 650


The coming to this coast of bishops from Persia seems to have been interrupted in the seventh century by a revolt of the Persian Metropolitan against the Nestorian patriarch of Babylon, the Metropolitan of Seleucia. In "Asseman",is a long letter from the Patriarch Jesujabus Adjabenus who was Patriarch from 650 to 660. The Patriarch says:- "Not only India, which extends from the shores of the kingdom of Persia as far as Quilon, a space of more than twelve hundred parasangs, but also your own country of the Persians lies in darkness, deprived of the light of divine doctrine which shines forth through bishops of the truth." About this date one of the bishops in India obtained the rank of Metropolitan. From the passage in "Asseman", it appears that this dignity was conferred by Saliba- Zacha who was Patriarch of Babylon from 714 to 728. The names of the Indian bishops have not been preserved, except in the case of two bishops, Mar Sapir and Mar Prodh, who landed at Quilon.


The Council of Nicea laid down a rule that all bishops should meet the Patriarch in an annual synod. This rule was from time to time relaxed and finally in a synod held under Theodosius, who was Patriarch from 852 to 858, the obligation upon the more distant Metropolitans was reduced to sending a letter and funds every sixth year. The words of the Synod are quaint:- "But other Metropolitans, that is to say, of the Chinas, of India, of Persia and of Samarcand, situated in very distant countries, hindered by mountain ranges infested with robbers and by seas fatal with shipwrecks and tempests, so that they cannot come to us so often as they otherwise might wish, shall take care to send, every sixth year, letters of consent and union and in the same letters to set forth any business of their countries which requires an opportune remedy: and they shall take trouble that from all cities, great and small, be sent to the Patriarch what is right according to the ability of each man and the Canons of the Fathers for the expenses of the patriarch's house."


Copper-Plate at Devalokam, Kottayam

A.D 774



Some light upon the condition of the Church of Malankara at seventh centaury may be obtained from four documents, which have been preserved to this day. They are two copper-plate grants and the inscriptions on two stone slabs. These stones can be seen in the "Cheria palle" Orthodox church at Kottayam. That church is only three hundred years old but the stones are said to have been brought from a much older church that existed near Cranganore. On each of the stones is carved a Cross and an inscription runs above and below the cross. The older stone has the legend in Pahlavi, which was the official language of the Sassanides dynasty in Persia. A similar inscription and cross is on the stone in the church on St. Thomas' Mount near Madras. The letters of this inscription on the older stone at Kottayam and on the stone at the Mount are said to be of date about the second half of the seventh century, but may, of course, be much later, because lapidary inscriptions are often written in antique characters of a former period. The letters are said to resemble the letters on a stone in China erected in the year 781 to record the arrival of some Chaldean missionaries in 636. Attempts to translate the inscription at the Mount and on the older stone at Kottayam have given widely differing results. Dr. Burnell translated as follows: "In punishment by the cross was the suffering of this one, who is the true Christ God above and Guide ever pure." The translation by Dr. E. W. West is: " "What freed the true Messiah, the forgiving, the upbraiding, from hardship? The crucifixion from the tree and the anguish of this." Dr. Haug of Munich translates it as follows: "He that believes in the Messiah and in God in the height and also in the Holy Ghost is in the grace of him who suffered the pain of the cross." The other stone in the Periapalle church at Kottayam is said to be of later date, probably about the tenth century. Above the cross is half of the Pahlavi inscription of the older stone, ""The Messiah and God in the height and the Holy Ghost." " Below the cross is a Syriac version of Galatians 6: 14, "Let me not glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."



The copper plate grants are in the Catholicate Palace, Devalokam, Kottayam . The older grant is on a single copper plate, said by Dr. Burnell to be of date 774. It is a grant by King Vira Raghava Chakravarti to Iravi Korttan of Cranganore, making over to him the territory of Manigramam and giving him the rank of merchant. It is in old Tamil letters with some Grantha letters intermingled. The later document is on five sheets of copper fastened together by a ring. Of the ten pages of copper thus furnished, seven pages are written in Tamil and two pages are written in Pahlavi and Arabic with Kufic characters. Four of the signatures are Hebrew. This Kottayam five plate grant is said to be of date 824. Its purport is that with the permission of King Sthanu Ravi Gupta one Miruvan Sapir is gives certain land near Quilon to the church. From these inscriptions on stone and copper plate appears that the Christians at that time built and endowed churches and had a recognised position in the country.


AD 825

The arrival also of two pious brothers, church-builders. Besides the arrival of St. Thomas Cana and his colony, by which the early Christians benefited considerably, also records the arrival on this coast of two individuals named Soper Iso and Prodho; they are said to have been brothers and are supposed to have been Syrians.King Cheraman Perumal gave them land and extended to them special privileges, inscribed in two sets of copper plates. Three of these are still in the Old Seminary in Kottayarn and two are with the Mar St. Thomas Church, Tiruvalla. The rulers were interested in encouraging trade. That was why these immigrants were given special privileges.

There is one important item that the "Report" has preserved: "the said brothers built the church of Quilon in the hundredth year after the foundation of Quilon." (This era commences from 25 August, A.D. 825, and the date will thus be A.D. 925). The second of the aforesaid copper-plates mention Meruvan Sober Iso, one of the above brothers. It may be stated here that the Syrians of Malabar are as a body natives of the land by descent, and the Syriac trait in them is that of their liturgy, which is in the Syrian language. They call themselves Syrians by way of distinction from other body of Christians on the coast, who belong to the Latin Rite. The honorific appellation bestowed upon them by the rulers of the country is that of Mapla, which signifies great son or child



Mar John III

A.D 1129



The Saxon Chronicle relates that in 883 King Alfred the Great of England sent to India alms for St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew. Le quien, in his Orient "Christ", says that about the year 1129 the Catholicos of Bagdad sent to Malabar a Nestorian bishop, Mar John III. The Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, about 1295 speaks of Nestorian Christians in Malabar and narrates the tradition of the death in India of St. Thomas the Apostle. He says: - "The Christians who have the administration of the church possess forests of trees that bear the Indian nuts and from them they draw the means of their livelihood. As tax they pay monthly to one of the Royal brothers a groat for each tree."

Medieval travellers on the Thomas Christians



During the centuries that these Christians were isolated from the rest of Christendom, their sole intercourse was limited to Mesopotamia, whence the Nestorian Patriarch would from time to time supply them with prelates. But from the close of the thirteenth century Western travellers, chiefly missionaries sent out by the popes, sent to the West occasional news of their existence. Some of these it will be useful to reproduce here. The first who informed the world of the existence of these St. Thomas Christians was Friar John of Monte Corvino. After he had spent several years as a missionary in Persia and adjoining countries, he proceeded to China, passing through the Indian ports between the years 1292 and 1294. He tells us in a letter written from Cambales (Peking) in 1305 that he had remained thirteen months in that part of India where the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle stood (Mylapore); he also baptized in different places about one hundred persons. In the same letter he says that there were in Malabar a few Jews and Christians, but they were of little worth; he also says that "the inhabitants persecute much the Christians." (Yule, "Cathay and the Way Thither," I)


The next visitor is Marco Polo, who on his return from China (c. 1293) touched the India of St. Thomas. Of his tomb he tells us: "The body Of Messer Saint Thomas the Apostle lies in the province of Malabar, at a certain little town having no great population; 'tis a place where few traders go . . . Both Christians and Saracens however greatly frequent it in pilgrimage, for the Saracens also hold the Saint in great reverence....The Christians who go in pilgrimage take some of the earth from the place where the Saint was killed and give a portion thereof to any who is sick, and by the power of God and of St. Thomas the sick man is incontinently cured. . . . The Christians," he resumes later, "who have charge of the church have a great number of Indian nut trees [coconuts], and thereby get their living" (Marco Polo, Yule's, 2nd edit., II, 338). Friar Jordan, a Dominican, came to India as a missionary in 1321; he then had as companions four Franciscan friars, but on approaching India he had parted from them to make diversion; in the meanwhile the vessel conveying the others was by stress of weather compelled to enter Tana, a port on the west coast, where the Khasi of the place put them to death as they would not embrace Islam; the feast of Blessed Thomas of Tolentino and his companions is fixed on 6 April in the "Martyrologium Romanum". Later Jordanus, hearing what had happened, rescued their bodies and gave them burial. He must then have gone back to Europe, for he is next heard of in France in 1330, when Pope John XXII consecrated him at Avignon Bishop of Quilon. He left for the East the same year with two letters from the pope, one to the chief of the Christians of Quilon and the other to the Christians at Molephatam, a town on the Gulf of Manaar. In the first the pope beseeches "that divisions cease and clouds of error stain not the brightness of faith of all generated by the waters of baptism . . . and that the phantom of schism and wilful blindness of unsullied faith darken not the vision of those who believe in Christ and adore His name."


Much the same in other words is repeated in the second letter, and they are urged to unity with the Holy Catholic Roman Church. The pope recommends the bishop to the kindness of the people, and thanks them for that shown to the friars who are working among them. All we know is that Bishop Jordanus was sent out with these letters, but nothing further is heard of him. He wrote a small book named "Mirabilia", edited by Col. A. Yule for the Hakluyt Society, published in 1863 (see also "Cathay", I, 184). The next visitor is Blessed Oderic of Pordenone, who about 1324-25 landed at Tana, recovered the bodies of the four friars, Thomas and his companions who had there suffered martyrdom, and conveyed them to China. On his way he halted at Quilon, which he calls Palumbum; thence he took passage on a Chinese junk for a certain city called Zayton in China. He mentions the Christians at Quilon, and that at Mylapore there were fourteen houses of Nestorians ("Cathay", I, 57). A few years later Giovanni de Marignolli, the papal delegate to China, arrived at Quilon. He stayed there at a church dedicated to St. George, belonging to the Latin Rite, and he adorned it with fine paintings and taught there the Holy Law. After dwelling there for upwards of a year he sailed to visit the shrine of the Apostle; he calls the town Mirapolis. After describing the culture of pepper on the coast he adds: "the pepper does not grow in forests but in gardens prepared for the purpose; nor are the Saracens the proprietors, but the Christians of St. Thomas, and these are the masters of the public weighing-office" [customs office]. Before leaving Quilon he erected a monument to commemorate his visit, and this was a marble pillar with a stone cross on it, intended to last, as he says, till the world's end. "It had the pope's arms" he says, "and my own engraved on it, with an inscription both in Indian and Latin characters. I consecrated and blessed it in the presence of an infinite multitude of people." The monument stood there till late in the nineteenth century when by the gradual erosion of the coast it fell into the sea and disappeared. He concludes his narrative by saying that after staying a year and four months he took leave of the brethren, i.e. the missionaries who were working in that field.

First Latin missionary

A.D 1291



The first Latin missionary who is known to have visited India was John of Monte Corvino, afterwards Archbishop of Cambalec in Cathay. Sent out by Pope Nicholas IV as a missionary to China, he on his way halted in India about the year 1291. In a letter which he wrote from Pekin in 1305 he says:- "I remained in the country of India, where stands the church of St. Thomas the Apostle, for thirteen months and in that reign baptised in different places about one hundred persons." In a letter dated 1306 he speaks of Malabar and says:- "There are a very few Christians and Jews and they are of little weight. The people persecute much the Christians and all who bear the Christian name.

The next Latin missionary was a Dominican Friar named Jordanus, a Frenchman from near Toulouse. Perhaps as early as 1302 with other Dominican and Franciscan Friars he found his way to the Bombay coast where the Mahomedans put his companions to death. After various adventures Friar Jordan returned to Europe and wrote a small book called Mirabilia in which he briefly mentions the wonderful things he saw in the East. The only mention of Christians is as follows:- "In this India there is a scattered people, one here, another there, who call themselves Christians but are not so, nor have they baptism nor do they know anything about the faith. They believe St. Thomas the Great to be Christ! There, in the India I speak of, I baptised and brought into the faith about three hundred souls." In 1328 Pope John XXII at Avignon consecrated Friar Jordan as bishop of Quilon and sent him in 1330 with a Latin letter addressed to the chief of the Nazarene Christians at Quilon. The letter asked the goodwill of the Nazarene chief towards Bishop Jordan and his missionaries and ends by inviting these Christians to abjure their schism and to enter the unity of the Catholic Church. Bishop Jordan set out for India with this letter but it is not known if he reached his destination or if he had any successors in the See of Quilon. Another traveller, Friar Odoric, collected the bones of the martyred companions of Friar Jordan and in 1321 passed down this coast and touched at Quilon, where there were Christians, and at Mailapur, where were fifteen houses of Nestorian Christians.


AD 1400

In 1490 the Christians of Malabar dispatched three messengers to ask the Nestorian Patriarch to send out bishops; one died on the journey, the other two presented themselves before the Patriarch and delivered their message; two monks were selected and the Patriach consecrated them bishops, assigning to one the name of St. Thomas and to the other that of John. The two bishops started on their journey to India accompanied by the two messengers. On their arrival they were received with great joy by the people, and the bishops commenced consecrating altars and ordaining a large number of priests "as they had been for a long time deprived of bishops".


Vasco Da Gama and Roman Catholic Mission

AD AD 1498


In 1498 Vasco de Gama anchored at Calicut but on that occasion he had no intercourse with the Christians. On his second voyage to India, when he arrived at Cochin on December 7th 1502 the Christians applied to him for protection against their Mahomedan neighbours and presented to him the sceptre above mentioned, as a sign that they became the vassals of the King of Portugal. He started the Colonization process of India by the Western Nations. Along with this came the religious domination of Roman Catholic Church over the independent churches of Malabar. Portuguese being of Roman Catholic persuasion wanted to bring the Malabar Christians under the pontificate of Rome. According to the Roman concept the Pope of Rome is the heir to the throne of Peter and is the Vicar of the Church Universal all over the world wherever it may be. The Roman Catholicism claimed that Pope of Rome was the supreme head of all the churches of the world and Indian Churches should also submit to this supremacy if they are to remain true as Catholic Church. The first such claim came with Friar John, whom Pope John XXII ordained as Bishop of Quilon in AD 1330 when he was sent him with a letter. Friar John is reported to have come to Quilon and founded a church in Latin rite. However historically there is no evidence that he ever came to Quilon. He is said to have been martyred at Kalyan in Bombay. There were similar visits from other legations from Rome. Though these were received with Christian courtesy it did not lead to acknowledgement of Papal supremacy as expected.


AD 1500

Between 1500 to 1650 the Portuguese made an effort to convert local inhabitants to the Roman Catholic faith and also bring some of the existing members of the Syrian Christian Church under Roman Catholic influence. The climax of this was what is known as "Synod of Udayamperur" . The Portuguese power declined by the 17th century. That weakened the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Kerala.



Those who kept away from the Synod of Udayamperur continued as a small separate church in Trichur and were called the Chaldean Church.


Western Influence



A new era dawned in the religious horizon in India, by virtue of the discovery of the new sea-route to India by the Portuguese Admiral Vasco de Gama who landed in Calicut in 1498 and made friends with the Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. Gama was followed by Cabral who had with him priests both secular and Franciscan. In Calicut they set up an Oratory in 1500 and began evangelization with the help of a Brahmin convert by name Michael a S. Maria. A fortress was built in Cochin in 1505, and Cochin became the seat of the Portuguese Viceroy from 1505 to 1530 when it was shifted to Goa.


When the Portuguese came to India, the Malabar Christians spontaneously welcomed and treated them as brothers in faith. The Portuguese soon realized that the Thomas Christians were a powerful community and their support would be essential to their commercial, political and religious interests.


The King of Portugal sent more priests to Kerala for missionary activities and they tried to rejuvenate the faith and religious practices of the ancient Christians of St. Thomas. Leading a Jesuit group to India, St. Francis Xavier, landed in Goa in 1542, and arrived at Cochin in 1544. His mission in Travancore was a splendid success, converting several thousands of people to Christianity in the sea-coast.


Although the Portuguese missionaries were happy to meet Christians in the midst of Hindus and Muslims, they very soon noticed the differences in ritual and liturgy which were intolerable to them. They wanted unity in the Kingdom of God and decided to take measures to achieve this goal.


From the beginning of the 16th century the Portuguese began to exercise their power in India. They baptized several thousands of non-Christians in the Latin rite. Cochin in Malabar, and Goa, outside Malabar, were their politico-ecclesiastical centers. Goa became a bishopric in 1534, and a metropolis in 1558 with Cochin as its suffragan see erected in the same year. Both these sees were under the Padroado (Patronage) of the Portuguese crown. With certain obligations the Portuguese crown had the privilege to nominate Prelates for these sees. Goa's jurisdiction extended from the cape of Good Hope as far as China. Cochin's jurisdiction was roughly from Canannore down to the south and up to the south east.


With the rise of Goa as the chief seat of Portuguese political and ecclesiastical power in the East, they wanted to bring the Syrian Church directly under Rome and thus under Goa. The Portuguese adopted several coercive measures, including the kidnapping of Syrian bishops, accusing the Syrian Church of heresy and imposing sea blockades to prevent the importing of prelates from the Eastern Patriarchs. Although the Portuguese clergy contributed much to the spiritual uplift of the faithful here, the ancient Christians could not appreciate the Latinising policy of the Portuguese. The policy was so intolerable to the native Christians that it led to an open rupture.


For the Portuguese in general the ideal of a "true" Catholic was to be of the Latin rite. The Padroado was their idol. They, therefore tried every means, even illegal and unjust, to Latinise the Thomas Christians and to reduce them under their Padroado jurisdiction. They trained some Thomas Christian youths in their seminary at Cranganore according to the Latin rite, and sent them to Portugal. In the beginning there was some mutual understanding. But gradually, step by step, the Portuguese, became aggressive. They had by then with them some Thomas Christian priests who were trained in their seminary at Cranganore, and who were ordained in the Latin rite. They contended that the Prelate of Goa was the Prelate of All-India in opposition to the All-India of the Metropolitan of the Thomas Christians. They could not suffer the existence in India of the jurisdiction of the Chaldean Patriarch. The Thomas Christians however, would not part with the "Law of Thomas". i e., the Chaldean liturgy and rite with the Christianized Indo-Malabar customs, nor would they give up their Chaldean Patriarch and the Chaldean Prelates. The Portuguese smelt Nestorian heresy and schism in everything even in the liturgical and social peculiarities of the Thomas Christians, while the Chaldean Prelates became their special target. The division of the Chaldean Church under the Patriarchs of the line of Sulaqa, and under those of the line of Sulaqa's rival worsened the situation in favor of the Portuguese. The Thomas Christians were legally under the Prelates who were sent by the Patriarchs of the line of Sulaqa who had Roman confirmation.


There appeared in Malabar some Prelates who were from under the Patriarchs of the other line. This and books that contained passages dealing with St. Cyril, Nestorius etc., as well as with Christological doctrine which they did not understand properly, gave the Portuguese ample matter for self justification. The Chaldean Prelates in spite of explicit or equivalent Papal recommendations, were imprisoned, or expelled from Malabar as Nestorian heretics. After Mar Jacob's death (1950-52), the Thomas Christians had no bishop for a few years. Having despaired of getting bishops from the Seleucian Patriarch they showed themselves inclined towards the Portuguese. The Portuguese exerted all their influence in Rome, and by the end of the 16th century, and by the beginning of the 17th century they gained much of what they were trying for.


Synod of Diamper


The Portuguese missionaries wanted to do away with Chaldean jurisdiction over Malabar and wield their politico-religious power over the Thomas Christians. The archbishop of the Thomas Christians, Mar Abraham, sent by the Catholic Chaldean patriarch, was found guilty of heresy by the Portuguese missionaries. In the light of the report of the missionaries, in 1595, Pope Clement VIII sent two apostolic briefs to Archbishop Dom Menezes of Goa. These were only to inquire into the life and doctrine of Abraham and, if he was found guilty or if he died, to appoint a Vicar Apostolic. Mar Abraham died in 1597, and then Dom Menezes, the Portuguese archbishop of Goa, and the ex-officio political ruler during the absence of the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa, entered Malabar, claimed he had authority from the Pope, and visited the churches of the Thomas Christians exercising jurisdiction. Using force, he opened churches and exercised jurisdiction over them by giving confirmation. He did not mind the excommunication served to him by the archdeacon. Visiting churches, he held three ordination services and ordained at least a hundred, making them condemn Nestorianism. He thus gained to his side those who were ordained and their relatives. The Malabar kings, especially the one of Cochin, also were threatened and won over.


Dom Menezes made hasty preparations for his synod to which, sub poena excommunicationis latae sententiae, were summoned all priests and other clerics and four lay men elected from each church, even from the churches he had not visited. Around 153 priests and 671 laymen (elected ones and specially invited ones) from some 64 churches in 168 villages met at Diamper (Udayamperoor) in the territory of the king of Cochin. The synod was held in June (20-29), 1599, at which the Thomas Christians had to sign the Profession of Faith at the beginning, and the decrees at the close of the synod. They were also to condemn the Patriarch as a heretic and schismatic and to swear they would not accept any bishop except the one immediately nominated by Rome. The Patriarch thus condemned was Denha Simon who was in explicit communion with Rome being also honored with the sacred Pallium from the Pope.


Menezes passed decrees using force which practically converted the Malabar Church into a branch of Latin Church. The synod enacted fundamental changes in the rite, liturgy and ecclesiastical laws of the Thomas Christians. Portuguese and Latin laws and customs supplanted all others. This Latinization was mainly based on the discipline of the Council of Trent.

The Synod cut the link of the Malabar Church with the Mesopotamian Church which was at that time in full communion with the Church of Rome. This Synod was publicized in the west as the conquest of heretics for the Catholic faith. It should be noted that there is a contradiction between this notion and the fact that the Thomas Christians were summoned to the Synod under the pain of "excommunication"!.


On the other hand, the laws of the Synod of Diamper had no binding force as it was not a lawful synod because of lack of authority on the part of those who convoked it, absence of intention on the part of those who attended it, lack of form in the manner of conducting it and lack of integrity in the text promulgated. It is Possible that the laws concluded by the prelates who ruled the Malabar Church and which were all Latin in form and content were made under the erroneous assumption that Latin laws were universal.


Roz S.J. and Campori S.J. who were present at the synod, clearly state in their letters to the General of the Jesuits and his Assistant in Portugal that the "synod" was not "in forma". According to these letters 1) the Thomas Christians were not consulted in the "synod", 2) they understood nothing of all that was decided upon there, 3) there was no synod, but only reading of regulations which were not understood by those concerned, 4) Dom Menezes said he behaved like that just to show the way of salvation to the assembled without hindrance, 5) there were many things in the decrees unacceptable to the Thomas Christians, 6) those who assembled put their signature to the acts only at the insistence of Roz S.J., 7) the zeal of Dom Menezes was preposterous, 8) Dom Menezes made additions to the acts after the "synod" was over, 9) Dom Menezes obtained from Roz S.J. the signatures of the assembled detached from the original and had them attached, to his copy prepared to be sent to Rome for approbation, 10) the authors of the letters pray that the Pope may not approve the synod to rectify which they say, Roz S.J. (as bishop) had celebrated a synod at Angamaly "in forma" with the satisfaction of all, undoing certain things which Dom Menezes had ordered at Diamper. Such is the "synod" of Diamper, the acceptance of which was later on insisted upon even as a condition for the reunion of non-Catholic Thomas Christians. There is no document which says that the Holy See ever approved the "synod" of Diamper.


The Synod of Diamper, although not legitimately and properly conducted, is the first formal and canonical endeavor in Malabar Church on such a large scale. It has great historical value. It brings to light many ancient practices of the Thomas Christians. This has become the unique and sole important document in this respect because many of their other books were burned after the synod. The synod helped the organization of the diocese into parishes and their administration. It helped the evangelization of the low castes and also the raising of their social status. Many of the canons and decrees of the synod were just reproductions of the Councils of Trent, Lateran and Florence. Unfortunately the Synod of Diamper effected Latinisation in the Malabar Church, and later the Latin jurisdiction was imposed over this Church.


Documentary Evidence

AD AD 1504



We at last come to the period for which there is some documentary evidence. In 1504 certain Nestorian bishops in India wrote a report to the Nestorian Patriarch of Babylon and this Syriac report is in the Vatican library with a latin translation dated 1533 of the report and of an addition to the report, which addition gives the history of these bishops and of their companions. From this document we learn that in 1490 three faithful Christian men set out from the remote regions of India to ask Mar Simeon, Patriarch of the East, to give bishops for their provinces, One of the three travellers died but the two survivors, Joseph and George, appeared before the patriarch and stated their errand. Two monks were selected from the monastery of St. Eugene and were consecrated by the Patriarch under the names Thomas and John. The Patriarch furnished the two bishops with letters under his signature and seal and sent them forth with prayers and blessings to seek the shores of India. The four arrived safely and were received with great joy by the Christians who ran to meet them and carried before them the book of the Gospels, the Cross, torches and a thurible. The two bishops consecrated altars and ordained a large number of priests, because for a long time there had been no bishop there. Mar John remained in India but Mar Thomas, with Joseph, returned to the patriarch taking first fruits and offerings. In 1493 Joseph returned to India but Mar Thomas remained for some years in Mesopotamia. The Patriarch Simeon died in 1502 and was succeeded by Elias, who chose three monks from the monastery of St. Eugene to be consecrated as bishops for India. Of these three, David, who took the name of Jaballah, was Metropolitan. The others were George, who took the name of Denha, and Masud, who took the name of Jacob.


The four bishops journeyed to India, found Bishop John still living and in 1504 they wrote a long report to the Patriarch, in the following words:- "There are here about thirty thousand families common in faith with us and they pray God for your prosperity. Now they have commenced to build more churches and there is abundance of all things and they are mild and peaceable. Blessed be God. Also Christians now again inhabit the Church of St. Thomas. It is distant a journey of 25 days, situated on the sea near a city called Meliapor in the Province of Silan. Our province in which the Christians dwell, is called Malabar and has about twenty cities, of which three notable and firm cities are Carangol, Palor and Colom and others nearly come up to them. In all these the Christians live and churches have been built. Near by there is a large and rich city, Calecut, which the infidels inhabit". The report then gives a narrative of the fighting at Calecut between the Mahomedans and the Portuguese and then continues. "About twenty Portuguese live in the city of Cannanore. When we arrived from Ormuz at Cannanore we presented ourselves to them, said that we were Christians and explained our condition and rank. They received us with great joy, gave us beautiful garments and twenty drachmas of gold and for Christ's sake they honored our journey more than it deserved. We remained with them for two and a half months and they ordered us that on a fixed day we also should perform the holy mysteries, that is, should offer the Oblation. They had prepared a fitting place for prayer and their priests every day sacrifice and complete the holy Oblation, for that is their custom and rite. Wherefore on Nosardel Sunday, after their priest celebrated, we also were admitted and performed the holy rite and it was very pleasing in their eyes.Setting out thence we arrived at our Christians who dwell at a distance of eight days from that place."


Joseph, one of the two men who went to the Patriarch in 1490, took passage for Europe with the Portuguese admiral Cabral, sailing from Cochin on January 10th 1501. Arrived at Lisbon this Joseph was an object of much interest. He traveled to Rome, where he had an audience of Pope Alexander VI, to Venice, to Jerusalem, again to Lisbon and so back to India. From the information obtained by persons who talked to Joseph a book was published. Gouvea, p.5, says that it is in Latin and appended to Fasciculus Temporum. An Italian version appeared at Vicenza in 1507 called Paesi novamente retrovati, it is cited also as Novus Orbis or as The travels of Joseph the Indian. It gives a description of the Thomas-Christians which may be taken for what it is worth. Joseph says that the Church was under the control of a supreme head "summus antistes", who had under him twelve Cardinals, two Patriarchs, and many Archbishops and bishops. From one passage he seems to say this of the Patriarch of Antioch although Asseman says that he must have meant the Nestorian Patriarch. Joseph goes on to say that there were priests, deacons and sub-deacons. The priests shaved the whole of the upper part of the head as a tonsure. The churches were buildings similar to those in Europe, with vaulted roofs and adorned by a cross but by no pictures. The faithful were called to prayer not with a bell but by the voice. Baptism is administered when an infant is fourteen days old unless there is danger of death. Unfermented bread is used in the Eucharist. They have confession but not extreme unction. Both Advent and Lent are kept as strict fasts. Their festivals are Sundays, the festivals of the Apostles, Ascension, Trinity, Christmas, Epiphany and the Purification, Assumption and Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Their greatest festival is the Octave of Easter, because on that day St. Thomas put his hand in the wounded side of Christ. There are monasteries, a supply of books and eminent teachers. In the palace of the Zamorin at Calicut are four large halls, one for Hindus, one for Mahomedans, one for Jews and one for Christians. Many writers with an authority, which it cannot deserve, have cited this description by Joseph of the Christians. There is no certainty that the persons who spoke to Joseph clearly understood what he said or accurately remembered it.


two Syrian Bishops


The two last Syrian bishops were Mar Joseph Sulaka and Mar Abraham; both arrived in Malabar after the arrival of the Portuguese. Their case presents two questions for discussion; were they canonically appointed, and had they completely rejected Nestorianism? As to the first there is no doubt that his appointment was canonical, for he, the brother of the first Chaldean patriarch, was appointed by his successor Abed Jesu and sent out to Malabar, and both the above patriarchs had their jurisdiction over the Church in Malabar confirmed by the Holy See. Mar Joseph was sent to India with letters of introduction from the pope to the Portuguese authorities; he was besides accompanied by Bishop Ambrose, a Dominican and papal commissary to the first patriarch, by his socius Father Anthony, and by Mar Elias Hormaz, Archbishop of Diarbekir. They arrived at Goa about 1563, and were detained at Goa for eighteen months before being allowed to enter the diocese. Proceeding to Cochin they lost Bishop Ambrose; the others travelled through Malabar for two and a half years on foot, visiting every church and detached settlement. By the time they arrived at Angamale war broke out. Then Mar Elias, Anthony the socius of the deceased prelate, and one of the two Syrian monks who had accompanied them, left India to return; the other monk remained with Archbishop Joseph Sulaka. For some time the new prelate got on well with the Portuguese and Jesuit missionaries, in fact, they praised him for having introduced order, decorum, and propriety in the Church services and all went harmoniously for some time. Later, friction arose because of his hindering the locally-ordained Syrians from saying mass and preaching and instructing his flock. Eventually an incident revealed that Mar Joseph had not dropped his Nestorian errors, for it was reported to the Bishop of Cochin that he had attempted to tamper with the faith of some young boys in his service belonging to the Diocese of Cochin. This came to the knowledge of the bishop, through him to the Metropolitan of Goa, then to the viceroy; it was decided to remove and send him to Portugal, to be dealt with by the Holy See.


The following is the nature of the incident. Taking these youths apart, he instructed them that they should venerate the Blessed Virgin as the refuge of sinners, but were not to call her Mother of God, as that was not true; but she should be styled Mother of Christ (Nestorius, refusing at the Council of Ephesus the term Theotokos proposed by the council, substituted that of Christokos, which the Fathers refused to accept because under this designation he could cloak his error of two person in Christ). Mar Joseph was sent to Portugal; arriving there he succeeded in securing the good will of the Queen, then regent for her young son; he abjured his error before Cardinal Henry, expressed repentance, and by order of the queen was sent back to his diocese. Gouvea tells us that as he continued to propagate his errors on his return he was again deported and Cardinal Henry reported his case to St. Pius V. The pope sent a Brief to Jorge, Archbishop of Goa, dated 15 Jan., 1567, ordering him to make enqueries into the conduct and doctrine of the prelate; in consequence of this the first provincial council was held; the charges against Mar Joseph were found to be true and he was sent to Portugal in 1568, thence to Rome, where he died shortly after his arrival.


While the former was leaving India there arrived from Mesopotemia an imposter named Abraham, sent by Simeon the Nestorian Patriarch. he succeeded in entering Malabar undetected. At the appearence of another Chaldean who proclaimed himself a bishop the people were greatly delighted and received him with applause; he set about at once acting as bishop, holding episcopal functions, and conferring Holy orders and quietly established himself in the diocese. (Gouva, p. col. 2). Later the Portuguese captured him and sent him to Portugual, but en route he escaped at Mozambique, found his way back to Mesopotamia, and went straight to Mar Abed Jesu the Chaldean Patriarch, having realized from his Indian experience that unless he secured a nomination from him it would be difficult to establish himself in Malabar. He succeeded admirably in his devices, obtained nomination, consecration, and a letter to the pope from the patriarch. With this he proceeded to Rome, and while there at an audience with the pope he disclosed his true position (Du Jarric, "Rer. Ind. Thesaur.", tom. III, lib. II, p. 69). He avowed to pope with his own lips that he had received holy orders invalidly. The pope ordered the Bishop of San Severino to give him orders from tonsure to the priesthood, and a Brief was sent to the Patriarch of Venice to consecrate Abraham the bishop. The facts were attested, both as to the lesser orders and the episcopal consecration, by the original letters which were found in the archieves of the Church of Angamale where he resided and where he had died.


Pope Pius IV used great tact in handling this case. Abed Jesu must have taken Abraham to be a priest; he is supposed to have abjured Nestorianism, and professed the Catholic faith, and conferred on him episcopal consecration; the pope had to consider the position in which the patriarch had been placed by the consecration and nomination of the man; the defects were supplied, and Abraham succeeded also in obtaining his nomination and creation as Archbishop Angamale from the pope, with letters to the Archbishop of Goa, and to the Bishop Cochin dated 27 Feb., 1565. Such was the success of this daring man. On arrival at Goa he was detained in a convent, but escaped and entered Malabar. His arrival was a surprise and a joy to the people. He kept out of the reach of the Portuguese, living among the churches in the hilly parts of the country. As time passed on he was left in peaceful occupation. As is usual in such cases the old tendencies assumed once more their ascendency, and he returned to his Nestorian teaching and practices, Complaints were made; Rome sent warnings to Abraham to allow catholic doctrine to be preached and taught to his people. At one time he took the warning seriously to his heart. In 1583 Father Valignano, then Superior of the Jesuit Missions, devised a means of forcing a reform. He persuaded Mar Abraham to assemble a synod, and to convene the clergy and the chiefs of the laity. He also prepared a profession of faith which was to be made publicly by the bishop and all present. Moreover, urgent reforms were sanctioned and agreed to. A letter was sent by Pope Gregory XIII, 28 Nov., 1578, laying down what Abraham had to do for the improvement of his diocese; after the above-mentioned synod Abraham sent a long letter to the pope in reply, specifying all that he had been able to do by the aid of the Fathers (see letter, pp. 97-99, in Giamil). This is called the first reconciliation of the Syrians to the Church. It was formal and public, but left no improvement on the general body, the liturgical books were not corrected nor was catholic teaching introduced in the Church.


In 1595 Mar Abraham fell dangerously ill (Du Jarric, tom,I,lib.II,p.614). Unfortunately he survived the excellent sentiments he then had and recovered. After about two years, in 1597 (Gouva, p.ii) he was a second time again dangerously ill; Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes wrote and exhorted him to reform his people, but for answer he had only frivilous excuses. He would not even avail himself of the exhortations of the Fathers who surrounded his bed, nor did he receive the last sacraments. Thus he died. The viceroy made known his death to Archbishop Menezes, then absent on a visitation tour, by letter of 6 Feb., 1597.


Diampore Synod

AD 1599


The Portuguese became powerful in certain areas of India especially in Goa and Bombay. In Jan. 1599, Alexiyodi Menessis, the Archbishop of Goa came to Cochin. Geevarghese Archdeacon was in charge of the churches in Kerala at that time. Menessis Archbishop with the colonial power behind him used the power to put Geevarghese Archdeacon arrested and put in prison under the orders of the King of Cochin. Then he traveled extensively and influenced the leaders and people. In July 5, 1599, he called the famous Udayam Perror Council (Sunnahadose). There were 153 leaders and 660 laymen were represented in that council. Under the yoke of the Portuguese Colonial force they, accepted the supremacy of the Pope of Rome. However the sailing was not smooth for Roman church. This domination continued for over five decades. Through political influence the Synod of Diamper (Portuguese name for Udayamperoor) was held in 1599 and most of the St: Thomas Christians were brought under the Pope. During this period the Malabar Church assimilated many of the teachings and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.


Roz S.J. was nominated as the first Latin Bishop of Angamaly as successor to Mar Abraham, on Nov. 5, 1599. The Metropolitan see of Angamaly was reduced to a suffragan see of Goa under the Padroado on Dec. 20, 1599, and the title of Angamaly was changed into that of Cranganore. On Aug. 4, 1600, the Padroado of the king of Portugal was also extended over Angamaly. The Thomas Christians were thus placed under Latin jurisdiction. Thus the Portuguese gained all that they ware trying for.


If Roz, S. J., had respected and kept intact the liturgy of the Thomas Christians, and had left the Archdeacon to govern according to the "Law of Thomas", things would have proceeded peacefully. But, retaining the Syriac language, he Latinised and mutilated the liturgy adding to it translations from the Latin liturgy. He curtailed the time-honored powers of the Archdeacon treating him as a Vicar General of the Latin Church. Quarrels and unrest, excommunication and absolution of the Archdeacon etc., were the consequences.


The Latin-oriented policy of the prelates and the subsequent restless state of the community, which saw several of its customs and privileges disregarded, caused discord and tension. This held back the laity from several positive contributions which they could offer. As a result of the forced Latinization, an open revolt of Thomas Christians broke out against the Jesuit Latin bishops, which led to the vertical split of the community itself in 1653. The dissension after the oath (in 1653) of non-allegiance to the Latin prelates, caused a wound still unhealed in the community. Efforts were concentrated, first, to reconcile the split, and when that failed either group tried to gather more adherents to its side.


"Coonan Cross Sathyam"

AD Makaram 3rd,Friday 1653


Those who kept away from the Synod of Diamper continued as a small separate church in Trichur and were called the Chaldean Church. In 1653, the Nestorian church in Persia sent a bishop to Kerala. Knowing this the Portuguese authorities captured the bishop before he could land in Cochin and was imprisoned there where he died in duress. As soon as this was known, the enraged Christians in Malankara gathered under the leadership of Thomas Archdeacon at Mattanchery Church in Kochi and the nearby market on 1653 (Makaram 3rd, Friday). They took an oath proclaiming that "We or our children and their children to all generations to come will have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church nor the Pope of Rome from now on." There were over 2000 Christians at the (Church compound. They took the oath touching the cross in the front yard of the Church. Since all the people could not touch the cross, they tied ropes from the church and every one of the 2000 held the rope or touched the cross to take the oath. Since the cross had a slight bent, this historic oath came to be known as the Koonan Kurisu Sathyam. Thus ended the five decades of supremacy of the Roman church in Malabar.



This shaking away of the yoke of Roman Catholicism was accelerated by the fact that Portuguese supremacy in the Indian Ocean was broken by the Dutch. Dutch were Protestants and gave their full support to this change over. As a result Thomas Archdeacon was ordained as the Bishop of Malabar under the name of Mar Thoma I by Mar Gregoroius the Patriarch of Jerusalem. (The Patriarchate of Jerusalem was part of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Mar Gregorious was the last of the Non-Chalchedonian Patriarchs of Jerusalem. He came to Malankara for this ordination. He is still remembered in the first dyptsych of the Orthodox Liturgy along with Mar Ignatius, the Patriarch of Antioch, and Mar Baselius the Catholicos of the East.) Since the Antiochian Patriarchate was known to have believed the theology of Jacob Burdhana, the church came to be known as the Jacobite Church of Malabar. A minority faction still remained faithful to the Roman pontiff.


Syrian Church of Thozhiyur

AD 1772


In 1772 Mar Gregorios consecrated Abraham Mar Koorilose as bishop. This was not appreciated by his fellow bishop, who hindered his ministry. Mar Koorilose eventually retired to Thozhiyur where he led a life of prayer. This church continued as an independent church since then. Three time during its life time the main Malankara Syrian Church found themselves without a bishop. The Thoziyur Independent Church provided bishops for it to maintain its apostolic succession. Later it also provided a bishop for Mar Thoma Church when it found itself without a bishop even though the doctrines of Mar Thoma Church and the Thozhiyur Church are different. In return when the Thozhiyur Church was without a bishop, Mar Thoma Church provided a bishop for it. Thus Thozhiyur church became an instrument of maintianing the apostolic succession without break within the sister Malankara churches.


Until recently Thozhiyur was the only church under this Biashopric. With the increased membership additional churches are being built. Cochin currently has a new church.

British Missionaries

AD AD 1816



The next wave of colonizers came in the East India Company. Later when the colonization became wide, the crown took over with Viceroy at New Delhi. This opened up a wave of British missionaries to India. Kerala, which now formed three Kingdoms Thiruvithamcore, Kochi and Malabar also, came under the influence of the British. There was a resident at the capitals of these states. Along with them came the Missionaries. One of the firsts to be involved with the Malabar Churches was Claudius Buchanan. Mar Divanyous was the Metropolitan of the Jacobite Church at that time.


AD 1836

The British missionaries started teaching protestant theology and hence were rejected through a declaration called the "MAVELIKARA PADIYOLA". This prompted them to form a new church called CMS (Church Missionary Society) which later joined with another Protestant denomination to form the CSI (Church of South India).


The CSI Church in Kerala had its beginnings mostly from Anglican missionaries who had converted the local population. However later on they united with the Basil Mission, Presbyterians and Baptists and formed the group called Church of South India. As in the case of catholics these various groups follow largely the relegious practices of their parent groups world over.However lingustically,socially and culturally they have much in common with other Kerala christian groups.


In addition to the aforementioned major groups the early St. Thomas Christians have now spread out to about 30 groups in Kerala. Among them are such groups as the Chaleddeans and the Pentecostals. At the time of Mar St. Thomas 6th a visiting bishop named Mar .Gregorios elevated a priest from the Kattumangattu family to bishophood. This group came to be known as Thoziur' church.


The Malayalam Bible

AD 1841


He gave a copy of the Syriac Bible to Buchannan (one of the chaplains of the East India Company employees) who got copies of it reprinted and distributed them mainly among the clergy. Finding the impact of the Bible Mar Divanyous I translated the gospels into Malayalam, which Buchanan got printed in Bombay. William Baily translated the New Testament by 1829 and the whole Bible was available in Malayalam by 1841. The word of God in the hands of the common people made an impact and a surge of revival and reformation took place. This was accelerated by the presence of the British Missionaries. Among those was Dr. Hermen Gundort (Bassel Mission) who studied Malayalam and wrote the first grammar book for Malayalam.

European Missionaries

AD Makaram 3rd,Friday 1834



The European Missionaries opened up several Missions fields. They Included the Danish Mission in Tamil Nadu under the leadership of Berthealonmese Segan Balgue; Baptist Mission in Calcutta under the leadership of William Carey (who started the Serampore University); London Mission Society (LMS) under the leadership of Tingle Tob in Trivandrum area, Tamil Nadu; and Bengal; Basal Mission (1834) under Samuel Hebic and Gundort in Mangalore and surrounding areas, and in Malabar. Church of Scotland Mission and many others.

C.M.S Church

AD 1836



The first wave of Missionary thrust to India was by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1816. Though many of the Jacobite theology was at variance with the Protestant theology there was lot of cooperation between the two groups. Among the prominent missionaries were Thomas Norton, Benjamin Bailey, Joseph Fenn and Henry Baker, who were famous among these C.M.S. missionaries. They started the CMS Press in Kottayam in 1821, and began to publish Malayalam Bible and Christian literature for the use of common people. 1825, they published the gospel of Matthew, and in 1828, the New Testament, and in 1841, the complete bible.


The church leaders of Malankara Syrian Christian Church and C.M.S. worked together from 1816 to 1836. The Bishops of Malankara Syrian Christian Church, Pulikkotil Mar Dionysius (1817-18), Punnatra Mar Dionysius (1818-27) and Cheppadu Mar Dionysius (1827-52) along with the CMS missionaries started the Seminary now known as Pazhaya Seminary (Old Seminary) for the training of the clergy in 1818.. The theological differences came to surface and in January 16, 1836 there was clear rift between the Missionaries and the Syrian Churches, and CMS and the Church separated. CMS then turned to evangelization among the Hindus.



In 1835 Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta visited Travancore and at once saw that the system was unsuccessful. He made a proposition that the Syrian church should reform itself and at the same time keep its independence. Others in vain attempted to induce the Syrians to come to terms. A synod of the Syrian church was held and a majority of those present carried a resolution dissolving connection with the missionary society.



The Travancore Darbar, with the approval of the government of madras, appointed arbitrators who divided the endowments of the Syrian college. With the portion allotted to the society, a new college and chapel were erected at Kottayam and English education was continued in it.


Towards the end of 1838 the committee of the C.M.S. sent out directions to their Travancore missionaries, that, with the consent of bishop Wilson, they should commence direct missionary work. this they did and thus commenced the second period of the society. The separation resulted ultimately in more friendly intercourse with the Syrians. Some thousands of them have joined the C.M.S. congregations and from them have been chosen and ordained the majority of the clergy of the Anglican Mission.


In the C.M.S. Travancore Mission several eminent missionaries have laboured. Besides the trio already mentioned, Benjamin Bailey (1816-1850), Henry baker (1817-1866), and Joseph Fenn (1817-1826), there were Joseph peet (1833-1865), John Hawkesworth (1840-1863) and Henry Baker Jun. (1843-1878), all of whom died at their posts. Peet founded the mission at Mavelikara, Hawkesworth that at Thiruvalla and Henry Baker jun. the interesting mission to the hill Araans. John Chapman, (1840- 1852), fellow of St. John's college, Cambridge, was the principal of the college. He was succeeded by Richard Collins M.A. (1854-1867).


Girls' schools were conducted by the wives of most of the early missionaries but chiefly by Mrs. Baker Sen. who managed a school from about 1820 until her death in 1888. Another school was conducted by Mrs. Baker Jun, which was continued by Miss baker and is still managed by the misses' baker. Mr. and Mrs. Lash started another school by the name of the Buchanan institution at Pallam in 1891 for educating native girls and training school mistresses. This has several Branch Schools connected with it. The present principal is the Rev.E. Bellerby


The principal station of the society is at Kottayam. Here is the college already mentioned. Messrs Chapman and Collins have been mentioned as its principals. The Rev. J.H. Bishop M.A., Trin, succeeded Mr. Collins. Coll. Cambridge,(1868-1878), who raised it to the matriculation standard. He was followed by the Rev. C.A. Neve (1878-1888). The Rev.A. J. French- Adams m.a., Balliol Coll. Oxford, succeeded him and raised it to the F.A. standard and from that time it has rapidly developed in numbers. The present Principal is the Rev.F.N. Askwith m.a., Queen's Coll. Cambridge. The strength of the college in 1890 was 590.


The Rev. John Hawkesworth for the training of mission agents started the Cambridge Nicholson institution also in Kottayam in 1860. Mr. Hawkesworth was succeeded as principal by the Rev. John Martindale Speechly (afterwards bishop). Divinity classes for the training of candidates for the ministry were started in his time. The Rev. Jacob Thompson m.a., began to send up candidates for the oxford and Cambridge university preliminary examinations for candidates for holy orders and several have since passed that examination with credit. The C.N.I. is also recognized by government as an upper secondary training institution. The present principal is the Rev. J.J.B. Palme


Other stations of the C.M.S. besides Kottayam are: Alleppey which was occupied in 1816 by T. Norton, Mavelikara founded by Joseph Peet in 1838, Thiruvalla by john Hawkesworth in 1849, Pallam by H. Baker Sen. in 1843, Mundakayam by H. Baker Jun. in 1855. The Rev. R.H. Maddox started the Alwaye Itinerancy with headquarters at Alwaye in 1868 and it has been continued up to date under the following missionaries, Rev. F. Bower, Rev. C.E.R. Romilly, Ven. Archdeacon Caley, Rev. J.H. Bishop and the Rev. I.J. MacDonald. The Ettumanur Itinerancy, formerly known as the Mundakayam district, was worked by Rev. A. T. painter and latterly by the Rev. C.A. Neve.


In the Cochin state, the society in 1842 and Kunnamkulam in 1854 occupied Trichur. The town of Cochin was occupied as early as 1824 and the Rev. James Ridsdale was the first missionary who worked there. The station was afterwards given up but was resumed in 1856. At present there is a native congregation under a pastor connected with the society.


John Hawkesworth in the Tiruvella district first preached the Gospel to the Pulayas of Travancore as early as 1859. Now there are several vigorous congregations of these down trodden classes all over the country.


Several natives have been ordained to the ministry as pastors of the native congregations. The first of these was George Mathan, who was ordained in 1844 and died in 1870. The second was Jacob Chandy who was ordained in 1847 and died in 1870. The next were a group of four ordained in 1856, the Rev. Koshy Koshy, the Rev. O. Mammen, the Rev. G. Kurian and the Rev. J. Tharian.


A church council for the management of the several congregations was formed in 1869 and most of the old missionary stations are now under native pastors in connection with the council, thus relieving the European missionaries for direct evangelistic and educational work.


At first the missionaries were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Calcutta but from the printed account of the visitation in 1840 of Bishop Spencer of madras it appears that the missionaries took licenses from him. They remained under the Bishop of Madras until 1879 when the Rev. J.M. Speechly was ordained under the Jerusalem Bishopric Act 111 as bishop having supervision over the C.M.S. missionaries in Cochin and Travancore. Upon his resignation, the Rev.E. Noel Hodges M.A., Queen's College, Oxford, Principal of Trinity College, Kandy, Ceylon, was selected as his successor and was also consecrated under the Jerusalem Bishopric Act as a Missionary Bishop. In 1885 Bishop Speechly appointed the Rev. J. Caley as Archdeacon of Kottayam and the Rev. K. Koshy as Archdeacon of Mavelikara. Archdeacon Koshy was the first native of India appointed to that office and for his services in Bible Revision the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred upon him the degree of D.D. in 1891. He died in 1900 and the Rev. O. Mammen was appointed Archdeacon in his stead. The Rev. W.J. Richards who came out in 1871 as Vice Principal of the College and afterwards worked as Principal of the C.N.I. and missionary at Alleppey, also got a Lambeth D.D. in 1891 for his services in the revision of the Bible and Prayer book.



So the missionaries turned to the non-Christians and started working among them. According to a panchayat court verdict, the properties and schools which were common among the missionaries and the Malankara Syrian Church were divided following the declaration of the church commonly known as Mavelikara Padiyola.. One group of believers and priests who believed in the reformation principles joined with the C.M.S and started the CMS church. Those who came from the Syrian Christian Church retained their identity even within the new church. Another group of believers under the leadership of Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan (1796-1845) decided to stay in Malankara Syrian Church and worked for reformation from within the church.


Mar Thoma Church

AD AD 1876



Towards the end of the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century the Jacobite Church of Malabar (Malankara Church) was in confusion. Life within the State and the Church was grievously disturbed by varying factors such as political, social and theological issues. There were divisions and fights for power and authority. It is at this opportune time the Anglican Church of England extended support.


The English displaced the Dutch from Cochin in 1795 and with the arrival of the English, the foreign domination of South India changed hands. The East India Company under which the English operated in India, appointed a British Resident for Cochin and Travancore. The first two Residents, Colonel Macaulay and Colonel John Monroe were men of strong Christian convictions and they were prepared to help the Syrian Christians. The Malankara Metropolitan Mar Dionysius I was deeply interested in instituting schools in the parishes. Towards the close of Mar Dionysius I's life, Dr. Claudius Buchanan, Principal of Fort William College, Calcutta visited Malabar in 1806-1807. He had received a special commission from Lord Wellesley, Governor General of India, to study and report on the Malankara Church. Later, Dr. Buchanan reported the needs of the Church to Lord Wellesley. On his return to England, Dr. Buchanan warmly advocated the cause of the Syrian Christians and as a result, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) under the patronage of the Church of England, provided the services of Rev. Thomas Norton, Rev. Benjamin Bailey, Rev. Joseph Fenn and Rev. Henry Baker.


The first Anglican mission (CMS) started to work in Kerala in 1816. A number of Jacobites came under their influence and reforms were introduced on Anglican lines. Leadership for this reform group was provided by Palakunnath Abraham Malpan and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, the two professors of the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam.


The first synod of the Indian Jacobites was celebrated in 1836 and it decided to sever all ties with the Anglicans. But Abraham Malpan and his party continued to carry on the reforms already started, for which they were excommunicated by Dionysius IV in 1837. There followed a period of confusion. Mathew Mar Athanasius, who had been consecrated bishop by the Jacobite patriarch in 1842/43 emerged as the leader of the reform group. The tussle continued for some time more, and in 1875 Mathew Mar Athanasius was deposed by Ignatius Mar Peter IV, patriarch of Antioch, who visited India that year. Consequent to this excommunication, Mar Athanasius and his followers were deprived of all the churches and properties. The Church plunged into a litigation known as the 'Seminary Case'. Finally, in 1889, with help of the CMS, they organized a new Church - the "Mar Thoma Church".


The Mar Thoma Church is an amicable blending of two characteristic tracts, namely, the Orthodox Church features and reformation (Protestant) ideals, or in other words, blending of Eastern and Western forms. This nature of the Church points to its uniqueness when compared to other Churches. The supreme authority of the Church is the General Assembly which is consisted of the bishops, the clergy and elected representatives of the local parishes.


The conventions convened time and again enriched the spiritual life of the people. Of all the conventions the Maramon convention which began in 1896 ranks first with respect to the large number of people attending it every year. There are around half a million members in this Church.


The two leaders, Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan (Malpan means Professor of Theology) and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpaan and their followers were dismissed from the Orthodox-Jacobite church. Palakunnathu Abraham Malpan sent his 23-year-old nephew who was at that time a deacon, to Syria in 1843 and done the Patriarch of Antioch ordain him as Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasius. Immediately on return, he was declared the Malankara Metropolitan by the decree of the King. Following this Pulikkotil Joseph Ramban of the orthodox tradition went to Antioch and got himself consecrated as bishop with the name Joseph Mar Dionysius. He returned to Kerala with the Patriarch of Antioch Peter III and convened the synod of Mulanthuruthy in 1876. During this synod the church accepted the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. Mathews Mar Athanasios died in 1877, and was succeeded by, Thomas Mar Athanasios (1879-1889). The struggle between Bishop Athanasios and Bishop Dionysius led to the excommunication of one bishop by the other and resulted in the separation of the Malankara Syrian Church into Jacobite and Marthomite Churches. Those who supported the reformation within the church organized as Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Christian Church as an independent church without any affiliation with any foreign patriarchate. Since the Bible in the hands of the common man in Malayalam and with large number of theologically trained clergy, it was no more necessary to have any Syrian affiliation. The liturgy was translated into Malayalam with necessary changes to reflect the reformation theology.



The missionary oriented Marthomite Church though started, as a small church grew strong in time. The Sunday school Samajam (The institution of Sunday School) and the Suvisesha Sangham (evangelism board) have played a big role in this reformation. Punchamannil Mammen Upadeshi, Edayaranmula Sadhu Kochu Kunju Upadeshi, Pennamma Sanyasini and several preachers led the revival in Marthoma Church at the dawn of the 20th century; I n 1895, the Maramon Convention was started in the sands of Pampa, which became the biggest convention in the world.


AD 1878

Salvation Army originated in London England in 1878. William Booth was the founder.Salvation army came to the state in 1878. They centered their activities in southern Travancore.


AD 1889

In 1889 the Patriarchate accepted Joseph Mar Dionysios as the head of the Malankara Church. This resulted in the separation of the reformation group and a new church was formed by the reformists called "St. Thomas Church".


AD 1910

DeivaSabha (Church of God) was started by a methodist priest from the U.S.A in 1884. A Kerala branch was established in 1910. Lutheran mission run by followers of reformist Martin Luther established themselves in Perurkkada near Trivandrum in 1911.They operate in some 70 centers in sothern Travancore.


Division in Orthodox Church

AD 1912


Though the acceptance of the Antiochian supremacy was expedient for those opposing the reformation, not all members of the church were happy with it. This group sent a request to the Patriarch of Syria to ordain a Catholicos for Malankara. Patriarch Abdul Messiah of that time denied the request. Few years later the next Patriarch, Abdulla came to Kerala and wanted Vattasseril Geevarghese Mar Dionysius to sign a document declaring that the Patriarch had temporal powers over the Malankara Church. Mar Dionysius refused to sign this document and he was therefore excommunicated by the Patriarch.



The church consequently split into two groups, one group supporting the Patriarch and called them the "Bava party" and the group of supporting Mar Dionysius called themselves the "Metran party". Following a request by Mar Dionysius in 1912 to Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah to come to Kerala and enthrone a Catholicos in 1964 a Catholicos was ordained as Catholicos Augen I. In 1972 the "Bava party" with their own Catholicos and bishops separated themselves and formed the Malankara Orthodox Church. The Other group is known as the Malankara Syrian Church. or commonly called as Jacobite Church.



Malankara Metropolitan had deposited about 3,000 Poovarahan (gold coin currency of Kerala at that time) on 8% interest, with the British government. This deposit money is known as Vattipaanam. As the Church got separated a raging court case ensued which prolonged over many years in bitterness to both groups.


AD 1925

Pentecostal Church. Pastor Cook started the Kerala Pentecostal church in Mulakkuza near Chenganoor in 1925. There are several sub groups like Pentikostu Deiva sabha, Indian Pentikostu sabha, Pentikostu Deiva Samuham, Celyon Pentokostu, Apostolia united pentikostu, independent pentekostu, Adhakrutha pentikostu, Penticostu Gospel group and Philadelphia Penticostu.


AD 1930

A group of people left the orthodox church together with Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos to join the Roman Catholic church.


AD 1958

After many years of litigation that started in 1912 due to the "Bava party"/"Metran party" split, the Supreme court of India recognized and gave judgement in favor of orthodox Catholicos. This led to the mutual recognition of the Patriarch and the Catholicos and the groups were again unified. In 1964 The Patriarch of Antioch came for the enthronement of next Catholicos Augen I. In 1972, Unfortunately, in 1972 the two groups got again seperated.


Travancore-Cochin Anglican church is a break away faction from CSI going back to 1966. Brotherans, a break away faction from the Baptists have their headquarters in Kumbanadu near Thiruvalla.

The miracle crusaders are fast gaining ground in the state. In a small town Potta near Trichur, Father Naickam Parambil is attracting thousands of devotees.


Christianity in India Today


There are 25 million Christians in India which is just below 3% of the total population of the country. Kerala has the largest number of Christians among the states. However, in North India, the Church is represented only by small and scattered communities. Christians including Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants,form the third largest group in India.They are mainly: the Syrian Orthodox Christians divided at present into two groups (Bava Kakshi and Metran kakshi), the Anjoorians, the Anglicans (CMS), the Marthomites,the Mellusians or Nestorians, and the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India. There are around 6 million non-Catholics in India, including Orthodox Christians and Protestants. The Catholic Church in India is Composed of three individual Churches : Latin,Malabar and Malankara: with their own independent hierarchies. Diversity of Christians is noticeable: Syrian Christians,Knanaya Christians, Goan Christians, Tamil Christians, Anglo-Indians, Naga Christians, etc. They differ in language, social customs and economic prosperity. Christians Occupy high positions: cabinet ministers, governors of states, high court judges, University vice-chancellors, top-ranking officers, etc. Christians also have been the main contributors to education in India. Their contribution in the social work is out of all proportion to their numbers.


Kerala is the cradle of Christianity in India. There the Christians play a decisive role in the fields of education, social work and even in politics. In 1959 it moved Pundit Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, to remark (on the occasion of the dismissal of the Communist Government of Kerala) that the Christians of Kerala are a power to be counted on. 22% of the population of Kerala is Christian. In the educational field, the work of the Christians of Kerala has been noteworthy and it is due to their efforts together with that of the government and of other religious and cultural groups that Kerala became the leading state in India for literacy. Government of India, in 1990, declared that the state of Kerala is 100% literate. This is recorded in the Guinness Book.


The Identity of Syrian Christians

Only recently westerners have begun to recognize Christianity's Eastern foundation. Christianity in Kerala is older than Rome according to the St. Thomas tradition. It began as an Oriental religion. Syrian Christian priests wear cassocks, caps and beards as seen also in west Asia. The Syrian Christians have a special identity. Their customs and manners are different from those of other Christian groups. Their names are unique, St. Thomas is Mammen, Peter is Ommen, Paul is Peeli, Elizabeth is Eliamma and so on.


Today Kerala Christians are a prosperous community commanding extraordinary Political clout. The religious practices of this group were shaped in the place of origin and is dominated by Church services which follow traditional patterns.


liturgy, Faith and customs

Their basic belief is in the Christian doctrine and life after death. The clergy laity relationships are very strong. Syrian Christians have strong and active religious organizations and a majority of the people attend Sunday Church services. Church services are conducted in Malayalam with some segments often in Syriac. Baptism is practised by all Kerala Christians. The Episcopal Churches emphasise child baptism and use sprinkling of water in the name of the Triune of God. Believer's baptism by immersion in water is practised by Pentecostal groups.


The Eucharist liturgy of the Syrian and Mar St. Thomas Churches stem from Eastern traditions and is based on the liturgy of St. James. The liturgy of the Roman Catholics is western. The liturgy of the Church of South India combines elements from both these. Pentecostal Churches do not follow a definite liturgy. The mainline Churches also practices Kayyasturi (in Malayalam) an oriental custom meaning kiss of peace, which enhances the celebration of the Lord's Supper. It is done by a form of eastern handshake. The Pentecostal's also practice this, but in their case the brothers kiss brothers and sisters kiss sisters. The manner of celebration of the Lord's Supper varies from denomination to denomination. Syrian Christians use several accessories such as the bells, the veil, the altar, the cross the coverings and the candles.


Christian community in Kerala is not a homogenous entity. However most Kerala Christian groups follow certain common practices derived from local cultural influences such as wedding customs, and use of Malayalam language in liturgy. Most groups also believe in the St. Thomas tradition.


The present Christian population have descended from these early groups. Some of the early Christians were Paklomattam, Shankarapuri, Kalli, and Kaaliyankavu in the north and Thayyil, Pattamukkil, Manki, and Madathilen near Niranam . They are popularly referred to as Syrian Christians because of the Syrian Liturgy which they continued to use in church services. They have also sometimes been called Nazaranis (followers of Jesus of Nazarene) or St. Thomas Christians. In some official documents Syrian Christians are even now referred to as Nazaranis.


An added fillip to the growth of the Church took place when a group of about 400 people migrated from Syria in 345 AD and joined the then existing Kerala Church. The leader of this group was Thomas of Kana. They stayed on in the region. The descendants of this group even today maintain their separate identity, and are known as Kananites. Syrian Christians remained as an independent group, and they got their bishops from Eastern Orthodox Church in Antioch in Syria.


The Portuguese who arrived by sea in 1498, gradually established their power base and were eager to bring all Christians in the fold of the Church of Rome. With their superior organizational skill and with the help of Portuguese political power Bishop Alexis De Menzes succeeded in establishing the Roman Catholic Church as the dominant Church of Kerala.Between 1500 to 1650 the Portuguese made an effort to convert local inhabitants to the Roman Catholic faith and also bring some of the existing members of the Syrian Christian Church under Roman Catholic influence. The climax of this was what is known as "Synod of Udayamperur" . The Portuguese power declined by the 17th century. That weakened the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Kerala.


In 1653 there was a re-affirmation of allegiance to the Syrian Orthodox tradition in front of an improvised cross at Mattanchery. This event is popularly known as' Coonan Kurisu Satyam' (Oath taken on a bent cross). The immediate provocation was the alleged murder by Portuguese authorities, of a Bishop who was sent from Syria After the decline of the Portuguese the next major influence sprung from British rule. There was a significant influence in the area of education through the efforts of the Christian missionaries which account for the high literacy rate and high degree of education among Keralites.


The subsequent history of the Syrian Christian Church of Kerala includes the evolution of the Syrian groups and the Roman catholic groups. First let us look at the Syrian groups.


Around 1800 one of the Syrian Christian Bishops, Mathew Athanasius, influenced by one Abraham Malppan made a move to the Protestant side and this was the beginning of the Kerala Mar Thoma Church. They developed strong links to the Western missionaries and emphasized evangelical renewal and Bible study. But the majority of the parent Syrian Church remained loyal to their own Bishops.


On September 14, 1912 a visiting patriarch from Mardin elevated one of the local bishops in the Syrian Church to Catholicose, a position that existed before in Tigris. This event took place at the famous Niranom Church and subsequently led to disputes and litigation between the factions called Orthodox Syrians and Jacobite Syrians of the Syrian Church in Kerala.Several Catholicose followed.


Their names are testament to the Churche's eastern connection. The first Catholicose was Basaliose Poulose the I (September 14, 1912 to May 2, 1913) The second was Basliose Geeverghese I. (April 30, 1925 to December 17, 1928).


During the time of the third Catholicose (Basaliose Geeverghese III, ( Feb 15, 1929 to January 3, 1964) the positions of 'Malankara Metran' (Head Bishop) and Catholicose were combined. The fourth Catholicose was Basaliose Ougen I (May 12, 1964 to December 8, 1975) and the fifth Basaliose Mar Thoma Mathews I (October 27, 1975 to April 27, 1991).When Basaliose Mar Thoma Mathews I retired sixth Catholicose Basaliose Mar Thoma Mathews  II took office on April 29, 1991. When Basaliose Mar Thoma Mathews II retired Seventh Catholicose Basaliose Mar Thoma Didimos  I took office on October 31, 2005.


Catholics together constitute about 61.4%, the Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Jacobites together about 21.4%, the Marthoma Syrians about 5.7%, the Church of South India 5.2% and others about 6.3% of Christian in the state. The Syrian orthodox and Syrian Jacobites are sometimes referred to as Syrian Christians today. All affore mentioned groups together constitute Kerala's Christian population


During the 1930s one of the leading Bishops of the Syrian Christians, disillusioned by the split between the Catholicose group and the Patriarch group left the Church and moved to the Roman Catholic Church, forming a group called "Reethu". (Malankara Roman Rite) Nearly a hundred thousand people went over to this new rite from the Syrian Orthodox Church.


The two groups of the Syrian Church, namely the Jacobite Syrians and the Orthodox Syrians continued court battles and finally in 1960 the Supreme Court of India ruled putting an end to the litigation. Bbut even after this temporary reunion the division emerged again. Today there are again two divisions, the Orthodox Syrian Christians owing allegiance to the Catholicose of the East and the Jacobites Syrian Christians owing allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch in Syria. Very recently the supreme court of India has once again ruled putting an end to legal struggles between those two groups and recognizing the legitimacy of the Catholicose.


Now let us turn to the Roman Catholics The Roman Catholic Church accepted allegiance to Pope and came to be known as Syrian Roman Catholic. There are Roman Catholics converted by European missionaries known as Latin Roman Catholics. There is also Roman Catholic group mentioned earlier called "Reethu" or the Malankara Syrian Rite.The Roman Catholic Church went through it's own evolutionary struggles after the Portuguese power declined in India. In 1662 the Dutch took over Cochin from the Portuguese. The Portuguese before departing elevated a local priest to bishop and papal representative. He ruled the church from 1662 to 1687.


There was a period of dominance by Carmalite missionaries during the Dutch period. However there was an ongoing struggle for local autonomy in the church. In 1887 the process of liberalization started. Two new diocese, Kottayam and Trichur started with local autonomy. Three Kerala priests were appointed as bishops In 1896 for the first time. New diocese in Palai, Kothamangalam, Tallicheri and Manathavadi were started.In 1956 the status of Changanacheri diocese was upgraded.In 1969 the metropolitan of Eranakulam was elevated to Cardinal. For the Catholic Church of Kerala the most momentous occasion was the visit of Pope John Paul II. The Pope visited Kottayam and performed the beatification of a Kerala priest and nun.


Eventhough the Kerala Catholics follow the religious practices of Roman Catolics world over, they have much in common with other Kerala christians. They follow Syrian rites as opposed to Latin rites. As stated earlier Roman Catholics along with other Christian groups use malayalam language for service and follow certain local customs and traditions during weddings funerals etc. A Kerala catholic, while accepting papal authority and mainstream Roman Catholic practices might be inclined to feel more at home with other Kerala Christian groups socially and culturally.


The CSI Church in Kerala had its beginnings mostly from Anglican missionaries who had converted the local population. However later on they united with the Basil Mission, Presbyterians and Baptists and formed the group called Church of South India. As in the case of catholics these various groups follow largely the religious practices of their parent groups world over. However linguistically, socially and culturally they have much in common with other Kerala Christian groups.


In addition to the aforementioned major groups the early St. Thomas Christians have now spread out to about 30 groups in Kerala. Among them are such groups as the Chaleddeans and the Pentecostals. At the time of Mar Thoma 6th a visiting bishop named Mar .Gregorios elevated a priest from the Kattumangattu family to bishophood. This group came to be known as Thoziur' church.


The Pentecost followers lead a simple life and prefer to treat sickness through prayers. Their origin was in Tennassie state in 1887. Pastor Cook started the Kerala Pentecostal church in Mulakkuza near Chenganoor in 1925. There are several sub groups like Pentikostu Deiva sabha, Indian Pentikostu sabha, Pentikostu Deiva Samuham, Celyon Pentokostu, Apostolia united pentikostu, independent pentekostu, Adhakrutha pentikostu, Penticostu Gospel group and Philadelphia Penticostu.


Travancore-Cochin Anglican church is a break away faction from CSI going back to 1966.Brotherans, a break away faction from the Baptists have their headquarters in Kumbanadu near Thiruvalla.


Salvation Army originated in London England in 1878. William Booth was the founder.Salvation army came to the state in 1878. They centered their activities in southern Travancore.


Yuyomayam was started by an anglican priest Yusthoose Youseph. He was also known as 'Vidwan Kutty' and was the son of a Brahmin from Thirunalveli.He forcasted that Christ will come for second time in 1980. Another prediction was that darkness will encircle the earth on August 10, 11, and 12, 1875.


DeivaSabha was started by a methodist priest from the U.S.A in 1884. A Kerala branch was established in 1910.


Russel church , otherwise called 'Jehovaha's witnesses was started by C.T.Russel in U.S.A. The Kerala branch was established in Mallappalli in 1925.


Lutheran mission run by followers of reformist Martin Luther established themselves in Perurkkada near Trivandrum in 1911.They operate in some 70 centers in southern Travancore.


The miracle crusaders are fast gaining ground in the state. In a small town Potta near Trichur, Father Naickam Parambil is attracting thousands of devotees.


While the Church in the West is still Evangelical, in India the focus of the main line Church is social. There is also a strong ecumenical movement. Today Kerala Christians are a prosperous community commanding extraordinary Political clout. The religious practices of this group were shaped in the place of origin and is dominated by Church services which follow traditional patterns. Their basic belief is in the Christian doctrine and life after death. The clergy laity relationships are very strong. Syrian Christians have strong and active religious organizations and a majority of the people attend Sunday Church services. Church services are conducted in Malayalam with some segments often in Syriac. Baptism is practised by all Kerala Christians. The Episcopal Churches emphasise child baptism and use sprinkling of water in the name of the Triune of God. Believer's baptism by immersion in water is practised by Pentecostal groups. The Lord's Supper is celebrated by various groups and the Aramaic word Qurbana which means "offering" is used for the practice. The Greek word "Eucharist" which means thanksgiving is also used and is an expression of one's renewal of faith and participation in the death and suffering of Jesus Christ.


The Eucharist liturgy of the Syrian and Mar Thoma Churches stem from Eastern traditions and is based on the liturgy of St. James. The liturgy of the Roman Catholics is western. The liturgy of the Church of South India combines elements from both these. Pentecostal Churches do not follow a definite liturgy. The mainline Churches also practices Kayyasturi (in Malayalam) an oriental custom meaning kiss of peace, which enhances the celebration of the Lord's Supper. It is done by a form of eastern handshake. The Pentecostal's also practice this, but in their case the brothers kiss brothers and sisters kiss sisters. The manner of celebration of the Lord's Supper varies from denomination to denomination. Syrian Christians use several accessories such as the bells, the veil, the altar, the cross the coverings and the candles.


Many Hindu traditions and customs are followed by Kerala Churches. Among Hindus and Kerala Christians consanguineous marriages are permitted only if the partners are separated at least four generations. Both the Hindu women and the Nazarani women at the time of marriage have an amulet tied around their neck by the bridegroom. It is called "Thali" by Hindu and "Minnu" by Kerala Christians. There are many other Hindu traditions followed by Christians such as dowry system, decorations with rice flower, and forty one day observances after a death in the family.


Syrian Christians celebrate all Christian religious days. The more orthodox people maintain Lent for twenty four days prior to Christmas and fifty days prior to Easter. Those who do so, eat only vegetarian meals and refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages during Lent. Easter week is very important. There are special Church services on Palm Sunday and also every evening including Good Friday on Pesaha (Maundy Thursday) There is a special Church service with Holy Communion. Good Friday is of great significance and Church services start at nine o'clock in the morning and continue on to three o'clock in the afternoon. On Easter Sunday Church service starts at four o'clock in the morning and concludes with Holy Communion. Easter breakfast and family get together is traditional.


Only recently westerners have begun to recognize Christianity's Eastern foundation. Christianity in Kerala is older than Rome according to the St.Thomas tradition. It began as an Oriental religion. Syrian Christian priests wear cassocks, caps and beards as seen also in west Asia. The Syrian Christians have a special identity. Their customs and manners are different from those of other Christian groups. Their names are unique, Thomas is Mammen, Peter is Ommen, Paul is Peeli, Elizabeth is Eliamma and so on. Some Syrian Christians still believe in astrology and horoscopes. Arranged marriages are common. As mentioned previously during the marriage ceremony exchange of rings is less important than the tali which the bridegroom ties around the bride's neck.


Junior priests are allowed to marry and eat meat. But only those who remain unmarried can rise to the rank of bishops. Many Syrian Christian practices are distinctively eastern and early western missionaries found them primitive and ignorant in their point of view.

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