The Kerala Church

Author: Antony Nirappel

The Kerala Church

Antony Nirappel

Changanacherry Kerala, India

The Gospel was proclaimed in India by Saint Thomas the Apostle. He landed at Kodungalloor (Crangannore) in Kerala in A.D. 52 and kindled the light of faith on this land with the baptism of our forefathers.[1] The ancient Church of Kerala founded by St. Thomas, despite the multitude of vicissitudes she has encountered, continues to flourish to this day. The Saint Thomas Christians of India known also as the "Nazaranees," have maintained the treasure of their faith with a sense of genuine honor and orthodoxy; at the same time they have retained the culture, social customs and decorum of the land, while contributing-their share to the Kerala and Indian culture.

From very early times, India carried on a flourishing trade with the Middle East and the Western countries, particularly with Antioch, Alexandria and Rome by both land and sea. Pliny, in his , written in the middle of the first century A.D., speaks of the sea route to India and of the monsoon winds of July, and says that from Osselis in Arabia, the ship took forty days to reach Mussirissi (Kodungalloor), the chief port and center of commerce on the Malabar coast.[2] Rawlinson, in his book, , traces the effect of the "Pax Romano" of Augustus upon trade and establishes that Roman and Indian rulers sent their representatives to each other. In 20 B.C., the Pandya King of Madura (India) sent a diplomatic mission to Augustus ( 18 (1886), 309). The coins of Augustus and Nero were found in abundance in South India, and the Roman aureus circulated there as currency. Hoards of these ancient Roman coins have been dug up from various parts of the country. The coins of Hadrian have been recently discovered at Kurnool.[3] Dio Chrysostome (d. A.D. 117) says that numerous Indian traders were frequently seen in the bazaars of Alexandria. A drama written in Alexandria in the first century A.D. has one of its characters speaking Canarese, an Indian language. Evidently, foreign merchants learned Indian languages just as the South Indians had an appreciable mastery of Aramaic.

Clement of Alexandria, disciple of Pantaenus who visited Kerala in the second century, gives a vivid description of the beliefs and customs of Brahmins and Buddhists most likely from the information received from his master. J. W. Richards, who has spent thirty- five years in Travancore (Kerala) as a C.M.S. missionary, has shown that in the first century of the Christian era there were Jews and Brahmins in Kerala (, 1908). In fact, the Brahmins came down to South India much earlier. The Cochin Census Report of 1901 says that the Jews first came to Kerala during the time of King Solomon and that Solomon's ships carried back ivory, spices, costly timber like rosewood and ebony, peacocks, monkeys, etc.[4] Logan, in his , and William Hunter, in his , illustrate the Jewish tradition, tracing its close contact with Kerala from the time of their liberation from the captivity under Cyrus in the sixth century B.C.

History traces four ancient trade routes between India and the West: 1)) Kerala (Malabar) to the River Indus, the Persian Gulf, the Euphrates, thence by land to Antioch, etc.; 2) the land route through the northern mountain passes to Balk, Oxus and the Caspian Sea; 3) the coast line land route to Persia, Arabia, then up the Red Sea to Alexandria, thence to Rome; 4) from Kerala by sea to the Island of Sokotra, thence along the African coast or up the Red Sea. Charlesworth points out that "no less than 120 ships sailed annually from Egypt to India." Merchants from Rome, Syria and Egypt could without difficulty come to India. In one of those ships, the Apostle St. Thomas came to Kerala.


We read in the that Saint Thomas the Apostle, after preaching the Gospel to the Parthians, the Persians, et al., went to India, where he taught the Christian religion and established the Church . . . and that he died a martyr at Calamina at the order of the idolatrous king of the place. The says further that the relics of the Apostle were later taken to Edessa and thence to Ortona in Italy.

There is an ancient work known as , originally written in Edessa in the second or early third century. Its Syriac, Greek, Latin, Armenian and Coptic editions acquired wide publicity in the Middle East in the early centuries. Since its theme is based on tradition, it has historic importance. It narrates that Thomas went to the court of King Gondophares in North India and preached there for some years, after which, becoming aware of the demise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he went back to Jerusalem; that on the second journey, the Apostle came to Malabar, established the Church and preached there for many years; that he then went to the Coromandel Coast, where he died a martyr at Calamina (Mylapore) by the order of Masdai, king of that place.[5]

As a result of the excavations conducted in North India about the year 1830, certain coins have been discovered which prove beyond doubt that there was a king named Gondophares of a Parthian dynasty. These coins are preserved in the Lahore Museum. This king has been mentioned in no record except the Several such coins have been discovered in Kabul, Sindh and the Punjab. The inscriptions on these coins are in Greek and in an Indian language. Numismatists confirm that these coins were minted between A.D. 10 and 50. A votive inscription of the same period was discovered in Peshawar in 1857, called the Takhti-Bahi inscription. In 1902-03, a coin bearing the name Gad was unearthed at Charbade. This may be the same Gad mentioned as the brother of Gondophares in the Nowhere else has that name been heard of. Gondophares might have been the last king of his dynasty. The powerful Kushan kings who succeeded him may have obliterated his name from history.

Most of the Hindu kings of India used to add the word "Deva" to their names. "Mahadeva" was a name of common occurrence. It may not be wrong to infer that the king who ordered the martyrdom of Thomas had that name. The name "Mahadeva" pronounced by foreigners can be abbreviated to "Mahadeo," which, when passed through Iranian and Syrian dialects, would assume the form "Mazdai."[6]

says that the Apostle landed in Andropolis and died at Calamina. The former name comes from Sandnapolis, the town dedicated to the deity of the moon, Kodungalloor, and the latter is Mylapore dedicated to the goddess Kali. There is no parchment record or marble inscription to prove the coming of Thomas to Kerala. However, clearer than any engraving this historic fact is engrained in never-fading colors in the hearts and memories of the people of this land. The tradition in Kerala, constant and definite, may be summed up thus:

The Apostle St. Thomas landed in Kodungalloor (Cragannore) or Maliankara in A.D. 52. The Greeks called this place Mousiris and the Jews, Muzirikode. While the Apostle was going to the Jewish colony nearby, he had to cross the village of Palayur, where he saw the Hindu temple and the temple tanks. Certain Nambooris (Brahmins) were bathing in the tank. St. Thomas worked a miracle there. The Nambooris took water in their palms and threw it upwards reciting "mantes" (prayers). Seeing the same water falling down, the apostle asked them why their deity refused to accept their offering. He then took some water from the pond, and calling on the Name of Jesus Christ, threw it upwards. Those water drops assumed the shape of rose flowers and remained suspended in midair. Because of this manifestation many of the Nambooris believed in Christ and received baptism. However, a small number of them became enraged at the incident, cursed the place, and went to another village called Vempanad. The place they cursed is known as "Sapakkad," the accursed place. Even today, the Nambooris crossing that village refrain from bathing or eating there. At Palayur, near Kodungalloor, one can see today the Jews Hill, with a Catholic Church nearby surrounded by tanks. This is the Palayur parish church. Hindu idols, sacrificial stones and other articles relating to a Hindu temple are seen there in abundance. Can this coincidence of the traditions of Hindus and Christians be mere accidental?[7]

A community known as Saint Thomas Christians has existed in Kerala from very ancient times. They celebrate the feast of the Apostle on the third of July. It is for them a day of obligation and national rejoicing. They call it "Dukrana" (Commemoration) being the day of his martyrdom according to tradition. It is believed that the Apostle landed at Kodungalloor on the twenty-first of November.

The sacred office of the oriental rite of Kerala for "Dukrana" with its Octave reiterates the tradition. No other place or rite keeps this Octave. The kindling of the light of faith, the opening of the gate of heaven to the Indians and the glorious martyrdom of the Apostle are commemorated in these prayers.

In the commemorative prayers of the Nestorian Church for the feast of St. Thomas, it is clearly stated that the Apostle died a martyr in India and his relics were translated to Edessa by a merchant named Kabir.

The Malayalam popular songs of antiquity, known as "Thoma parvam" and "MargamKali Pattu," describe vividly the advent of Thomas in Kerala, his apostolate here and his martyrdom near a temple of the goddess Kali at Mylapore, on the third of July, 72. "The Ramban Songs" are also popular ballads which the St. Thomas Christians have sung from generation to generation, narrating the work of Thomas in Kerala. These ballads are believed to have been composed by Ramban Thomas Maliekal who received baptism and priesthood from the Apostle. The "Veeradian pattukal" are other popular melodies sung by Hindus on special occasions. They extol the preaching of Thomas in Kerala and the special privileges granted later by King Cheraman Perumal to Kerala Christians.

The tomb of Thomas is traditionally believed to be at Mylapore. No one has ever questioned this belief, and no other place has claimed to contain his tomb. The Kerala Christians used to go on pilgrimages every year to the tomb. They considered it their duty to do so at least once in their lives. This practice continued uninterrupted until 1654.[8]

According to tradition Thomas erected seven churches in Kerala at Kodungalloor, Palayur, Parur, Kokkamangalam, Nilackal, Niranam and Quilon. Hindus and Mohammedans also maintain this tradition and offer prayers and gifts at these churches.

No one else claims to have introduced Christianity in Kerala. The Church of Mesopotamia and Babylon respect the tradition of Kerala. In 1542, the people of Sokotra told Saint Francis Xavier that Thomas, after spreading the Gospel in their land, went to Malabar and died a martyr at Mylapore.[9]

, a Syriac book produced in Edessa in the second century, expressly declares that India received the Apostle's "Hand of Priesthood" from Saint Thomas who planted and built the church there. Abdias who was Bishop of Babylon (second century), Dorotheus (third century), Saints Ephraem, Jerome, Ambrose (fourth century), Theodore (fifth century), Saint Gregory of Tours (sixth century), Saint Isidore (seventh century) and all the early Fathers of the Church have attested to the preaching of Thomas in India and his martyrdom in Mylapore. Ephraem further states that the relics of the Apostle were transferred from Mylapore to Edessa by a merchant.[10]

King Alfred of England sent the Bishop of Marborne in 883 with offerings to the tomb of Thomas to fulfill a vow he had made when the Danes attacked him.[11] Certain Muslim travellers from Arabia in the ninth century,[12] Marco Polo in 1292, Friar John of Moute Corvino in 1293, Blessed Odorie of Prodenone in 1325, John Marignolis the papal legate to China in 1350, Nicolo de Conti the European tourist in 1425, and a host of other distinguished foreigners in every century have recorded that they have visited and prayed at the tomb and offered gifts there.[13] In 1545, Francis Xavier was at Mylapore for four months spending long hours nightly in prayer at the tomb.

Wilson Smith,[14] Claudius Bucchanan the Protestant missionary, Bishop Heber of the Anglican Church,[15] Dr. Vinjana,[16] Assemanus, S.J.,[17] and Amier, the Arabian historian, have as a result of their researches established the fact of the apostlate of Thomas in India. Dr. Radhakrishnan, former President of India, has declared that the light of Christian faith was brought to South India by the Apostle, and Jewaharlal Nehru has recorded that there have been Christians in India from the first century A.D.

In 1606, Pope Paul V, in elevating San Thome of Mylapore to a cathedral, declared that "there lay buried the body of St. Thomas." Pope Leo XIII in his apostolic letter of September 1886 to the Bishops of India reiterates "the constant tradition of the church" that St. Thomas evangelized in India.


Tradition says that Thomas, soon after landing at Kodungalloor in Kerala, converted and baptized many caste Hindus including thirty- two Namboori families and certain members of the royal family, namely, Bana Varma Perumal and his nephew who later became Kepa, the first Archbishop of Kerala. The Apostle travelled in all parts of the country and established the seven churches. In every place, he converted Namboori families and bestowed priesthood on selected individuals. The Namboori families of Kali, Kalyiyankan, Sankarapuri and Pakalomattam, Pattmukkan, Thayyilan, Madathilan, Manki, Maliekan, etc., were some of the first that received baptism from the Apostle.

After working in Kerala for many years and establishing the church on strong foundations, the Apostle went to Chozhamandal (Tamil Nad), and established the church on the east coast of Mylapore. Then he returned to Kerala, visited all the centers and went again to Chozhamandal and Mylapore. The temple servants of Mylapore had conspired against his life. When he was praying in a cave, the emprans (temple ministers) shot arrows at him and wounded him mortally on the third of July, 72. He died on the same day. The body of the Apostle was buried near the Mylapore beach where the San Thome Cathedral now stands. The relics were taken to Edessa in the third or early fourth century. When that place fell into the hands of the Mohammedans, they were moved to Island of Chios in 1141, and from there to Ortona in Italy in 1257, where they remain under the main altar of the St. Thomas Cathedral. In 1952, immediately after the "All Kerala Celebrations of the 19th Century of the Landing of St. Thomas in India," Cardinal Tisserant brought a part of the relics back to this land; its main portion is enshrined at Kodungalloor where the Apostle first set foot in India and the other portion at Mylapore where he died.


The years from 52 to 400 may be regarded as the early period in the history of the Church of Kerala. During that time, the Kerala Christians, under the administration and leadership of indigenous bishops and priests, were very orthodox in the practice of religion and enthusiastic in spreading their faith among high caste communities. According to a very ancient tradition, Thomas had ordained two bishops, four rambans, seven priests and twenty- one deacons. That priesthood continued in unbroken succession from generation to generation in the families of Pakalomattam and Sankarapuri.[18]

Historians are of the opinion that Thomas established the early liturgy here in Aramaic (Syriac). In those days, Greek was the chief language of the West; and Syriac, that of the East. On account of their close contact with the Jews, Aramaic was not unfamiliar to the Keralites. Numerous Syriac words, e.g., (Christ), (Jesus), (Apostle), (holy), (cross), (sacrifice), (sacrament), (chalice), (sanctuary), (teacher), became current from very ancient times. Aramaic continued to be the language of the liturgy until it was substituted by Malayalam in 1962.

An important event of the second century was the coming of Pantacnus. Some Hindu leaders, enraged at the spread of Christianity, began to oppose the Christian faith and principles. A Brahmin conjurer named Manickavachakar went around the country decrying Christianity. He was able to arouse the feelings of the Hindus against Christianity, to obstruct further spread of the religion and even to draw some converts back to Hinduism. Alarmed at this, the Kerala Christians sent a deputation to Demitrius, Bishop of Alexandria, requesting him to send a learned doctor to refute the arguments of Manickavachakar and to confirm the Christians in faith. Consequently, Pantaenus, the learned professor of the famous seminary of Alexandria, came to Kerala in 190. He defeated Manickavachakar in debate, brought back most of the apostatized to Christianity and gave a new awakening and spirit to the Kerala Church. As a mark of gratitude to him, the Saint Thomas Christians presented him with a copy of Matthew's Gospel written to Syriac, believed to have been brought by Thomas. This is recorded by Jerome and Eusebius. The Manigramakkar, a sect of caste Hindu Nairs found in Quilon and Mavelikara, still preserve certain Christian customs; they are said to be the descendants of those apostatized early Christians.[19]

From the beginning of the third century the Saint Thomas Christians achieved a high position, and their status was fully recognized. In 230, Veera Raghava Chakravarthy, the King Emperor of Kerala, who had his capital at Kodungallor, granted to the Nazaranees a series of royal honors, by a proclamation engraved on copper plate called "cheped." From the later half of the third century, the Kerala Church had relations with Persia; it seems that their bishops came from Persia during that period. Mar John, Metropolitan of Persia and India, subscribed his name and signature to the decrees of the Synod of Nicaea in 325.

The year 345 saw the coming of Thomas of Cana with a company of about four hundred and fifty families from Syria, several deacons, some priests and a bishop named Mar Joseph. These Christian immigrants landed in Kodungalloor and in due course mingled with the Kerala Christians, becoming one with them. The Nazaranees achieved rapid progress in agriculture, trade and cultural attainments. Highly pleased at this, Cherman Perumal, the king, granted them seventy-two royal dignities.[20] The Saint Thomas Christians retained as far as possible their ancient customs and manners and discipline, which the immigrants also accepted in full.


Being enterprising and persevering the Nazaranees achieved laudable attainments in all spheres of life, social, economic, civil and military. Most of the prominent offices in the state were held by them. They were foremost even among the highest castes; hence, the kings often honored them with the grant of special dignities.[21] Some idea of the Kerala Church can be obtained from the description given by the Greek navigator Cosmas who visited this land in 522. Cosmas says, "Every day the Church is growing. The Gospel is preached everywhere. I saw with my own eyes the Church widely diffused in Taprobane (Ceylon) and Mala (Malabar) where the pepper grows. In Kalian there is a Bishop ordained in Persia.[22]

Some western historians have made sweeping statements that at this period all the oriental churches fell into the Nestorian heresy. This, however, is entirely wrong especially with regard to the Malabar Church. About that time the Catholics of Seleucia became Nestorian and severed connection with Persia; but Persia continued in communion with the Pope. The Chaldaeans of Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia were Catholics; and they defended the Church from Nestorianism. Simeon, Bishop of the BethArsam in Persia, Bishop St. Isaac of Niniveh, Bishop Sahaduna of Garmiah and John Saba of Delaita bear witness to this fact. The Malabar Church, administered by bishops sent by the Metropolitans of Persia was preserved from heresy.[23] Hence Bishop Charles Lavings, St. Vicar Apostolic of Kottayam, recorded: "The true faith which these Christians have preserved up to this date is a precious inheritance which their forefathers received from St. Thomas the Apostle, and left to their posterity."[24] The Nestorianism of the Seleucians is a topic for special study and investigation.[25]

In 880, some Syrian Christian families led by Sabar Iso, a merchant from Persia, immigrated to Quilon. At the same time, most likely with the immigrants, came two bishops named Mar Sapor and Mar Proth. They were twin brothers and very holy men.[26] Mar Sapor administered the Church from KodungaUoor, and Mar Proth from Quilon. They built several churches and converted many people. They also mingled with the Malabar Nazaranees and became one with them. The Mudalalis of the Quilon District trace their origin to these immigrants. Pleased at the contribution of the Nazaranees to the progress of the country, Ayyanadikal, the king issued Chepeds[27] granting fresh honors and privileges to the St. Thomas Christians.

About this time in the ninth century, the rule of the Perumachans came to a close. Soon a communial riot broke out at KodungaUoor with the Jews and the Christians on one side and the Mohammedans on the other, and in which the latter were victorious. Thereupon most of the Christians left Kodungalloor. Bishop Sapor shifted his residence to Udayamperoor (Diamrer). Undavamperoor (near Ernakulam) became the capital of a line of Nazaranee Kings of the Dynasty of Vallarvattam.

The Kings of the Vallarvattam Dynasty were in power from the ninth to the end of the fourteenth century.[28] In 1329, Pope John XXII appointed Jordan as Bishop of Quilon and sent through him a letter dated August 4, 1330, to the Nazaranee King of Vallarvattam.[29] In 1349, Pope Eugene IV also sent a letter to the King of Vallarvattam. In the letter the Pope wrote:

"To my most beloved son in Christ Thomas of Villarvattam the illustrious ruler of the Indians, Health and Apostolic Benediction. The information has often come to us that your Serenity and all your subjects are true Christians."[30] The King of Vallarvattam as recorded by St. Antonius, used to send to the Pope every year a present of pepper.[31]

The St. Thomas Christians greeted Vasco de Gama in 1502 and presented him with a red pointed staff, with the ends covered with silver plates and with silver bells at one end, as the emblematic rod of power held by their own Nazaranee Kings whose dynasty, they informed him, was extinct.[32]

In the tenth century, it seems there was no bishop for a long time. As a result of the continued request of the Kerala Nazaranees, the Metropolitan of Mesopotamia sent a bishop named Mar John in 988, another Mar John in A.D 1000,: and Mar Thomas in 1056. Antioch claims to have had jurisdiction over Kerala during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The Greek Patriarch of Antioch is said to have sent a Catholicos to the Melkites and another to Bagdad, the latter of whom sent bishops to India.[33]

In 1122, Mar John III, Metropolitan designated Patriarch of India, with his suffragens went to Constantinople, and thence to Rome, and received the pallium from Pope Callixtus II. He also narrated to the Pope and the Cardinals the miracles that were wrought at the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore.[34] About the year 1142, the historian Odorichus Vitaleus recorded about the See of St. Thomas in Malabar and about the unbroken Catholic faith of the St. Thomas Christians.[36] The Venetian traveller Marco Polo in 1293 visited Quilon, then an important center of Christianity, and Mylapore "where lay buried the body of St. Thomas."[35] John of Monte Corvino, the Papal Legate to China, stayed in Kerala for several months in 1291. From China he wrote to Rome in 1305 that he saw the church of St. Thomas in Kerala and that the St. Thomas Christians were persecuted. Odorie of Pordenone in 1325 saw in Kerala numerous Christian families and their churches decorated with holy statues.

Pope John XXII at Avignon sent a French Dominican, Jordan de Severac, as the Bishop of Quilon, with a Bull dated August 8, 1330 addressed to the Nazaranee King of Vallarvattam, Udayamperoor. This is the first bishop sent to India directly from the Holy See. But Bishop Jordan was not only ignorant of the rite and liturgy of the Thomas Christians, but also full of disdain for the people of Kerala.[36]

Bishop John de Marignolis, Legate of Pope Clement I to Pekin, visited Kerala in 1348, and stayed at Quilon for sixteen months. He wrote: "The Thomas Christians are the proprietors of pepper and masters of the public weighing offices. From them I derived as a perquisite of my office as the Pope's Legate every month a hundred gold fanams, and a thousand when I left.... After a year and four months I took leave of the brethren."[37] It was after this in 1349, that Pope Eugene IV sent a letter to the Vallarvattam King.

Mar Joseph of Kerala who was ordained bishop in 1490 by the Patriarch of Babylon affirmed that he and the Patriarch who ordained him received authority from Rome. This same Mar Joseph visited Pope Alexander VI and made his profession of faith.[38] Luis Kadmustock, who visited Kerala in 1493, says that the St. Thomas Christians believed that the Pope was the Head of the Church.[39] When the Portuguese landed in Kerala, the Nazaranees took Vasco de Gama and his crew to a large church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Portuguese bowed before the statue just as the Nazaranees did.[40] Ludovico de Varthema, who visited Kerala in 1505, says, "In this place (Kayamkulan, Quilon) we saw the St. Thomas Christians. They believe in Christ as we do. They keep Lent longer than we do (50 days). They observe Easter and all the solemnities that we do. They say Mass like the Greeks."[41]

In 1490, Mar Simeon, Patriarch of Babylon, sent to Malabar two bishops, Mar Thomas and Mar John. After a short time, Mar Thomas returned to the Patriarch. In 1502, the Patriarch (Mar Elias, successor of Mar Simeon) sent again the same Mar Thomas along with three other bishops, Mar Juballa, Mar Denha and Mar Jacob. At that time the Portuguese had established themselves on the west coast. In 1504, the four bishops sent a report to the Patriarch, in which they said, "After their priests had celebrated, we also were admitted (in the Portuguese Chapel at Cannanore); we performed the Holy Sacrifice and it was greatly pleasing in their eyes." They stayed with the Portuguese Missionaries for two and a half months. Father D'Sousa and Bishop Roz, S.J., have described them as very pious men. Mar Jacob was the Metropolitan of the Gate of India from 1504 to 1549. St. Francis Xavier wrote about him in very glowing terms to the King of Portugal.[42] In 1530, John Albuquerque, the first Portuguese Bishop of Goa, opened a seminary at Kodungalloor. From a report sent subsequently by St. Francis Xavier to Portugal, we learn that boys belonging to a hundred noble families of Kerala studied there. St. Francis Xavier also wrote in 1549 to St. Ignatius Loyola for the grant of a plenary indulgence connected with two churches of the St. Thomas Christians at Kodungalloor.[43] Mar Joseph Sulaqa (1555-1568) and Mar Abraham (1568-1597) administered the Church of the St. Thomas Christians as Metropolitan of the Gate of India. During that period, they and the St. Thomas Christians encountered innumerable difficulties due to the interference of the Portuguese authorities. That marks the beginning of the modern period.


The Nazaranees have always occupied the highest rank and position on a par with the Brahmins in the social order of the country. They were also the lords and protectors of several castes. The king and his prime minister alone had authority over them. They kept their own body-guards and maintained armed forces. They enjoyed numerous special honors and privileges which were bestowed on them by the reigning kings. Their bishops had royal status. The bishop and his archdeacon had the authority to hear and judge all cases except criminal ones. The Nazaranees, like the Brahmins, kept the law of social purity, generally known as untouchability. Pollution caused by contact with other castes and subsequent ablutionary baths practiced by the St. Thomas Christians were condemned by the Synod of Diamper. At all times, they have been foremost in the country, in agriculture, trade, industry and civil and military service. They were also very keen in the study of religion and very orthodox in the practice thereof.[44] Occupying the status of aristocracy in the caste-shaped society, the Nazaranees had some difficulty in the field of mission work. Their chief aim was the conversion of the highest caste Hindus. Bishop Roz enumerates the names of the families that gave help to the new converts through centuries.[45] Most of those families still exist.

The Head of the Indian church was "Metropolitan and Gate of All India."[46] "Gate" in the Orient stands for "sublime power." The jurisdiction of the Metropolitan extended to the whole of India.[47] "The northwestern, western and southwestern regions of India before A.D. 255 were strewn with bishoprics," says the famous explorer Dr. Winninana.[48] In prePortuguese India there existed an unbroken line of Christian settlements from Sindh to Cape Comorin.[49] Patna seems to have been a Metropolitan See in A.D. 1222.[50] Marco Polo states that at the end of the thirteenth century three of the six great kingdoms of central India had Christian kings.[51] Vatican Syriac Codex 22, written in Kodungalloor in 1301, describes Mar Jacob, prelate of Malabar, as Metropolitan Bishop of the See of St. Thomas and of the whole Church of India.[52] There are documents to show that Mylapore was an episcopal residence.[53] Prelates of India before 1567 were not designated by the name of any place. Mar Abraham with his seat at Angamali was Metropolitan and Gate of All India[54] and superior of all the bishops and archbishops of his rite.[55] Bishops resided in Mylapore, Quilon, Udayamperoor, Kodungalloor, Angamali, etc. Bishop Roz, the first Latin bishop of Malabar (1599-1624), asserted that the seat of the chief prelate of India was transferred from Mylapore to Crangannore (Kodungalloor) and thence to Angamali. Like him, some of his successors too claimed the title of Metropolitan of All India.[56] The Head of the Indian Church was sometimes referred to as Patriarch.[57] This shows that he had an autonomous status, though he was sent by the East Syrian Patriarch of Mesopotamia. It is to be noted that the East Syrian Patriarch sent these bishops at the request of the Malabarians, for the Malabar Church was never an appendage or integral part of the church of Mesopotamia or Persia.[58]

Since the bishops were foreigners, the administration of the Church was in the hands of local prelates known as archdeacons, who were the civil and religious leaders of the community. The title of this officer was "the Archdeacon of All India."[59] The Church of All India therefore gravitated towards Malabar.[60] The parish councils had a very important role in the Kerala Church. The council of the local priests (desthu pattakar) and the adult laymen administered the temporalities of the parish and looked after the Christian life of the people. This council could even excommunicate public delinquents. The recommendation of the parish council in writing (desakkuri) was a condition for ordination to the priesthood. The executive of the parish council was the Kariakkar (Kaikaran) elected by the council. Very important matters relating to the community were considered and decided by the general council of the representatives of all the parishes. In such general councils, the representative of Angamali had the first seat and the first voice. These councils were in full vigor until the end of the eighteenth century. The Malabar Church thus shows the clear picture of a Christian Republic.[61] In most parishes, the councils have continued to function in unbroken succession to this day.

Priests were ordained for the parish. They had a special kind of dress of their own. The parish saw to the needs of the priests. When there was more than one priest in a parish at a time, the oldest was the leader (Mooppachan) and all did the parish work by weekly turns. A parish lacking priests availed itself of the services of priests in other parishes. Selected youths were taught and trained for the priesthood by learned elderly priests called Malpans, who were especially commissioned for that duty by the bishop and the archdeacon. Besides ordinary priests there were also priests who led a very austere life of retirement, seclusion, fasting and prayer.[62] There were also monasteries for men and convents for women.[63] At the end of the eighteenth century, Paulinus D. S. Bartholomaeo saw ruins of those institutions at Mailakomb, Edappalli and Angamali, etc., in Kerala.[64]

The St. Thomas Christian used the East Syrian liturgy from the earliest times. The living tradition of Kerala is that St. Thomas ordained bishops, priests and deacons. This is supported also by "Doctrine of the Apostles," which says, "India and all its countries . . . received the Apostle's hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas...."[65] The Rumban Pattu describes how St. Thomas ordained the supreme pastor (bishop) at Mylapore, whose name was Paul, and how two Perumals were appointed bishops.[66] But upon one of the bishops, Peter by name, he put his own garment and imposed his hands and thus invested him as his real successor, and committed to him the care of all his flock. He took care to instruct the bishops and priests in their obligation and to test them to see if they were worthy before he imposed hands upon them.[67] He also appointed doctors or Rambans to instruct the people.[68] In the midst of learned Brahmins, this was certainly an important step. All this is in perfect harmony with what the Apostles did in Jerusalem before they set out on their journeys. This tradition, closely interwoven with the daily life of a population, with its impress on the behavior of races and classes toward each other, attains the rank of authentic history.[69] The institution of priesthood clearly indicates public worship, Divine Sacrifice, sacraments, liturgy and administration.

The Apostles established liturgy in the languages prevailing in the climes they evangelized, chiefly Aramaic in the east and Greek in the west. Since Aramaic (East Syriac), the language of Jerusalem and the Middle East at the time of Our Lord, was known in Kerala due to her overseas commercial enterprises, it is only proper to accept the tradition that St. Thomas established the liturgy here in that language. The Vatteluthu alphabet, which is the ancient Tamil and modern Malayalam script, shows a close Phoenician influence on South India.[70] Innumerable very old Malayalam words have come from Aramaic.[71] In 1578, three lay leaders of the Kerala Nazaranees submitted a petition to Pope Gregory XIII, saying, "Our orations are in Syriac or Chaldeae language which our Father St. Thomas gave us. We as well as our ancestors have learned this language."[72] St. Thomas provided only the rudiments of the liturgy, but it contained all the elements which later on developed into the full structure. The fundamental structure of the liturgy of the Divine Sacrifice from which the whole liturgy developed in due course seems to have been the same in all churches in the first three centuries.[73] St. Justin describes the structural features prescribed and followed in offering the Divine Sacrifice in the second century thus: 1) reading the Scriptures, Law, Prophets, Gospel; 2) sermon; 3) community prayer; 4) kiss of peace; 5) offering (bread and wine); 6) consecration of bread and wine; 7) breaking of the bread; 8) communion (under both species); 9) deacon carrying Holy Communion to the absentees; 10) collection of the donation for the poor.[74] This uniformity, however, was rather imperfect. The prayers at the various stages were not prescribed. The says, "Let the priest offer appropriate prayers." Justin adds, "The priest prayed according to his ability."[75] Hippolitus says that the bishop was not bound to say any prescribed prayers.[76] Hence, it is clear that there was diversity in the chain of prayers and postures and gestures. This led to the later development of the liturgy in different forms in different centers such as Antioch, Edessa, Alexandria, Greece and Rome, all keeping in tact the fundamental structure.[77]

The East Syrian (Chaldaean) liturgy began to develop in Edessa which was the chief center of Christian learning outside the Roman Empire. This liturgy is attributed to Addai, the disciple of St. Thomas, whom the Apostle sent to Edessa.[78] Addai sent his disciple Mari to Seleucia. Addai and Mari are considered the Apostles of Edessa and Seleucia and the fathers of the Chaldaean liturgy. They received the fundamental structure of the liturgy from St. Thomas himself.[79] Hence, the liturgy of the Mass developed by them is known as the "Apostles' Qurbana". This is the anaphora of the Malabar Qurbana (Holy Mass). It is to be remembered that the relics of St. Thomas were transferred from Mylapore to Edessa by a merchant before the year 373 when St. Ephraem was living. This shows the close contact of South India with Edessa. After some time the importance of Edessa dwindled and Seleucia-Ctesiphon rose to prominence. The Seleucian Church came to be designated the Church of the East, the Persian Church, the Chaldaean Church or the Babylonian Church. The liturgy developed by Addai and Man was connected also with the name of St. Thomas, and so the Babylonian Church honors St. Thomas as her patron.

The Malabar Christians were aware of the developments of the liturgy in Edessa and Seleucia. They accepted these developments in East Syrian liturgy because they were connected with the name of their Apostle and were resplendent with resonances of what they themselves had originally received from St. Thomas. Keeping the developed East Syrian liturgy in tact, the Nazarnees of Kerala enriched and nourished it with the Christianized forms of Hindu religious, social and cultural practices and observances. For them, all this was the "Law of St. Thomas". Their ancient parish churches with the raised sanctuary, flat staff (Kodimarem) and frontal Cross with grooves for oil lamps, and festive processions around the church bespeak their close relations with the Indian temple. The ceremonies at childbirth, initial feeding of the newborn with powdered gold and honey, solemn rice feeding, marriage festivals and funerals, even fastings and feastings are almost the same for the St. Thomas Christians and the highest caste Hindus.[80]

Founded by St. Thomas the Apostle and nourished by the martyr's blood, glorying in the apostolicity directly obtained and in an enriched beautiful liturgy, rules of conduct and discipline and a machinery of administration unique in form, effective in function and successful in operation, the Church of Malabar (Kerala) was fully at home on Indian soil. This was the individuality of this Church, and it was perfectly Indo-Oriental.[81] The core of Christian morality and spirituality was not alien to India. Unfortunately, the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century saw the suppression of the Malabar Church and the distortion and disfigurement of her ancient rite and liturgy.


1 Vol. XIX, 144.

2 Rawlinson, (London, 1948), 179.

3 See photos in , Cochin State 1947-48 (Ernakulam, 1949).

4 Thurston, (1909).

5 P. J. Thomas, (Ernakulam, 1952), 105- 106.

6 Swell, .

7 Figueodon, , 62.


9 (1929), Vol. 20, 192, 193, (London, 1935).

10 .

11 Thomas Injackalodi, (1954).

12 (Trichy, 1938).

13 (1923).

14 H. C. Perumalil (ed.), (1972), 226-28.

15 .

16 Derrert, IV, 430.

17 Mingana, 6.

18 Placid,

19 Vol. II, 139-142.



22 Bibliothica Veterum Patrumt 2. Liber III, 449-450; Fr. Injadkalodi: . (Cosmas was a Catholic who later entered a monastery in Alexandria and became a monk).

23 Assemanus, S.J., -Vatiana Vol. III, parts 1 and 2, Rome 1725-1726, part 2, p. 616. Cardinal E. Isserent: , p. 15. Giamil Genuinae, p. 574.

24 The Madras Catholic Directory, 1893.

25 Nestorianism of the Seleucians was of a peculiar nature. Nestorianam was officially condemned in the Third Council of Ephesus in 431. The Seleucians were in the Persian Empire; hence it seems they knew neither of the Nestorian heresy nor of its condemnation. Narsal and Bar Souma, staunch supporters of the heresy, being expelled from the Roman Empire, took refuge in Seleuda, where they propagated a kind of Nestorianism. But the Seleucians maintained their belief that Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and has two natures combined in one person. They expressed this dogma in terms of their own language. They also recognized and accepted the supremacy of the Pope. They did not sever their connection with the Roman Pontiff. Under the supremacy of the Pope they seemed to claim an individuality of their own comparable to the individuality of Antioch, Alexandria, and Byzantium, since they trace their origin to Mari, disciple of Addai who in turn was disciple of St. Thomas the Apostle and builder of the Church of Edessa. The Church of Persia, for long under the jurisdiction of the Catholics of Seleucia, severed its connection with the latter alleging Nestorianism, sometime towards the close of the 5th century. But after some years a compromise was effected. In the 8th Century, the Seleucian Church began to flourish. The patriarch's residence was shifted from Seleucia-Ctesiphon to Bagdad. We find Rome installing Sulaqa as Patriarch of Seleucia (Babylon) in 1551. Cardinal Maffei, presenting Sulaqa to the Pope and the Cardinals, said, "These Nestorians seem to have kept rather the name of the heretic Nestorium than his heresies. For, I see nothing in these men that are here which may have any leaning to that sect...." Sulaqa was murdered by the supporters of a rival claimant of the Mama family, but his successors ruled as Patriarchs till the end of that century. After that Sulaqa's successors gradually drifted to Nestorianism and separated themselves from union with Rome. Their successors, the Simeons, are now in USA. At this time, the Patriarchs of the Mama line revived their allegiance with Rome, and they are the present Catholic Patriarchs of Babylon, having their residence at Bagdad.

In the 8th Century, after the Seleucian Church had made compromise with Rome, the Persians accepted the supremacy of Seleucia. Since then the Malabar Church usually got her bishops from the Patriarch of Babylon. Hence the remark that Babylon, and with her Malabar fell into Nestorian heresy, is hasty and incorrect. The Patriarch whom the Synod of Diamper condemned in 1599 as a heretic was Denha Simeon who was in explicit communion with Rome. In 1508, Mar Elia, Archbishop of Amed, complained to the Holy See against the practice of addressing the Syro-Chaldaeans as Nestorians. As Mackenzie wrote in , the epithet Nestorian was loosely used . . . and sometimes denoted a member of the Oriental Church without any idea of heresy. It must be noted that the Chaldaean Catholics and the Nestorians used the same Aramaic for their liturgy.

For further study see: Fr. Placid, X.M.I., Rome, , 1968 Kottayam.

Dvornik, F., V ( July-Dec.), Ramsgate, England, Fortescue, A., , London, 1913.

26 Le Quien, , Paris, 1740, pp. 1086-96.

27 Two of these ancient chepeds are kept in the Old Seminary Kottayam and one at the Mar. Thoma Seminary, Thiruvalla.

28 Miline, Rae P., 198; , 1835.

29 Mackenzie, .

30 , Vol. II, p. 147.

31 Hosten, H., S.J., , Calcutta, 1936, 458.

32 , Vol. II. Thomas Lopez: Ramnssio, G. S., Venice 1550, 143-156 (an account of Gama's Voyage given by Thomas Lopez his Companion).

33 Raulin, F., , Rome, 1745, p. 425.

34 Raulin, op. cit., pp. 435-436. Counto. Asia Lisbonne, 1788, Dec. XII, p. 288.

35 Msgr. Zeleski, , p. 144.

36 Milne, Rae, p. 198.

37 Mackenzie, , p. 9. Colubovich, G., O.F.M., IV, 1923, p. 174. Fr. Placid, A .

38 Schurhammer, , p. 30.

39 Fr. Placid, .

40 John Stevens, London, 1695.


42 1900, I, 480-481.

43 Colendge, , pp. 73-74.

44 Wieki, S.J., 1954, III, p. 806.

45 British Museum, Add. Ms., 9853, F. 86.

46 Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo, O.C.D., , Rome, 1794, p. 88.

47 Jesuit Archives, Rome-Goa, 65 ff.

48 , John Reynolds Library, July 1926. Fr. Placid, (Malayalam).

49 H. Histen, S.J., , 1936, p. 402.

50 Wiltsch, , pp. 163-168.

51 Cordiers, , Vol. II, p. 427.

52 Archives of the S. Prop. Congregationis, Istoria della Missione di Malabar (Congr. Part Vol. 109).

53 Fr. Placid, . Zeleski, , Mangalers 1915, p. 144.

54 Jesuit Archives, Rome-Goa, 65.

55 The Decree of the Patriarch.

56 Letter of Roz, S.J., to Fr. Alvarez, S.J., Dec. 1-1601. The Examiner Press, Bombay, March 26, 1936. K. V. Rangaswami Aiyanger, , p. 366. (The Tranvancore University Publications, 1946). Britto, S.J., Successor of Roz, S.J., used to call himself Archbishop of India. Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo, , op. cit., p. 263. Bishop Alexander de Compo (1663-1687) signed himself the Metropolitan of All India.

57 Schurhammer, G., S.J., Trichinopoly, 1934, p. 29.

58 Assamabi, S.J., op. cit., III 2, p. 162. Paul Chittilapilly, , Rome. Jacob Kallaprambil, , Rome, 1966. Note 24 .

59 Jesuit Archives, Rome, I.C.F. 43.

60 Fr. Placid, , Rome, 1970.

61 Paulino d.s. Bartholomaeo, Rome, 1796, p. 89. Propaganda Archives Rome, (Congr. Part Vol. 109). Jacob Kollaparambil, , Rome 1966.

62 Vincensio, Maria, . Fr. Placid, op. cit.

63 Raulin, op. cit., pp. 387-388.

64 Fr. Placid,

65 Pr. Placid, pp. 233-234. Nagam Ayya, Vol. I, p. 210. Anantha Krishna Ayyar, Ernakulam, 1926.

66 Rambanpattu, Versicles 181, 492, 295, 307 and 357, Rocca, S.J., Art., , pp. 170-171.

67 Rambanpattu, Vers. 81.201, 213, 219, 307.

68 Rocca, S.J., art. cit. Rambanpattu, cit. Vers. 243.

69 Nagam Ayya, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 210. Paul Chittilapilly, , Rome, 1966, PP II, 27, 28, 29.

70 K. P. Padmanabha Menon, , II, p. 452.

71 Dr. H. C. E. Zacharias, , 1928, pp. 9, 12, 13, 19. Fr. Placid, (Malayalam) Mannanam, 1944, 18, 19.

72 Giamil, Genuinae, , p. 22.

73 . The teaching of the Twelve Apostles, believed to have been written between A.D. 90 and 100. S. H. League Alwaye, , Malayalam 1964, p. 31.

74 St. Justin, I CC 65, 67, 68. S. H. League Alwaye, , op. cit.

75 , op. cit. St. Justin, op. cit.

76 Hipaulitus, (3rd cent.) (Tradition of the Apostles), Ed. B. Botte, Paris, 1946, 14.

77 St. Augustine, M P L 33, 200. Msgr. Duchesne, Translation 1912, pp. 54, 55.

78 Fortescue, , op. cit., 140.

79 Fr. Placid, (Malayalam), op. cit., p. 13.

80 For further details, see, "The Malabar Church," Rome, 1970. "The Hindu Christians of India."

81 Fr. Placid, , M S S, p. 3, Injakalody, T., , (Malayalam) Thiruvalla, 1952. Panjikaran, , Rome, 1926. Fr. Placid, . Articles in

Vol. VII, pp. 222-236. 1932, pp. 229, 249. , 1956.

(Taken from the May 1973 and June 1973 issues of "The American Ecclesiastical Review.")

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN Online Services.