The Kerala Church
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
SAINT THOMAS AND INDIA
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.
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."
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
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
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
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.
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.
, 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.
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. Certain Muslim travellers from Arabia
in the ninth century, 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. In 1545,
Francis Xavier was at Mylapore for four months spending long hours
nightly in prayer at the tomb.
Wilson Smith, Claudius Bucchanan the Protestant missionary,
Bishop Heber of the Anglican Church, Dr. Vinjana,
Assemanus, S.J., 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.
SAINT THOMAS AND KERALA
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 CHURCH OF KERALA
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
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
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.
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. The Saint Thomas
Christians retained as far as possible their ancient customs and
manners and discipline, which the immigrants also accepted in
THE MIDDLE PERUOD A.D. 400 TO 1600
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. 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.
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. 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." The Nestorianism of the
Seleucians is a topic for special study and investigation.
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. 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 granting fresh honors and privileges to the St. Thomas
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. 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.
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." The King
of Vallarvattam as recorded by St. Antonius, used to send to the
Pope every year a present of pepper.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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." 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
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." 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.
Luis Kadmustock, who visited Kerala in 1493, says that the St.
Thomas Christians believed that the Pope was the Head of the
Church. 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. 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."
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. 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. 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. 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. Most of those families still
The Head of the Indian church was "Metropolitan and Gate of All
India." "Gate" in the Orient stands for "sublime power." The
jurisdiction of the Metropolitan extended to the whole of
India. "The northwestern, western and southwestern regions of
India before A.D. 255 were strewn with bishoprics," says the
famous explorer Dr. Winninana. In prePortuguese India there
existed an unbroken line of Christian settlements from Sindh to
Cape Comorin. Patna seems to have been a Metropolitan See in
A.D. 1222. Marco Polo states that at the end of the thirteenth
century three of the six great kingdoms of central India had
Christian kings. 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. There are documents to show that Mylapore was
an episcopal residence. 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 and superior
of all the bishops and archbishops of his rite. 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. The Head of the Indian
Church was sometimes referred to as Patriarch. 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.
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." The
Church of All India therefore gravitated towards Malabar. 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. 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. There were also monasteries for men and
convents for women. At the end of the eighteenth century,
Paulinus D. S. Bartholomaeo saw ruins of those institutions at
Mailakomb, Edappalli and Angamali, etc., in Kerala.
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...." 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. 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. He also appointed doctors or Rambans to instruct the
people. 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. 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. Innumerable very old
Malayalam words have come from Aramaic. 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." 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. 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.
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." Hippolitus says that the bishop was
not bound to say any prescribed prayers. 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
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. 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. 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
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. 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
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-
6 Swell, .
7 Figueodon, , 62.
9 (1929), Vol. 20, 192, 193, (London, 1935).
11 Thomas Injackalodi, (1954).
12 (Trichy, 1938).
14 H. C. Perumalil (ed.), (1972), 226-28.
16 Derrert, IV, 430.
17 Mingana, 6.
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
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.,
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,
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. ,
(Taken from the May 1973 and June 1973 issues of "The American
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