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Ancient Crosses of India

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Beautifully hand cut stone crosses are the treasure of ancient churches in India. These Crosses are found mainly in Southern Indian State of Kerala. They are also found in state of Goa and Tamil Nadu.

Two types of the stone crosses are broadly classified as Saint Thomas Cross (Nasrani Menorah)[1] and Nasrani Sthambams.

The Saint Thomas Cross are smaller in size and are found inside the Kerala churches at Kadamattom, Muttuchira, Kothanalloor, Kottayam and Alengad. Outside Kerala, they are at St. Thomas Mount, Chennai (Madras), Tamilnadu, Pilar Seminary Museum, Goa, Anuradhapura [ 2 nos ] in Sri Lanka and Taxila at Pakistan. [2]

The large crosses known as Nasrani Sthambams are found at the frontage of many churches in Kerala. There are also other flowery ancient Persian Crosses found in Kerala Churches.

These crosses represent resurrection through its various symbolism[3]. Kerala has many churches of antiquity. It is recorded that before the arrival of Portuguese there were more than 150 ancient churches in Kerala.[4]

Saint Thomas CrossEdit

Nasrani menorah

The Saint Thomas Cross

Antonio Gouvea in the Sixteenth century work, " Jornada" states that the old churches of Saint Thomas Christians were full of crosses of the type discovered from S.Thome ( Mylapore).[5] He also states that veneration of the cross is an old custom in Malabar. "Jornada" is the oldest known written document which calls the cross as St. Thomas Cross. The original word used is “ Cruz de Sam Thome “ meaning Cross of St. Thomas. Interestingly, Gouvea writes about the veneration of the Cross at Cranganore mentioning it as "Cross of Christians"[6]


Location of the Saint Thomas CrossesEdit

The crosses are at the following locations,[7]

  • St. Thomas Mount, Tamil Nadu- The Cross is at Our Lady of Expectations Church under the Latin Catholic diocese of Chingelpet ( Madras-Mylapore). This Cross is considered as the oldest cross in India.
  • Agasaim, Goa. The Cross is now kept at Pilar Seminary Museum. This Cross is dated of 6th Century.
  • Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The cross is kept at Anuradhapura museum. It was found during excavations in 1912 Anuradhapura [ 2 nos ]. This Cross is considered as the oldest Cross.
  • Taxila, Pakistan. The cross is kept at Anglican cathedral at Lahore.

Interpretation of the InscriptionsEdit

Dr. Burnell, archeologist with the government of India, in 1873, translated the inscriptions as follows:

"In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering of this one;
He who is the true God, and God above and Guide ever pure."

Prof. F.C. Burkitt and C.P.T. Winckworth, the then reader of Assyriology in the University of Cambridge studied the inscriptions and produced a translation. This has been discussed at the International Congress of Orientalists held at Oxford in 1925.

The interpretation is as follows:

"My Lord Christ, have mercy up on Afras son of Chaharbukht the Syrian, who cut this (or, who caused this to be cut)." [8]

On the large cross, there is this additional sentence in Estrangelo Syriac. (Galatians 6:14)

”May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The inscription at kadamattom palli (church) when translated is,

”I, the beautiful bird of Nineveh has come to this land. Written by me Shapper, who was saved by the Holy Messiah from misery.”

Symbolism of The St. Thomas CrossEdit

File:Nasrani Sthambams.jpg

Unlike crosses in other traditions, the St. Thomas Cross does not carry the effigy of the Christ. This is one of its very unique qualities. More over, each of its elements carry symbolic meanings. The Cross generally symbolizes life rather than death and suffering.[9]

  • The cross is the symbol of resurrection rather than death. It exalts the resurrection of Jesus. One of the Biblical proof for Jesus resurrection was the 'empty tomb.' The St. Thomas Cross that does not have the effigy of Jesus is equal to the empty tomb and therefor glorifies the resurrection of Christ.
  • The four edges of the cross are in flower shape. This again symbolizes the fruition and thereby life.
  • The lotus flower beneath the cross is symbol of Buddhism and India. It was a cultural adaptation of an Indian Imagery. The Lotus is the national flower of India and the cross fixed on lotus would symbolize India that harbored Christianity in the first century itself. Lotus is a Puranic flower as well. Lotus is considered to be a holy flower and this is the flower that is offered to God in the Hindu Tradition. Anything offered on the leaves of lotus is considered to be auspicious.
  • The three steps below symbolizes Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Thus death of Jesus also is cleverly brought out symbolically.
  • Finally, the shape of the Dove above the cross indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. The dove is the symbol of Holy Spirit - the third person in the Holy Trinity according to the Christian tradition. It is this spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. It is this same spirit that gives life to all the faithful in the Church.

Nasrani SthambamsEdit

The other type is a giant open air stone cross. These are called Nasrani Sthambams.[10]

The plinth of these crosses represents lotus petals and lotus flowers and has a square base. It also has a variety of iconographic motifs, including elephants, peacocks and various other animals, depictions of the Holy Family and of the Crucifixion, to name a few. The stone cross in front of St.Mary's Forane Church, Puthenchira is more than 12 meters high.

These crosses are found in Kottekkad, Enammavu Mapranam, Puthenchira, Parappukkara, Veliyanad, Kalpparambu, Angamaly, Kanjoor, Malayattoor, Udayamperur, Kuravilangad, Uzhavoor, Chungam, Kaduthuruthy [2 Nos.], Muthalakodam, Muttuchira, Kudamaloor, Niranam, Kothamangalam, Chengannur, Thumpamon, Chathannur and many other places.[10]

Other Persian CrossesEdit

The Saint Thomas Kottakkavu Church at North Paravur under the diocese of Ernakulam-Ankamaly of the Syro Malabar Church and the St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam under the Niranam diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has ancient flowery Persian Cross.[11]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Vazhuthanapally, ”Archaeology of Mar Sliba”.
  2. NSC Network (2007),Analogical review on Saint Thomas Cross- The symbol of Nasranis-Interpretation of the Inscriptions
  3. NSC Network (2007),Stone Crosses of Kerala
  4. Malabar Manual by William Logan - 1996 published by Asian Educational Services
  5. Antonio Gouvea," Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes"
  6. Antonio Gouvea," Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes"
  7. NSC Network (2007),Analogical review on Saint Thomas Cross- The symbol of Nasranis-Interpretation of the Inscriptions
  8. The Journal of Theological studies (1929), P-241, NSC Network (2007)
  9. TheNazrani, St Thomas Cross
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rock Crosses of Kerala, Article by Prof.George Menachery, 2000
  11. NSC Network (2007),Stone Crosses of Kerala

External linksEdit

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