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History of the Saint Thomas Christians

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It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Saint Thomas Christian tradition#History. (Discuss)

This is the shared history of the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala in Southern India, from the founding of the church until the 16th century.

Saint Thomas Christians are so called because their Church was founded by Saint Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, in the first century. They are known as Nasranis because they are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The term "Christian", coined in the west, was not known here and therefore not in use, until after the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century.

They are also known as Syrian Christians because of their use of Syriac in liturgy. Their original liturgical language was Aramaic which was later changed to Syriac. They are also known as Malankara Nasranis, because all these Christians are from Kerala that was also known as Malabar or Malankara. Their language is Malayalam.

Early history

It has been suggested that History of the Saint Thomas Christians be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
File:Nasrani Evolution.jpg

According to the first century annals of Pliny the Elder and the author of Periplus of the Erythraean sea, Muziris in Kerala could be reached in 40 days time from the Egyptian coast depending on the South West Monsoon winds. The Sangam works Puranaooru and Akananooru mention Roman vessels and the Roman gold that used to come to the Kerala ports of the great Chera kings in search of pepper and other spices.[1]

The lure of spices attracted traders from the Middle East and Europe to the many trading ports of Keralaputera (Kerala) — Tyndis, (Ponnani ?), Muziris, near Kodungallur, Nelcynda (Niranam), Bacare, Belitha, and Comari (Kanyakumari) long before the time of Christ [2]. St. Thomas the Apostle in one of these ships, arrived Muziris in AD 52, from E’zion-ge’ber on the Red Sea [2].

Jews were living in Kerala from the time of Solomon.[3][4] Later large number of them arrived in 586 BC and 72 AD. The drawings and its captions on the wall of the only remaining Jewish Synagogue in Kerala, at Mattancherry, Kochi near Ernakulam endorse these facts.

Apostolic origin

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St. Thomas the Apostle
Mar Sapor and Prodh
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Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvares


Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Latin Catholic Church
Indian Orthodox Church
Jacobite Syrian Church
Malabar Independent Church
Mar Thoma Church
St. Thomas Evangelical Church
Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church
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Church of South India

St. Thomas landed at Muziris in c. 52 A.D.[5]. The Apostle started his gospel mission among the Jews at "Maliyankara" on the sea coast.

File:St thomas.jpg

Many writers have mentioned that the apostle established seven “and a half” churches in Malabar [6][7]. They are[8]:

  1. Maliankara
  2. Koovakayal
  3. Niranam
  4. Palayoor near Guruvayoor]
  5. Nilackal (Chayal)
  6. Kokkamangalam (Gokkamangalam).
  7. Kollam
  8. Thiruvithancode. This is called a half church (arapalli in Malayalam)

During his stay in Kerala, the Apostle baptized the Jews and some of the wise men [9] who adored the Infant Jesus[10]. The Apostle preached also in other parts of India. In the year 72 he was martyred at Little Mount a little distance from St. Thomas Mount, and was buried at San Thome, near the modern city of Chennai[8]' A monastery was later built there by the Portuguese missionaries in the sixteenth century. The body of Apostle Thomas was translated to Edessa, Iraq. It is now in Ortona, Italy. Relics of Apostle Thomas were translated to the San Thome Cathedral in Chennai and to St Thomas Church in Palayur,near Guruvayoor at Chavakkad Taluk, Thrissur District in Kerala.[11]

There are other passage in ancient liturgies and martyrologies which refer to the work of St. Thomas in India. These passages indicate that the tradition that St. Thomas died in India was widespread among the early churches.[12]

St. Ephraem, the great doctor of the Syrian Church, writes in the forty-second of his "Carmina Nisibina" that the Apostle was put to death in India, and that his remains were subsequently buried in Edessa, brought there by a merchant.[13]

Several ancient writers mention India as the scene of St. Thomas’ labours. St. Ephraem, the Syrian (A.D. 300-378) in a hymn about the relics of St. Thomas at Edessa depicts Satan exclaiming, “The Apostle whom I killed in India comes to meet me in Edessa.” St. Gregory Nazianzen,(329-389), in a homily says; “What! were not the Apostles foreigners? Granting that Judea was the country of Peter, what had Saul to do with the Gentiles, Luke with Achaia, Andrew with Epirus, Thomas with India, Mark with Italy? St. Ambrose (340-397) writes “When the Lord Jesus said to the Apostles, go and teach all nations, even the kingdoms that had been shut off by the barbaric mountains lay open to them as India to Thomas, as Persia to Mathew.”

Doctrine of the Apostles states that, “India and all its countries . . . received the Apostle’s hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas….” From 345 AD, when Knanaya Christians arrived from Persia, they had continued the relationship with their home Church in Persia, which was also established by St. Thomas the apostle.

The Church after Thomas

In 190, Pantaenus, probably the founder of the famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, visited India and the Nasranis.[14].

The First Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day İznik in Turkey), convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325, was the first Ecumenical council of the Christian Church, and most significantly resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. Many historians have written that ‘’Mar John, the Bishop of Great India’’ attended the council.

Nicaea icon

Icon depicting the Fathers of the First Council of Nicaea holding the Nicene Creed.

Church life bore characteristics of a church which had its origin and growth outside the Graeco-Roman world. There was no centralized administrative structure on a monarchical pattern. The territorial administrative system which developed after the diocesan pattern within the eastern and western Roman empires did not exist in the Indian Church. “They have the uncorrupted Testament Which they believe was translated for them by St. Thomas the apostle himself.”[15]

Theophilus (ca 354) as recorded by church historian Philostorgius mentions about a church, priests, liturgy, in the immediate vicinity of the Maldives, which can only apply to a Christian church and faithful on the adjacent coast of India. The people referred to were the Christians known as a body who had their liturgy in the Syriac language and inhabited the west coast of India, i.e., Malabar.

Shapur II the Great was the ninth King of the Sassanid Empire from 309 to 379. During that period, there was prosecution against Christians. So in AD 345 under the leadership of Thomas of Cana 72 families landed at Muziris near Cranganore. They formed the group known as Knanaya Christians. They cooperated with the Malankara Church, attended worship services together but remained a separate identity They had regular visitors from their home land. Some of their priests and bishops visited them. But these visiting bishops had no authority over Saint Thomas Christians[16].

The Church is mentioned by Cosmas Indicopleustes (about 535). He notes that, "There are Christians and believers in Taprobane (Sri Lanka) , in Malabar where pepper grows there is a Christian Church. At a place known as Kalyan, there is a bishop sent from Persia.” [17][18].

St. Gregory of Tours , before 590, reports that Theodore, a pilgrim who had gone to Gaul, told him that in that part of India where the corpus (bones) of St. Thomas had first rested, there stood a monastery and a church of striking dimensions and elaborately adorned, adding: "After a long interval of time these remains had been removed thence to the city of Edessa." [13]

Early Rituals and Culture

The life-style of the Saint Thomas Christians might be stated as “Indian in culture, Christian in faith and Oriental in worship”.

Social and culture

Socially and culturally these Saint Thomas Christians remain as a part of the wider Indian community. They keep their Indian social customs, names and practices relating to birth, marriage, and death. They have Biblical names (Mar Thoma Christian names). At the same time they follow a number of Jewish customs like worship, baptism, wedding and other ceremonies which are entirely different from Western Churches.

Collection of deeds

The rulers of Kerala, always appreciated the contributions of St. Thomas Christians to the country and society. Thazhekad sasanam and deeds on copper plates bear witness to it. Five sheets of the three copper plates are now in the custody of St. Thomas Christians.

  1. Thazhekad sasanam is one of the earliest surviving edicts granting special privileges to the St Thomas Christians. The edict dating back to about 340-360 AD was written on stone and provides proof of the early existence of St. Thomas Christians in Kerala.
  2. Iravi Corttan Deed: In the year 774 AD. Sri Vira Raghava Chakravarti, gave a deed to Iravi Corttan of Mahadevarpattanam.
  3. Tharissa palli Deed I: Perumal Sthanu Ravi Gupta (844-885) gave a deed in 849 AD, to Isodatta Virai for Tharissa Palli (church) at Curakkeni Kollam. According to historians, this is the first deed in Kerala that gives the exact date.[19]
  4. Tharissa palli Deed II: As Continuation of the above deed was given after 849 AD.

First fifteen centuries

In 883 King Alfred the great of Wessex in England sent donations to the Christians in Malabar [20][21]. Marco Polo visited Malabar on his return journey from China. He wrote about the people whom he saw in Malabar, this way. “The people are idolaters, though there are some Christians and Jews among them. They speak a language of their own. The king is tributary to none.” [22][23]

Persian Rock crosses

The two Rock crosses of Kerala are found at Kottayam, one each at Kadamattam, Muttuchira and at St.Thomas Mount,in Mylapore. and through out Malabar coast has inscriptions in Pahlavi and Syriac. The earliest is the small cross at Kottayam dated 7th century.

Persian bishops in Malabar

In 829 CE, the Udayamperoor (Diamper) church was built.

  • Kadamattathu Kathanar

A priest (or bishop) from Persia Mar Abo came to Kadamattom. With the help of a widow and her son, he built a small hut and lived there. He called the boy Poulose. Mar Abo taught him Syriac and later ordained him as a deacon. After this deacon Poulose disappeared for twelve years. It is said that he went to abyss and learned witchcraft. He is well known in Kerala as Kadamattathu Kathanar. Mar Abo died and was buried in Thevalakara church (now St. Mary’s Orthodox Church).[24][25]

History of Roman Catholic Churches in Malankara

Nazraney Sthambams

Open Air Rock Cross also called Nazraney Sthambams in front of the Martha Mariam Catholic Church at Kuravilangadu, Kerala

When the Portuguese arrived in 1498, the Christians of St. Thomas (Syrian Christians) in Kerala had free exercise of their religion.

  • 345 Kuravilangad Church (Now Martha Mariam Catholic Church) built by the first settlers who came from Kodungalloor.[26]
  • 1305 St. Hormis Church, Angamaly founded.
  • 1325 Enammavu church was founded.
  • 1328 George church Edappally was founded.

Visits from Rome to Malabar

There are many accounts of visits from Rome, before the arrival of Portuguese.

John of Monte Corvino, was a Franciscan missionary who traveled from Persia and moved down by sea to India, in 1291[27]

John of Monte Corvino, was a Franciscan Odoric of Pordenone who arrived in India in 1321. He visited Malabar, touching at Pandarani (20 m. north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Kulam or Quilon.[28]

Father Jordanus, a Dominican, followed in 1321-22. He reported to Rome, apparently from somewhere on the west coast of India, that he had given Christian burial to four martyred monks.[27] Jordanus, between 1324 and 1328 (if not earlier), probably visited Kulam and selected it as for his future work. He was appointed a bishop in 1328 and nominated by Pope John XXII in his bull Venerabili Fratri Jordano to the see of Columbum or Kulam (Quilon) on 21 August 1329. This diocese was the first in the whole of the Indies, with juristriction over modern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Sri Lanka.[29]

In 1347, Giovanni de' Marignolli visited Malabar[30].

Another prominent Indian traveler was Joseph, priest over Cranganore. He journeyed to Babylon in 1490 and then sailed to Europe and visited Portugal, Rome, and Venice before returning to India. He helped to write a book about his travels titled The Travels of Joseph the Indian which was widely disseminated across Europe.[27]

Arrival of the Portuguese

On May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI granted Portugal the right to develop and send missions east of a demarcation line. When India had been reached, Portugal assumed that India was theirs to develop.[31]

On May 20, 1498, Vasco de Gama landed at Kappad near Kozhikode (Calicut).[31] In 1499, explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral landed at Kozhikode.[31] In 1500, Joseph, a priest, told the Pope Alexander VI, in an audience, that Indian Christians accept the Patriarch of Babylon as their spiritural leader.[31] On November 26, 1500, Franciscan Friars landed at Cochin.[31] On November 7, 1502 de Gama lands at Cochin.[31]

When the Portuguese first discovered the Christians, they felt satisfied that their centuries-old dream of discovering eastern Christians had been fulfilled. They set great hopes on the St.Thomas Christians. These Christians too on their part experienced a spontaneous relief and joy at the arrival of powerful Christians from the West and desired the newcomer’s help to strengthen their own privileges in India. So their arrival was enthusiastically welcomed by the local church. In fact, when Vasco da Gama arrived at Cochin on his second voyage (1502), a delegation of Thomas Christians went and met him and implored protection. In 1503, Dominican Priests, Catholic missionaries, were in Kochi.[31] In 1503, Mar Yabella, Mar Denaha and Mar Yakoob from Persia went to Kerala.[31] In 1503 the Portuguese commenced work on Cochin Fort and the Santa Cruz church.[31]

There were about thirty thousand St. Thomas families in Malabar in 1504.[32] A letter written by East Syrian bishops announces the arrival of the Portuguese and the friendly relationship between them and the St.Thomas Christians.

Cordial relations continued for two decades. However, Portuguese penetrating into the interior where they actually came face-to-face with St. Thomas Christians, realized that these Christians were neither subject to Rome, nor were they following Church traditions. To their dismay they found that these Christians were followers of the East Syrian Church, and its bishops looked after them, and the Patriarch in Babylonia was considered their ecclesiastical superior. Since the Pope had granted to the Portuguese crown sovereign rights over the eastern lands which come under their sway, the Portuguese thought, that is their right to bring the Thomas Christians under their control. To achieve this aim, the Portuguese worked among the local church for one and a half centuries.

The Portuguese missionaries were ignorant of the Oriental traditions of the Indian Church. They were convinced that anything different from the Western Church was schismatic and heretical. Hence they wanted to Latinize the Syrian Christians of India. The visitors were appalled at the tolerance for other religions that was displayed by the locals.

In 1514, the Portuguese Padroado began. In 1514 Jewish people migrated from Kodungalloor to Kochi.[31] On June 12, 1514 the Portuguese colony at Funchal began their dominion over Christians in India.[31] On December 23, 1524 de Gama was buried at St. Francis Church, Fort Cochin.[31] In 1534 the Goa Catholic Diocese was erected. The parishes of Kannur, Cochin, Quilon, Colombo and Sao Tome (Madras) were part of it.[31] In 1540 Franciscan Fr. Vincent De Lagos started the Cranganore Seminary to train native priests.[31] On May 6, 1542 St. Francis Xavier, Apostolic Nuncio in the East, reached Goa. He was in Travancore between 1544 and 1545.[31] In 1548 a Dominican Monastery was founded in Cochin.[31] In 1549 Mar Abuna Jacob, a Chaldean Bishop, stayed at St. Antonio Monastery, Cochin.[31] In 1550, the first Jesuit House was erected in Kochi. Xavier died on December 3, 1552.[31]

Mar Jacob, the last East Syrian bishop, led the Church until his death in 1552. After his death, the Roman Catholics tightened their efforts to subdue the Church. They directed their energy towards terminating the arrival of bishops from Babylon. Even those who came disguised were caught and executed or tortured into embracing Roman Catholicism. Two or three bishops did arrive from the East Syrian Church after the death of Jacob and were harassed. Mar Abraham, who was among them, led the local church until 1599.

During the subsequent period, in 1552, a split occurred within the Church of the East. Part of it joined Rome, so that besides the Catholicosate of the East another, Chaldean Patriarchate was founded, headed by the Patriarch Mar Yohannan Sulaqa (1553-1555). Both claim to be the rightful heir to the East Syrian tradition. It is very difficult to see the precise influence of this schism on the Church of Malabar as there was always overtones to Rome in earlier centuries. Apparently, both parties sent bishops to India.

The last East Syrian Metropolitan before the schism, Mar Jacob (1504-1552), died in 1552. Catholicos Simeon VII Denkha sent a prelate to India, in the person of Mar Abraham, who was later to be the last Syrian Metropolitan of Malabar, after having gone over to the Chaldaean side. It is not known when he arrived in Malabar, but he must have been there already by 1556. Approximately at the same time, Chaldaean Patriarch Abdisho IV (1555-1567) sent the brother of John, Mar Joseph, to Malabar as a Chaldaean bishop. Although consecrated in 1555 or 1556, Mar Joseph could not reach India before the end of 1556, nor Malabar before 1558. He was accompanied by another Chaldaean bishop, Mar Eliah.

Colonialism and St Thomas Christians

The Portuguese erected a Latin diocese in Goa in 1534 and another at Cochin in 1558 in in the hope of bringing the Thomas Christians under their jurisdiction. In a Goan Synod held in 1585 it was decided to introduce the Latin liturgy and practices among the Thomas Christians.

The Portuguese built the Mattancherry Palace for the King of Cochin in 1555.[31] Pope Paul IV erected the Diocese of Cochin in 1557.[31] The canonization process of Francis Xavier began at Cochin.[31] The pope erected the 1565 Archdiocese of Angamaly in 1565.[31] The Portuguese shifted the Jews to Mattancherry in 1567 as part of the Goan Inquisition..[31] The Jesuits started the seminary at Vaippicotta in 1577.[31] The Roman Catholic order of Augustinians reached Cochin in 1579.[31] In 1583, Bishop Mar Abraham convoked a synod at Angamaly.[31]

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Alexis de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa from 1595 until his death in 1617 decided to bring the Kerala Christians under obedience after the death of Bishop Mar Abraham (the last Syrian Metropolitan of Malabar, laid to rest at St. Hormis church, Angamaly), an obedience that they conceived as complete conformity to the Roman or ‘Latin’ customs. This meant separating the Nasranis not only from the Catholicosate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, but also from the Chaldaean Patriarchate of Babylon, and subjecting them directly to the Latin Archbishopric of Goa.

In 1597, Bishop Mar Abraham, the last foreign Archbishop, died and was buried at St. Hormis church, Angamaly.[31]

The Synod of Diamper (1599)

Immediately after the death of the local bishop, Mar Abraham, in 1599, Archbishop of Goa Aleixo de Menezes (1595-1617) convoked a Synod of Diamper and imposed Latinization and Western ecclesiastical traditions on the local Church of India. The Portuguese extended the Padroado Agreement in their evangelization programme over India brought the Indian Church under this jurisdiction.[33]

Menezes controlled the synod completely. He convoked it, presided over it, framed its decrees and executed them.

The synod lasted for eight days. Almost all of the decrees were framed not in the synod after due discussion but 15 days or earlier prior to the meeting. Many of the decrees were framed after the Synod as the archbishop desired. The synodal decrees were passed by threats and terror methods, and autocratically as desired by the archbishop. The decrees forced conformance of the local church to the practices of Roman Catholics, in faith, polity, and discipline. It decreed submission to the pope. The Patriarch of Babylon was condemned as a heretic and contact with him declared highly perilous inviting spiritual dangers.

The Catholic Church appointed Fr. Francis Roz bishop of Angamaly in 1599.[31] In August, 1600 Padroado rule was imposed on the Nasranis.[31] The church appointed Roz as the first Latin bishop of the St. Thomas Christians in 1601.[31] The church erected the Diocese of Cranganore in 1609. They suppressed the Archdiocese of Angamaly.[31] The Metropolitan of Goa limited the pastoral jurisdiction of Nasranis to Malabar in 1610.[31] A Dominican Seminary was started at Kaduthuruthy in 1624.[31] In 1626, Edappally Ashram was started for the religious community of St. Thomas Christians[31]

Rome then used non-Portuguese European missionaries. About half of the people did not yield to Rome. Through this period the local church lacked adequate knowledge of theology and church history, yet it still maintained its Eastern character and ecclesiastical freedom. Among all the efforts that were undertaken to subdue the Thomas Christians, the efforts of the Jesuits, a religious order that had been framed in the context of reformation in Europe, were notable. They established a clergy training centre at Vaipikotta to train native clergy in Occidental style. The major architects behind the convocation, deliberations, framing and executing the decrees of the Synod, were the Vaipikotta Jesuits. Apart from these the administration of the local church was also entrusted to them. Until 1653, three Jesuit bishops ruled over the church executing the decrees of that Synod.

The Malabar church was required to follow the norms declared by the Council of Trent. Priests must be celibate. The church had to be divided into parishes with the parish priest directly appointed by the Portuguese church authorities, replacing the native regime and bishopric. The powers and offices of the Roman bishop clashed with that of the archdeacon, so the latter's office was weakened, though there was still an incumbent. The church was required to abandon perceived "errors" which Jesuits believed had crept into its life from the Indian milieu. All Syriac books had to be handed over for burning so that no memory of those rites remained.

These events immediately followed the synod:

  • The appointment of a Latin bishop over the Church of St.Thomas.
  • Suppression of the Metropolitan status of Angamali and bringing of it as a subordinate under Goa.
  • Padroado of the Portuguese was extended over the Thomas Christians.
  • The Thomas Christians’ protest and Restoration of the Metropolitan status to Angamali and change of the place to Crangannore under the Latin bishop Roz.

The Synod has since been criticized by modern scholars, both ecclesiastical and secular. The impact of the synod on the local church was decisive. Roman Catholicism was firmly established. The Synod was a turning point in the history of the Malabar Church. This relationship continued till the beginning of the second half of the seventeenth century.

Francis Roz was the first Roman Catholic bishop over the Thomas Christians soon after the Synod. Because he had been the main architect behind the success of Udayamperoor, he was given the see over the local church. His rule lasted for 24 years. During that time he tried his best to Romanize the Thomas Christians in worship, administrative systems, customs, and discipline. Although the Synod had instructed the liturgy to be modified in accordance with the Roman custom, this was sternly opposed by the St.Thomas Christians. Therefore Roz advocated a modified form of the ancient liturgy of the Saint Thomas Christians. He centralized in himself all authority reducing almost to nothing the powers of the archdeacon, palliyogams and kathanars of the St. Thomas’ Church. This authority continued during the episcopates of Roz' two successors, Stephen Britto (1624-1641) and Francis Garzia (1641-1659).

Archdeacon George of the Cross, who had been subordinated under Roz and Britto died in 1640. He was succeeded by his nephew, Archdeacon Thomas Parambil. Parambil did not cooperate with Garzia. Garzia used both ecclesiastical and civil powers to suppress the archdeacon.

The Portuguese refused to accept the legitimate authority of the Indian hierarchy and its relation with the East Syrians, and in 1599 at the Synod of Diamper (held in Udayamperur), the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa imposed a large number of Latinizations. The Portuguese succeeded in appointing a Latin bishop to govern the Thomas Christians, and the local Christians’ customs were officially anathematised as heretical and their manuscripts were condemned to be either corrected or burnt. The Portuguese padroado (’patronage’) was extended over them. From 1599 up to 1896 these Christians were under the Latin Bishops who were appointed either by the Portuguese Padroado or by the Roman Congregation of Pro da Fide. Every attempt to resist the latinization process was branded heretical by them. Under the indigenous leader, archdeacon, the Thomas Christians resisted, but the result was disastrous.

Meanwhile Archdeacon George had corresponded secretly for bishops from South-West Asian churches. Ahatalla arrived. On August 23, the Portuguese denied Mar Ahathalla of Madras, entrance to Kerala.[31]

The Koonan Cross revolt

The oppressive rule of the Portuguese padroado provoked a violent reaction on the part of the indigenous Christian community. The first solemn protest took place in 1653, known as the Koonan Kurishu Satyam (Koonan Cross Oath). Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas, a part of the Thomas Christians publicly took an oath in Matancherry, Cochin, that they would not obey the Portuguese bishops and the Jesuit missionaries. In the same year, in Alangad, Archdeacon Thomas was ordained, by the laying on of hands of twelve priests, as the first known indigenous Metropolitan of Kerala, under the name Mar Thoma I. Those who took, or supported, the Oath became the Puthenkoottukar or New Party, while those who remained faithful to the Catholic Church became the Pazhayakoottukar or Old Party.

After the Coonan Cross Oath, between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Old Party reclaimed eighty-four churches, leaving Archdeacon Mar Thoma I only thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Catholic Church have descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites & Orthodox), Thozhiyur (1772), Mar Thoma (Reformed Syrians) (1874), Syro Malankra Catholic Church have originated. [34] In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop send by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch arrived in India and the dissident group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. [35][36] This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma party claiming spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introduced the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast.

Though most of the Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of Mar Gregorios in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregorios became known as Jacobites. Those who continued with East Syrian theological and liturgical tradition and stayed faithful to the Synod of Diamper are known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in communion with the Catholic Church. They got their own Syro-Malabar Hierarchy on 21 December 1923 with the Metropolitan Mar Augustine Kandathil as the Head of their Church.

St. Thomas Christians by this process got divided in to East Syrians and West Syrians.

Further divisions

In 1772 the West Syrians under the leadership of Kattumangattu Abraham Mar Koorilose, Metropolitan of Malankara, formed the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyur Sabha).

By the arrival of British in nineteenth century, under their influence some Jacobites wanted to reform the Malankara Church based on the doctrine of Anglican Church. The events with the interference of British lead the formation of an independent church, a break away group from the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church under the name of Reformed Jacobites. They later accepted the name Mar Thoma Church.

In 1961 , there was a split with the formation of St. Thomas Evangelical Church from the Marthoma Church .

However, in 1912 due to attempts by the Antiochean Patriarch to gain temporal powers over the Malankara Church, there was another split in the West Syrian community when a section declared itself an autocephalous church and announced the re-establishment of the ancient Catholicosate of the East in India. This was not accepted by those who remained loyal to the Patriarch. The two sides were reconciled in 1958 but again differences developed in 1975. Today the West Syrian community is divided into Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion, autocephalous), Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion, under Antioch).

In 1926 a section of West Syrians under the leadership of Mar Ivanios came into communion with the Catholic Church, retaining all of the Church’s rites, Liturgy, and autonomy. They are known as Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.


  1. Miller, J. Innes; (1960),Periplus Maris Erythraei The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
  2. 2.0 2.1 N.M.Mathew. St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages. CSS Tiruvalla. 2003.
  3. Edna Fernadez. The last Jews of Kerala.- The two thousand year history of India’s forgotten Jewish community. Skyhorse Publishing. c.2008. ISBN. 1-6023-926-76.
  4. P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, University of Calicut, 2005. ISBN 817748091
  5. History of Christianity. Vol.1. By Kenneth Scott Latourette, page 80
  6. Orientale Conquistado (2 vols., Indian reprint, Examiner Press, Bombay
  7. The Encyclopedia of Christianity By FAHLBUSCH, Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley page 285
  8. 8.0 8.1 [Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Mundalan, A. M; 1984; Podipara, Placid J. 1970; Leslie Brown, 1956]
  9. Bible St. Matthew 2:1
  10. Bowler, Gerry. (2000). ‘’The World Encyclopedia of Christmas’’. Page 139.
  11. Eastern Christianity in India: A History of the Syro-Malabar Church - Eugène Tisserant
  12. Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; Mackenzie G.T 1905 ; Aiya Nagam 1905 ; Medlycott Dr. 1905 ;
  13. 13.0 13.1 MEDLYCOTT, India and the Apostle St. Thomas (London, 1905).
  14. Eusebius, (AD 260-341), Bishop of Caesarea.Church History in Book V, Chapter 10.
  15. Herberts. Some years Travels Into Asia And Afrique. London, 1638. p. 300.
  16. Mathew, N.M. (History of the Marthoma Church. (Malayalam), Volume 1. Page 92-94and souvenirs published by Knanaya parishes in Kerala.
  17. Mathew, N.M. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1.(2006). Page 91.
  18. J.W. McCrindle, Christian Topography of Cosmos, an Egyption Monk (1897) Book 3, pp. 99-128.
  19. Sreedhara Menon, A. A Survey of Kerala History.(Mal).Page 54.
  20. Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Part ii, AD 750-919.
  21. Mathew, N.M. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1.(2006). Page 97.
  22. Marco Polo, The Book of Travels, Translated and with an introduction by Ronald Latham, 1958. p. 287.
  23. Mathew N.M. St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages, C.S.S. Tiruvalla, 2003. Page 78.
  24. Mathew, N.M. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1.Page 91-92.
  25. Shankunni, Kottarathil. Iythiha Malla (legends). p. 380-391
  26. As written on the slab on its wall.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 NSC Network (2007),Defining a Kerala Syrian Christian
  28. Odoric of Pordenone (Nendeen, Liechenstein, 1967), Henry Yule, trans. Cathy and the Way Thither vol. II.
  29. Sir Henry Yule's Jordanus, a version of the Mirabilia with a commentary (Hakluyt Society, 1863) and the same editor's Cathay, giving a version of the Epistles, with a commentary, &c. (Hakluyt Society, 1866) pp. 184-185, 192-196, 225-230
  30. J. G. Meinert, in Abhandl. der k. bohm. Gesellsch. der Wissenschaften, vol. vii.
  31. 31.00 31.01 31.02 31.03 31.04 31.05 31.06 31.07 31.08 31.09 31.10 31.11 31.12 31.13 31.14 31.15 31.16 31.17 31.18 31.19 31.20 31.21 31.22 31.23 31.24 31.25 31.26 31.27 31.28 31.29 31.30 31.31 31.32 31.33 31.34 Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; The Nazranies
  32. From a letter of 5 East Syrian bishops, written to their Patriarch in Babylon (in 1504)
  33. [1]
  34. Catholic Encyclopedia- “St. Thomas Christians” The Carmelite Period,Dr. Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”
  35. Claudius Buchanan 1811 ., Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; Podipara, Placid J. 1970; Leslie Brown, 1956; Tisserant, E. 1957; Michael Geddes, 1694;
  36. Dr. Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”

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