About the Project Manuscript Archives and Collections The Saint Thomas Christians in India About Kerala

The Saint Thomas Christians in India from 52 to 1687 AD

In the picture above: One of the most impressive granite crosses of Kerala, which stands in front of the Syro-Malabar Catholic church of Angamaly (by now the ancient church has been demolished). These granite crosses normally stood, as they now partly stand, in front of the Western entrance to the church. Although they are undatable, many of them, such as this one, may have been erected in the pre-Portuguese period. On this picture one may clearly see the most important symbolic representations of the Saint Thomas Christians: in the middle, the "Saint Thomas Cross," the shape of which goes back to reliquary crosses said to have been carved by Saint Thomas himself; underneath, an angel in worship; the wings of the cross end in lotus buds.
  • 1. On the St Thomas Christians
  • 2. Traditions about St Thomas the Apostle
  • 3. Traditions of Thomas of Kana and the Earliest Syrian Connections
  • 4. Church Governance before the Portuguese Period
  • 5. The Early Portuguese Period
  • 6. The Synod of Diamper and the Syrian Orthodox Mission in India
  • 7. The Background and the Aftermath of These Events
  • 1. On the St Thomas Christians

    The Saint Thomas Christians refer to themselves in this way because their tradition holds that their ancestors, who all came from the high castes of Hindu society, were converted by the Apostle Saint Thomas, who landed in India in the year 52 AD. At present there is no way to scientifically prove or disprove this tradition. One thing is certain: ever since the discovery of the monsoon winds in 45 AD by Hippalos, an Alexandrian ship-captain, the land and sea routes were open from the Mediterranean via the Persian Gulf to India, and there were indeed intense contacts between these areas. One after the other, Roman coins of the first century AD are being unearthed in southern India.

    Be that as it may, the tradition of Christ’s Apostle doing missionary work in India is the principal formative element of the identity of a large and flourishing (at present seven million-strong) community. At a certain stage of its history, this community entered into intense contacts with the Syrian Christian world. Tradition also tells us that this happened in 345 AD, when Thomas of Kana, a rich Syrian merchant from Persia, also landed in Cranganore, accompanied by seventy families. Their descendants, the endogamous Knanaya community, boast of having preserved pure Syrian blood. Thomas of Kana and the bishops who accompanied him established a permanent contact with the Syrian Church. So, if we are to believe tradition, ever since Thomas of Kana the Malabar Church, consisting of an Indian and a Syrian component, has ecclesiastically and culturally belonged to the Syrian Christian world. Thus the St Thomas Christians constitute an unique community, whose native tongue is Malayalam, whose everyday culture and customs are typically Indian and whose language of worship and of high culture has been Syriac for many centuries.

    In fact, for this high-caste Indian Christian community Syriac had the same social function as Sanskrit had for the neighbouring Hindu high-caste society.

    2. Traditions about St Thomas the Apostle

    According to tradition, Christianity in Kerala was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle, who landed on the Malabar Coast, at Maliankara near Cranganore (Kodungallur), in 52 AD. Why precisely in 52 is difficult to say, but this date is firmly held in the present traditio communis of the St Thomas Christians. For how long the date has been established is an interesting question in itself. The modern Malayalam ballad Thomas Ramban Pattu (“The Song of the Lord Thomas”), which gives absolutely precise data about the details of the Apostle’s activity, dates his arrival to 50 AD, in the month of Dhanu (December), and his death in Mylapore (Mailapuram) to 72 AD, on the 3rd day of the month of Karkadakam (July), corresponding to the traditional memorial day of the Apostle in the Syrian Churches, at 4:50 p.m. However, this apparently reflects a later tradition. Recently we found an earlier tradition in a palm-leaf manuscript belonging to the collection of the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop's House in Ernakulam, which, among eighteen Malayalam apocrypha, also contains the Malayalam version of the Acts of Thomas. The seventeenth-century redactor's note to this apocryphon dates the death of Saint Thomas to December 21 and says that on that very day the Apostle's memorial day (Dukhrana) was universally celebrated in the Malankara Church.

    On his arrival - so tradition holds - the Apostle converted several Brahmin families, from whom a good part of the present-day Nazranies descend, and founded seven churches: Maliankara (Kodungallur or Cranganore), Palayur, Kottakavu (North Parur), Kokamangalam (Pallipuram), Niranam, Chayal and Kollam (Quilon). There is a beautiful story vividly recounted among the local Christians and invoked in many books about the foundation of the Palayur church, not far from Cranganore where Saint Thomas is believed to have landed, and close to Guruvayur, the famous centre of Krishna worship. According to this tradition, the Apostle arrived there and found several nambudhiri (or namputhiri) Brahmins (that is, Kerala Brahmins) bathing in a tank and throwing up handfuls of water as an offering to their sun-god. He asked them whether they were able to throw the water up so that it could stay suspended in the air without falling back down, as a proof that their god had accepted it. The Brahmins replied this was impossible; the Apostle performed a miracle and the water remained in the air, proving that Christ had accepted the offering. This convinced the Brahmins, who accepted baptism from the Apostle in the same tank. Their temple was transformed into a Christian church, while those who stuck to their Hindu faith fled from the place. They cursed the land and called it Chapakatt (Chowghat in the Anglicised version, now Chavakkad), “the Cursed Forest.”

    Some sixteenth-century Portuguese sources, partly edited but for the most part unedited, studied by the very learned Fr. Mathias Mundadan, the doyen of Indian Church history, speak about converted kings, from whom another name of the community, Tarijanel, which tradition interprets as “sons of kings,” derives. Later the Apostle went to the eastern Coromandel Coast, where he also converted people, and finally died on the Little Mount in Mylapore, nowadays a suburb of Chennai (Madras). There are several versions of the details of the Apostle’s death, the most fantastic of which states that one day a hunter out hunting peacocks saw a group of them seated on a flat stone. He shot an arrow at the leader of the group, which was transformed into a man and fell down dead. This was the Apostle. Other accounts, emphasising the point that Saint Thomas died a martyr’s death, speak about furious Brahmins who pierced the Apostle with a lance, either when he was praying in rapture in a cave or when he destroyed, by means of his cross, a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. His tomb is venerated in Mylapore up to the present day, and pilgrimage to the tomb has always been an important element in the religious life of the St Thomas Christian community.

    The tradition that locates the Apostle’s activity in two places, Kerala on the western and Coromandel on the eastern coast of southern India, corresponds to the historical existence of two communities. However, some calamities have destroyed the eastern community, which at some time (differently specified in the different sources) had to migrate westward and to unite with the one in Kerala. A version of the tradition transmitted by Francisco Roz, the first Latin bishop (residing in Angamaly) of the St Thomas Christians, does not know about the preaching of the Apostle on the Malabar Coast, but holds that all the St Thomas Christians emigrated there from the east. An interesting element of the local traditions is that – at least in Portuguese times – the same stories were told on the western and on the eastern coast, but connected to different localities. At present there is no autochthonous Christian community on the Coromandel Coast.

    In Kerala almost every village has its local Saint Thomas tradition, full of miraculous elements. Just to collect them would be a very important task of anthropological research.

    Most of the literature on the question treats the historicity of the Apostle’s presence and activities in India, trying to combine the different western and eastern testimonies with elements of local tradition and archaeological findings. The general outcome of these investigations is that the question of the historicity of the tradition is unsolvable by means of the scholarly methods that we have at our disposal. The strongest argument in favour of the historicity remains nothing other than the tradition itself, an unanimous tradition held not only in India, but also in the whole Christian Orient. Here we also face something quite extraordinary, which deserves a different approach. In fact, the very existence of the traditions concerning the Apostle, divergent in their details but unanimous in their core message, and the role of these traditions shaping the self-identity of the community, is a matter of objective fact. Setting aside the question of how true historically the tradition is, we should recognise the St Thomas traditions as constituting an important, if not the most important, factor in the formation of the Nazranies’ communal identity. The tradition of Saint Thomas preaching and converting in India and apparently converting nobody but members of the higher castes expresses both the Nazranies’ embeddedness in the surrounding majority Hindu society and their separation. It explains why they find themselves integrated into the Indian culture, speaking the same language – Malayalam – as their neighbours. But it also explains why they are separate, professing a different faith, Christianity. It also explains their ambiguous but traditionally well-established position in the society. Being Christians, they believe in the absolute truth and the sole saving power of their religion. At the same time, they live in a society that has been able to accept them as one among its organic strata, while also accepting Christ and the saints as belonging to the community of the many divinities legitimately worshipped by the different segments of the Hindu society. It considered the Christians as one element belonging to the same society, and permitted them to practise their professions (mainly trade and agriculture and, to a lesser extent, military service), which were highly regarded by others. The Hindus also venerated the Christian holy places, and they still hold the priests of the St Thomas Christians in high esteem, considering them as holy men. This might not have always been the case, and the remembrances in the tradition about earlier persecutions may point to less tolerant periods and neighbourhoods. All this and much more is admirably expressed in the founding traditions of the community, connected to Saint Thomas.

    3. Traditions of Thomas of Kana and the Earliest Syrian Connections

    The identity of the St Thomas Christians is not exhausted by their being Indian and Christian. They are also Syrian. As Placid Podipara says in an emblematic writing of his, “they are Hindu or Indian in culture, Christian in religion and Syro-Oriental in worship.” How they came under Syrian influence is again told by stories preserved by the oral tradition. This speaks about the arrival of another Thomas, Thomas of Kana (Knayi Thomman in Malayalam), a rich Syrian merchant from Persia according to one version, but a Christian Jew originating from Kana in Palestine, a relative of Jesus himself, according to others. The Kerala tradition, which connects its events to absolutely precise dates, knows that this happened in 345 AD. Normally this date is taken for granted both in oral conversation and in writing. However, the early Portuguese witnesses give a wide range of datings. According to some, this Thomas of Kana came even earlier, so that he could still meet a servant of Saint Thomas, while others hold that he came later, namely in 752 AD, some 700 years after the Apostle. The date 345 seems to come from or at least to be documented by a Syriac text written by a certain Father Matthew, in Malabar, in 1730. With Thomas came seventy or seventy-two families (this number representing the totality of a people, as in the case of the translators of the Septuagint or in that of the greater circle of the apostles). It is said that Thomas found the St Thomas Christians in great spiritual need, and so he reorganised them and put them under the jurisdiction of the Persian Church. In this way the jurisdictional link of the Malabar Coast with the Syrian Churches would originate from this time.

    An important element of the tradition is the famous copper plates that Thomas of Kana is said to have received from the King of Malabar, the Cheruman Perumal. In Kerala in the Middle Ages royal charters on privileges were written on copper plates, generally in Grandha or Vattezhuttu (literally, “round script”) characters. Communities belonging to different religions possess their own copper plates – so also the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. At present some of the Christian copper plates are kept at some important ecclesiastical centres, such as the Metropolitanate of the Mar Thoma Church in Tiruvalla and the Syrian Orthodox Catholicosate in Kottayam. The copper plates are not shown to visitors. Several mutually contradictory decipherings of them have been published. In Portuguese times there seem to have existed the very copper plates that were claimed to contain the privileges that the Cheruman Perumal king gave to Thomas of Kana. In the middle of the sixteenth century the Portuguese acquired them, but by the end of the same century they were lost. According to a tradition noted by the Portuguese, these plates briefly related the story of Thomas of Kana arriving in Cranganore and receiving royal privileges from the king. These privileges were the following: he gave his own name, Coquarangon, to Thomas, and he also gave him the “City of the Great Idol,” Magoderpattanam or Mahadevarpatnam, and a great forest for possession forever, then seven kinds of musical instruments and together with them all honours for the Christians to speak and behave as kings do, so that their brides may whistle during their wedding ceremony, just as the women of the kingly families do, to spread carpets on the grounds, to wear sandals, and to ride elephants. Besides this he gave Thomas and his people the right to five different taxes that they could collect.

    Be that as it may, these traditions are also important formative elements of the Kerala Christians’ identity and have an explicative value for their social reality. In fact, it is these traditions that explain not only the Syrian affiliation, but also a division between the Indian Christians, that is, the division between two endogamous groups, the “Southists” (thekkumbhagar) and the “Northists” (vadakkumbhagar). Both groups claim legitimate descent from Thomas of Kana and the families that accompanied him, but only the Southists say that they have conserved pure Syrian blood. The names are believed to come from the fact that once the two groups inhabited respectively the northern and the southern part of the Christian quarter of Cranganore.

    Thus, it is to the time of Thomas of Kana that the tight jurisdictional and cultural relationship between the Church of Malabar and the Persian Church is traced back. According to some historians, this relationship meant purely and simply an allegiance to the Church of the East; according to others, the Malabar Christians were under the impression that the whole Orient belonged to the Patriarchate of Antioch, so that the Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon would be a representative of the Patriarch of Antioch. This debate is theoretically unsolvable, but concrete research into the extant documents will surely decide about the merits of each opinion.

    4. Church Governance before the Portuguese Period

    According to the traditional structure, the Indian diocese of the Church of the East was governed by a Metropolitan sent by the Catholicos Patriarch, from Seleucia-Ctesiphon. At the same time, on the local level, in India Church affairs were governed by the Malabar yogam, that is, Assembly. There was also an indigenous head of the Church of Malabar, called in Malayalam Jatikku Karthavian, which, according to Jacob Kollaparambil, means “the head of the caste," that is, the head of the St Thomas Christians, but also the "Archdeacon of All India." Apparently, in his person an indigenous function, characteristic of the St Thomas Christian community, was combined with an existing function of the Church of the East. According to the canons of the latter Church, the Archdeacon is the highest priestly rank: he is the head of all the clerics belonging to a bishopric; he is responsible for the whole worship of the cathedral church and represents the will of the bishop in his absence. One clearly understands how the appointment of an indigenous Archdeacon of All India served the needs of the ecclesiastical organisation of the Church of the East. While the Catholicos Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon reserved for himself the right to send his own prelates originating from Iraq to the Indian diocese, the continuous governance of his Indian flock was secured by the indigenous Archdeacon serving as the head of all the priests in Malabar and representing the bishop’s will.

    However, from the local point of view, the rank of the Archdeacon was more important than this; not only was he the most important priest of the community, but he also fulfilled the role of an Ethnarch. He was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as “Archdeacon and Gate of All India, Governor of India.” The origin and the meaning of the term “Gate” is mysterious. One might suppose that it is a Christological title: “I am the Gate of the sheep” (Jn 10:7). While originally the Archdeacon in the Church of the East was elected by the bishop according to merit, the office of the Archdeacon of India seems to have been hereditary. It was the privilege of the Pakalomattam family, at least from the sixteenth century onwards. Indeed, we know about a number of Pakalomattam Archdeacons, beginning with 1502, when Metropolitan John of India appointed George Pakalomattam. The name of the family varies, and the family seems to be identical with the Parambil family, translated into Portuguese as De Campo. The Archdeacon had all the attributes of a secular leader and was normally escorted by a number, sometimes several thousands, of soldiers. It is important to note that while there could be several bishops appointed for the Malabar Diocese, there was always only one Archdeacon, a custom contrary to the canons of the Church of the East. This situation is best explained by the fact that from the point of view of the East Syrian Church structure the Archdeacon was an ecclesiastical function, but from that of the St Thomas Christian community it was also a socio-political, princely function, representing the unity of the Christian nation, or caste(s), of Hendo (India).

    5. The Early Portuguese Period

    For any element whatsoever, such as the ones mentioned before, of the history of the St Thomas Christian community before the arrival of the Portuguese colonisers, one has barely any sources other than local traditions and traditions. Documented history seems to begin with the arrival of the Portuguese. The European documentation beginning with this period already permits a fairly detailed picture of the social status, the life and the customs of the Christians whom they found upon their arrival in southern India, and in principle all the following, colonial, history of the community can be traced. However, here as well, although to a lesser extent, history is inextricably interwoven with oral tradition.

    At the moment when the Portuguese arrived on the Malabar Coast, the Christian communities that they found there had had longstanding traditional links with the East Syrian Christians in Mesopotamia. During the subsequent period, in 1552, a split occurred within the Church of the East. Part of it joined Rome, so that besides the “Nestorian” Catholicosate of the East another, “Chaldaean,” Patriarchate was founded, headed by the Patriarch Mar John Sulaqa (1553-1555), claiming 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. Apparently, both parties sent bishops to India. Over against earlier, somewhat romantic views, which took it for granted that there was a continuous line of Chaldaean bishops, without any Nestorian interference, by now it has become clear that the real situation was the following. The last pre-schism East Syrian Metropolitan, Mar Jacob (1504-1552), died just when the schism occurred. Apparently the first among the two Patriarchs to send a prelate to India was the Nestorian Catholicos, Simeon VII Denkha. The person whom he sent was Mar Abraham, who, later, was to be the last Syrian Metropolitan of Malabar, after having gone over to the Chaldaean side. When he arrived in Malabar is not known, but he must have been there already in 1556. Approximately at the same time, Abdisho IV (1555-1567), the successor of John Sulaqa (murdered in 1555), 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, when the Portuguese were finally alerted by the presence of Mar Abraham and allowed Mar Joseph, accompanied by another Chaldaean bishop, Mar Eliah, to – very briefly – occupy his see, before the Inquisition also sent him to Lisbon in 1562. In this way, nominally there were two rival Syrian Metropolitans in Kerala until 1558, when Mar Abraham was captured, forced to confess the Catholic faith in Cochin and sent back to Mesopotamia, to the Chaldaean Patriarch Abdisho, who (re-)consecrated him Metropolitan and sent him to Rome. There Mar Abraham was ordained Metropolitan a third time in 1565 by Pope Pius IV. The Pope wanted Mar Abraham to reign jointly with Mar Joseph, who in the meantime had returned to Malabar in 1564, only to be deported a second time in 1567 and die in Rome in 1569. From Rome, Mar Abraham returned to Mesopotamia and reached the Malabar Coast for the second time in 1568. Although he was once again detained in Goa, in 1570 he managed to escape, and governed the Malabar Christians until his death in 1597.

    Taking into account the fact that Mar Abraham had gone over to the Chaldaeans, the Nestorian Catholicos Patriarch, Mar Eliah VIII (1576-1591), sent another bishop, Mar Simeon, to Kerala. Mar Simeon probably arrived there in 1576. He stayed there until 1584, when he was captured and sent to Rome, where it was discovered that he was a Nestorian and, on account of this fact, his ordination as priest and bishop was declared invalid. He was confined to a Franciscan friary in Lisbon, where he died in 1599.

    It is reported that before leaving Malabar, Mar Simeon appointed a priest as his “vicar general,” Jacob by name, who, according to the Portuguese testimonies, resisted all the Latin innovations introduced under Mar Abraham and was finally excommunicated by Archbishop Menezes of Goa before he died in 1596. However, as this priest is also called Archdeacon, I would suggest that his role should be reconsidered. The Chaldaean Archdeacon during the first part of the reign of Mar Abraham was George of Christ, who was on friendly terms with the Latin missionaries and was to be appointed the successor of Mar Abraham as Metropolitan of India. Thus he should have become, according to the plans of Mar Abraham, supported by the Jesuits, the first indigenous Chaldaean Metropolitan of the St Thomas Christians. However, the last letter of Mar Abraham, where he requests the Pope to confirm George’s ordination as Bishop of Palur and his coadjutor, is dated January 13, 1584, while from another letter of the same Mar Abraham we learn that the consecration of George failed because of the latter’s death. After this, we hear about an Archdeacon with Roman allegiance, perhaps John, the brother of George of Christ, appointed in 1591. As Archdeacon Jacob appears on the scene as a leader of the Church of Malabar in 1584, I would suggest that he was the one who inherited the office of the Archdeacon from George. Rather than being appointed by Mar Simeon, the Nestorian Metropolitan, he inherited the office by family right and sided with Mar Simeon against Mar Abraham, which resulted in a very tense situation. The Roman side seems to have tried to solve this problem by appointing a rival Archdeacon, the first one in 1591 and the second, George of the Cross, in 1593. In this way, although from 1552 rival Metropolitans sent by the two East Syrian Patriarchs contended for the allegiance of the St Thomas Christians, still, until 1656, the date of the consecration of Kunju Mathai (Matthew) as Archdeacon of the Latin allegiance against Mar Thoma, the former Archdeacon now in revolt, there was only a very brief period (between 1591 and 1596) when two rival Archdeacons contended against each other.

    6. The Synod of Diamper and the Syrian Orthodox Mission in India

    Alexis de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa from 1595 until his death in 1617, together with his Jesuit advisers, decided to bring the Kerala Christians to obedience, an obedience that they conceived as complete conformity to the Roman or ‘Latin’ customs. This meant separating the Nazranies not only from the Nestorian Catholicosate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, but also from the Chaldaean Patriarchate of Babylon, and subjecting them directly to the Latin Archbishopric of Goa. The most important stage of their activity was the famous Synod of Diamper (Udayamperur) in 1599, when the local Christians’ customs were officially anathematised as heretical and their manuscripts were condemned to be either corrected or burnt. The oppressive rule of the Portuguese padroado (’patronage’) provoked a violent reaction on the part of the indigenous Christian community. This was the Kunan Kurishu Satyam (Bent Cross Oath) in Matancherry, Cochin, in 1653, when the rebels, headed by their Archdeacon, made a vow not to accept any allegiance unless to a Syrian Church. In the same year, Archdeacon Thomas was ordained, by the laying on of hands of twelve priests, as the first indigenous Metropolitan of Kerala, under the name Mar Thoma I. Later, in 1665, on the arrival of Mor Grigorios Abd al-Jalil, a bishop sent by the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, this movement resulted in the Mar Thoma party’s joining the Antiochian Patriarchate and in the gradual introduction of the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script on the Malabar Coast.

    7. The Background and the Aftermath of These Events

    During the entire period beginning with the intervention of Archbishop Menezes of Goa in the affairs of the Church of Malabar in 1598, up to the consecration of Archdeacon Thomas as Mar Thoma I in 1653 and his joining the Antiochian (Syrian Orthodox) Patriarchate in 1665, events were dominated by a constant tension between the Latin Archbishops designated by the Portuguese and the Archdeacons leading the St Thomas Christian community. In 1597, Mar Abraham, the last Chaldaean Metropolitan of India, died. Mar Abraham, although originally a Nestorian and accused by the Jesuit Francisco Roz of holding ‘Nestorian’ views, seems to have remained a faithful Chaldaean bishop, that is, in sincere community with Rome, as attested by his copy of the Nomocanon of Abdisho bar Brikha of Nisibis, which he carried to Malabar and which is still preserved in the Library of the Major Catholic Archbishop’s House in Ernakulam. Already the scribe who copied the Nomocanon for Mar Abraham included the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed in its Latin form, with the Filioque, and on the first folio of the book one can read a anathema by Mar Abraham on Nestorius.

    Thus, if there was strife between the Portuguese missionaries and the indigenous Christians and their Iraqi prelates, it was not of a truly doctrinal, but of an ecclesiological and jurisdictional character. However, something else was also involved: the identity of the St Thomas Christians. In their striving to preserve their identity, after the death of Mar Abraham in 1597, the most important role was given to Archdeacon George of the Cross, appointed by Mar Abraham in 1593. Archbishop Alexis de Menezes, who was both an ambitious and indeed violent person and a very able Church politician, succeeded in bringing the Archdeacon to obedience and in abolishing the Chaldaean jurisdiction on the Malabar Coast. How perfectly he succeeded is another question, where legends once again begin to play their role. Be that as it may, under his immediate successors this apparent success proved to be more ephemeral and less complete than it appeared after the Synod of Diamper in 1599.

    The strife between the Latin Archbishops and the Archdeacons – first George of the Cross and then his nephew, Thomas Parambil (de Campo) – continued and resulted in several revolts of the latter against the former, whenever the Archbishop tried to curtail the traditional rights of the Archdeacon. In this way George of the Cross revolted against Francisco Roz, Archbishop of Angamali (1601-1624), first in 1609, when the latter excommunicated him, and also in 1618. Although George had more friendly relations with Roz’s successor, Stephen Britto (1624-1641), he also revolted against the latter in 1632. The rule of the next Archbishop, Francis Garcia (1641-1659), was again dominated by constant tension between him and the Archdeacon, Thomas Parambil, until the latter apparently decided definitively to break away from Roman jurisdiction. In 1648-1649 he sent a number of letters to several Oriental Patriarchs and thus to the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, to the Syrian Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch and most probably also to the Chaldaean Patriarch of Babylon, requesting them to send bishops to Malabar.

    As an answer to these letters, a certain Mar A'tallah, a bishop who called himself Mor Ignatius, Patriarch of India and China, arrived in India, but the Portuguese detained him in Mylapore and the rumour spread that he had been drowned in the sea. His detention so enraged the Archdeacon and his party that they revolted against the Jesuits. On January 3, 1653, a mass of people gathered in Matancherry in Cochin, and swore an oath not to obey the Franks, that is, the Portuguese, but only the Archdeacon, who on May 22 of the same year was ordained bishop, under the name Mar Thoma, twelve priests laying their hands on him. This was the famous Bent Cross Oath, during which almost the entire St Thomas Christian community seceded from Rome. From the history preceding this event, it is rather clear that this secession cannot be explained by its immediate pretext, that is, the detention of Mar A'tallah, but was the fulfilment of a long-nurtured wish of the Archdeacon, who could not accept his subjugation, and of the local Christians, who wanted to preserve their traditions and autonomy.

    This event was followed by a rather troubled period, further complicated by the fact that the Dutch gradually conquered the Malabar Coast. In 1663 they conquered Cochin and expelled all the Portuguese and other European missionaries, with the exception of some Franciscans. At this moment the Apostolic Commissary, Bishop Joseph Sebastiani, had no other choice than to consecrate an indigenous prelate for the remaining party that did not obey Mar Thoma, the former Archdeacon and current bishop. For this purpose he could not but choose another member of the same Parambil family, considered as the leader of the community: Alexander de Campo, or Mar Chandy Parambil, who was the cousin of Mar Thoma and originally one of his main four helpers or advisers during the Bent Cross Oath. He made Mar Chandy Parambil a Vicar Apostolic and a titular bishop only, but Mar Chandy Parambil considered himself a Metropolitan and signed his documents as “Metropolitan of All India.” Moreover, in 1678, he also appointed an Archdeacon, who happened to be his own nephew, Mathew Parambil (or De Campo). Thus, at this point, due to the binding force of the events and the strategic thought of Bishop Sebastiani, there were to be found two bishops of the St Thomas Christian community, who were close relatives of each other, both from the traditional leading family of the Nazarenes.


    István Perczel

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