St. Thomas Christians The Syrian merchant Thomas Cana arrives in Malabar

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There is one incident of the long period of isolation of the St. Thomas Christians from the rest of the Christian world which they are never tired of relating, and it is one of considerable importance to them for the civil status it conferred and secured to them in the country. This is the narrative of the arrival of a Syrian merchant on their shores, a certain Mar Thoma Cana — the Portuguese have named him Cananeo and styled him an Armenian, which he was not. He arrived by ship on the coast and entered the port of Cranganore. The King of Malabar, Cheruman Perumal, was in the vicinity, and receiving information of his arrival sent for him and admitted him to his presence. Thomas was a wealthy merchant who had probably come to trade; the King took a liking to this man, and when he expressed a wish to acquire land and make a settlement the King readily acceded to his request and let him purchase land, then unoccupied, at Cranganore. Under the king’s orders Thomas soon collected a number of Christians from the surrounding country, which enabled him to start a town on the ground marked out for his occupation. He is said to have collected seventy-two Christian families (this is the traditional number always mentioned) and to have installed them in as many separate houses erected for them; attach to each dwelling was a sufficient piece of land for vegetable cultivation for the support of the family as is the custom of the country. He also erected a dwelling for himself and eventually a church. The authorization to possess the land and dwellings erected was granted to Thomas by a deed of paramount Lord and Rajah of Malabar, Cheruman Perumal, said to have been the last of the line, the country having been subsequently divided among his feudatories. (The details given above as well as what follows of the copper plate grant are taken from the “Report”.) The same accord also speak of several privileges and honours by the king to Thomas himself, his descendants, and to the Thomas Christians, by which the latter community obtained status above the lower classes, and which made them equal to the Nayars, the middle class in the country.
The deed read as follows:
May Cocurangon [personal name of the king] be prosperous, enjoy a long life and live 100,000 years, divine servant of the gods, strong, true, just, full of deeds, reasonable, powerful over the whole earth, happy, conquering, glorious, rightly prosperous in the service of the gods, in Malabar, in the city of the Mahadeva [the great idol of the temple in the vicinity of Cranganore] reigning in the year of Mercury on the seventh day [Portuguese text: elle no tepo de Mercurio de feu to no dia, etc.] of the mouth of March before the full moon the same king Cocurangon being in Carnallur there landed Thomas Cana, a chief man who arrived in a ship wishing to see the farthest parts of the East. And some men seeing how he arrived informed the king. The king himself came and saw and sent for the chief man Thomas, and he disembarked and came before the king, who spoke graciously to him. To honour him he gave him his name, styling him Cocurangon Cana, and he went to rest in his place, and the king gave him the city of Mogoderpatanam, (Cranganore) for ever. And the same king being in his great prosperity went one day to hunt in the forest, and he hastily sent for Thomas, who came and stood before the king in a propitious hour, and the king consulted the astrologer. And afterwards the king spoke to Thomas that he should build a town in that forest, and he made reverence and answered the king: I require this forest for myself’, and the king granted it to him for ever. And forthwith another day he cleared the forest and he cast his eyes upon it in the same year on the eleventh of April, and in a propetious time gave it to Thomas for a heritage in the name of the king, who laid the first stone of the church and the house of Thomas Cana, and he built there a town for all, and entered the church and prayed there on the same day. After these things Thomas himself went to the feet of the king and offered his gifts, and this he asked the king to give that land to him and his descendants; and he measured out two hundred and sixty-four elephant cubits and gave them to Thomas and his descendants for ever, and jointly sixty-two houses which immediately erected there, and gardens with their enclosures and paths and boundaries and inner yards. And he granted seven kinds of musical instruments and all honours and the right of travelling in a palanquin, and he conferred on him dignity and the privilege of spreading carpets on the ground and the use of sandals, and to erect a pavilion at his gate and ride on elephants, and also granted five taxes to Thomas and his companions, both men and women, for all his relations and to the followers of his law for ever.
The said king gave his name and these princes witnessed it…
Then follow the names of eight witnesses, and a note is added by the Portuguese translator that this is the document by which the Emperor of all Malabar gave the land of Cranganore to Thomas Cana and also to Christians of St. Thomas. This document, transcribed from the manuscript “Report”, has been carefully translated into English, as it forms the “Great Charter” of the St. Thomas Christians. The “Report” adds: “and because at that time they reckoned the era in cycles of twelve years according to the course, therefore they say in the Olla [Malayalam term for a document written on palm leaf] that the said settlement was founded in the year of the mercury… that mode of reckoning is totally forgotten, for the last seven hundred and seventy-nine years in all this Malabar time has been reckoned by the Quilon era. However, since the said Perumal, as we have said above, died more than a thousand and two hundred years, it follows: that same number of years have elapsed since the Church and Christians were established at Cranganore.” The writer of the “Report” had previously stated “it is one thousand and two hundred and fifty and eight years since Perumal, as we have said above, died on the first of March”. Deducing the date of the “Report” this would give A.D. 346 for his death. Diego de Couto (Decada XII), quoting the above grant in full, says that the Syrian Christians fix A.D. 811 as corresponding to the date borne on the grant; the first is far too early, and the second is an approximately probable date. The “Report” informs us that the copper plates on which this deed or grant was inscribed were taken away to Portugal by Franciscan Fathers, who left behind a translation of the same. It is known that the Syrian Bishop of Malabar, Mar Jacob, had deposited with the Factor of Cochin all the Syrian copper grants for safe custody; providing however that when necessary access could be had to the same. Gouvea at p. 4 of his “Jornada” says that after having remained there for some long time they could not be found and were lost through some carelessness; de Couto asserts the same in the passage quoted above and also elsewhere. In 1806 at the suggestion of Rev. Claude Buchanan, Colonel Macauly, the British resident, ordered a careful search for them and they turned up in the record room of Cochin town. The tables then contained (1) the grant to Irani Cortton of Cranganore, and (2) the set of plates of the grant to Maruvan Sopi Iso of Quilon, but those of the grant to Thomas Cana were not among them; had they not been removed they would have been found with other plates; this confirms the statement of the writer of the “Report” that they had been taken to Portugal. From what is stated in the royal deed to Thomas Cana it may be taken for granted that the latter brought with him a small colony of Syrians from Mesopotamia, for the privileges conceded include his companions, both men and women, and all his relations.
The arrival also of two pious brothers, church-builders
Besides the arrival of Thomas Cana and his colony, by which the early Christians benefited considerably, the “Report” also records the arrival on this coast of two individuals named Soper Iso and Prodho; they are said to have been brothers and are supposed to have been Syrians. The “Report” gives the following details; they came to possess a promontory opposite Paliport on the north side, which is called Maliankara, and they entered the port with a large load of timber to build a church; and in the Chaldean books of this Serra there is no mention of them, except that they were brothers, came to Quilon, built a church there, and worked some miracles. After death they were buried in the church they had erected; it is said that they had built other smaller churches in the country; they were regarded as pious men and were later called saints, their own church was eventually dedicated to them as well as others in the country. Archbishop Alexis Menezes afterwards changed the dedication of these churches to other saints in the Roman calender. There is one important item that the “Report” has preserved: “the said brothers built the church of Quilon in the hundredth year after the foundation of Quilon.” (This era commences from 25 August, A.D. 825, and the date will thus be A.D. 925). The second of the aforesaid copper-plates mention Meruvan Sober Iso, one of the above brothers. The “Report” also makes mention of pilgrims coming from Mesopotamia to visit the shrine of the Apostle at Mylapur; some of these at times would settle there and others in Malabar. It may be stated here that the Syrians of Malabar are as a body natives of the land by descent, and the Syriac trait in them is that of their liturgy, which is in the Syrian language. They call themselves Syrians by way of distinction from other body of Christians on the coast, who belong to the Latin Rite. The honorific appellation bestowed upon them by the rulers of the country is that of Mapla, which signifies great son or child, and they were commonly so called by the people; this appellation also have been given to the descendants of Arabs in the country; the St. Thomas Christians now prefer to be called Nasrani (Nazarenes), the designation given by the Mohammedans to all Christians.
Ancient stone crosses and their inscriptions
There are certain stone crosses of ancient date in southern India, bearing inscriptions in Pahlavi letters. Extraordinary legends have been spread about them in some parts of Europe; the present writer was shown an engraving purporting to reproduce one of them, with a legend of the Apostolate and martyrdom of St. Thomas, a reproduction of the inscription on his crosses. This was attached to the calender of one of the dioceses of France, and this writer was asked if it were authentic.
To prevent the spreading of such reports it may be useful to state here of these crosses one is in the Church of Mount St. Thomas, Mylapur, discovered in 1547 after the arrival of the Portuguese in India; other is in the church of Kottayam, Malabar. Both are of Nestorian origin, are engraved as a bas-relief on the flat stone with ornamental decorations around the cross, and bear an inscription. The inscription has been variously read. Dr. Burnell, an Indian antiquary, says that both crosses bear the same inscription, and offer the following reading: “In punishment by the cross was the suffering of this one, Who is the true Christ, God above and Guide ever pure.” These crosses bear some resemblance to the Syro-Chinese Nestorian monument discovered in 1625 at Singan-fu, an ancient capital of China but erected in 781 and commemorating the arrival in China of Chaldean Nestorian missionaries in 636.
Their early prelates
Of the prelates who governed the Church in India after the Apostle’s death very little is known; that little is collected and reproduced here. John the Persian, who was present at the Council of Nice (325), is the first known to history claiming the title. In his signature to the degrees of the Council he styles himself; John the Persian [presiding] over the churches in all Persia and Great India. The designation implies that he was the [primate] Metropolitan of Persia and also the Bishop of Great India. As metropolitan and the chief bishop of the East he may have represented at the council the Catholics of Seleucia. His control of the Church in India could only have been exercised by his sending priests under his juridiction to minister to those Christians. It is not known at what date India first commenced to have resident bishops; but between the years 530-35 Cosmas Indicopleustes in his “topographia” informs us of the presence of a bishop residing in Caliana, the modern Kalyan at a short distance from Bombay. That residence was, in all probability, chosen because it was then the chief port of commerce on the west coast of India, and had easy access and communication with Persia. We know later of a contention which took place between Jesuab of Adiabene the Nestorian Patriarch and Simeon of Ravardshir, the Metropolitan of Persia, who had left India unprovided with bishops for a long period. The Patriarch reproached him severely for this gross neglect. We may take it that up to the period 650-60 the bishops sent to India, as Cosmas has said, were consecrated in Persia, but after this gross neglect the patriarch reserved to himself the choice and consecration of the prelates he sent out to India, and this practice was continued till the arrival of the Portuguese on the coast in 1504.
Le Quien places the two brothers Soper Iso and Prodho on the list of bishops of India, but Indian tradition gives it no support, and in this the British Museum Manuscript Report and Gouvea (Jornada, p. 5) concur. The brothers were known as church-builders, and were reputed to be holy men. Moreover, to include Thomas Cana in the lists of bishops is preposterous on the face of the evidence of the copper-plate grant. The “Report” mentions a long period when there was neither bishop nor priest surviving in the land, for they had all died out; the only clerical survival was a deacon far advanced in age. The ignorant Christians, finding themselves without prelates, made him say Mass and even ordain others, but as soon as prelates came from Babylon they put a stop to this disorder. The next authentic information we have on this head comes from the Vatican Library and has been published by Assemani (Bibli. Or., III, 589). It consists of a statement concerning two Nestorian bishops and their companions and a letter the former written in Syriac to the Patriarch announcing their arrival, dated 1504; there is a translation in Latin added to the documents. In 1490 the Christians of Malabar dispatched three messengers to ask the Nestorian Patriarch to send out bishops; one died on the journey, the other two presented themselves before the Patriarch and delivered their message; two monks were selected and the Patriach consecrated them bishops, assigning to one the name of Thomas and to the other that of John. The two bishops started on their journey to India accompanied by the two messengers. On their arrival they were received with great joy by the people, and the bishops commenced consecrating altars and ordaining a large number of priests “as they had been for a long time deprived of bishops”. One of them, John, remained in India, while the other Thomas, accompanied by Joseph, one of the messengers, returned to Mesopotamia, taking with them the offerings collected for the patriarch. Joseph returned to India in 1493, but Thomas remained in Mesopotamia.
After about ten years, when the next patriarch ordained three other bishops for India, Thomas went back with them. These new bishops were also chosen from the monks, one was named Jaballa (he was the metropolitan), the second was named Denha, and the third Jacob. These four bishops took ship from Ormus and landed at Kananur; they found there some twenty Portuguese who had recently arrived and presented themselves to them, said they were Christians, explained their condition and rank, and were kindly treated. Of this large number of bishops, only one remained to work, and this was Mar Jacob; the other three, including the metropolitan, after a short time returned to their country. Gouvea adds that they were either dissatisfied with their charge or did not like the country. The Portuguese writers mention only two bishops as residents, John who had come before their arrival in India and Mar Jacob. Nothing further is known of John but Jacob lived in the country till his death. St. Francis Xavier makes a very pretty elogium of him in a letter written to King John III of Portugal on 26 January, 1549. “Mar Jacob [or Jacome Abuna, as St. Francis styles him] for forty-five years has served God and your Highness in these parts, a very old, a virtuous, and a holy man, and at the same time unnoticed by your Highness and by almost all in India. God rewards him . . . He is noticed only by the Fathers of St. Francis, and they take so good care of him that nothing more is wanted . . . He has laboured much among the Christians of St. Thomas, and now in his old age he is very obedient to the customs of the Holy Mother Church of Rome.” This elogium of St. Francis sums up his career for the forty-five years he worked in Malabar (1504-49). He came out as a Nestorian, remained such during his early years, but gradually as he came in touch with the Catholic missionaries he allowed them to preach in his churches and to instruct his people; in his old age he left Cranganore and went to live in the Franciscan convent at Cochin and there he died in 1549. There remain two others — the last of the Mesopotamian prelates who presided over these Christians — Mar Joseph and Mar Abraham; their career will be detailed further on.
Were these Christians infected with Nestorianism before 1599?
When Cosmas gave us the information of the existence of a Christian community in “Male (Malabar) where the pepper is grown” he also supplied us with additional details: that they have a bishop residing at Kalyan; that in Taprobano [ Ceylon] “an island of interior India where the Indian Ocean is situated” there is a “Christian Church with clergy and the faithful; similarly in the island of Dioscordis [Socotra] in the same Indian Ocean.” Then he enumerates the churches in Arabia Felix, Bactria, and among the Huns; and all these churches are by him represented to be controlled by the Metropolitan of Persia. Now at that time the holder of this dignity was Patrick, the tutor, as Assemani designates him, of Thomas of Edessa, a prominent Nestorian to which sect Cosmas also belonged; hence his interest in supplying all these details. The bishop and clergy whom the Metropolitan, Patrick, would send out to all the above-mentioned places and churches would and must have been undoubtedly infected with one and the same heresy. Hence it is quite safe to conclude that at the time of the visit of Cosmas to India (A.D. 530-35) all these churches, as also the Church in India, were holding the Nestorian doctrine of their bishops and priests. Nor should this historical fact cause surprise when we take into consideration the opportunities, the bold attitude and violent measures adopted by the promoters of this heresy after expulsion from the Roman Empire. When the Emperor Zeno ordered Cyrus, Bishop of Edessa, to purge his diocese of that heresy (A.D. 489), the Nestorians were forced to seek refuge across the Roman boundary into Persia. Among them were the banished professors and students of the Persian School of Edessa, the centre of the Nestorian error, and they found refuge and protection with Barsumas, Metropolitan of Nisibis, himself a fanatical adherent of Nestorius. Barsumas at this time also held from the Persian king the office of governor of the frontier.
With the influence Barsumas possessed at court it was an easy thing for him to make the king, already so disposed, believe that the actual bishops holding sees in his territory were friendly to his enemies, the Romans, and that it would be better to replace them by men he knew who would owe allegiance only to the Persian monarch. This stratagem rapidly succeeded in capturing most of those sees; and the movement became so strong that, although Barsumas predeceased Acka (Acacius), the occupant of the chief see of Seleucia, a Catholic, yet a Nestorian was selected to succeed the latter (A.D. 496). Thus within the short space of seven years the banished heresy sat mistress on the throne of Seleucia, in a position to force every existing see eastward of the Roman Empire to embrace the heresy and to secure its permanence. Thus the Indian Church suffered the same fate which befell the Churches of Persia, and by 530-35 we find that she has a Nestorian prelate consecrated in Persia and presiding at Kalyan over her future destiny. If further proof is wanted to uphold the above finding, we offer the following historical facts of the control exercised by the Nestorian Patriarch. In 650-60, as above stated, Jesuab of Adiabene claimed authority over India and reproached Simeon of Revardshir, the Metropolitan of Persia, for not having sent bishops to India and so deprived that Church of the succession of her ministry. In 714-28 Saliba Zacha, another Nestorian Patriarch, raised the see of India to metropolitan rank. Again in 857 Theodosius, another Nestorian Patriarch, included the See of India among the exempted which, owing to distance from the patriarchal see, should in future send letters of communion but once in six years. This ruling was subsequently incorporated in a synodal canon.
If we look to the general tradition of the St. Thomas Christians it will be found that all their prelates came from Babylon, the ancient residence as they say, of the Patriarch or Catholicos of the East. It is further known and acknowledged by them that whenever they remained deprived of a bishop for a long time, they used to send messengers to that Patriarchate asking that bishops be sent out to them. Sufficient proof of this practice has been given above when discussing the arrival of four bishops in 1504. The Holy See was fully aware that the Malabar Christians were under the control of the Nestorian Patriarch. When Julius III gave Sulaka his Bull of nomination as the Catholic Chaldean patriarch, he distinctly laid down the same extent of jurisdiction which had been claimed and controlled by his late Nestorian predecessor; hence in the last clause it is distinctly laid down: “In Sin Massin et Calicuth et tota India.” It becomes necessary to fix this historical truth clearly, because some in Malabar deny this historical fact. They would wish people to believe that all the Portuguese missionaries, bishops, priests, and writers were completely mistaken when they styled them Nestorians in belief, and because of this false report all subsequent writers continued to call them Nestorians. The reader who has gone through the statement of facts above related must be conscious that such an attempt at distorting or boldly denying public facts is utterly hopeless. They maintain, in support of their false view, that there always had been a small body among the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia who remained attached to the true Faith, and from them they received their bishops. This plea is historically false, for the bishops they received all came to them from the Nestorians, and as to the hypothesis of the existence during all these centuries back of a Catholic party among the Nestorian Chaldeans, it is too absurd to be discussed. It was only after the conversion of Sulaka in 1552 that the Chaldeans in part returned to the unity of faith. The truth is that the Malabar Church remained from A.D. 496 up till then in heresy.
Medieval travellers on the Thomas Christians
During the centuries that these Christians were isolated from the rest of Christendom, their sole intercourse was limited to Mesopotamia, whence the Nestorian Patriarch would from time to time supply them with prelates. But from the close of the thirteenth century Western travellers, chiefly missionaries sent out by the popes, sent to the West occasional news of their existence. Some of these it will be useful to reproduce here. The first who informed the world of the existence of these St. Thomas Christians was Friar John of Monte Corvino. After he had spent several years as a missionary in Persia and adjoining countries, he proceeded to China, passing through the Indian ports between the years 1292 and 1294. He tells us in a letter written from Cambales (Peking) in 1305 that he had remained thirteen months in that part of India where the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle stood (Mylapore); he also baptized in different places about one hundred persons. In the same letter he says that there were in Malabar a few Jews and Christians, but they were of little worth; he also says that “the inhabitants persecute much the Christians.” (Yule, “Cathay and the Way Thither,” I)
The next visitor is Marco Polo, who on his return from China (c. 1293) touched the India of St. Thomas. Of his tomb he tells us: “The body Of Messer Saint Thomas the Apostle lies in the province of Malabar, at a certain little town having no great population; ’tis a place where few traders go . . . Both Christians and Saracens however greatly frequent it in pilgrimage, for the Saracens also hold the Saint in great reverence….The Christians who go in pilgrimage take some of the earth from the place where the Saint was killed and give a portion thereof to any who is sick, and by the power of God and of St. Thomas the sick man is incontinently cured. . . . The Christians,” he resumes later, “who have charge of the church have a great number of Indian nut trees [coconuts], and thereby get their living” (Marco Polo, Yule’s, 2nd edit., II, 338). Friar Jordan, a Dominican, came to India as a missionary in 1321; he then had as companions four Franciscan friars, but on approaching India he had parted from them to make diversion; in the meanwhile the vessel conveying the others was by stress of weather compelled to enter Tana, a port on the west coast, where the Khasi of the place put them to death as they would not embrace Islam; the feast of Blessed Thomas of Tolentino and his companions is fixed on 6 April in the “Martyrologium Romanum”. Later Jordanus, hearing what had happened, rescued their bodies and gave them burial. He must then have gone back to Europe, for he is next heard of in France in 1330, when Pope John XXII consecrated him at Avignon Bishop of Quilon. He left for the East the same year with two letters from the pope, one to the chief of the Christians of Quilon and the other to the Christians at Molephatam, a town on the Gulf of Manaar. In the first the pope beseeches “that divisions cease and clouds of error stain not the brightness of faith of all generated by the waters of baptism . . . and that the phantom of schism and wilful blindness of unsullied faith darken not the vision of those who believe in Christ and adore His name.”
Much the same in other words is repeated in the second letter, and they are urged to unity with the Holy Catholic Roman Church. The pope recommends the bishop to the kindness of the people, and thanks them for that shown to the friars who are working among them. All we know is that Bishop Jordanus was sent out with these letters, but nothing further is heard of him. He wrote a small book named “Mirabilia”, edited by Col. A. Yule for the Hakluyt Society, published in 1863 (see also “Cathay”, I, 184). The next visitor is Blessed Oderic of Pordenone, who about 1324-25 landed at Tana, recovered the bodies of the four friars, Thomas and his companions who had there suffered martyrdom, and conveyed them to China. On his way he halted at Quilon, which he calls Palumbum; thence he took passage on a Chinese junk for a certain city called Zayton in China. He mentions the Christians at Quilon, and that at Mylapore there were fourteen houses of Nestorians (“Cathay”, I, 57). A few years later Giovanni de Marignolli, the papal delegate to China, arrived at Quilon. He stayed there at a church dedicated to St. George, belonging to the Latin Rite, and he adorned it with fine paintings and taught there the Holy Law. After dwelling there for upwards of a year he sailed to visit the shrine of the Apostle; he calls the town Mirapolis. After describing the culture of pepper on the coast he adds: “the pepper does not grow in forests but in gardens prepared for the purpose; nor are the Saracens the proprietors, but the Christians of St. Thomas, and these are the masters of the public weighing-office” [customs office]. Before leaving Quilon he erected a monument to commemorate his visit, and this was a marble pillar with a stone cross on it, intended to last, as he says, till the world’s end. “It had the pope’s arms” he says, “and my own engraved on it, with an inscription both in Indian and Latin characters. I consecrated and blessed it in the presence of an infinite multitude of people.” The monument stood there till late in the nineteenth century when by the gradual erosion of the coast it fell into the sea and disappeared. He concludes his narrative by saying that after staying a year and four months he took leave of the brethren, i.e. the missionaries who were working in that field.
Their two last Syrian bishops
The two last Syrian bishops were Mar Joseph Sulaka and Mar Abraham; both arrived in Malabar after the arrival of the Portuguese. Their case presents two questions for discussion; were they canonically appointed, and had they completely rejected Nestorianism? As to the first there is no doubt that his appointment was canonical, for he, the brother of the first Chaldean patriarch, was appointed by his successor Abed Jesu and sent out to Malabar, and both the above patriarchs had their jurisdiction over the Church in Malabar confirmed by the Holy See. Mar Joseph was sent to India with letters of introduction from the pope to the Portuguese authorities; he was besides accompanied by Bishop Ambrose, a Dominican and papal commissary to the first patriarch, by his socius Father Anthony, and by Mar Elias Hormaz, Archbishop of Diarbekir. They arrived at Goa about 1563, and were detained at Goa for eighteen months before being allowed to enter the diocese. Proceeding to Cochin they lost Bishop Ambrose; the others travelled through Malabar for two and a half years on foot, visiting every church and detached settlement. By the time they arrived at Angamale war broke out. Then Mar Elias, Anthony the socius of the deceased prelate, and one of the two Syrian monks who had accompanied them, left India to return; the other monk remained with Archbishop Joseph Sulaka. For some time the new prelate got on well with the Portuguese and Jesuit missionaries, in fact, they praised him for having introduced order, decorum, and propriety in the Church services and all went harmoniously for some time. Later, friction arose because of his hindering the locally-ordained Syrians from saying mass and preaching and instructing his flock. Eventually an incident revealed that Mar Joseph had not dropped his Nestorian errors, for it was reported to the Bishop of Cochin that he had attempted to tamper with the faith of some young boys in his service belonging to the Diocese of Cochin. This came to the knowledge of the bishop, through him to the Metropolitan of Goa, then to the viceroy; it was decided to remove and send him to Portugal, to be dealt with by the Holy See.
The following is the nature of the incident. Taking these youths apart, he instructed them that they should venerate the Blessed Virgin as the refuge of sinners, but were not to call her Mother of God, as that was not true; but she should be styled Mother of Christ (Nestorius, refusing at the Council of Ephesus the term Theotokos proposed by the council, substituted that of Christokos, which the Fathers refused to accept because under this designation he could cloak his error of two person in Christ). Mar Joseph was sent to Portugal; arriving there he succeeded in securing the good will of the Queen, then regent for her young son; he abjured his error before Cardinal Henry, expressed repentance, and by order of the queen was sent back to his diocese. Gouvea tells us that as he continued to propagate his errors on his return he was again deported and Cardinal Henry reported his case to St. Pius V. The pope sent a Brief to Jorge, Archbishop of Goa, dated 15 Jan., 1567, ordering him to make enqueries into the conduct and doctrine of the prelate; in consequence of this the first provincial council was held; the charges against Mar Joseph were found to be true and he was sent to Portugal in 1568, thence to Rome, where he died shortly after his arrival.
While the former was leaving India there arrived from Mesopotemia an imposter named Abraham, sent by Simeon the Nestorian Patriarch. he succeeded in entering Malabar undetected. At the appearance of another Chaldean who proclaimed himself a bishop the people were greatly delighted and received him with applause; he set about at once acting as bishop, holding episcopal functions, and conferring Holy orders and quietly established himself in the diocese. (Gouva, p. col. 2). Later the Portuguese captured him and sent him to Portugual, but en route he escaped at Mozambique, found his way back to Mesopotamia, and went straight to Mar Abed Jesu the Chaldean Patriarch, having realized from his Indian experience that unless he secured a nomination from him it would be difficult to establish himself in Malabar. He succeeded admirably in his devices, obtained nomination, consecration, and a letter to the pope from the patriarch. With this he proceeded to Rome, and while there at an audience with the pope he disclosed his true position (Du Jarric, “Rer. Ind. Thesaur.”, tom. III, lib. II, p. 69). He avowed to pope with his own lips that he had received holy orders invalidly. The pope ordered the Bishop of San Severino to give him orders from tonsure to the priesthood, and a Brief was sent to the Patriarch of Venice to consecrate Abraham the bishop. The facts were attested, both as to the lesser orders and the episcopal consecration, by the original letters which were found in the archieves of the Church of Angamale where he resided and where he had died.
Pope Pius IV used great tact in handling this case. Abed Jesu must have taken Abraham to be a priest; he is supposed to have abjured Nestorianism, and professed the Catholic faith, and conferred on him episcopal consecration; the pope had to consider the position in which the patriarch had been placed by the consecration and nomination of the man; the defects were supplied, and Abraham succeeded also in obtaining his nomination and creation as Archbishop Angamale from the pope, with letters to the Archbishop of Goa, and to the Bishop of Cochin dated 27 Feb., 1565. Such was the success of this daring man. On arrival at Goa he was detained in a convent, but escaped and entered Malabar. His arrival was a surprise and a joy to the people. He kept out of the reach of the Portuguese, living among the churches in the hilly parts of the country. As time passed on he was left in peaceful occupation. As is usual in such cases the old tendencies assumed once more their ascendency, and he returned to his Nestorian teaching and practices, Complaints were made; Rome sent warnings to Abraham to allow Catholic doctrine to be preached and taught to his people. At one time he took the warning seriously to his heart. In 1583 Father Valignano, then Superior of the Jesuit Missions, devised a means of forcing a reform. He persuaded Mar Abraham to assemble a synod, and to convene the clergy and the chiefs of the laity. He also prepared a profession of faith which was to be made publicly by the bishop and all present. Moreover, urgent reforms were sanctioned and agreed to. A letter was sent by Pope Gregory XIII, 28 Nov., 1578, laying down what Abraham had to do for the improvement of his diocese; after the above-mentioned synod Abraham sent a long letter to the pope in reply, specifying all that he had been able to do by the aid of the Fathers (see letter, pp. 97-99, in Giamil). This is called the first reconciliation of the Syrians to the Church. It was formal and public, but left no improvement on the general body, the liturgical books were not corrected nor was catholic teaching introduced in the Church.
In 1595 Mar Abraham fell dangerously ill (Du Jarric, tom. I, lib. II, p. 614). Unfortunately he survived the excellent sentiments he then had and recovered. After about two years, in 1597 (Gouva, p. 2) he was a second time again dangerously ill; Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes wrote and exhorted him to reform his people, but for answer he had only frivolous excuses. He would not even avail himself of the exhortations of the Fathers who surrounded his bed, nor did he receive the last sacraments. Thus he died. The viceroy made known his death to Archbishop Menezes, then absent on a visitation tour, by letter of 6 Feb., 1597.
Archbishop Menezes and the Synod of Diamper
Archbishop Menezes received the intelligence of the death of Mar Abraham while on a tour of pastoral visitation at Damao. Fearing the work on hand could not be postponed, he decided to act on the powers delegated to him by pope in his last Brief, and nominated Father Francisco Roz of the Society of Jesus who undoubtly fulfilled the requirements demanded by the pope for the appointment. On receipt of the letter and the instructions accompanying it, the superior, knowing that the late Abraham before his death had assigned to his archdeacon the government of the church pending the arrival of another bishop from Babylon, and the same had been accepted by the people, and foreseeing also the insecurity of the position, decided that it would be prudent to await the return of the archbishop before taking any further step. The Archbishop on returning to Goa weighed the gravity of the case, and felt bound in conscience to safeguard the Syrian Christians from falling again into the hands of a new heretical intruder. He decided on visiting the Serra personally. Father Nicholáo Pimenta, then the Superior of Jesuit missions in India, writing the General of the Society, Father Claudius Acquaviva, takes up the narrative as follows; “It was not small comfort to all that Alexious Menezes, the Lord Archbishop of Goa, moved by his zeal for salvation of souls and at our persuasion undertook to visit the ancient Christians of St. Thomas, spread through the hilly parts of Malabar. There was great danger that after the death of Archbishop Abraham at Angamale, and the succession of the Archdeacon George to the government of the church on the demise of the prelate, she would lapse again under the sway of Nestorian prelates; nor were there wanting persons of ecclesiastical rank possessed of means who proposed to proceed to Babylon and bring thence another Archbishop. To the Archbishop of Goa not only by metropolitan right, but also in virtue of Apostolic letters appertained the right to assume the administration of that Church sede vacante; and he took upon himself the task of retaining the vacillating archdeacon in due submission to the Holy See and avoiding schism.”
He therefore issued instructions to the rector of the Vaipicotta College, enclosing a letter of appointment naming the archdeacon administrator of the diocese provided he in the presence of the rector made a solemn profession of faith. The archdeacon expressed his satisfaction on receiving the intimation and promised to make the profession demanded on a feast day. But later on he would neither make the profession, nor would he accept the nomination of administrator as coming from the archbishop of the diocese. Afterwards he caused it to be reported that he had so acted on the advice of others. The Archbishop of Goa, after taking counsel with the Fathers, decided on starting on the visitation of the Archdiocese of Angamale to induce that Church to receive a prelate from the Sovereign Pontiff. On this coming to be known all sorts of difficulties were raised to induce him to abandon his project, even from ecclesiastics, with such pertinacity that the archbishop wrote to Pimenta: “Heaven and earth have conspired against my design.” But he manfully faced the work before him, and went through it with singular firmness of character and prudence, and supported by Divine aid he began, continued, and completed the arduous task he had undertaken with complete success.
During the visitation (full details of which are given by Gouvea in the “Jornada”, the one source whence all other writers have obtained their information, some even going so far as entirely to distort the facts to satisfy their prejudice) the archbishop underwent all sorts of hardships, visiting the principal parishes, addressing the people, holding services, and everywhere conferring the sacraments, of which these people were deprived. He caused the Nestorian books in the possession of the churches and in the hands of the people to be expurgated of their errors, and they were then restored to their owners. All the books then existing among the Syrians were in manuscript form; printed books among them did not exist at this period. Passages that denied the Supreme authority of the Apostolic See of Rome were similarly deleted. He also caused capable priests to be sought out, and these he placed in charge of parishes. Eventually he established eighty parishes. Thus he prepared his ground for the reform of this Church which he intended to carry out. The synod was opened with great solemnity and pomp on 20 June, 1599, at the village of Udiamparur, whence it is known as the Synod of Diamper. The Acts were published in Portuguese as an appendix to the “Jornada”; they were also translated into Latin. The opening Act the synod was the profession of faith. The Archbishop was the first to make his profession, then followed the archdeacon who made in Malayalam, a translation of the former prepared for the purpose. Subsequently the clergy in turn made theirs in the hands of archbishop as the archdeacon also had done. The Latin text of the synod, and separate in “Juris Pontificii de Propaganda Fide”, Paris. I, vol. VI, part II, p. 243. Besides the archbishop and certain Jesuit Fathers who assisted him there were some 153 Syrian priests and about 600 laymen deputed by the congregation to represent them; all these signed the decrees that were passed by the synod and proclaimed the orthodox faith embodied in the act of profession taken by the entire clergy. The Archbishop addressed the synod on the falsity of the errors of Nestorius up till then held by that Church, the assembly denounced them, anathematized the Nestorian Patriarch, and promised obedience and submission to the Roman Pontiff.
Among the calumnies spread against Menezes and the synod the most prominent is that all the Syriac books of the community were burnt and destroyed by order of the synod. What was done in this matter under the decree passed in the fifth session is thus described in the “Jornada” (tr. Glen, book I, ch. xxiii, p. 340). After the above condemnation of errors it was decided that certain books which had been named and were current in the serra and full of errors should be burnt; that others were to be censured only until they were corrected and expurgated. The list of books to be burnt is given in the 14th decree of the third session. The books consist:
•of those ex professo teaching Nestorian errors;
•containing false legends;
•books of sorceries and superstitious practices.
None of these were capable of correction. In all other books that had any statements containing doctrinal errors, the latter were erased. The “Jornada” (p. 365) gives the system adopted during the visitation of the Church for the correction of books: after Mass was said all books written in Syriac, whether the property of the Church or of private individuals were handed over to Father Francisco Roz, who with three Cathanars (Syrian priests) specially selected for the purpose would retire to the vestry and there correct the books in conformity with the directions given by the synod ; those that were condemned and forbidden were handed over to the archbishop, who would order them to be burnt publicly. Under his orders no book capable of being purged from heretical error would be destroyed, but those ex professo teaching heresy would be destroyed. After the conclusion of the synod Archbishop Menezes continued his visitation of the churches down to Quilon and then returned to Goa. He did not forget to send from thence a letter of warm thanks to Father Pimenta for the continuous and important aid given by the Fathers of the Society all through the work he had to perform in Malabar.
Their first three Jesuit bishops
In making provisions for the future government of the Syrian Church in Malabar, Clement VIII had to adopt such measures as would secure its permanency in the faith and exclude the danger of a relapse. He decided that it would be the safest course to appoint a Latin prelate in sympathy with the people and fully acquainted with their liturgical language. The selection fell on Father Roz, no doubt after hearing the opinion of Archbishop Menezes. Father Roz was consecrated by the Archbishop at Goa under the title of Bishop of Angamale in 1601. Four years later Paul V transferred him (1605) to the new See of Cranganore, which he created an archbishopric in order that the faithful brought to unity should not feel that the honour of their see had suffered any diminution of honour. The new prelate made a visitation tour through the diocese, correcting the liturgical books at every church where this had not been done, and enforcing everywhere the rules sanctioned by the Synod of Diamper. In 1606 he convened and held a diocesan synod; no further details of his administration are handed down to us. After twenty-three years of strenuous episcopate he died at Parur, his ordinary residence, 18 February, 1624, and was buried in the church. Besides the Latin Canon of the Mass he had also translated the Latin ritual into Syriac for the administration of the Holy Sacraments by the clergy. Years later, on the occasion of the first pastoral visit of the first Vicar Apostolic of Trichur to the church of Parur in 1888, on enquiring after the tomb of the archbishop, was told that no tomb of his was known to exist there, but after careful search had been made the tombstone, with its Malayalam inscription in ancient Tamil characters, was found and is now affixed to the inner wall of the church. The loss of all knowledge of the tombstone was caused by the sacking and burning of this church with many others by the soldiers of Tippoo Sultan on his second invasion of the coast. Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo, who had visited the church in 1785 and had taken a transcript of the inscription at the time, of which he gives a Latin translation in his “India Christ. Orient.”, p. 64, did not read the name Roz on the stone, however the name is there in a flaw of the stone and has been read on rediscovery.
Father Estevão de Brito, also a Jesuit, was designated successor, and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Goa in the Church of Bom Jesus, Goa, on 29 Sept., 1624, and left Goa for his diocese on 4 November. He died on 2 December, 1641, having governed the see for over seventeen years. The third of the series was Francisco Garcia, of the same society. He was consecrated Bishop of Ascalon on 1 November, 1637, with right of succession by the Archbishop of Goa, in the Jesuit Church of Bom Jesus, Goa, and succeeded to the See of Cranganore in 1641. Under this prelate a frightful schism broke out (1653) and his entire flock, with all his clergy and churches, withdrew from his allegiance. Out of the entire body of 200,000 Syrian Christians only some 400 individuals remained faithful. This misfortune has by most writers been attributed to Garcia’s want of tact, obstinancy, and sarcastic disposition: as to the latter defect there is one instance, and that at the last opportunity for reconciliation, which fell through owing to his harsh treatment of the delegates sent to him by his revolted flock. But he was not responsible for the schism. This had been hatched many years previously during the lifetime of his predecessor de Brito, secretly and unknown to him. Here the dates only of documents can be quoted. On 1 January, 1628 the Archdeacon George wrote a letter to the papal nuncio at Lisbon complaining that no answer was given to a letter sent some twenty years earlier regarding the spiritual wants of this Christian people. In 1630 Rome was informed of these complaints, the substance of which was that only Jesuits controlled these Christians, that they were unsuited, and had controlled them for over forty years, and they wanted other religious orders to be sent. The Sacred Congregation sent instructions that other orders should be admitted into the diocese.
Paulinus (op. cit., pp. 70 sq.) adduces further evidence of the trickery and treachery of Archdeacon George. In 1632 he convened a meeting at Rapolin consisting of clergy and laity, when a letter of complaint was sent to the King of Portugal against the Jesuit Fathers; these very same complaints formed the heads of their grievances in 1653, when open schism was proclaimed to secure independence and oust the Jesuits. The plot had been hatched for a good number of years; it was begun by Archdeacon George (d. 1637) who was succeeded in office by a relative, another Thomas de Campo (Thoma Parambil) who in 1653 headed the revolt. After the schism had broken out the intruder Ahatalla, a Mesopotamian prelate, was deported by the Portuguese, who took him by ship off Cochin and there lay at anchor. The Christians, coming to know of the fact, threatened to storm the fort, which the governor had to man with his soldiers, while the ship sailed away to Goa during the night. The revolted seeing their last attempt to secure a Baghdad prelate frustrated, leaders and people took a solemn vow that they would never again submit to Archbishop Garcia. Finding themselves in this position they thought of calling to their aid the Carmelite Fathers who had visited Malabar but were then at Goa. When Alexander VII came to know the calamity which had befallen the Syrian community, he sent out (1656) the Carmelites, Fathers José de Sebastiani and Vincente of St. Catherine, to work for the return to unity and to their archbishop of this revolted church. Later other Carmelite Fathers joined in the good work. Within a year of their arrival (1657) the Carmelites had succeeded in reconciling forty-four churches. Although Archdeacon George had remained obdurate, a relative of his, Chandy Perambil (Alexander de Campo) headed the return movement, but they would have nothing to do with Archbishop Garcia.
The Carmelite period
Under these circumstances Father José de Sebastiani decided to return to Rome and inform the pope of the real difficulty which stood in the way of permanent reconciliation. The pope on learning the state of the case had Father José consecrated and appointed him Commissary Apostolic for Malabar, with power to consecrate two other bishops, naming them vicars Apostolic. Provided with these powers he returned to Malabar in 1861 and took up his work. By this time, Archbishop Garcia had been removed from the scene by death. Between 1661 and 1662 the Carmelite Friars under Bishop José had reclaimed the large number of eighty-four churches, leaving to the leader of the revolt — the aforesaid Archdeacon Thomas — only thirty-two churches. Both these figures are of great importance for the subsequent history of the Malabar Syrians. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which all the Romo-Syrians have descended, while the other thirty-two represent the nucleus whence the Jacobites and their subdivisions, Reformed Syrians, etc., have originated. In January, 1663, the political situation regarding these Christians was entirely changed. The Dutch had arrived on the coast and had captured Cochin. The Portuguese power fell. The new masters expelled not only all the Portuguese clergy but also forced Bishop José and his religious to leave the country. In this predicament the bishop selected and consecrated the native priest Chandy Perambil (Alexander de Campo) and made him a vicar Apostolic over the flock he was forced to leave.
Before departing, however, he handed to the Dutch Government of Cochin a list of the eighty-four churches that were under his control and commended Bishop Chandy and the Christians of these churches to his protection. This the governor undertook to fulfil. Though the Dutch did not trouble themselves about the Syrian Christians, yet they would not permit any Jesuit or Portuguese prelate to reside in Malabar, although simultaneously with Bishop José de Sebastiani, the other Carmelite missionaries had also to depart. However, they were not absent long, for eventually they returned by ones and twos and were not molested. Later, in 1673, they established themselves at Verapoly and built a church there, having obtained the land rent-free from the Rajah of Cochin; it is yet the headquarters of the Carmelites in Malabar. One of the Carmelite fathers named Matthew even came into friendly relations with the Dutch Governor van Rheede, and aided him in compiling his voluminous work on local botany known as “Hortus Malabaricus.” The Carmelites working among the Syrians under Bishop Chandy remained on good terms with him; the bishop died in 1676. Raphael, a priest of the Cochin diocese, was selected to succeed the former, but he turned out a failure and died in 1695.” The year following, Father Peter-Paul, a Carmelite, was created titular Archbishop of Ancyra, and was appointed vicar Apostolic for Malabar. With his arrival in 1678 there was a considerable improvement in the relations between the Dutch Government and the Carmelite Fathers. The Archbishop Peter-Paul was a prince of the House of Parma, and his mother was the sister of Pope Innocent XII; before coming out to Malabar he had obtained a decree from the Government of Holland authorizing the residence in Malabar of one bishop and twelve Carmelite priests who had to be either Italians, Germans, or Belgians; but they were not admitted into Cochin.
The French traveller Anquetil du Perron, who visited Malabar in 1758, offers the following statistics regarding the number of Christians on the coast he had obtained from Bishop Florentius, the Carmelite Vicar Apostolic of Malabar. He tells us that the bishop believed the total number of Christians to amount to 200,000; of these 100,000 were Catholic Syrians, another 50,000 were of the Latin Rite ; both these were under his jurisdiction, while the revolted Syrians who may be classed as Jacobites, were under Mar Thomas VI (who on his consecration in 1772 assumed the name and style of Dionysius I), and numbered 50,000. From the death of Archbishop Garcia in 1659 the See of Cranganore had no resident bishop till 1701, when Clement XI appointed João Rebeiro, a Jesuit. When the latter assumed charge the Carmelite Vicar Apostolic, Angelus Francis, told his Syrian flock that his jurisdiction had ceased and they must now pass over to that of the new Archbishop of Cranganore. The Syrians refused to acknowledge the new archbishop and sent a petition to Rome that they preferred to remain under the Carmelites, who had seventy-one churches in complete submission and eighteen in partial union (i.e., the parish was divided and part had submitted to Rome), while only twenty-eight churches remained altogether separate. Pope Clement, after informing the King of Portugal of the state of things, extended in 1709 the jurisdiction of Bishop Angelus over the dioceses of Cranganore and Cochin, and the pope assigned as a reason for doing so that the Dutch would not tolerate any Portuguese prelate in the country, and the Christians threatened rather to return to schism than accept the bishop sent out. For fuller particulars of this period the reader is referred to: G. T. Mackenzie, “History of Christianity in Travangore,” in Census Report of 1901, Trivandrum; and Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo, “India Orientalis Christ” (Rome, 1794).
On the arrival of the Dutch and the capture of Cranganore it became impossible for the Jesuits to retain the college at Vipicotta; they abandoned the place and removing to the interior beyond the reach of their enemies, opened a new college, at Ambalacad, whence they controlled their new missions on the east coast. Bishop Rebeiro returned there and carried on his work; eventually several of the Syrian Catholic parishes went over to the succeeding Archbishop of Cranganore, and these bishops eventually lapsed under the control of the Archbishops of Goa. Bishop Rebeiro died at the college of Ambalacad on 24 Sept., 1716, is buried in the church of Puttencherra and has a tombstone with an inscription in Portuguese. His successors fixed Puttencherra as their residence, and the parish church became a pro-cathedral. The following particulars of their nomination and death are here recorded. Archbishop Rebeiro was succeeded by Antonio Carvallo Pimental also a Jesuit, consecrated as the former had been at the church of Bom Jesus, Goa, by the archbishop on 29 Feb., 1722, d. at Puttencherra on 6 March, 1752. Paulinus says of him: vir doctus et Malabarensibus gratus, qui eum nomine Budhi Metran, sapientis et eruditi praesulis compellebant.” He has a tombstone with inscription. João Luiz Vasconcellos, also a Jesuit, was consecrated at Calicut by Bishop Clemente of Cochin in 1753 and d. at Puttencherra in 1756; the church contains his tombstone with inscription. Salvador Reis, the last of the series who resided in India, was also a Jesuit; he was consecrated by the same Bishop Clemente at Angengo on Feb., 1758, d. on 7 April, 1777, at Puttencherra and has his tombstone with inscription in the same church. Paulinus records of him “vir sanctimonia vitae praeclarus”, he survived the suppression of his order. This closes the list of the bishops who have governed the See of Cranganore.
To complete the historical account of the Syrian Malabar Church, brief mention should also be made of the line of prelates who ruled over the schismatics who eventually became Jacobites, embracing that error through their prelates: Thomas I, proclaimed a bishop by those he had led (1653) into the aforesaid schism after the imposition of the hands of twelve priests his followers and the placing on his head of a mitre and in his hand a pastoral staff. He continued obdurate and died a sudden death in 1673. Thomas II, brother of the former, proclaimed in 1674, died eight days later struck by lighting. Thomas III, nephew of the former, received the mitre in 1676, a Jacobite. Thomas IV of the family, succeeded in 1676 and died in 1686, a Jacobite. Thomas V, a nephew of the former, made every effort to obtain consecration but failed, d. in 1717, a Jacobite. Thomas VI received the mitre from his dying uncle and the imposition of hands of twelve priests. He wrote to the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch to send bishops. Eventually the Dutch authorities helped him and obtained for him three bishops, on condition of his defraying the expenses. Three Jacobite bishops came out to India in 1751, Mar Basil, Mar Gregory, and Mar John. The first named died a year after arrival; the second years later consecrated Mar Thomas VI a bishop in 1772, and he assumed the name of Dionysius I. The Dutch authorities found great difficulty in obtaining payment for the expenses incurred; a suit was instituted against the Jacobites in the Travancore Rajah’s court in 1775 and payment of the amount twelve thousand pounds, was obtained. He died in 1808.
For the long period between 1678 and 1886, the Catholic Syrians remained under the uninterrupted control of about fifteen Carmelite Bishops as vicars Apostolic. During this period there had often arisen severe troubles which cannot here be detailed, quarrels between Syrian and Latin Christians, agitation against the control of some bishops; over and above these the ordinary trials of controlling such a large, factious, and difficult body. There had also been two most serious schismatical intrusions within this Syrian fold by Catholic Chaldean prelates who had come from Mesopotamia with the full connivance of the Chaldean Patriarch and against the express orders of the Roman Pontiff. The Carmelite had to face and surmount all these difficulties and the keep the flock in due submission to ecclesiastical regime. Of the two intrusions, the first was that of the Chaldean Bishop Mar Roccos, who entered Malabar in 1861. Pius IX denounced him to the faithful as an intruder, yet he met with a complacent reception in many of the churches, succeeded in stirring up the dormant hydra of schism, and caused a great agitation. Fortunately for the peace of the Church he was persuaded to return to Mesopotamia within the year. The second, who came to Malabar in 1874, caused much greater harm, the evil effects of which seem to be permanent in the principal church of Trichur, though elsewhere in process of time those evil effects have been remedied. This was the Bishop Mellus, whom the patriarch had sent over in spite of the strict prohibition of the same pope. It was only when after repeated admonitions, the pope had fixed a limit of the time after which should he continue refractory he would be excommunicated, that he yielded and sent Bishop Mellus instructions to return. When the troublesome character of these people is taken into consideration it reflects great credit on the carmelite Order that the bishops in charge were successful in retaining them as a body in the unity of Holy Church.
Two Latin vicars apostolic
The Mellusian schism, though broken by the adverse judgments of the Madras High Court, was by no means yet extinct when in the autumn of 1878 the Holy See decided on placing the Syrian Christians under separate administration, appointing two vicars Apostolic of the Latin Rite for the purpose. These were Rev. A.E. Medlycott, Ph.D., Military Chaplain in the Punjab, educated in the Propaganda College, Rome, and consecrated by the Apostolic Delegate Mgr. A. Ajuti on 18 Dec., 1887, at Ootacamund, titular Bishop of Tricomia, appointed to the Vicariate Apostolic of Trichur; and the Rev. Charles Lavinge, S.J., former private secretary of the late Father Beckx, General of the Society, consecrated in Belgium before coming out, appointed to the See of Kottayam, later called of Changanacherry. Under the Concordat of Leo XIII with the King of Portugal an important advantage had been gained by the suppression of the Padroado jurisdiction (Cranganore Archbishops) over the Syrian churches. The first task the new bishops had to face was to amalgamate in one harmonious whole the two sections of this Church, that which had been under the Carmelites with that which had belonged to the Goan or Padroado jurisdiction, for the two had been for long years in open antagonism. This union fortunately was successfully effected. The other task was to establish something like a proper administration and control over the churches. This took longer time. The northern churches belonging to Trichur had not seen their prelates for perhaps a century, the two Chaldean bishops had utilized the fact to their own advantage, and the troubles caused by them in these churches can easily be imagined; but with firmness and patience a fair working administration was introduced.
The result may thus be briefly summed up. The Vicariate of Trichur had a Catholic Syrian population of 108,422 with eighty-three parish churches and twenty-two chapels-of-ease, served by 118 priests of Syrian Rite, besides 23 Syrian Carmelite Tertiary monks, in two monasteries; there was also a convent of 24 native Tertiary nuns with a middle-class school of 33 girls. The bishop on taking charge found that there is practically no schools, except that one provided for clerics; he took early steps to open as many elementary parish schools as possible; within nine years (1888-96) the vicariate was provided with no less than 231 elementary parish schools for both sexes, educating over 12,000 children, besides a high school (St. Thomas’ College), with 95 students; there was also 56 boys in St. Aloysius’s High School, under the Tertiary monks. A catechumenate was opened, where annually about 150 heathen converts were baptized; a fine building was under construction for a suitable residence, and plans were prepared to house the above college in a handsome structure. This was the condition of things when the bishop went to Europe on sick leave. The Vicariate of Kottayam had a Catholic population of 150,000, with 108 parish churches and 50 dependent chapels, served by a numerous clergy of over 300 priests; it had 35 Tertiary monks besides novices, in five monasteries; also three convents of native Tertiary Carmelite nuns educating girls, two orphanages under Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis, four catechumenates, two seminaries, with 96 students. The higher class clerical students of both vicariates attended the central Pontifical Seminary at Puttenpally. The parochial schools numbered 200, but the number of pupils was not published. There were three English Schools: Mananam, 60; Campalam, 80; and another with 20 students.
In 1895 both vicars Apostolic happened to be absent on leave. During this period the Holy See decided on a change of regime, yielding to the wishes of the people to grant them native bishops.
Divided into three vicariates with native bishops
The two vicariates described above were split into three, and they were styled Trichur, Ernaculam, Changanacherry; the new vicariate was formed of the southern portion of Changanacherry. The changes were carried out under Leo XIII by Brief of 28 July, 1896, “Quae Rei Sacrae”. Rev. John Menacherry, as Bishop of Paralus, was appointed to Trichur. Rev. Aloysius Pareparampil, titular Bishop of Tio, was appointed to Ernaculam, and Rev. Mathew Makil, Bishop of Tralles, was appointed to Changanacherry; all three received consecration from the Apostolic Delegate Mgr. Zaleski, at Kandy on 15 Oct., 1896.
At the time of these changes, the ecclesiastical returns of these three vicariates (1911) gave:
•Trichur: Catholic population, 91,064; children being educated, 19,092;
•Ernaculam: Catholic population, 94,357; children being educated, 9950;
•Changanacherry: Catholic population, 134,791; children being educated, 2844.
The future of this people depends very largely on education for their welfare and technical training for their development.
ASSEMANI, Bibliotheca Orientalis (Rome, 1719-28); DE SOUZA, Orientale Conquistado (2 vols., Indian reprint, Examiner Press, Bombay); Gouvea, Jornada do Arcebispo Aleixo de Menezes quando foy as Serra do Malaubar (Coimbra, 1606); Fr. tr. DE GLEN, Histoire Orientale etc. (Brussels, 1609); DU JARRIC, Thesaurus rerum mirabilium in India Orient (3 vols., Cologne, 1615); PAULINUS A SANTO BARTHOLOMAEO, India Orientalis Christiana (Rome, 1794); MACKENZIE, Christanity in Tranvancore, with Census Report of 1901 (Trevandrum); MEDLYCOTT, India and the Apostle St. Thomas (London, 1905).
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APA citation. Medlycott, A. (1912). St. Thomas Christians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 17, 2010 from New Advent:
MLA citation. Medlycott, Adolphus. “St. Thomas Christians.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 17 Jan. 2010 <>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Mary and Joseph P. Thomas. In memory of Kurien Poovathumkal.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.