Tuesday, September 20, 2011


World historians and others on St.Thomas tradition.

As mentioned in the beginning of the first article,the ancient,continuous, Nazrani tradition, about the Indian apostolate of Saint Thomas,is supported by a good number of World historians of repute, Indian/Kerala (Hindu) historians and Church historians, despite the strong objection of some conservative historians. Let us examine their opinions and conclusions, in a bit more detail.
In the words of British historian, Vincent Smith :”It must be admitted that,a personal visit of the apostle to Southern India,was easily feasible, in the condition of the time and there is nothing incredible in the traditional belief that he(St.Thomas),came by way of Socotra, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed”(Early history of India,p250.)
Referring the East Syriac tradition about Thomas, eminent scholar-historian. Alphonse Mingana, who conducted extensive research in Indian history too, observes:
It is the constant tradition of Eastern Church that the Apostle Thomas evangelized India, and there is no historian, no poet, no breviary, no liturgy and no writer of any kind who, having the opportunity of speaking of St. Thomas, does not associate his name with India. Some writers mention also Parthia and Persia, among the lands evangelized by him,but all of them are unanimous in the matter of India. To refer to all the Syrian and Christian Arab authors who speak of India in connection with Thomas would therefore be equivalent to referring to all who have made mention, of the name of Thomas. Thomas and India are in this respect, synonymous.(Dr.A.Mingana, Early Spread of Christianity in India, p.447-448.)
Another historian, Natalis Alexander, in his book, specifically mentioned that the converts of Thomas, in India, include, Brahmins and others. (Quoted by Bernard Thoma, The St.Thomas Christians(Malayalam) i/169).
Subscribing the rational, but slightly different, analysis of Paoli, reputed early historian, Franscis Day, views the genesis of the first Christian conversion of Malabar as under: It is very probable,that these converts made by St. Thomas, were joined by others from Syria, who had heard of their existence.In the second century, Egyptian marines carried tidings to Alexandria, of the Christians residing in Malabar, who traced their paternity in Syria to St.Paul, and owned the supermacy of the Patriarch of Babylon. Therefore they must have been here , one hundred years prior to the doctrines of Nestorius. It is by no means improbable, that the Jews who came to Malabar, divided themselves into two parties, one of which became Christians ( mixed themselves to the small body of Indian Christians , whose ancestors were formally converted to the Christian faith by the Apostle Thomas ) , and the other retained their ancient faith. ( Franscis Day, The Land of the Perumals, VI /214.)
According to Anglican scholar-historian Buchanan, we have as good authority that Apostle Thomas died in India, as that Apostle Peter died at Rome. (Dr.Claude Buchanan, Christian Researches in India, p.135).
“ The glory of the introduction of the teachings of Christ to India is,by time- honoured tradition, ascribed to Apostle Saint Thomas. According to this tradition so clearly cherished by the Christians of this Coast, about 52 AD, the apostle landed at Maliankara near Cranganur ( Kodungallur), the Mouziris of the Greeks, or Muyirikode of the Jewish Copper plates”—(Edgar Thurston,British ethnographer, “The Castes and Tribes of Southern India,Vol.vi/429)
Colonel Yule,the translator of ‘Marco Polo’, one of the best authorities, on the tradition, thinks it, so old that it is probably in it’s simple form true’(Quoted in ‘Church history of Travancore, C.M.Agur, 1/4-5)
Specifying the place of rest of the Apostle, Marco polo, the Venetian traveler, who visited India, in 1293,says, “The body of Messer Saint Thomas the Apostle, lies in this ‘province” of Maabar, at a little town having no great population…Both Christians and Saracens, however, greatly frequent it in pilgrimage”. (Henry Yule, editor of The travels of Marco Polo p.338). Here, though he is not naming the place, one can rightly conclude that it is Mylapore of South India.
Dr.A.E.Medlycott in his book 'India and Apostle St.Thomas' , presents a graphic picture of the early Christianity in India, it’s traditions, and connections with St.Thomas.
……..Philostorgius,an Arian Greek Church historian,records the travels of Theophilus to India (sent by emperor Constantius—about 354 AD):
…….Theophilus after fulfilling his mission to the Home-rites, sailed to his island home. Thence he visited other parts of India reforming many things …….for the Christians of the place heard the reading of the gospel in a sitting etc. This reference to a body of Christians with church,priest,liturgy in the immediate vicinity of Maldives, can only apply to a Christian and faithful on the adjacent of India…….The people referred to were Christians known as a body that had their liturgy in Syriac language, and inhabited the west coast of India i.e. Malabar (India and Apostle Thomas, p.133, 256).
Referring to Saint Thomas tradition, Jacob Canter Visscher, the Dutch author, expresses his belief on it as “a , tale not to be scoffed at”, seeing that it is asserted in the traditions of the old Christians both of Malabar and Cormandel,which agree in indicating certain spots,where he preached, and laboured. (Visscher, 'Letters from Malabar', Edited, by K. P. Padmanabha Menon, p.41).
Critically examining the Nazrani tradition about apostolic origin, William Logan, the English historian, of Coloneal India, writes: evidence as yet available in support of truth of the tradition is by no means perfect. It is certain that the first century AD, a very extensive trade and connection existed directly between India and the Western world, and a precise and expanding knowledge of the geography of the Indian coasts and markets, is manifest in the writings of the author of the ‘Priplus Maris Erythroci’ and several others. Mouziris, in particular which has already been alluded to, was one of the places best known to travellers and merchants from the West, and it was there and thereabouts that the original settlements of Christians were formed……This direct trade connection seems to have been maintained through ……some centuries after birth of Christ,and if the evidence of the Peutingenerian Tables (which are believed to have been constructed about 226A.D) is accepted, the Romans even at that date are said to have had a force of two cohorts (840 -1200 men) at Mouziris to protect their trade, and they had also erected a Temple to Augustus about 226 at the same place. That Christians, among others, found their way to Malabar in the very early centuries after Christ is there fore highly probable (Malabar Manual,William Logan p.234.). This statement is almost akin to the assertion of historian, L.W. Brown that 'There is no doubt that an Apostolic visit in the 1st century,A.D.,whether or not it actually happened , was perfectly possible from a physical point of view' ,
( Indian Christians of St.Thomas,p.59 ).
Anglican historian Dr..M.Neale also is a staunch supporter of ' Apostolic origin' of this Church. (Primitive Liturgies, p.140.) 
Observations of Indian /Kerala historians:
We can see, valuable, positive references about this ‘historical probability' by several eminent secular historians and Church historians.
Let me quote the words of the great Indian States man-historian, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his Autobiography,and work,‘Discovery of India’ : We also visited ,among the backwaters of Malabar,some towns inhabited chiefly by Christians, belonging to the Syrian Churches. Few people realize that Christianity came to India, as early as the first century after Christ, long before Europe turned to it, and established a firm hold in South India (An Autobiography,p.273.).
Mrs.Romila Thapar , the foremost living authority on early Indian History, has no reluctance to accept the Malabar tradition about the visit of St.Thomas as a credible historical probability.(A History of India,I / 134 )
The reputed Malayalee historians of yester years like K.P.Padmanabha Menon, Sardar K.M.Panicker etc. were inclined to respect the tradition as being worthy of acceptance.
Mr.Panicker find it difficult to deny the truth in the St.Thomas tradition, for, as he says, "We have the recorded statements of Pantaenus, the head of the Alexandrian school, who visited India,in the 2nd century that, he found a flourishing Christian Community here" (History of Kerala,K.M.Panicker, p.5.).
The unbiased observation of, Kerala’s prominent historian, and author of many masterly works in Malayalam and English, A. Sreedhara Menon, is as under: "About three centuries before Christianity was considered as an approved religion of Europe, and Rome, it started flourishing in Malabar coast." "On the background of extensive trade relations existed between Kerala and Mediterranean countries, even before the Christian Era, nothing improbable about the coming of Saint Thomas”( A. Sreedhara Menon, Kerala History p.133-134.).
The author of the Travancore State Manual too, hold a stand quite favorable to Kerala Nazrani tradition. “…Pliny says that in his day voyages were made to India every year, the average length of a voyage being 40 days. This became possible owing to the great discovery of the monsoon winds of the Malabar Coast by Hippalus, whose name was there fore given to the wind itself.It should be remembered here that the discovery of the trade-winds by Hippalus was just before St.Thomas’s visit to Malabar, which tradition fixes at 52.A.D. Thus the route of communication,then most used was quite favourable to the voyage of St.Thomas to South India.”(T.S.M.Vol.II/p.123. ed. by V. Nagam Aiya.)
Church historians on St.Thomas:
Among the old generation,writers on St.Thomas history, the contributions of Fr. Bernard Thoma and Placid Podipara can hardly be under estimated. High lighting the unique and unbroken tradition exists in Malabar coast, more particularly in places like Kodungalloor, Chavakkad, Palayoor, Kunnamkulam, Pacid Podipara observes, “The St.Thomas Christians of Malabar have a tradition immemorial, constant, definite and living about their origin from the Apostle Thomas”(The Thomachristians,p.245.).
Now let us see, how Dr. A. Mathias Mundadan, one of the living Scholar Church historians, who has devoted decades to the study of Indian Christianity, and made commendable contributions to secular history too, view the apostolate of St.Thomas:
An important group of historians, follow a line of argument more or less like the following:The possibility of one or two Apostles of Christ having preached the Gospel in India, and even in China, no serious-minded scholar would object to. At the dawn of Christianity there were trade routes connecting West Asia and the East,routes very much frequented. The land routes reached parts of North India, while the sea routes reached the coasts of Kerala and other parts of South India.The tradition as it is found in the witnesses of various authors and Churches makes this possibility a probability.
Add to this, the living testimony of the community of the St.Thomas Christians and the witness of the tomb of Mylapore,the Little Mount and the Big Mount or St.Thomas Mount in the vicinity of Mylapore, together with the tradition connected with these monuments. These considerations, they think, should incline any earnest inquirer to accept the Indian apostolate of St.Thomas, as established beyond doubt ( Indian Christians,Search for Identity,p.3).
Quoting the letter of St.Franscis Xavier, to St.Ignatius Loyola (dtd.14th Jan.1549), (Late) Mar Varkey Vithayathil, in his doctoral thesis on ‘The mission of St.Thomas in India’observes as under:
“There is a city called Cranganore where there are many Christians….descended from those made Christians by St.Thomas”. We have the testimony Western eye-witnesses to the existence of Christian communities from the end of the 2nd century onwards. These Indian Christians came into contact with the Mesopotamian church probably from the first half of the 4th century and subsequently became hierarchically dependent on it. Nevertheless, they have preserved their cultural and ecclesiastical identity.The claim of these Syrian rite Christians of India, known from time immemorial as ‘St.Thomas Christians’,is that St.Thomas, the apostle arrived in the port of Cranganore by sea, converted their ancestors to the faith, ordained priests, erected crosses, founded churches and received the crown of martyrdom in Mylapore, where they still venerate his tomb…….this tradition has no rival any where in the world, (Thomapedia,p.3.).
Benedict Vadakkekara, eminent Church historian of the day, whose works invited praise from secular historians too, argues in favour of accepting tradition as an aid, in the absence of written evidence other than circumstantial evidence, in the case of Saint Thomas studies, provided it should be historically coherent and scientifically verifiable.
In his own words:
It (the tradition of the Syrian Christians of Kerala / India) is quite unlike a loose and vague belief among the populace precisely because the community has with consistence kept the arrival, the mission, and the death of Apostle Thomas inseparably linked with certain specific families, situations, and places. The tradition points to definite spots as having been in association with the Apostle, e.g. the place where the Apostle landed,or preached or died (Benedict Vadakkekara, Origin of India’s St.Thomas Christians,p.25-27 ).


  1. Well written. Please continue to post more info about our community.

  2. Mar Thoma did arrive at Taxilla but did he arrive at Malabar? I doubt it. Malabar Nazereans are mostly Thomites, but they were not not baptized in Malabar but in the Middle East and Persia. The subject is vast.

  3. Though the existence of Indo-Parthian King, Gondophares, in the year 50 AD, is an established truth, there is no evidence to correlate it to the Apostolate of St.Thomas in North( West) India, as described in ‘Acts of Thomas’, the apocryphal Historical-fiction of 2nd or 3rd c. At the same the Marthoma tradition of Malabar, has the strong sanction of eminent historians, early century Church fathers & World travelers, at least as a strong historical probability.