Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Historical Validity of St. Thomas Tradition.( 4 ): Other historical references connecting Thomas & India

Pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle:

There are concrete evidences from history, to show that right from the early centuries of Christian Era, pilgrims flocked to the traditional site at Mylapore (in South India ), where Apostle Thomas lay buried. Not only from Malabar ( Kerala ), but also from numerous foreign countries. The candid references from Asseman ( Joseph Aloysius, Professor and an authority on Syro-Chaldaic and Arabic languages, in his book ‘A commentary on Chaldean Patriarchs’ ), about the pilgrimages of the Nazranis of Malabar, to the Mylapore tomb. In the pre-Portuguese period, Malabar Christians used to visit the Mylapore tomb. He confirms that, it took 25 days to reach Mylapore, by land route, as reported by four Chaldean bishops, in 1504, who after their arrival in Malabar, wrote to their Patriarch, Elias. Eminent Church historian, from Kerala, Mathias Mundadan, in his book, elucidates the centuries long pilgrimage by Nazranis, to pay homage at the holy sepulcher of Thomasleeha (A.M.Mundadan, ‘ Traditions S T C’, p.12 ).

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it is given that Alfred the Great, king of England, sent an embassy with offerings to St. Peter at his tomb in Rome and to St.Thomas, at his tomb in India ( 884, AD.). Yet another testimony on the subject, is that of St.Gregory of Tours ( 538—594). In his work, Gloria Martyrum (31,32, qtd.in Thomapedia,p.204.),the saint gives extensive information about the martyrdom and burial of the Apostle in India (and transfer of his holy mortal remains to Edessa, in Syria), on the strength of the first hand information, obtained in writing from certain Theodore of Syria, who visited the Mylapore tomb. Western travellers,including Marco Polo (1293 ),Franciscan Friar, Monte Carvino , John Maringnoli (1349), Nicolo De Conti (1430 ),visited the Mylapore tomb, much earlier to the Portuguese period. Early church father, John Chrysostom, ( 347—407 ), asserts the significance of Mylapore-tomb of Thomas, by comparing it with those of Ss. Peter and Paul.The great Arab traveler,Berbossa who visited India,in 1515 AD, also confirms that the tomb, at Chinnamala, in Mylapore, is of Apostle Thomas (Mundadan, Ibid,p.18 ). Marco Polo mentions being shown the spot of martyrdom of the Saint at the Mount, in the 13th century. Even up to the present day persons annually perform pilgrimages to this place to kiss the spot where he was slain, deposit their offering and report their prayers at the Apostle's grave . ( These clear references, will expose the prejudicial statement of eminent historian, Dr.M. G.S.Narayanan, that ‘Mylapore tomb’ has no importance before Portuguese Colonial period  ).
Marco Polo mentions being shown this spot ( Mailapore, the city of peacocks ),at the Mount,in the 13th century. Even up to the present day, persons annually performs pilgrimages to this place, kiss this spot, where he was slain, deposit their offerings and report their prayers at the Apostles’ grave. ( Francis Day, The Land of Perumals,p.212-13 ) In the narratives of Joseph, the Indian, one of the two Nazrani priests, who traveled to Portugal, etc. in the ship of Cabral ( in 1501 ), too there are references that,St.Thomas Christians of Malabar, used to conduct pilgrimages to Mylapore,where the body of the saint lay buried . ( 'The travels of Joseph, the Indian', translated by Antony Vallavanthara, p.214 - 15  and 259 ) .   
After critically examining all the contemporary literature on the subject, Adolf Medlycott , in his book ( India and Apostle Thomas,p.134 ), confirms that he is thoroughly convinced that the claim of Mylapore to be the place of martyrdom and of the burial of the apostle was not based on undeniable fact, the Christians of Malabar would never have acknowledged their neighbours’ claim to hold the tomb of the apostle, neither would they ever be induced to frequent it by way of pilgrimage. Had this been a case of a fictitious claim put forth to secure public notoriety and importance, they would as probably have, any way, set up one for themselves, and would have certainly ignored the claim of the former. In another place, he says,' Nicolo De Conti, an Italian merchant ( 1423--1430 ), speaks about the tomb of St. Thomas , at Malpuria which was venerated by Nestorians, who were " scattered all over India, as the Jews among us " ( A. Medlycott, Ibid p.95 ) 
The tomb of Mylapore is unique in the world in the sense that it is the only tomb believed to have been the burial-place of Apostle Thomas. Hosten ( in his book ' Antiquities from San Thome', p.4-5 ), quotes Mar Solomon(Archbishop of Perath-Meshan, 1222 AD.), as saying that the city in India, where Apostle Thomas is buried is Mahluph. No other place in India, but Mylapore answers to the last part of the statement.
The following words will show the in separable connection between Mylapore tomb and Nazrani religious practices:
“Their ‘holy water’,the preparation of which was left the Sacristan, consisted of common water, in which a few particles of earth, brought from the grave of St Thomas, at Mailapuram, were dissolved”( Accounts of Portuguese writer, Paoli, quoted by Francis Day in ‘ The Land of Perumals’ p.219).

Excavation at Mylapore:

The excavations, conducted by the Portuguese, in 1523, 1524 and in 1970 ( by Fr. Hamby etc.,with the support Archaeological Department of Tamilnadu government ) were not very fruitful, except provided some valuable insights to the historicity and authenticity of the tomb.(There is a wrong notion among some secular historians that the Tomb of St.Thomas,at Mylapore was located and identified by the Colonial Portuguese, who came here, in the 16th century. The fact is different. They got information about the tomb, from Nazranis of Kerala, and World travelers and other sources, as cited by the author, in the preceding paragraph of this article. In the initial period , Portuguese religious leaders were reluctant to conduct any excavation. For them, the ancient East Syriac Christian group, popularly known as MarThomaNazranis ( St.Thomas Christians), was not under the direct control of Roman See, hence schismatic. Besides, it was part of their strategy to win over these Christians by hook or crooke, they under took this unilateral excavation. Hence, it is a truth that some secular historians (and even Nazrani writers), view the Portuguese excavation and its findings ( e.g. the 'Bleeding Cross' of Mylapore ), with an element of suspicion. For them, Portuguese are 'master manipulators' in matters connected with religion. However, the following findings, were accepted by secular historians and government officials:
“For several centuries there was the Sepulcher of Thomas, well built, indeed; the brick in its eastern wall belong to the 1st century,AD” ( Hambye.S.J,St.Thomas and India.).
These bricks have been well preserved in the eastern wall of the tomb and when Mr. A.H.Longhurst, the Superindent of the Archaeological Department, Southern Circle, visited the tomb in 1921, said, that 'it must be very ancient, for the bricks used were of the same type as those used for the Buddhist Stupas, only that those in the Telugu country and in the North of India'… ( See Thomapedia, p.5.). Twenty years later, excavations were made to the south of Mylapore. The measurements and nature of the bricks found in the eastern wall of apostle’s tomb ( 15” x 8” x 2.9” ), and the oldest bricks unearthed by the excavation of 1945,at Arikkamedu near Pondicherry ( 150 km south of Mylapore ), the Roman trading station of 1st century, AD, looks one and the same. ( Ibid p.5. ) Remember, according to tradition, Martyrdom,of the Apostle took place in AD,72.
Further, the tomb excavated by the Portuguese at Mylapore, is no ordinary tomb (3 ½ mts deep) like the tomb of the kings buried in the vicinity. ( See references in the Nazrani's folklore, Rambanpaattu 5,7,3, and 2 ). ( The Indian tradition affirms that apostle Thomas died near the ancient town of Mylapore,his mortal remains were buried in the town, the spot in the chapel known after his name, that the Portuguese excavated in 1523, A D. According to tradition and clear description by Early Syriac Church Fathers like St.Ephraem,4th c. , St Paulinus of Nola,431. A.D., and St. Gregory of Tours, 594 A D , the mortal remains of St. Thomas, brought by an unnamed merchant, from India, subsequently buried in the shrine at Edessa, in Mesopotamia. ( See, Carmina Nisibina, 42, qutd. by Meddlycott.) Edessa was pillaged by Zangi of Mousul in 1144 A.D. and the shrine was destroyed by the Turks, who took away the casket in which the relics of the Apostle were kept. Ortona, in Italy claims to have got them from Mediterranean island of Chios in 1258 A.D.  and venerated there. (There is a general criticism about the genuineness of Ortona relics, calling it a 'pious fraud').
Remember, the excavation,conducted by the Portuguese , in 1524 A D , at Mylapore- tomb,could not discover the body of a person. (In 1953, part of the Ortona relic of St.Thomas, was brought to Kerala and installed at Church at Azhikode near Kodungalloor).
Critically examining the authenticity of the tomb, in the light of existing tradition and the
 excavation at Mylapore, eminent writer George Nedungatt, says : ' Tradition, western  as well as Indian, is positive and constant that the tomb of the Apostle Thomas is in India. Mylapore tomb is the only tomb of the Apostle ever known to history, a tomb without rival, like that of Peter in Rome. The archaeological evidence that this tomb was built with first century Roman bricks may not by itself be a clinching argument ; but within the whole setting of the Mylapore tradition it poses a question to those who demand contemporary documentary evidence about the mission of the Apostle Thomas in India". ( Quest for the Historical Thomas Apostle of India, by George Nedungatt, p.317)
Further excavations and research with the help of modern techniques and tools, will throw more light to the validity of these conclusions, especially the ‘the age of the tomb'.

Antiquity of the term NAZRANI

Nazrani is the commonly used name, for St.Thomas Christians of Malabar ( Kerala ).Opinions varied about the origin of this term.Some people say, it means Nazarene. For some others, the name was given to the converts of  the Apostle , by the Jews, in seven Malabar  churches  ( settlements ), where Thomasleeha erected crosses first. According to yet another group of historians, it is a Syriac word, meaning  NAZARENE, given to converts of Apostle Thomas, even before the name CHRISTIAN, applied to the followers of Jesus , baptized at Antioch ( See Acts 11 /19 - 26 ).
According Bishop Francis Rose, they are popularly called Nasrani, that is for they are called by the Moors and Turks. ( Report of the Serra,George Nedungat, p.321.)
This seems to be a correct conclusion. In places like Ponnani, Malappuam etc,the name Nazrani, is used as a nick name to identify Christians.( The writer has personal experience in the matter.).
As per the Malabar tradition,Nazrani, Nazrani-Mappila,Marthomachristhyani, Margakkar etc.are synonyms to this ancient Christian community.
The facts cited above will pin point antiquity of the origin of the word prior to the time when the followers of Jesus begun to be called Christians, at Antioch.

Maarthoma Maargam ( Way of Thomas):

When ever there were interactions with the Portuguese Colonial priests, Nasranis dare to state that they were lead by Maarthoma Maargam ( Way of Thomas ). This shows that Nasranis,were always conscious about this Law ( Way ) of Thomas, inherited from their Apostle. “ It was the style of Christian life, strictly Indian or Malabarian. It was the sum total of their liturgical,ecclesiastical, social, cultural and political life,” (V.Pathikulangara,the ‘uniat’ Church of Thomas, p.351.) When ever they confront with the Portuguese, they declare that, The Law of Peter is different from Maarthoma Maargam. ( Documenta Indica,xiv /744 ).There were instances that the Nasranis resented with the Portuguese interference like that happened in Kodungallur, when perused them to eat fish and liquor in Lent, in violation of Maarthoma Maargam. ( See , Brown, ‘Christians of St.Thomas’, p.286).

Persian Crosses

Ancient Persian Crosses  or St.Thomas Crosses ( ? ), with Pahlavi ( Middle Persian ) inscriptions, unearthed from Mylapore- area , Anuradhapuram ( Ceylon )  and Goa, and found in several Kerala churches, like Kottayam,  Kadamattom,Muttuchira, Alengad, and Kothanalloor, attest the Persian – mercantile connection ,at the same time not at all connected with the Apostle.There is evidence that this cross ,as a meaningful Christian symbol, was popularized by East Syrian prelates like Mar Abraham and the alleged Manichaean connection to it, is the ‘invention’ of some perverted pundits. 

Some more significant references about the Indian mission of St.Thomas:

John, Bishop of Persia and Great India:

One of the earliest literary references, which can be deemed as history, about the Apostolic origin of Indian Church, is the documents of the Council of Nicea, held in 325.AD. There are records in the Vatican archives that,one of the Bishops, signed the decrees of the Council,as John, Bishop of Persia and Great India. We know nothing more, except what his signature tells us. But by all probabilities, he was the representative of Malabar Church of our India.

Letter of East Syrian Bishop, Mar Gabriel :

An interesting, at the same time authoritative, review of the hitherto history about the origin and spread of Christianity in Malabar, is that of East Syrian bishop Mar Gabriel  ( 1705 ), in the form of a ( lengthy ) letter in Syriac to Vissicher,the Dutch Protestant missionary, in the Dutch Colonial period. This would have been after making use of all local sources of information. May I take the liberty to reproduce some lines from that write-up:
"Fifty-two years after the birth of the Messiah, the holy Apostle Thomas, arrived at Mailapore on the coast of Coromandel, preaching the Gospel and founding churches there. Passing from thence to Malabar, the holy man landed on the island of Maliankarre,( situated between Cranganore and Paroe ), preached and taught, and built churches in that island,and likewise Cottacay,Repolym, Gokkomangalam, Pernetta, and Tirocusngotta; and having finished his work, in these parts, and ordained two priests, returned to the land of the Pandis,to teach the people there. But whilst he was thus occupied, the Apostle was pierced by the Heathens with spears and thus ended his life. In the course of a few years, all the priests in Hindostan and Malabar, died; and many years afterwards , a Tovenaar called Mamukawasser, an enemy to the Christian faith, arrived at Maliapore, performing many miracles to hinder its progress. And many of the principal Christians giving heed to him, forsook Christianity and followed this false teacher, Mamukawasser. ..........."( Notes on Vissichers, letters from Malabar ,K.P.Padmanabha Menon,p.44 )

Narratives of Joseph, the Indian:

A Nasrani priest from Malabar, who had traveled in the ship of Cabral ( 1501 ), to Mesopotamia, Europe, visited the Holy Patriarch of the East, ordained  as a priest by him, also visited the Holy Patriarch of the Western Church, ( the Pope of Rome ) etc... A book about this travel , contains valuable references about the antiquity of Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar, including their pilgrimages to Mailapore, where the body of the saint lay buried.( The Travels of Joseph, the Indian, Translated by Antony Vallavanthara,p.214-215 and 259 ). 


  1. Very interesting, especially the part about the bricks being from the 2nd C AD. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The bricks in the eastern wall of the tomb identified similar to the bricks unearthed from Arikkamedu, the 1st century Roman trading centre.Thank you very much for your good words.

    1. A well researched and useful writeup. The authenticity of the StThomas tradtion needs to be established and in this regard your write is apt. Thank you incidentally for leaving your comments in Hubpages on this subject.

    2. The authority of St. Thomas tradition, ie., it’s historicity , as you have rightly doubted, is a matter of dispute, to a great extent, for want of sufficient archeological evidences or contemporary written documents. But, we can see a plethora of ancient literature, in various languages , connecting Thomas & India ( Malabar), in the form of ‘ patristic writings’, travelogues etc. After verifying these ‘ circumstantial evidences’, eminent writers like Oxford historian Vincent Smith ( British ethnographer, Edgar Thurston also),assert that ‘ a personal visit of apostle Thomas to southern India …easily feasible in the condition of time’. In other words, in spite of the limitations, they say that 2000 yrs old tradition, cannot be branded as a myth, & it is a ‘ historical probability’.

  3. We must remember that St. Thomas was a disciple of Jesus and it was after Hus death in 32 A.D.that His disciples went to different parts of the world to preach the Gospel.St. Thomas probably would have come to India in 34 A.D. because immediately after the Resurrection of Jesus, His disciples went to many countries to spread the message of Jesus.
    But Mr. Antony Kureekkal' references are not contemporary accounts. Joseph Aloysius book, the Report of 4 Chaldean bishops, Alfred the Great's embassy, testimony of St. Gregory of Tours, visits of Marco Polo, Carvino, Maringnoli, Nicolo de Conti, Chrysostom' statement etc., took place not in the first century when St. Thomas was active in India but many hundreds of years later. These are not contemporary references and therefore do not have historic validity to confirm the arrival of St. Thomas.

  4. Dear Mr. Yeshuratnam,
    There are historians, who assume that, the traditional, date, A D 52, may not be the first visit of the Apostle, in the Biblical context..
    While admitting the fact that the accounts of Asseman, 4 Chaldean bishops, report in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, testimonies of St. Gregory, Mar co Polo, etc.are not contemporary , we cannot, in no way, say them as literarily ‘ fabrications’ with vested interests. What I intent to establish is that, in the absence of other evidences, it is feasible to utilize them as ‘collateral evidence’ in St.Thomas research.
    Please excuse for the delay. I was away from the station.

  5. St. Thomas visited Kerala and introduced Christianity .After St. Thomas other missionaries from Persia came to Kerala and converted many people.. The early converts in Kerala belonging to different grades in society on the basis of occupation were commonly called Christians But the name Christian was changed to Nasrani when the Arabs (Moplahs) came to Kerala. Muslims used the word Nasrani in a contemptuous and derogatory manner. Christians and Jews were hated by Muslims in the Middle East and so they used the word 'Nasrani' in a derogatory and spiteful manner, as the Greeks called others 'barbarians.' Muslims quote the Koran to call Christians and Jews as 'Nasranis.'
    This is the basis of the verse. " Jews say: 'Uzair is the son of God' and the Christians say: 'The Messiah, son of God'. Such is their saying with their mouths; they imitate the infidels saying earlier. Allah has cursed them, how are they to turn? "(Surat al-Tawbah: 30) By this interpretation, Muslims regard Christians and Jews infidels and collectively call them ‘Nasrani.’
    Even today all Christians are contemptuously called Nasranis in the Middle East by the Arabs. In Kerala also, after the Arabs gave the derogatory name 'Nasranis' to Christians, Brahmins and Nairs also used that word in a derogatory and insulting manner till the arrival of colonial powers. Vrahnins and Nairs made Christians work as coolies, agricultural labourers in their farmlands and compulsory service called ‘oozhiyam.’ The true economic and social condition of the Christians who were ridiculously called Nasranis was recorded by a missionary when European powers were slowly establishing their authority; Abbe J.A. Dubois, a missionary in Mysore, in his letter dated August 7, 1815, writes: “The Jesuits, on their first arrival in India, hearing of them, in one way or other converted the greatest part to the Catholic faith. Their liturgy is to this day in the Syrian language, and in the performance of their religious ceremonies they use this ancient dead tongue. There remains still among them large congregations, consisting of 70 or 80,000 Christians, of whom two-thirds are Catholics, and a third Nestorians. They are all designated under the contemptuous name of Nazarany, and held by the pagans in still greater contempt than the Christians of this part of the country. The Nairs chiefly keep them at a greatest distance, and they form a separate caste.”
    (to be continued)

  6. (contd. from previous post)
    When the Portuguese and the British educated these hapless Christians and appointed them as soldiers, businessmen and planters, Christians ascended to top position in the fields of education, business, plantations, and commerce making Brahmins and Nairs inferiors. The Portuguese were in Kerala for 150 years and during this period there was widespread inter racial marriage between Portuguese and local Hindus. Albuquerque officially encouraged such marriages to increase Christian population. Later the offspring of such marriages married local Christians which eventually led to change in skin color and personality. Gradually the contemptuous name Nasrani was given up and the words, ‘Christians’ and ‘Syrian Christians’ became common usage. But in Arab countries Christians are even today called in a vulgar form, ‘Nasranis.” In a recent riot in Cairo when Muslim fanatics attacked Christians, the Huffington Post dated August 17, 2013 reported the following incident
    “Naguib’s home supplies store on a main commercial street in the provincial capital, also called Minya, was torched this week and the flames consumed everything inside.
    "A neighbor called me and said the store was on fire. When I arrived, three extremists with knifes approached me menacingly when they realized I was the owner," recounted Naguib. His father and brother pleaded with the men to spare him. Luckily, he said, someone shouted that a Christian boy was filming the proceedings using his cell phone, so the crowd rushed toward the boy shouting "Nusrani, Nusrani," the Quranic word for Christians which has become a derogatory way of referring to them in today's Egypt.”