A brief history of Christianity in Kerala

Table of Contents 

Beginning of Christianity 
The world Christianity 
St. Thomas in Malabar and early history  
Syrian migration of Thomas Kanai 
Nestorian influence  
Portuguese colonization & Roman faith  
Synod of Udayamperoor  
Coonan Cross oath 
Romans strike back  
The Christian Groups in Kerala  
The Malankara Church  
Reformation in Malankara - The Marthoma Churches  
The Bava kashi & Methran kashi  
Other churches in Anthiocian tradition    
Assyrian Church of the East  
Latin Catholics 
Knanaya Christians
CSI - Church of South India
Anglican Church of India

Beginning of Christianity

pentecost holy spirit Following the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost on the fiftieth day, the Apostles followed Jesus' command and dispersed to preach the Gospel. Saint Thomas chose to travel eastwards along the trade routes. He preached in Mesopotamia, between 35-37 AD. After preaching the gospel to his fellowmen in the Jewish communities, and baptizing several of them, he traveled to the Malabar coast. Some Heretical Gnostic sects in Syria believe that St. Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus Christ because of his striking resemblance to Jesus and Thoma in Syriac, means Twin. Saint Peter and Paul went to Antioch.

St PeterChurch tradition maintains that the See of Antioch was founded by Saint Peter the Apostle in 37 AD who came to Antioch, in the Syrian province of Roman empire, to spread the gospel. The followers of Christ were first referred as Christians in Antioch. Since 2nd century AD, Christianity has flourished in Mesopotamia among the descendent of the two great and ancient nations of Chaldea and Assyria. The church which was comprised of these two nations was called "the Church of the East". This Church prospered and expanded into the whole of Chaldea, Assyria, Persia, Arabia, the steppes of Mongolia in Asia, the Malabar Coast of India, and even into China. The jurisdiction was exercised by the Patriarchate of Antioch. After spending seven years in Antioch as the Bishop, Peter went to Rome and worked among the Greek speaking Jews in the city. He established the Roman Church during this period. Peter is said to have been crucified in 64 AD under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar. The bones of St. Peter are enshrined beneath the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica. The world of Christianity was eventually, over the centuries, divided between these two churches. St. Thomas followed the Syrian tradition and did not establish any Church by himself.

Why St. Peter founded two churches? Peter and Paul worked together in Antioch and converted many to Christianity. Peter favored Jew converts and Paul supported non-Jew converts. Fearing the Jewish Christians, Peter even refused to dine with non-Jews in public. The view regarding circumcision led to difference of opinion (called "conflict at Antioch") between Peter and Paul which was never settled in full. The followers of Antioch were primarily Greek believers rather than Jewish. So at Rome, Peter established a separate Church, initially within the Jewish enclaves of the city. The Rome church had Jewish inheritance in the initial days and considered as a sect within Jews. Early Christianity gradually grew apart from Judaism during the first two centuries and established itself as a predominantly gentile religion in the Roman Empire.

The world Christianity - A brief history and major divisions

In the Apostolic age (1st century AD), there were four original Christian Churches i.e. the Syrian Church of Antioch, the Latin Church of Rome, the Coptic Church of Alexandria (founded in 42 AD by Saint Mark, an evangelist and one of the Seventy Disciples chosen by Jesus, in addition to the original Twelve Apostles) and the Byzantine Church of Constantinople (founded in 38 AD by Saint Andrew the Apostle, brother of St Peter). The Council of Nicea convened by Roman Emperor Constantine, in 325 AD had noted the primacy of the See of Rome, followed by the Sees of Alexandria and Antioch. This was a natural consequence of the position of Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire. At that time, the See of Constantinople was yet of no ecclesiastical prominence. The rise of Eastern Roman empire at Constantinople after the division of Roman empire into two parts, eastern and western, in 284 AD gave rise to the importance of Byzantine Church due to its proximity to the Imperial court. The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) convened by Emperor Theodosius-I modified the situation by placing See of Constantinople second in honor, above Alexandria and Antioch. Later the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) offered Constantinople equal ranking to Rome.

Due to political rivalry between the Roman and Persian empires, it was difficult for the Antiochian church to reach the followers in the Persian Empire and beyond. So, a Catholicate of the East was established at the Jerusalem Synod in 231 AD. The headquarters of this Persian Church was first in Edessa. The Patriarch of Antioch used to appoint a Archbishop entitled CATHOLICOSE to administer the Eastern Dioceses (parts of Persian Empire) beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. This institution was setup to serve as a link between the Patriarch of Antioch, and the Syrian Christian Community in Persia and beyond who found the journey to the Patriarchate at Antioch, hazardous.

Nestorian or Chalcedonian Schism (451 AD)

In early 5th century, the Patriarch of Constantinople (428 to 431), Nestorius, came up with a new teaching that contradicted the faith of the holy Universal Church. He claimed that "there are two natures and two persons in Christ, therefore - one is son of God, and the other is son of human; Christ's human and divine natures were distinct, and was therefore against using the title Mother of God for the Virgin Mary, instead preferring to call her Mother of Christ". The opinion of Nestorius was that the relation between the human nature of Christ and the Divine nature started just after His Birth from the Virgin and it was not a Hypostatic union. This view of Christ was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, convicted Nestorius of heresy because he refused to name the Virgin Mary as Mother of God, removed him from the post and was exiled back to Antioch. But, the teaching of Nestorius was accepted by some Syrians in areas under Persian rule, and some parts in Syria, Palestine and Cyprus. By the end of the 5th century, when the chief of the Persian church (Catholicos of East under Antioch), adopted Nestorian doctrinal teachings, a vast majority of faithful followed him. In 498, the section declared their independence from Antioch claiming it as an exclusive Persian Church known as "Syrian church of the East" or "Syrian Nestorian Church". The Church expanded up to 14th century, but experienced a rapid period of decline starting in the 14th century, due to outside influences. The Muslim Mongol leader Timur (1336–1405) nearly eradicated the Christians in Persia and the remaining fled to northern Iran, near the border with the emerging Ottoman Empire. Thereafter, Nestorian Christianity was largely confined to Upper Mesopotamia. In the 20th century it changed the name to "Assyrian church of the East". From this Church branched off the Chaldeon Catholics in 1552 AD due to a schism regarding hereditary patriarchal succession. The new Patriarch took the name "Patriarch of Babylon" in 1713 AD. Later, they called themselves the "Assyrian Chaldeon Catholic church" in communion with Rome. The Orthodox wing of the Church in Persia that continued to be under the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch & all the East, got reorganized under an office of the 'Maphrianate (Catholicate) of the East’ at Tigrit in 629 AD.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD issued the 'Chalcedonian Definition' which repudiated the notion of a single nature in Christ, and defined that he has two natures in one person and hypostatic.

The four major Christian churches split into two groups after the council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The first group embraced the Latin Church of Rome and the Byzantine Church of Constantinople, who believed in the Chalcedonian definition, the two natures as hypostatic in Jesus Christ. The second group embraced the Syrian Church of Antioch and the Coptic church of Egypt which believed in one nature in Christ after the union of the two natures (the non-Chalcedonians).

After the Council of Chalcedon, the non-Chalcedonians suffered greatly. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565) had resolved to enforce the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, and those bishops and clergy who refused to obey these decrees were punished with imprisonment, deprivation, and exile. Whole districts of Syria and the adjacent countries were thus deprived of their pastors, and the non-Chalcedonians were threatened with gradual extinction. Jacobus Baradaeus (543-578), the Bishop of Edessa was defender of the non-Chalcedonian movement in this time when its strength was declining. He became one of the most important figures in the history of the Syrian Orthodox Church and his instrumental efforts in reorganizing and revitalizing the community gave it its alternate name, the Jacobites. The King Al-Harith of Ghassanid (eastern part of Byzantine Empire) who was supporter of non-Chalcedonians helped Jacobus to accept the hazardous and laborious task of rebuilding the Antiochian church. In beggar's disguise, Jacobus traversed on foot the whole of Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia and the adjacent provinces, everywhere ordaining bishops and clergy, encouraging his demoralized co-religionists to courageously maintain their faith against the advocates of the two natures, and reviving the expiring faction united and perpetuated. Jacobus is said to have ordained an incredible number of 80,000 clergy including 89 bishops and two patriarchs.

The Great schism or Roman Catholic Schism (1054 AD)

The roots of the Great Schism between the Western and the Eastern Churches are extensive. This drifting apart crystallized in the following differences that eventually led to the Great Schism:
1. Politico-ecclesiastical rivalry between the Patriarch of Constantinople (representing the Eastern Churches) backed by the Byzantine Empire, and the Pope of Rome in connection with the new German Empire in the West. The Roman Pope insisted on being the head of all the Churches on earth. The Eastern Churches’ polity was based on conciliar government. Each regional/national Church had its own hierarchy and its synod of bishops, which was the top authority in that Church.
2. The Filioque. In accordance with the Nicene Creed, which was issued by the first Ecumenical Council in 325 AD, the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father only. The Latin Church in the West added the Filioque “and also from the Son” claiming that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and also from the Son. This addition to the Nicene Creed was illegal because it was never approved by an Ecumenical Council.
3. The Latin (Western) Church used unleavened bread (only wheat) in the Eucharist. The Eastern Church used leavened bread (Wheat mixed with other grains) in the Eucharist.
4. The Latin priests were unmarried and shaved. The Eastern priests were married (except those serving monastic communities) and grew their beards.

In 1053, the first step was taken in the process which led to formal schism. Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius, ordered the closure of all Latin churches in Constantinople. In 1054, the Papal legate traveled to Constantinople for purposes that included refusing to Cerularius the title of "Ecumenical Patriarch" and insisting that he recognize Rome's claim to be the head and mother of the churches. On the refusal of Cerularius to accept the demand, the leader of the legation excommunicated him, and in return Cerularius excommunicated the Roman legates. This was only the first act in a centuries-long process that eventually became a complete schism. The gulf between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches has subsequently widened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the introduction of new dogmas in the Roman Catholic Church like the immaculate conception of St. Mary (1854), the infallibility of the Pope in doctrinal matters (1870), and recognizing the God of Islam as the same true living God of Christianity (Vatican II council, 1962).

The Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and the Roman Pope Paul VI have restored the communion between Constantinople and Rome in 1965. However, communion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church is not restored because of the major unresolved theological and ecclesiastical differences.

The Holy Crusades (1095 to 1291 AD)

The Crusades were a series of Holy Wars undertaken by the Christian states of Europe against the invading Muslims for the purpose of rescuing the holy places of Palestine from their hands. In 636 AD, Muslim forces led by the Arab Caliphs defeated the Eastern Romans and conquered Palestine. Jerusalem fell to Caliph Omar's forces in 638 AD. Although the city of Jerusalem was held by the Muslims, the Christian pilgrims had been granted safe passage to visit the Holy city. In 1065 Jerusalem was taken by the Turks who were ardent Muslims from ancient Persia. About 3000 Christians were massacred and the remaining Christians were treated so badly starting a chain of events which contributed to the cause of the crusades. The Crusades started in 1095 when Pope Claremont preached the First Crusade at the Council of Claremont in France. There were eight crusades  in number, the first four being called the Principal Crusades, and the remaining four the Minor Crusades. The first crusade (1096-1099) liberated the city of Jerusalem which has Holy significance to the Christian religion being the centre of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ's burial.

The Crusades contributed to increase the wealth of the Church and the power of the Papacy. Thus the prominent part which the Popes took naturally fostered their authority and influence, by placing in their hands, resources of Christendom, and accustoming the people to look to them as guides and leaders.

The Reformation and Protestants

By the early 1500's, the conditions in the Roman church became worse and led to the Reformation movement. The church Curia was incredibly corrupt and many bishops lived like princes and ignored the faithful. In 1517, Martin Luther, a member of the Augustinian order, issued his famous Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg Germany, attacking the church's doctrine of indulgences. Luther began to write and teach against many teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. By 1520 almost all Germany was supporting Luther. On June 15, 1520 the Pope issued a bull condemning forty-one of Luther’s propositions as heretical, ordering the faithful to burn Luther’s books. On Dec 10, 1520 Luther burnt the papal bull along with many Catholic books in a public ceremony before a big crowd outside Wittenberg. This led to his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church by the papal bull of Jan 3, 1521. But the Lutheran revolution spread in Western and Northern Europe and by the late 1500's, the Reformation had divided Western Europe into Protestant and Roman Catholic lands. Catholicism was reduced primarily to the Mediterranean countries, Hungary, Poland, and small areas within the Holy Roman Empire. Beginning in the 1520's, the papacy initiated counter reformation efforts to regain supremacy. A leading force in the Counter Reformation was the Society of Jesus, commonly called the Jesuits based in Portuguese. Saint Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits in 1534, and Pope Paul III confirmed the order in 1540.

The Church of England and Anglican Communion

The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597 AD from Rome. As a result, the church in England was under the authority of the Pope until 16th century. Initially prompted by a dispute over the annulment of the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and became the established church by an Act of Parliament - Act of Supremacy of 1534. Subsequently, during the reign of Queen Mary I and King Philip, the Church was fully restored under Rome in 1555. But, the Papal authority was again explicitly rejected after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I with the Act of Supremacy of 1558 which developed the understanding that the church has to be independent and to be both Catholic (a part of the universal church of Jesus Christ) and Reformed (shaped by some of the doctrinal principles of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, in particular the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer).  England had thus become a Protestant nation.

Her Majesty the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She appoints archbishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the Prime Minister. The two Archbishops (Canterbury and York) and 24 senior bishops sit in the House of Lords. The Primate of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury as first among equals.

Since the Church of England clergy were required to swear allegiance to the British monarch, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, many Churches in Anglican tradition (like US, Canadian and Irish) separated from the Church of England at the end of British empire. The Church of England established the Anglican Communion which is an international association of independent churches consisting of the Church of England and of national and regional Anglican, Protestant, and Episcopal churches around the world and in communion with it. There is no single "Anglican Church" with universal juridical authority as each national or regional church has full autonomy.

St. Thomas in Malabar and early history

St ThomasIt was St. Thomas the apostle who introduced Christianity to Kerala. St. Thomas came to Kerala in 52 AD. on a merchant ship from Osselis in Arabia and landed in Kodungallur, 50 Km north of Cochin, to convert the Jews in India. There was a colony of nomadic Jews at Kodungallur, which was a flourishing sea port in those days. According to historians, the Jewish contact with Kerala dates back to 973 BC (King Solomon's first fleet) and the first Jewish settlement in Kerala was soon after the Babylonian conquest of Judea in 586 BC. Many locals along with the Jews also accepted Christianity. Most of the local converts were from higher castes. The high caste Brahmin families that adorned Christianity were mainly Nambuthiri families and four of the leading Brahmin families (Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu) at a small village called Palayur, near Guruvayoor are believed to have been raised to the privilege of the priesthood. The head of the Malabar Church - the Archdeacon - had to be selected from Pakalomattom. This practice was continued till 1816 AD. Though Malankara Church had connection with the Syrian Church so far as leadership was concerned, in administrative matters the Archdeacon was the supreme regional spiritual leader. The Archdeacon guided the believers in all things relating to the religious, social and political. The position of "Archdeacon" with elaborate powers and authority is unique in the administrative structure in the Eastern Syrian church.

The place where St. Thomas landed in Kodungallor is now under the sea. After the biggest ever flood known in the history of Kerala, the port was washed off in 1341 AD and a new Island known as Puthu-Vypin was formed near Cochin in the Vembanad Lake.

St Thomas spent about 3 years in Sindh, 8 years in Malabar, and 7 years at Mylapore. He built seven churches in Malabar along the coast, each identified with a miracle he performed. He also setup a small church or prayer hall at Malayatoor often called a half church.

The Seven churches built by St. Thomas

1. Kodungallur or Maliankara (first church)
2. Palur or Palayur ( A place near Guruvayur)
3. Paraur or Kottukavu (A Place near Cochin)
4. Kokkamangalam - (A place between Alleppey and Kottayam)
5. Niranam (A place near Tiruvalla)
6. Chayal or Nilakkal (An interior hill side place near Sabarimala)
7. Quilon or Kollam


He is said to have then traveled to China and then came back to Mylapore in 64 AD. The cave at "Little Mount" was where he preached and lived in hiding until 72 AD. He was martyred (pierced with a lance) on July 3, 72 AD at a place now called St. Thomas Mount, in Chennai when he was praying in a mountain cave and was buried at the location of the present Santhome Cathredral in Mylapore, Chennai. His relics were taken to Edessa in 394 AD at the instance of the then Patriarch of Antioch. It happend during the reign of King Abgar IX in Edessa who was converted to Christianity and made it the 'State Religion'. The Christians of India was under the Jurisdiction of the Bishop of Edessa during the period, which made things easier. In 1144 AD, when the places which the crusaders had conquered in Asia fell back into the hands of Turks, the relics were recovered from the ruined Church at Edessa, and moved to the Greek Island of Chios, in the Mediterranean. The relics remained in Chios till 1258 AD and then transferred to Ortona, Italy.

skeleton_both.jpg (10987 bytes)
The current status of the Relics preserved at Ortona - Italy

Early St. Thomas Christians

The followers were called St. Thomas Christians. There is no documentary evidence referring to the way the Indian Church was governed during early centuries, since Archbishop Menezis of Goa destroyed all the historical records in 1599 AD in an effort to establish Roman church faith. However, the church established by St. Thomas in the Malabar Coast remained as an independent group, and got their bishops from Eastern Orthodox Church of Antioch in Syria. 

They had their own practices and ways of life - It was mostly Hindu in culture and Christian in belief. The St. Thomas Christians used the East Syrian liturgy from the earliest times, since Aramaic (East Syriac) was the language spoken by Jesus and His disciples. This liturgy is attributed to Addai, the disciple of St. Thomas, whom the Apostle sent to Edessa and Mari the disciple of Addai who worked in Seleucia. Addai and Mari are considered the Apostles of Edessa and Seleucia. They received the fundamental structure of the liturgy from St. Thomas himself. The Malabar Christians were aware of the developments of the liturgy in Edessa and Seleucia. They accepted these developments in East Syrian liturgy because they were connected with the name of their Apostle Thomas and were resplendent with resonances of what they themselves had originally received from St. Thomas.

The Indian Church was administered by the Maphriyono's of the East and Metropolitans from the Persian church. But due to local persecutions and other restraints it was not easy to send bishops frequently to Malabar to administer Holy Mooron and sacraments. Hence, except for ecclesiastical assistance, the Malankara Church remained independent.

Thomas Kanai & Syrian Colonization of Malankara in 345

With the Nicene council of 325, the St. Thomas christians became subjects of the Patriarch of Antioch. In the fourth century (345 AD), it is said, the Metropolitan Bishop of Edessa had a vision in which the apostle asked him to help his Indian flock. Informed of this saintly appeal, iThomas Kanai n 345 AD, a group of Jewish-Christian emigrants from Cana (Southern Mesopotamia) to Kodungallur were sent by the Catholicos of the East in Seleucia, for the purpose of re-invigorating the Church of St Thomas Christians. The original community consisted of about 400 persons belonging to 72 families headed by Thomas of Cana (Kanai Thomman), who was a merchant familiar with Kodungallur. A bishop by name Uraha Mar Yousef, four priests and several deacons were also among them. There is also a view that Thomas of Cana migrated to Kodungallur to escape from the Persian persecution. The new migrants settled to the south of the palace street and were called Southists (Thekkumbhagar) while the early st. Thomas christians settled at the North of the palace street came to be referred then onwards as Northists (Vadakkumbhagar).

This is a turning point in the history of St Thomas Christians of Malabar. Kanai Thoma presented valuables to the King. King Perumal was well pleased with the newcomers and gave them freedom and many civic honors. The King conferred 72 honors written in copper plates to Christians. Thus for the first time St. Thomas Christians were free to worship, preach and enjoy equal civic liberties. From then onwards St. Thomas Christians were known as Syrian Christians.

The entire Malankara Christian community thereon adopted the rites & liturgies of the Syrian Church of Antioch and became a part of that ancient Patriarchal See. From thence in the fourth century, the 'Malankara Church' became known as the “Syrian Church” or the “Malankara Syrian Church”. The name Malankara Church, is mentioned as such, for the entire Christian Church of Kerala, from this period and remained monolithic till the advent of European missionaries in the 15th century.

While the St. Thomas Christians sometimes inter married with higher-caste non-Christians (such as Nairs), the new Syrian Christians practiced strict endogamy (marriage within the group), choosing not to marry even the St. Thomas Christians. This led to the division between the Northists and the Southists. The descendents of these Christians from Cana, called "Knanaya Christians", continue even today to practice strict endogamy. Nevertheless, their arrival marks the beginning of Syrian influence upon the St. Thomas Christians.

As the Catholicos of the East had promised, Uraha Mar Yousef had successors till the end of the 16th century. Under the East Syrian Bishops, the Knanaya Community had their own churches and priests distinct from those of the non-Knanaya St Thomas Christians. The Southists and the Northists had separate parishes and only priests of the respective community as parish priests. Each had their own archdeacons who exercised ecclesiastical jurisdiction over their own respective communities. For St Thomas Christians a priest of the Pakalomattom family traditionally held the position of the archdeacons. The Persian bishops who came to Malankara had only oversight over spiritual matters like ordination of the clergy. Even such things were done as per the direction of the Archdeacon. In the course of the time the Southists spread out to other parts of Kerala and they had five churches of their own: Udayamperoor, Kaduthuruthy, Kottayam, Thodupuzha (Chunkom) and Kallissery. In some other churches they had one half the share along with other Syrians (Northists). So Knanites were also called Ancharapallikkar (owners of five and half churches).

Shifting to Angamaly

Kodungalloor subsequently became less hospitable to Christians due to the adverse relations between the different trading communities. In 384 AD, when they fled from their old settlement of Kodungalloor, they split into three groups. One group settled at the northern Hindu kingdom of Kaduthuruthy and another at Angamäli where they were given asylum and land by the Nair chieftain Mangättachan and granted them many privileges including the right to establish a church, market and a town. Angamäli became a principal centre of those people. The Metropolitan of the Malankara church also shifted to Angamaly. A church was established at Angamaly in 409 AD. The remaining third group continued at Kodungalloor.

Further migration from Syria

There was migration of Syrian Christians from Edessa in the year 435 AD to Kerala. They were followers of Bishop Nestorius, who was condemned in 431 AD by the Council of Ephesus because he  denied the unity of Christ’s divine and human nature. In 825 AD two bishops, Mor Sabor Easo and Mor Aphroth along with several settlers (mainly merchant class) landed in Quilon consequent to Muslim persecution of Christians in the middle east. King Cheraman Perumal gave them land and extended special privileges. The two bishops belonged to the Chaldean catholic church, with Mor Sabor Easo at Kollam and Mor Aphroth at Udayamperoor. Mor Aphroth has been instrumental in the conversion of the royal family of Udayamperoor to Christianity - perhaps the only Christian Royal family in Kerala.

Changes in World Christianity

AD 37  St Peter, the Head of all Apostles, establishes Church of Antioch

2nd and 3rd centuries due to religious persecutions in Rome and Persia, Christianity could not establish well

Nicea council in 325 AD defines areas of authority for the Patriarch of Rome (whole of  countries to the west of the Balkans), also recognized Rome as the first among the equals, Patriarch of Alexandria (Egypt and Palestine) and the Patriarch of Antioch who had authority over all of the east

Council at Constantinople in 381 AD accepts Patriarch of Constantinople (Asia Minor and Thrace) and declared it second only to Rome.

Council at Ephesus in 431 AD Jerusalem bishop was conferred honorary rank as the fifth Patriarch (Palestine and Arabia)

4th and 5th centuries Differences in Christological views

Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD Church split into two based on christological view: Chalcedon view (Christ is divine and human natures in one) - The Catholic (Rome) and Greek (Constantinople) churches and Monophysitism view (christ is divine nature only) - Syrian (Antioch) and Coptic (Alexandria) Churches

460-541AD Nestorians dominate Orthodox churches

AD 518  Patriarch Mor Severius was exiled from the city of Antioch and took refuge in Alexandria.

543 AD A renaissance of the pre-Chalcedon faith in Persian church, led by Jacob Bardeus with support of Empress Theodara. The background for this was that many Christians supported the Monophysitic idea that Jesus had only one nature, not two seperate (divine and human), as the other large group in the region, the Nestorians believed.

1054 AD Both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome issued bulls of excommunication against each other.  This resulted in vertical split of the whole church in two Christian Churches: the Roman Catholic Church (in the West) and the Apostolic Orthodox Church (in the East). Thus the Patriarchate of Rome formed the Roman Catholic Church (from which Protestants later broke off) and the four remaining Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem became what is presently known as the Eastern Orthodox Church.  As time continued, the Roman Catholic Church was identified with the Latin Mass and the Orthodox Churches with the Eastern Rites

1095 AD The Crusades, begun by the Roman Church, weaken the Eastern Orthodox churches in Palestine and Syria. Constantinople is sacked by the Crusaders in 1204, further estranging the East and the West.

1453: Fall of Roman/Byzantine Empire

1663 : The Syrian Church splits, and one group becomes affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, and accepts the pope in Rome as the highest authority. This is known as Syrian Catholic Church.

1933: The Jacobite Patriarch moves his headquarters to Homs.

1959: The Jacobite Patriarch moves his headquarters to Damascus.

According to one tradition, the Malayalam Calendar era (Kolla Varsham) started with these holy fathers who settled at Kollam in  825 AD. 

Upto 15th century

The Catholicos with his seat at Seleucia Ctesiphon began to be called also Patriarch of the East (Babylon) and in 486 AD the Church officially accepted Nestorian faith. This decision was not however accepted by a minority of Persian Christians in Mosul, Niniveh and Tigris (Tagrit) who continued to keep their loyalty to the old faith. A few decades later in 629 AD, the Orthodox wing of the Church in Persia that continued to be under the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch & all the East, got reorganized under an office of the 'Maphrianate (Catholicate) of the East’ at Tigrit (Tagrit).

During the 10th and to the 14th centuries the Malankara Church stayed with the Syrian Orthodox belief within the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch. There were times in this long period when the Christians in India had been without a bishop and were led by an Archdeacon. And requests were sent, sometimes with success, to one or another of the eastern prelates to help restore the episcopate in India. Meanwhile the church in Persia and much of west Asia declined by internal causes and the impact of Islam, affecting both the Nestorian Patriarchate of the East (Babylon) and the Jacobite Catholicate of the East (Tigris). The bishops came to Malankara from any of these Patriarchates. The Bishops who came from Babylonian Patriarchate were Nestorians and those from Antioch or Catholicose of the East were Jacobites. However, till 1490 Malankara church remained with Jacobite / Orthodox faith. 

Nestorian influence

After the establishment of the Catholicate of the East in 231 AD, the Indian Church used to get representatives from this Persian Church. In 498 AD, the Catholicos accepted Nestorian faith.

From the 14th century onwards, the Syrian (Jacobite) Patriarchate of Antioch, gradually became weak following the continued persecution by Romans, Mohammedans and also because of internal squabbles. In this period of serious crisis, the Patriarch was not in a position to send any dignitaries to Malankara. By the 15th century, the Episcopal ties, which the Malankara Church had with its parental church at Antioch, was completely broken.  

In 1490 the Christians of Malabar dispatched three messengers to the Nestorian Patriarch to send out bishops; the Patriarch consecrated two bishops, assigning to one the name of St. Thomas and to the other that of John. The two bishops started on their journey to India accompanied by the messengers. On arrival they were received with great joy by Malankara Christians without any opposition. Since there was certain similarities in the liturgy and rituals of both the Jacobites and Nestorians, Malankara Syrian Christians who until then followed the Jacobite faith, were not reluctant to accept these Nestorian bishops.

From AD 1490 until the time of Udumperor Synod of AD 1599, Malankara Church had received Metropolitans from the Nestorian patriarchs of Persia. The last of the Mesopotamian Bishops died 2 years before the Synod, and for 40 years thereafter, the Syrians were placed under Portuguese Jesuit Bishops.  

Portuguese colonization & Introduction of Roman Catholic faith in Malankara

The Roman Catholic faith started to have its foothold in Malankara with the arrival of Vasco De Gama, the famous Portuguese sailor in 1498 on the Malabar coast. In 1498 Portuguese missionaries made contact with malankara church and were received as brothers of the same faith; communion with Rome ensued. Initially the Portuguese Priests concentrated on the poor people living on the sea coast of Kerala and Goa and converted many to the Latin Catholic faith, some times even forcibly. These converts came to be known as Latin Roman Catholics. The Portuguese, who were under the Roman Church, considered everything outside Roman as heretic and later tried to introduce their faith among the Syrian Christians of Kerala by all means. For the Portuguese in general the ideal of a "true" Catholic was to be of the Latin rite.

There were difficulties for Syrian bishops to arrive in India since Goa was under the control of the Portuguese. They favoured only Catholics and did not allow others to reach India. The move against the Syrian Church was followed by Western Church establishing a European diocese in Goa in 1534 AD. In 1557, Pope Paul IV declared Goa an archdiocese with its supremacy extending from the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to China, and all Christians, including the East Syrian Church, brought under its jurisdiction.

When the Malankara church Metropolitan Mar Abraham the last Nestorian bishop from Mesopotamia died in 1597, Archbishop Dom Menezes of Goa, entered Malabar, claimed he had authority from the Pope, and visited the churches of Thomas Christians exercising jurisdiction.

Synod at Udayamperoor (Diamper) in 1599

On June 20, 1599, the Portugese Archbishop Menezes of Goa called a synod at Udayamperoor (Diamper) for commandeering obedience to the supreme Bishop of Rome. In his zeal to eliminate any trace of the Syrian traditions among the Malankara Christians, he summoned the liturgical books and other church records and burned them. Those who denied were threatened by local kings and Chieftans to attend the Udayamperur Synod, as commanded by the Portuguese. The Raja of Cochin even decreed that all assets of Syrian churches which abstain from the Synod will be confiscated. However, some parishes around Angamaly did not attend the synod.

The site of the Synod of Diamper, where St Thomas Christians surrendered to Roman Catholicism


The delegates headed by the Syrian Archdeacon George, who attended the synod were forced to accept the decrees read out by the Archbishop Menezes. Thus the Syrian Christians of Malabar, were made part of the Roman Catholic Church under the Pope. The result was the destruction of the heritage and history of the St. Thomas Christians.

St. Francis Xavier Leading a Jesuit group to India, St. Francis Xavier, popularly known as the Second Apostle of India, landed in Goa in 1542, and arrived at Cochin in 1544. He worked among the coastal Christians and fishermen.  He would go through the streets ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the word of God. When he had gathered a number, he would take them to a certain church and would there explain the catechism to them. He devoted almost three years to the work of preaching to the people of Western India, converting many.

St. Francis Xavier died on December 3, 1552 on the Chinese island Sancian at the early age of 46. His body was  brought to Goa on March 15th, 1554. Even after sixteen months the body was still fresh. Many miracles are attributed to this Saint.  St. Francis is called by all Goans as Goencho Saib, meaning - Lord of Goa. 

Those who accepted allegiance to Pope came to be known as Syrian Roman Catholic. There are also Roman Catholics converted by European missionaries known as Latin Roman Catholics.

Aftermath of Synod of Diamper

After the synod of Diamper (1599), there was a conscious attempt to neutralise and nullify, the position of the Archdeacon and the system of Church administration. Subsequently Roman system of administration with the Latin Archbishop at the centre was established. The status and authority of the Archdeacon was thrown to the winds. Francis Roz S.J. was nominated by the Portuguese as the first Latin Bishop of Angamaly as successor to Mar Abraham, on Nov. 5, 1599. The Metropolitan see of Angamaly was reduced to a suffragan see of Goa under the Padroado of the king of Portugal and the title of Angamaly was changed into that of Kodungallur. The Thomas Christians were thus placed under Latin jurisdiction. But for retaining the Syriac language, Roz S.J. latinised and mutilated the liturgy adding to it translations from the Latin liturgy. He curtailed the time-honored powers of the Archdeacon treating him as a Vicar General of the Latin Church and established the Roman system of administration with the Latin Archbishop at the centre. The relationship with the Eastern Syrian Church was thus virtually cut off. In 1608 the archdeacon sent his complaints to the Papal Nuncio in Lisbon, but got no reply. The archdeacon was even excommunicated, though absolved in 1615. Quarrels again broke out in 1618, since the archdeacon was not made Administrator when Roz S.J. went to Goa as Archbishop.  

The entire Malankara Church remained under Roman Empire for half a century. The Thomas Christians remained very attached to the bishops of their own Rite and merely tolerated the governance of the Latin bishops. The forced Latinization efforts caused many of the St. Thomas Christians to turn away. When Archdeacon George died in 1637 his nephew Thomas assumed leadership, and a spirit of revolt seized the Syrians. Since 1641, a regular fight ensued between the new archbishop Garcia S.J. and the new archdeacon Thomas. In 1647, Archbishop Garcia appointed Fr. Jerome Furtado as Vicar General in place of the traditional Archdeacon. The Portuguease (by Moran Patriarch Bava who arrived in Malankara in 1653) ousted the Pakalomattom family, who for centuries had been the heads of St. Thomas Christians, as Archdeacons and then as Syrian Metrans. As the situation became intolerable, the St. Thomas Christians (Syrian Christians of Malankara) sent several representations to the prelates of their mother Church in the Middle East.   

Oath of Coonen Cross in 1653 AD

Koonan cross church at MattancherryOn hearing about the persecution suffered by his flock in Malankara, the Patriarch of Antioch, Mor Ignatius Ahathulla, set out to Malankara in 1653. He was captured by the Portugese enroute and was taken to Madras. Two Syrian Christian deacons from Malankara, Itty and Kurian, who were on pilgrimage to Mylapore heard about the incident. They managed to meet Mor Ahathulla and secured a 'Statikon' from him appointing Archdeacon Thomas as the episcopa of Malankara [with the condition that a proper ordination would be obtained as soon as the situation permitted]. In the meantime, Mor Ahathulla was brought to Cochin. On hearing about his arrival, hoards of Syrian Christians rushed to the Cochin Port to free their holy father. They were unable to free Mor Ahathulla. He was taken to Goa in a ship and burnt on the stake. But news spread that he was drowned in the Arabian Sea with a millstone tied to his neck. As the news of this cruelty spread, the Syrian Christians were on the verge of an emotional outburst.

The Coonen crossOn 3rd January 1653 AD at Mattancherry, under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas and a Knanaya priest, Anjilimmoottil Ittythomman Kathanar (Rev. Itty Thomas), about 25000 Syrian Christians held on to a rope tied to a leaning cross (an ancient assyrian cross that had become leaning with the passage of centuries) and pledged to never surrender to Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, under the Roman yoke and always remain under the Holy Apostolic See of Antioch maintaining their ancient rites and traditions. This historic event is known as the Koonen Kurishu Sathyam (The Leaning Cross Oath). There began the division in the Church of the St.Thomas Christians which remained monolithic till that time.

Four months after the Coonan Cross oath, they assembled at Alangatt, and in accordance with tradition of the church, twelve priests of Syrian community consecrated the Archdecon Thomas of Pakalomattom family, who had received a "Statikon" the authority of order from Patriarch Ahathalla and declared him the Episcopa of Malankara, giving him the name Mar Thoma I (1653 - 1670), the first in the long line up to Mar Thoma IX till 1816. He was thus the first indigenous bishop of Malankara church. They also appointed a four-member council of priests to assist Mor Thoma I. They were Anjilimootil Fr Itty Thoman, Fr Kadavil Chandy, Fr Vengoor Geevarghese and Fr Parampil Chandy. The seat of Mor Thoma I was at Angamaly. And once again, Malankara Church became integral part of the Syrian Orthodox Church, adopting its rituals, rites and liturgy as before. However, the catholics considered the consecration of Mor Thoma I as illegitimate, because this was not their (Roman church) practice.

This revolt thus split the Church into two: one group continued to recognize the prelates appointed by Rome and the other broke away from Rome and joined the West-Syrian Jacobite Church of Antioch. This latter group came to be known as the Jacobites (Puthankootukar) or Syrian Orthodox Church of India. Those remained with Romans came to be known as Syrian Catholics (Syro-Malabar Church, with Syrian liturgy).

The Romans strike back

After the Coonan Cross Oath, Rome began to take active interest in the Kerala Christians. Having realized that the St. Thomas Christians lost their confidence in the Jesuits, several Italian Carmelite fathers (another missionary group under the Roman Catholic heresy) were sent to Kerala by Pope Alexander VII  to reconcile the malcontents. They initially acted as an adversary of the Jesuits and supported the Malankara Syrian Christians. Meanwhile the Malankara Syrian Church under the leadership of Mor Thoma I (Thomas Arkadiyokan) was trying hard to rebuild the Church. But the lack of proper Episcopacy, which he was conscience of, prevented him from executing full authority as a Bishop. The Carmelite priests spread rumors that a bishop cannot be consecrated without laying of hands and the sacraments of a bishop and the consecration of Mor Thoma I was invalid. This caused confusion and many faithful deserted the Jacobite Church and re-joined Romans. And during the next 12 years 84 Syrian congregations returned to communion with Rome while 32 congregations remained with the “Bishop” Thomas. As these foreign missionaries had the support of local rulers, these conversions were much easier for them. The Pope erected the Vicariate of Malabar in Cranganore and appointed Fr. Joseph Sebastiani as Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholics (Latin rite) of Malabar in 1659 which was renamed as Verapoly in 1709. In 1662, after a papal delegation visited Malabar, many of the Syrian Christians reunited under Rome supremacy. Fr. Kadavil Chandy and Fr. Chandy Parampil who were with the Arkadiyokan until then also defected. While Bishop Joseph administered the Roman Catholic followers with their headquarters at Udayamperoor church, Thomas Arakadiyokan and Itty Thommen Kathanar led the Malankara Syrian Church staying at the Mulanthuruthy MarThoma church. In 1663 when Sebastiani left for Goa under instruction from the Dutch, Fr. Chandy Parambil (Mar Alexander) was made the first Vicar Apostolic of Malabar for the section of Syrian Christians who adorned the Roman Catholic faith. After the demise of Mar Alexander, no indigenous Syrian bishop was appointed to succeed him.

The difficulties experienced by the St. Thomas Christians under the foreign missionaries resulted in a number of protest meetings in Angamali and other places. In one such major convention held in 1778 it was decided to send a delegation to Rome, to inform the Pope directly, the grievances of the St. Thomas Christians and to seek his intervention. However nothing actually happened immediately. It was after a few years that two persons Fr. Joseph Kariattil and Fr. Thomas Paremmakal were sent to Pope to get an Archbishop to the See of Kodungalloor. Kariattil was consecrated as the Archbishop of Kodungalloor in 1782 at Lisbon, but on his way back, before reaching Kerala, he died in 1786 at Goa. There were ugly rumors about death of Archbishop Kariattil and the bitterness consumed the hearts of the expectant crowd gathered at Cochin to welcome their own first ever Archbishop. In 1787, representatives from 84 churches assembled in Angamaly and drew up a document called Angamaly Padiyola which made a strong demand to Rome for native bishops, in the hope that this might heal the rift. But Rome was undecided and the situation did not change for a long time to come. In 1930 the matter was settled with the formation of the Syro-Malankara Church, which enabled the Syrian Christians and Latin Christians to follow their own practices under the jurisdiction of Rome.

The subsequent history of the Syrian Church of Kerala includes the evolution of various Syrian Christian groups and Roman catholic groups.

The Christians of Kerala today are divided into several branches: (1) the Latin Catholic Church, (2) the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, (3) the Jacobite Syrian Church, (4) the Church of the East - those who accepted the Nestorian Patriarch, (5) the Anglican Church which is now part of the Church of South India, (6) the Marthoma Syrian Church (those who accepted the Anglican Church and other Protestant bodies), (7) the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. In addition, there are also a number of minor Churches and Missions. 

Jacobite Syrian Christian Churches   Total membership 17.5 lacs
Jacobite Syrian Christian Church
Regional Church H.Q. at Puthencuriz, Kochi functions under the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarchal See of Antioch
Knanaya Jacobite Syrian Church
Church H.Q. at Chingavanam, Kottayam. administered by the 'CHIEF METROPOLITAN OF THE EAST'  -  functions under spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Church H.Q.at Kottayam. administered by an independent 'CATHOLICOSE OF EAST' whose constitutional supreme head is the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East
Syrian Orthodox congregations
Within the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch. Comprises of the Simhasana Churches; Archdiocese of Greater India (excluding the dioceses in Kerala);  Evangelical Association of the East; & St. Antony's Mission, Mangalore
Roman Catholic Churches with Syrian tradition   Total membership 31.2 lacs
Latin Catholic Christians   Kerala H.Q. at Verapoly (Varapuzha), Kochi 1,100,000
Syro-Malabar Church  (East Syriac tradition) Church H.Q. at Kochi 1,700,000
Syro-Malankara Church (West Syriac tradition) Church H.Q.at Trivandrum 200,000
Knanaya Syrian Catholics Church H.Q. at Kottayam 120,000
Episcopal & Protestant Christian Churches   Total membership 13 lacs
Malabar Independent syrian Church  (Thoziyoor Church)
West Syriac traditions,   Church H.Q. - Kunnamkulam
Assyrian Church of East  Chaldeans - East Syriac traditions,   Local H.Q. - Trichur 30,000
Marthoma Syrian Church
Protestant faith - West Syriac traditions,   Church HQ. - Thiruvalla
St. Thomas Evangelical Church  Evolved from the MarThoma Syrian Church 10,000
Anglican & Other Protestant Christian Churches 700,000


The Malankara Church

After the Coonan Cross oath, the Archdecon Thomas of Pakalomattom family was declared as the Episcopa of Malankara by priests and followers of the orthodox faith, giving him the name Mor Thoma I. Meanwhile, Pope sent Bishop Joseph Sebastiani of Carmelite order to lure Mor Thoma. But Mor Thoma devoutly resisted him. The enraged bishop Sebastiani influenced the king of Cochin and inflicted a false case on Mor Thoma in Oct 1661. Mar Thoma I took asylum in Mulanthuruthy church along with Fr. Itty Thomman. King of Cochin joined hands with Portuguese and kept them in the palace prison to hand over to Portuguese. Luckily, two faithful visited Mor Thoma and Fr Itty in the prison. The visiting faithful were eager on the safety of their spiritual leaders and upon mutual consent the faithful disguised in bishop and priests attire and in turn Mor Thoma and Fr Itty took layman's dress and came out. Hindu guards failed to recognize them and thus both Mor Thoma and Fr Itty Thomman miraculously escaped unhurt. They continued to contact the mother Church at Antioch. During this period the Portuguese power in India declined and the Dutch began to establish their authority in 1663. But the Portuguese influence that continued in the Arabian Sea and other parts of India, made the communication difficult. Mor Thoma wrote detailed letters to the Patriarch of Antioch insisting to send bishops to regularize his position. When the news reached the Church headquarters at Turabdin, the Patriarch of Antioch in 1665 summoned the Holy Synod and decided to depute a Metropolitan for the Malankara Church. At that time no bishops came from the Church in Baghdad (east syrian church) since the Patriarchate had been moved from Baghdad due to political reasons to different places and finally it was in Qudshanis in Kurdistan. With the help of Dutch Protestants, the Patriarch of Antioch sent Mar Gregorious Abdul Jaleel of Jerusalem (who belonged to the West Syrian Church) and he duly consecrated Mar Thoma in 1665 as head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India. Thus he became the first valid indigenous bishop of Malankara. Together they visited most of the churches in Malankara and reaffirmed the ancient faith and traditions of the Syrian Christians.

Mor Thoma I until his death in 1670 remained faithful and loyal to Antioch. Mar Gregorius Abdul Jaleel of Jerusalem was associated with the Jacobite Patriarchate of Antioch. Thus began the relation of the Syrian Church with the Antiochene Jacobites. A large section of the Syrian Christians of Kerala thus became a West Syrian Church without knowing much about the difference between West Syrians and East Syrians. However, the relationship with the East Syrian Church was virtually cut off, and the St. James Liturgy used by the West Syrian Orthodox Church replaced the liturgy of the Apostles Addai and Mari. Because of the relationship with the Syrian Church, the Church in Malankara (Malabar) was also known as Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. From 1665 to 1816, 'Mar Thoma' Metropolitans from the Pakalomattom family ruled over the Malankara Church as Metropolitans. In 1670 Mor Thoma I and Mor Gregorious of Jerusalem both jointly consecrated Mar Thoma II. Mor Thoma IV became head of the church in 1688 and administered the Church for 40 odd years. 

Mar Gregorious Abdul Jaleel stayed back in India. He decried that forcing priests not to marry leads to adulterous practices. Mor Gregorios broke idols which the Portuguese brought into the Church and encouraged priests to marry before Ordination of priesthood. Mor Gregorios also consecrated two Bishops for Church in Malankara.

However, the Syrian Christians around Angamaly who did not accept Mar Gregorius Abdul Jaleel remained as a separate group and waited for East Syrian (Nestorian) bishops as before. 

Story of Mor Thoma V

Just before the demise of Mar Thoma IV, some of those assembled there, fearing intrusion and intervention by Nestorian Bishop Mar Gabriel, felt it necessary that a successor to Mar Thoma, should at once be consecrated and suggested Thoma Kathanar, a nephew of Mar Thoma for the high office. The bed ridden Mar Thoma IV was informed of the suggestion and also that he should lay hands on his nephew. The strictly Orthodox Mar Thoma IV, conscious of the consecration of his predecessors and of himself, flatly rejected the proposal. Meanwhile a section of priests assembled there declared that Fr. Thoma has been consecrated as Mar Thoma V. No foreign bishops were present for his consecration. It is reported that several of the priests left the scene in protest triggering a division in the Church. A vast majority of faithful kept aloof from the new Mar Thoma V, saying that he is not a validly consecrated Metropolitan. They even submitted their complaints before Dutch authorities. As Mar Thoma V himself was aware of the invalidity of his said consecration, he appealed to Antioch in 1739, for delegating prelates to 're-consecrate' him. In 1746, there came Mor Ivanious Yuhanon, sent by Patriarch Geevarghese III and he enjoyed a hearty welcome from Mar Thoma V; but unfortunately the friendship didn't last long. Mor Ivanious Yuhanon sternness in flushing out the remnants of the Latin rite, led to his breaking of images in certain churches. Due to his inflexibility in matters of faith and practices followed by the Church, he became unpopular among some; even Mar Thoma V could not find favour with him. Besides, he had procured no authority to re-consecrate the native Methran, which so exasperated MarThoma V that he renewed his application to Antioch praying for deputation of authorized delegates to re-consecrate him.

In those days the Dutch had entered into an agreement with the Raja of Cochin, which says that the Raja had no authority over his Christian subjects and no new taxation might be levied on them without the approval of the Dutch authorities and all Christians should be under the care of the Dutch, who could punish the Christian culprits. Under such a situation the Mar Thoma V had no alternative other than requesting for help of the Dutch authorities and they in turn agreed to bring the Primates from Antioch on the condition that Mar Thoma meets the fare. In 1748, the Patriarch summoned Ramban Mor Baselios Shakralla from Aleppo (Syria) and consecrated him Maphriyono before sending him to Malabar. The Maphrian had with him the Patriarchal authorization for consecrating Mar Thoma with the title Mor Dionysius and a pastoral staff, bishop's cross and sustatikon.

The Maphriyono Mor Baselios Shakralla, accompanied by Corepiscopa Mor Gregorious, Ramban Yuhanon of Mosul diocese (Iraq), and four deacons arrived at Cochin on 14 April 1751. Being informed of the arrival of the Maphrian and party, Mar Thoma V, staying at Pallikara, sent some priests and leaders to receive the dignitaries to Kandanad Church. But contrary to the agreement reached earlier, neither Mar Thoma nor anyone authorized by him appeared before the Dutch authorities to clear the accounts which came to Rs.12000. It is said that Mar Thoma never expected so heavy and exorbitant amount as traveling expense. The Dutch, insisted that only after clearing the accounts, would the party be set free. The Maphrian too did not have enough funds with him, as he had been informed earlier that the money would be paid here. The Dutch insisted for payment, but Mar Thoma V continued to abscond. The Dutch in turn detained the hostages with them and petitioned in Court for recovery of the amount.

The Dutch then filed a civil action before the Travancore Government, which issued a warrant for the arrest of Mor Thoma. For some time he hid himself, but was at last arrested and delivered to the Dutch, who in turn threatened to deport him, if he failed to pay the sum demanded of him. In despair, he consecrated his successor in 1961 under the title Mor Thoma VI.
He did it without any assistance from foreign Bishops thus severing all allegiance to foreign bishops. Meanwhile, some money was collected from the Syrian churches, and large sum was realized by the attachment and sale of properties belonging to the church at Niranam. The debt was thus re-paid, and the delegates were released from custody.

It was Mor Baselious Shakralla during his stay at Mattancherry, built the Syrian Church located there, and worked hard to reaffirm the Apostolic faith of the Syrian Church. He changed many a practices then existed in some churches, like veneration of statutes which was introduced as a result of the Portuguese influence of the 16th & 17th centuries. He encouraged the parish priests to marry and at the same time Celibate priests were disallowed to serve in parish churches as per the Syriac Christian tradition.

The Maphrian Mor Baselious Shakralla, who was not in good terms with Mor Thoma V, consecrated Ramban Yuhanon, who had accompanied him from Antioch, as the Metropolitan of Malabar under the title Mor Ivanios. The consecration was at the Kandanad Church. Towards the end of Mor Baselious's life, a reconciliation was brought about between Mar Thoma V and His Beatitude; but before the accomplishment of re-consecration of Mar Thoma V, Mor Baselios Shakralla passed away in 1764 at Mattanchery.

Mar Thoma V died on May 8, 1765. Mar Thoma VI was also unhappy about the authenticity of his position. He attempted to go back to Catholicism, but when his demand to be recognized as a bishop was rejected by the Catholic authorities, he returned to Jacobitism. Mor Gregorious and Mor Ivaneos jointly again consecrated and renamed him as Mor Dionesius I. 

Divisions in Malankara Church

From the Malankara Church, a small group became independent in 1972, under the leadership of Mar Coorilos Kattumangatt. It is known as the Independent Syrian Church of Malabar, or the Thozhiyoor Church, a name given after the village where this community had mainly settled. In 1836, some of the Malankara faithful joined the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) due to Anglican influence. Again, in 1875, another section became independent, also because of Anglican influence on their theology and on their tradition. They are known as the Reformed Syrians, or the Mar Thomas Syrian Church. This church can be rightly called The Anglicanized Malankara Church. From this church in 1961, the St. Thomas Evangelical Church broke off, accusing the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of deviating from the reformation spirit. The remaining Malankara Church was divided into three churches, namely, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (an Autocephalous church), the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church under the Patriarch of Antioch, and the Malankara Catholic Church (Syro-Malankara) which came into communion with Rome in 1930.

Formation of the Malabar Independent Syrian Church of Thoziyoor

During the time of Mor Dionysius I (the sixth successor to MarThoma I), Mor Gregorios, one of the two representatives of the Holy See in Malankara, who had earlier consecrated Mor Dionysius I, consecrated Kattumangat Abraham Ramban as Mor Kurilose at the Mattancehrry Church in December 1772. It is said that Kattumangattu Abraham Ramban was nursing Mor Gregorious in his old age and his persistent request won the heart of Gregorious and without the knowledge or consent of Mor Ivanios (the other representative of Patriarchate) and Mor Dionesius I, consecrated Abraham Ramban as bishop Koorilose and also wrote a Will granting major portion of his assets to Koorilose. Dionesius I and Ivanios jointly convened general assembly of churches in the presence of Cochin Raja to decide about Koorilose. Both the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin finally decided against Mor Kurilose (Kattumangattu) and so he left to Thozhiyoor (near Kunnamkulam) outside their jurisdiction in British Malabar, where he laid the foundation of an independent Church in 1774. This came to be known as Independent Jacobite Church of Malabar. This lineage came to an end with Koorilose III in 1856. Then, Palakunnath Mathews Mar Athanasius, founder of Mar Thoma independent Church at Tiruvalla consecrated Panackal Joseph as Bishop Koorilose IV to the widowed Thozhiyur Church. This Church maintains cordial relations with the Mar Thoma Church, especially for inter-church consecration of Bishops even on date.

The British influence and Protestant faith in Malankara

The British conquered Cochin from the Dutch in 1795 and missionaries from Britain started their work in India. These missionaries gradually tried to control the Syrian Orthodox Church, by introducing their reformed teachings. In 1806 Claudius Buchanan of The Church of England came and met Mar Dionysius the Metropolitan. In 1811, Buchanan got the Gospels translated into Malayalam. The British resident Col. Munro in 19th century showed much interest in the affairs of the Syrians of Malabar and helped Pulikottil Mar Dionysius to start a seminary at Kottayam in 1813. The Church Missionary Society of the Anglican Church began to infuse the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malankara with Western and Protestant philosophies and practices.

While Mar Thoma VIII (last of the succession of episcopacy in the old Pakalomattam family) was still alive, Pulikkottil Ittoop Ramban got consecrated as bishop by Mar Dionysius of Thozhiyoor and got the tittle "Mar Dionysius", in 1815. He got the support of the C.M.S Missionaries who were working here and also the British authorities. Thus there were two bishops in the Church in the same time, and there was controversy regarding their authority. Therefore the Travancore and Cochin governments issued a royal proclamation in 1816 that Malankara Nazranis must accept Mar Dionysius II as their Metropolitan and obey him. Before long, the rule of Mar Thoma Metropolitans came to an end and the administration of the Church came into the hands of Mar Dionysius II and Mar Dionysius III. They ruled the Church as Malankara Metropolitans. 

The first Anglican mission (CMS) started to work in Kerala in 1816. They started English schools and published the Bible in Malayalam. The relations between the missionaries and the Syrians were smooth during the periods of Pulikottil Mar Dionysius (1817-18) and Punnathara Mar Dionysius (1818-25). The Synod of Mavelikara (1818) officially decided to have close cooperation between the missionaries and the Syrians. The Church Mission Society of London (CMS) made many converts from among the untouchables and the Syrian Christians. Some Syrian Christians who were impressed by Protestant Christians wanted to introduce like them the vernacular language in their liturgy. A number of Jacobites came under their influence and reforms were introduced on Anglican lines. Leadership for this reform group was provided by Palakunnath Abraham Malpan of Maramon (1796-1845) and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan of Puthupally (1800-1855), two professors of the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam. They wanted the reformation staying within the Syrian Church.

Mavelikkara Synod in 1836

The Jacobite Metropolitan Chepat Mar Dionysius IV was not prepared to accept the reformations. Rev. Daniel, Lord Bishop of Calcutta tried for reconciliation and in the meeting held at Kottayam between Rev. Daniel and the Metropolitan, it was proposed by the former that certain changes should be introduced in the Liturgies and ordinances of the Syrian Church and it was stated in reply that a conference of all the churches would be held on the subject and its determination made known.

Accordingly, a Synod was held at Mavelikkara by Jacobites in 1836 to resist the CMS agenda, presided by Mor Dionysius IV. It decided not to accept the changes and that no deviation from the established Liturgies and ordinances are allowed and warned against persuasions contrary to this. That was the end of the relationship between the Jacobite Chruch and the Missionaries.  

This prompted the British missioneries to form a new church called CMS (Church Missionary Society) which later joined with another Protestant denomination to form the CSI (Church of South India). The CSI Church in Kerala had its beginnings mostly from Anglican missionaries who had converted the local population. However later on they united with the Basil Mission, Presbyterians and Baptists and formed the group called Church of South India. As in the case of catholics these various groups follow largely the religious practices of their parent groups world over. However lingustically, socially and culturally they have much in common with other Kerala christian groups.

Reformation in the Malankara Church

Formation of Mar Thoma Church

Abraham MalpanAround that time, Palakunnath Abraham Malpan, Vicar of Maramon parish and later professor of Syriac at the Kottayam Seminary, sided with the European missionaries and argued for reformation in the Church. He was of opinion that many of the beliefs that infiltrated into Malankara Church by its association with other churches and religions were against the teaching of the Bible. In the wake of reformation in the Syrian Church in Kerala pioneered by Abraham Malpan, he is considered as the Martin Luther of the East. In 1836 after the Mavelikkara synod, Abraham Malpan and 11 other priests submitted a memorandum to the British Resident Col. Frazer highlighting the necessary changes to be made in the church. This is called the Trumpet of Reformation. As help did not come through, Abraham Malpan took a bold step. He translated Holy Qurbana into Malayalam and eliminated prayers for the dead in 1837 for which he was excommunicated by Dionysius IV in 1837. He retreated to his parish at Maramon and celebrated this Qurbana. The Metropolitan also refused to ordain the deacons, who were trained by Malpan.

Abraham Malpan was determined to take the reform forward. He realized that for the continuity of the Church in the Episcopal tradition there was need for a Bishop favoring reformation. Earlier Mor Dionysius IV, the then Metropolitan of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church had sent various petitions to the throne of Antioch praying for sending more Bishops. But the Patriarch was of the opinion that it was better to ordain people from Malankara itself. It was in this context that when Malpan sent his nephew, Deacon Mathew, to the Jacobite Patriarch at Mardin, Syria with a petition by supporters and got him ordained as Bishop Mor Athanasius. Mar Athanasios who reached Malankara in 1843, tried to grab the position of Malankara Metropolitan and strongly carried forward the reform ideas. Chepat Mar Dionysius IV opposed this. The new Metropolitan, with the backing of the British, then went to Trivandrum and obtained the Royal proclamation declaring him as the Metropolitan of the Malankara Church in 1852. He supported the reform movement of Abraham Malpan, restored its name Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, and declared its autonomy and independence.

Mor Dionysius IV was then very old. The official faction of the Church who did not accept Mor Athanasius, realizing that they needed a Metropolitan who was strong enough to resist Mor Athanasius, sent Pulikkottil Joseph Kathanar to the Patriarch saying that Mor Athanasius did not have the full support of the Church and alleged that he has a protestant view. The Patriarch consecrated Joseph Kathanar as bishop with the title Joseph Mar Dionysius V and sent him to Malankara in 1865. But with the help of British authorities, Mor Athanasius was able to move freely and majority of the Church properties and most of the parishes in Kottayam and its southern belt, came under him. Meanwhile, Mathews Mar Athanasios with the Support of Thozhiyoor bishop got his nephew, a son of Abraham Malpan, consecrated bishop with the name Thomas Mar Athanasios in 1869. Mar Dionysius V tried to retain authority over the churches and properties; but could not, since Mathew Mar Athanasios had the backing of the British. When every one of his attempts failed, Mar Dianysius (who was known as Pulikkottil Mar Dionysius) appealed to the Patriarch to come to Malankara and resolve the crisis.

Accordingly Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Peter III came to Malankara in 1875. He excommunicated Mor Athanasius of Palakunnath and he made the authorities repeal the royal proclamation that was earlier issued in favour of Mathews Mar Athanasios. The Patriarch called a Council (Synod) of the Malankara Church at Mulanthuruthy in 1876. As per the decision of this Mulanthuruthy Synod, the Jacobite faith was re-affirmed and Pulikottil Mor Dionysius Joseph was re-appointed as the Malankara Metropolitan who assumed the title 'Mor Dionysius V'. The Patriarch who stayed in Malankara for almost a year attempted to establish his authority over Malankara church.

In 1876, he arbitrarily divided Malankara Church into seven dioceses and consecrated six Metropolitans to look after the proposed dioceses - Kollam, Niranam, Thumpamon, Angamali, Kandanad, Kochi. At the time of ordination as Metropolitan, he insisted for a declaration agreeing to the ecclesiastical authority of Antioch & all the East and was later registered at the Govt. Sub-Registrar office. This was strongly objected to by Mor Dionysius V but in vain.

Consequent to excommunication, Mar Athanasius and his followers were deprived of all the churches and properties. Mathews Mar Athanasius argued that the Patriarch had no power to do so. Thomas Mar Athanasius succeeded him in 1877 (after his death). The Old Seminary at Kottayam was in the possession of the reformists and their stronghold. Mor Dionysius V with the support of Patriarch, filed suit against the reformists and the Church plunged into a prolonged litigation (1879- 1889) known as the 'Seminary Case'. The case was decided in the royal court of appeal in Trivandrum, in 1889 against the reformists. The reform party got only Maramon, Kozhencherry and Kottarakara churches. And five churches were to be used by the two parties on alternate Sundays. Immediately after this, in 1889, with help of the CMS, the reformists organized a new Church - the Mar Thoma Church. The ancient church re-called themselves as the Jacobite Syrian Church.

Thomas Mar Athanasius died suddenly in 1893 without consecrating a successor. Another son of Abraham Malpan by name Titus agreed to accept the responsibility. The Metropolitan of the Independent Church of Thozhiyoor consecrated him in 1893 as Titus I. In the place of the Old Seminary, which was lost to the Jacobites, a new site was bought for the Seminary in Kottayam itself and a school was started. The Marthoma Church which expanded initially in and around Kozhencherry, Ayroor, Ranny etc later spread all over Kerala and outside.

The Church that started with three Churches has today 1062 parishes, 11 dioceses and 680 priests in different parts of the world, including West Asia , Africa , North America and Western Europe.

maramon conventionThe Maramon Convention was started in 1896, by the St. Thomas church. It is held in Feb-March every year on the dry river bed of river Pamba. This is the biggest religious congregation of Christians in Asia and the second biggest in the world. Christians from all over India assemble here to listen to the gospels by scholars. About 100,000 christians attend the convention.

Formation of the St. Thomas Evangelical Church

St.Thomas Evangelical Church of India was born out of the Mar Thoma Church of India. In 1953 a group of believers of Mar Thoma Church contended that the then Metropolitan of the Church and the Synod was contaminating the theology of the Church and going back in the reformations, Mr. K.N. Daniel, leader of this group approached the Civil Court of Kottayam, Kerala pleading that the Metropolitan be banned from functioning. He contended that the Mar Thoma Church has abandoned the Lutheran Doctrine on Christ’s presence in the bread and wine and accepted the Jacobite version, which holds that there is a kind of presence of Christ in the bread broken at Lord’s Supper. He also argued that the authorities watered down the belief about the dead. The democratic form of administration envisaged by Bible was also destroyed. The verdict of the Court was against Mr. Daniel. He approached higher court including the Supreme Court of India in 1964, but could not win. He died as a Mar Thomite.

Meanwhile in 1960 four priests, Rev. John Varghese, P.I.Mathai, C.M.Varghese and K.O.John (who sided with the views of Mr. K. N. Daniel) were ex-communicated. They together with their supporters assembled at Tiruvalla and formed the new Church. They elected Rev. John Vargheese and K.N.Oommen as Bishops.  The Church has today 59 priests, five deacons, 127 evangelists and 47 women evangelists. The Church has 173 parishes in Kerala, 32 in other Indian states and 13 outside India.

Further Divisions in Syrian Church

Split over Patriarchal Authority - The Methran Kakshi and the Bava (patriarch) Kakshi

Subsequent to the Seminary case in 1889, the reformists under Abraham Malpan split away from the Syrian orthodox church and formed the Mar Thoma Church. Even though the Seminary case judgment was in favour of the Patriarch, the Court ruled that the Patriarch of Antioch had only spiritual oversight, and no temporal authority which he tried to establish through the Mulanthuruthy Synod. The Patriarch Peter III was not satisfied with this judgment. He held that spiritual and temporal authority were indivisible, and any judgment denying his God-given authority will have no effect. Ignoring this judgment, the Patriarch continued to exercise temporal authority, and the Malankara Church resisted his move.

In the year 1895 Mor Abdul Messih took over the throne of Patriarch of Antioch. However, he was dethroned by the Turkish Government in 1905 and another Patriarch Mor Abdulla II was appointed in his place. 

In 1902, the Episcopal Synod of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church held under the then Malankara Metropolitan, Pulikottil Mor Dionysius V, selected two Metropolitan designates and in 1908 they were ordained as Mor Kurilose Paulose and Mor Dionysius Geevarghese Vattasseril by the Patriarch of Antioch. The next year the Malankara Metropolitan Pulikottil Mor Dionysius V died and was buried in the old Seminary Church in Kottayam. Mor Dionysius Vattasseril was instituted as Metropolitan in 1906, with the title Mor Dionysius VI by Patrirach Mor Abdulla II. But unfortunately within a short period, the new Metropolitan had differences of opinion with the other co-trustees and within a short time, this conflict became serious.  Patriarch Mar Abdullah II was determined to establish that he had full authority over the Malankara Church, With this intention he came to Kerala in 1909 and pressed the issue. The Patriarch wanted Mar Dionysios Vattasseril to sign a document declaring that the Patriarch had temporal powers over the Malankara Church. Mar Dionysios refused to sign this document. This again caused a rift in the church. While patriarch insisted on comprehensive jurisdiction over the Malabar Church, Dionysius would allow him only the spiritual power - the right to consecrate bishops and chrism (holy oil) for the Church. Mar Abdulla II then excommunicated Mar Dionysios Vattasseril. This resulted in formation of groups within the Church - one supporting the Bishop or Methran (called Methran Group) and other supporting the Patriarch (Bava Group). Mar Dionysios Vattasseril stood against the Patriarch and wanted to keep up the independence of Malankara Church. Cyril (Mor Kurilose), the other Malabar Jacobite bishop was the leader of the Patriarch group.

Consecration of the first Malankara Catholicose in 1912 (Methran group)

In this conflict the Metropolitan Mar Dionysios Vattasseril (Mar Dionysius VI) managed to obtain the support of the deposed senior Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah. While Mertopolitan Mar Dionysius VI clashed with Mar Abdullah, the Canonical senior Patriarch Abdul Messiah offered to come to the assistance of the former. In 1912 he came to Kerala and associated with Mar Dionysius VI and the Bishops and the Church with him, to re-establish the Catholicate of the East (which was abolished in 1860 in Persia Tigris), and got him ordained as the Catholicos of the East on 15 Sept 1912 at the Niranam Church, founded by St. Thomas. The Catholicate of the East was thus re-established in Malankara, as an autocephalous (independent) church.

After staying in Malankara for about nine months Mar Abdul Messiah returned to Kurkuma Dayara which was the headquarters of Syrian Patriarchs, in 1913. The reigning Patriarch Mar Abdulla II, who was in Malankara for about 2 years, left Malankara and died on the way in 1915, without being able to reach the Patriarchal abode. The new Patriarch of Antioch Mar Ignatius Abdulla Satuff issued an order invalidating the appointment of the Catholicos of the East and the powers of the Bishops to appoint or elect a new Catholicos. This finally split the church - The Methran Kakshi calls itself the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India whose Catholicos or supreme head resides at Devalokam, Kottayam. The Bava Kakshi continued to be called the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of India whose head is the Antiochian Jacobite Patriarch. The parties approached the Hon. Court of India about ownership of the church properties which prolonged for many years.

Though many peace negotiations were going on from the days of the split, it became more significant with the arrival of Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Elias III in 1931. He created a favorable atmosphere by canceling the excommunication of Mor Dionysius Vattasseril VI and tried his best to heal the breach. Although the Bava Kakshi won the case in High court, finally the Supreme Court in 1958 decided the case in favour of the Methran Kakshi (Orthodox Church).

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is now administered as per the constitution adopted in 1934 which was passed by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association. The Association in its meeting has requested the Catholicos Mar Geevarghese II to assume the additional role of Malankara Metropolitan also, due to the demise of previous Malankara Metropolitan Mar Dionysius VI. The practice of the Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan being vested in one person is being continued even today. The Association is a fully representative body of the church with elected members -priests and laymen-from all the Parish Churches. There is also an Episcopal Synod which has all the Prelates of the Malankara Church as members. Matters concerning Faith, Order and Discipline are under the authority of the Episcopal Synod. It is the Episcopal Synod which installs the Catholicos.

Peace in 1958

When Moran Mor Ignatius Yakub III became the Patriarch, expressed his desire for the unity of the Church in Malankara. On 16th December 1958, following a series of discussions that was continuing for many years, the Patriarch and the Catholicose accepted each other and the Universal Church was born. The two sides reconciled when the Indian Supreme Court declared in 1958 that only the autocephalous Catholicos and bishops in communion with him had legal standing. But almost immediately after the accord of 1958, the Catholicose and his group took control of many Jacobite Syrian churches. After a series of such incidents, a meeting of the representatives of the various parish churches, who were in favour for the continuation of the Patriarch, was convened at Manarcad in 1960. The large gathering assembled there protested against the forceful entry of the Catholicose to many churches which was contrary to the agreement reached with the Patriarch earlier. On the request of the assembly, Mor Philixinose went to Damascus to call on His Holiness and submit their grievances. But His Holiness who was against another split in the Church, sent back Mor Philixonse with instructions to co-operate with the Catholicose. The Catholicose suspended Mor Philixinose Paulose from the Episcopal Synod of the united Church on 17th June 1960, there by paved way for the continuation of enmity among the two Syrian Christian groups.

Consecration of the Jacobite Catholicose in 1964 (Bava Group)

Due to the above state of affairs, in 1964, Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Yakub III arrived in Malankara and ordained Mor Augen as Catholicose of the East- Mor Baselius Augen I. Thus, the Jacobite Catholicate was established in India as a separate church with its administrative jurisdiction limited to India, as per the decision of Universal Episcopal Synod held at Kottayam, presided by the Patriarch Ignatius Yakub III of Antioch and attended by all the bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, and bishops from the Middle East who had accompanied the Patriarch. In the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of India, the Patriarch of Antioch & all the East is the spiritual supreme, but the temporal powers of the local Church in India rests with an association, elected from among the representatives of Parishes of Malankara, and is to be administered under guidance from its Chief prelate, the Catholicos of India.

By the seventies, Catholicose Mar Augen I under pressure from the extremists in his group, began to claim that he was sitting on the throne of St. Thomas and declared equality with his superior, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. And also fundamental changes were made in the history and faith of the Malankara Church that was followed for centuries, particularly in the Sunday Schools and other such organizations. The Patriarch convened a Universal Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1975 and excommunicated the Catholicose Augen I. Consequently the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church of India elected Mor Philexinos Paulose as the new Catholicose-designate and in 1975 and he was ordained as Catholicose Mor Baselios Paulose II for the Indian Church for the Bava kakshi. Again a series of court cases erupted about church properties between the two groups.

In June 1996 the Supreme Court of India rendered a decision that (a) upheld the Constitution of the church that had been adopted in 1934 and made it binding on both factions, (b) stated that there is only one Orthodox church in India, currently divided into two factions, and (c) recognized the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch as the spiritual head of the universal Syrian Church, while affirming that the autocephalous Catholicos has legal standing as the head of the entire church, and that he is custodian of its parishes and properties.

Other chruches in Antiochian Syrian tradition

Besides this, there are other churches/associations, independent of each other, that came into existence in the last century, established on the desire of orginal faith and are under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch. They are the Simhasana (Thronal) Churches, the St. Antony's congregation and Honawar Mission based at Mangalore (founded by Mor Julius Alwarez),  the Evangelical Association of the East (Pourasthya Suvisesha Samagam) and the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Greater India (comprising of Outside Kerala dioceses-in India). All of these are administered by Metropolitans appointed by the Patriarch of Antioch. Also there is a Knanaya diocese that was established in early 20th century for the migrant Knanaites (KNANAYA JACOBITE SYRIAN CHURCH) and is under the administration of a Metropolitan. All of the above dioceses have their own associations and decisions pertaining them are taken by themselves and with the approval of the Patriarch of Antioch.

Assyrian church of the East in India

Those Syrian Christians who kept away from the Synod of Udayamperur continued as a small separate group. After the Coonan Cross oath in 1653, they did not also accept Mar Gregorius Abdul Jaleel from the Jacobite West Syrian church. They remained within the Roman Control and waited for East Syrian bishops as before. In 1796, Saktan Thampuram the then king of Cochin State invited 52 families to Thrissur for the promotion of trade and commerce. They were given land and other privileges. This consisted mainly the above group and they built the Martha Mariam Valiya Pally of Thrissur in 1814. The original name of this church, was “Vyakula Mathavin Pally or Our Lady of Dolours”. From 1814 to 1838, this church was under the jurisdiction of the Canannore Archdiocese. On 24 April 1838, H.H. Pope Gregory XVI issued a proclamation, whereby the Canannore diocese ceased to exist and it came under the authority of the Bishop of Verapoly (Varapuzha) which continued till 1861.

Marth Mariam Church This community flourished and wanted to retain their identity. They tried to get bishops from Chaldean church.  The Chaldean Patriarch Mar Joseph Audo sent Bishop Mar Thoma Rocos in 1861. He was, however, not welcomed by the Carmelite Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly and was excommunicated indicating that he came here without the necessary permission from the pope. Rocos was forced to go back in 1862 owing to strong protest from the Carmelites, but this created a division within the Christian community. Melus was another Chaldean bishop sent by the Chaldean Patriarch in 1874. He was also not accepted and was compelled to leave in 1882. The Syrian Christians of Trichur and surrounding areas, known as Surais, are the followers of the Schism that resulted. They owe allegiance to the East Syrian Nestorian Patriarch and remained as a separate Church. Mar Abdisho Thondanat Metropolitan was consecrated by the Assyrian Patriarch Mar Ruwel Shimun of Kurdistan in 1862 (even though Latin authorities in Mosul did not permit the Patriarch to consecrate a bishop for India) after the return of Mar Thoma Rocos to the Middle East. After Mar Elia Mellus left India in 1882 Mar Abdisho Thondanat was head of the group. In 1887, Pope separated the Kerala Syrian Catholics from Verapoly and brought them under the Syro Malabar Vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam. Bishop Adolph Medlycott, the first Vicar Apostolic appointed by the Pope for the Trichur vicariate in 1887, filed a suit in 1888 for the possession of the church in Trichur. Bishop did not succeed in this suit. During the time of his successor Bishop John Menachery, the appeal on the suit of Bishop Medlycott was decided against him. The Trichur church people immediately sent a memorandum to Chaldean Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun (1903 – 1918) to send a Metropolitan to Trichur, as Mar Abdisho Thondanat had expired in Nov 1900.

Mar Abimalek Timotheus Metropolitan from Turkey arrived in Trichur on 27 February 1908. He spoke against the use of images in the altar of the Marth Mariam Church. Another suit was filed by Michael Augustine corepiscopa (1900-1908) against the Metropolitan whom he brought to India. In this suit the supporters of Michael Augustine cor-episcopa argued that the Trichur Christians are independent of the Patriarch as well as the Pope. His successor from Assyria, Metropolitan Mar Timotheus (1908-1945) won this suit. The Award of Political Agent to the Travancore and Cochin governments Mr. C.W.E. Cotton in April 1925 finally settled this suit that started in 1911. After the Cotton’s Award the church in Trichur removed all the statues from the altar. The name of the Church was changed from Vyakulamathavin Church to Marth Mariam (in Syriac). The Chaldean Syrians of Trichur prefer to use the title Mother of Christ, while the Catholics and the Orthodox insist on the expression Mother of God. The Catholics who lost the suit built a Vyakulamathavin Church, known as puthanpally, near the old church. The work started in 1929 and completed in 1940.

Mar Abimalek Timotheus metropolitan died in Trichur on 30 April 1945. There was a period of seven years without any bishop. Next bishop from Chaldean Church was Mar Thoma Darmo (1952-68). During the rule of Mar Thoma Darmo, Church in India made significant progress. However, during his period there was a split in the Church. In 1964 Mar Simeon, Patriarch of Chaldean Church decided to follow Gregorian calendar. Mar Darmo and a group opposed it. The Patriarch suspended the Metropolitan on 10 January 1964. The Church was split in to two groups and the Darmo group elected Mar Thoma Darmo as Patriarch. He appointed Mar Aprem, as bishop and went back to Chaldean in 1968. In 1972, Mar Simeon ordained Mar Timotheus as Metropolitan of India. So both groups of the Church had metropolitans in India.  But the actual reason behind the controversy was over the hereditary succession of the Patriarchs that started in 1450. The office of the Patriarch and some other Episcopal sees had since then become hereditary within one family, usually being passed down from uncle to nephew. Opposing this practice, a section under a Metropolitan separated in 1968 and this led to the formation of a parallel Catholicate / Patriarchate. However in 1973, the age old practice of hereditic succession came to end with the retirement of the Patriarch Mar Simon in 1973.

Efforts were made for unity in the Church, which got realised in Nov 1995. Both the groups accepted the Gregorian calendar. Now, head of the church is Mar Aprem Metropolitan residing at Trichur and Mar Timotheos as delegate of the Patriarch in India. This Church is under the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East. The present Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East H.H. Mar Dinkha IV is residing in Chicago, U.S.A. The Assyrian Church of the East in India is also known as the Chaldean Syrian Church in India. Despite carrying the "Chaldean" title in its name, the church is distinct from the Chaldean Catholic Church of the Middle East which is in communion with Rome. The Church in India has 29 parishes, out of which five are outside Kerala - Coimbatore, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. Like the other Syrian Christian denominations of Kerala, the Chaldean Syrians of Trichur claim to be the faithful descendants of the first century converts of St. Thomas.


The Latin Catholic Church

The Cochin area was occupied by a large community of Christians claiming to have been converted by St. Thomas the Apostle, and using a Syrian Rite. These were brought under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese after the Synod of Diamper in 1599, and ruled by Jesuit archbishops at Angamaly, and afterwards at Cranganore. After the Coonan Cross oath in 1653, Pope Alexander deputed Carmelite Missionaries in 1657 to Malabar, most prominent among whom was Joseph Sebastiani better known as Father Joseph of St. Mary, to effect reconciliation of St. Thomas Christians of the Syro–Chaldean Rite, who left the Roman catholic church. By the efforts of Sebastiani a large number of seceders were brought back to the Roman fold. Nevertheless, they refused to be under the authority of their lawful Archbishop or under any prelate of the Jesuit Order. Rome, being informed of the situation by Sebastiani in person, decided to entrust, the Carmelites with the spiritual care of the Syro – Chaldeonian Rite. For this purpose the Vicariate of Malabar was erected by Pope Alexanded VII on the 3rd December, 1659 at Cranganore and  Sebastiani was consecrated as Bishop and sent back to Malabar with the title of Vicar Apostolic and Administrator of the Archbishopric of Cranganore for the syrian catholics, while those of the Latin Rite, who had been converted by Portuguese missionaries, were attached to the Diocese of Cochin. The new Vicariate eventually established its headquarters in the island of Verapoly. The erection of the Vicariate, independent of the control of Portugal, increased the tensions between the Padroado and the Carmelites.

The conquest of Portuguese territories in Malabar and especially of Cochin in 1663 by the Dutch and the consequent explusion of all Catholic Missionaries from the territories occupied by the Dutch and elsewhere, threatened the very existence of the Malabar Vicariate. In 1663 when Sebastiani left for Goa under instruction from the Dutch, Fr. Chandy Parambil (Mar Alexander de Campo) was made the first Vicar Apostolic of Malabar for the section of Syrian Christians who adorned the Roman Catholic faith. Before long, Carmelites were allowed to resume their ministration which was by then extended also to the Catholics of the Latin Rite who were under Portuguese Protection. After the demise of Mar Alexander, no indigenous Syrian bishop was appointed to succeed him. In 1709, the Malabar Vicariate was renamed as Vicariate of Verapoly with Bishop Agnelos Francisco as its first Vicar Apostolic. During this time the lines between the two jurisdictions were practically indefinite, and the faithful passed freely from one side to the other. In 1886, the Latin hierarchy of India was established by Pope Leo XIII, and the Vicariate of Verapoly was raised to the status of an Archdiocese, with the Rev. Dr. Leonard Mellano of St. Louis, as its first Archbishop. Along with this, the Diocese of Cochin was also resuscitated and reconstituted with 34 Latin Churches taken from the Archdiocese of Verapoly and the Diocese of Quilon. 

In 1887, Pope Leo XIII created the first Vicariates of Kottayam and Trichur exclusively for the Syrian catholics exempting them from the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Verapoly. The Archdiocese of Verapoly has thus become exclusive for Latin Catholics. The diocese of Trivandrum was promoted as another Archdiocese in 2004.

Syro-Malabar Church

Those who remained in communion of Pope after the Coonan Cross Oath later came to be known as the Syro-Malabar Church. It was a name given by the Roman authorities to refer to the Catholic St.Thomas Christians. The name Syro-Malabar was chosen apparently to avoid confusion with the Malabar rite which existed as a part of the Latin Church in the Coromandel coast of India. From 1662, European Carmelites continued to serve as bishops in the Syro-Malabar Church until 1896.

In 1858, a conflict arose between the new Apostolic Vicar of the Latin rite in Kerala, Bishop Baccinelli, and Syro-Malabar priests. In their dissatisfaction, the latter had made an appeal to the Chaldean patriarch Joseph VI Audo, who asked Rome for permission to ordain a bishop for the Syro-Malabars. The response was negative, but in spite of that the Patriarch consecrated Bishop Rocos, then set out for Rome in hopes of winning his case there.

Upon his arrival in Kerala, Bishop Rocos applied himself to persuading the local Catholics of the regularity of his mission, saying that the Chaldean Patriarch had been ordered by the Holy See to consecrate him for the care of the Patriarch's Christian communities. His fallacious claims weakened the faithful and were a source of great divisions. Soon, the majority of Syro-Malabar parishioners had left their rightful shepherd of the Latin rite, the Apostolic Vicar of Verapoly, in order to place themselves under the authority of the intruder bishop. Indeed, faithful and priests alike were very happy to welcome a bishop of their rite, whom they had hoped for for some time, and they supported Bishop Rocos' aims and behavior as best they could. Of 154 Syro-Malabar parishes, 86 joined Bishop Rocos completely and another 30 partially; only 38 remained faithful to the legitimate authority. Father Chavara of Mannanam monastry sent the Pope a petition asking him to establish the line that the Syro-Malabars were to follow. In response, Pope clearly indicated that Bishop Rocos had come to Kerala in spite of the interdiction of the Apostolic See. A few days later, even Patriarch Joseph VI Audo himself wrote from Rome to Bishop Rocos to request his return to Mesopotamia. Bishop Rocos, who had been excommunicated by the Apostolic Vicar of Verapoly, ended up submitting himself to him and obtaining his pardon and returned to Mesopotamia.

In 1887, Pope Leo XIII decreed the separation of Syrian Rite of St. Thomas Catholics from that of the Latins and created the first Vicariates of Kottayam and Trichur for the Syrian catholics (exempting them from the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Verapoly), but the Vicars Apostolic Charles Lavigne and Adolph Medlycott respectively appointed for them were of the Latin Rite. Charles Lavigne, the Vicar Apostolic of Kottayam, appointed two pontifically privileged Vicars General, Msgr Mathew Makil for the Southists and Msgr Emmanuel Nidhiri for the Northists.  

In 1896, a reorganization was done and as a result three vicariates, namely Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry (shifting from Kottayam) came into existence. Three indigenous Syro-Malabar priests were ordained bishops and put in charge of these units.  After 230 years of Latin rule, on December 21, 1923 Pope Pius XI established the Syro-Malabar hierarchy in India with Ernakulam as the Metropolitan See and Changanacherry and Trichur as its suffragans. In 1957 the diocese of Changanacherry also was made archdiocese. This resulted in an anomalous juridical situation in the Syro - Malabar Church with two archbishops of equal rank with no common head. So, on 16 December 1992 Pope John Paul II declared the Syro-Malabar Church as a Major Archiepiscopal Church and appointed Cardinal Antony Padiyara, the then Archbishop of Ernakulam as the first Major Archbishop. Taking into consideration the particular situation of the Syro - Malabar Church and the poor state of health of Cardinal Antony Padiyara the Pope had appointed also a delegate of him to discharge the duties of the Major Archbishop. He was Archbishop Abraham Kattumana, who was a Vatican Ambassador in African countries. Archbishop Kattumana died unexpectedly during his visit to Rome in April 1995. Since the post was a temporary one none else was appointed to take his place. Ernakulam-Angamaly is the See of the Major Archbishop. As Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly he has his office at Ernakulam. His office as Major Archbishop is at Mount St. Thomas, 12 kms away from Ernakulam town towards Kakkanad. 

Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (C.M.I)

Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (C.M.I) is a religious Congregation under the Syro-Malabar church and has its beginnings in the 19th century. When two zealous priests, Fr.Thomas Palackal and Fr.Thomas Porukara of the Vicariate Apostolic of Verapoly in Kerala, sought to live in retirement and prayer,  the Vicar Apostolic Bishop Maurilius Stabilini advised them to establish a religious house so that they might do good to the people. Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara also joined them and on May 11, 1831, a small house was started at Mannanam near Kottayam. Some more priests and clerics joined the Founding Fathers, and thus a small religious community took shape. A Seminary was started in Mannanam in 1833 for the whole of Kerala, which continued there till 1894 when it was shifted to Puthenpally and later established in Alwaye in 1932. On December 8, 1855, the religious congregation was canonically erected. Since then the name of Mary Immaculate has been invariably attached to the title. Blessed Chavara, the only surviving founder, was appointed the first Superior of the Congregation. He became a ‘bridge-builder’ between the Syrian and the Latin Churches. He was a great reformer and in 1846, he established the first printing press of the Syro-Malabar Church and the first Sanskrit school open to all irrespective of caste and creed. The school was converted to English medium school in 1875.

Blessed Chavara Kurikose EliasSince during the early period of this Religious Congregation the Vicars Apostolic of Verapoly were Carmelites, the Carmelite influence was there from the very beginning of the Congregation. In 1861 the Community was affiliated to the Order of Carmelites with the title T.O.C.D. (Third Order of the Carmelites Discalced). The Constitution was approved ad experimentum by the Apostolic See in 1885. In 1958 the name was changed to C.M.I (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate). The Congregation was granted pontifical exemption in 1967. 

The Congregation from its beginning exercised itself in such activities as preaching retreats, conducting seminaries and training of priests; met the challenge of educating the youth and disseminating Christian literature, worked for the conversion of non-Christians and for the reunion of separated brethren, and also started charitable institutions and many educational institutions. The headquarters of the Congregation is at Ernakulam.

Syro-Malankara church or The Malankara Rite (1930 AD)

Mar Ivanios During the 1930s one of the leading Bishops- Mar Ivanios in charge of Bethany Ashram and two other bishops of the Syrian Christians, disillusioned by the split between the Catholicos group and the Patriarch group left the Church and moved to the Roman Catholic Church, forming a group called "Reethu" (Malankara Roman Rite). Nearly a hundred thousand people went over to this new rite from the Syrian Orthodox Church. They asked only that their liturgy be preserved and that the bishops be allowed to retain their dioceses. After discussions, Rome required only that the bishops make a profession of faith and that their baptisms and ordinations be proven valid in each case. The cradle of the re-union movement was Bethany Ashram which is officially known as Order of the Imitation of Christ (O.I.C.), founded by Mar Ivanios in 1919 at Mundanmala, Perunnad, Ranni. There are now four dioceses for over 325,000 faithful, all in Kerala State, India. The Church HQ is at Arch Bishop house, Pattom, Trivandrum.

The Malankara Rite (locally called as Malankara Reeth) does not have any difference in faith from Jacobite Church except that they accept Roman Pope as head of the Church instead of the Patriarch. The Roman Holy See accepted it as a separate Catholic Church with the name of Syro-Malankara Church. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church follows the Eastern Rites used by many of the ancient Christian churches of Eastern Europe and the Middle East (called Eastern Catholic or Uniate churches) that are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church but not using the Latin Rite.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council

It is an association of the Catholic bishops in Kerala. It is a communion of the three rites of the Roman Church in Kerala - the Latin, the Syro Malabar and the Syro Malankara.

The Knanaya church

All Knananites were Syrian Christians until the historic ‘Coonan Kurisu Sathyam’ when about one third of them accepted Jacobite faith and joined Jacobite/Orthodox Church while others remained with the Roman Catholic faith as part of Syro-Malabar Catholic church. However, they continued to keep their culture, tradition and practicing endogamy through the centuries.

Knanaya Jacobite Christians - Diocese of Chingavanam 

The Knanaya group who separated from Roman Church, accepted Jacobite faith (about a third of the total Kananites) after the Koonan Kurisu oath continued as part of the Jacobite church. In 1910, they got their own bishopric and personal jurisdiction. This bishopric is known as Chingavanam Knanaya Bhadrasanam. The diocese was erected in 1910, with jurisdiction over all Knanaya Jacobites wherever they may be.  Mor Severios Geevarghese was the first Metropolitan of the Knanaya diocese. On 31st August 1910, Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abded Aloho ordained Fr. Geevarghese Edavazhickal as the first Knanaya Bishop with the name Mor Severios. Mor Severios administered the Knanaya diocese residing at Kottayam Valiyapalli. Around that period, the reformation movement that was very active in Malankara rocked the Knanya Community also. At Kottayam, Kallissery and Ranny many faithful of the Knanaya community along with some priests joined the new movement and created a rift in the churches. The present Metropoletan is Koobberneethi Hakkeemo Abraham Mar Clemis, with the title Chief Metropolitan of the East. At present there are 1,00,000 followers with 60 churches in India and 10 abroad. Later the Knanaya Bishop's House was shifted to Chingavanam where the Mor Ephrem Seminary was established. This Knanaya diocese is directly under the holy throne of Antioch.

Knanaya Catholics - Diocese of Kottayam 

The Knanaya group who remained with the Roman control in the Syro-Malabar church under East Syrian Bishops, had their own churches and priests distinct from those of the non-Knanaya St Thomas Christians. This system continued under the Latin Rite European bishops also, who governed the St Thomas Christians. In 1896 as a result of reorganization in Syro-Malabar Church, three vicariates - Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry came into existence headed by native bishops. Mathew Makeil a Knanite (who was earlier Vicars General for the Southists) was made the bishop of Changanacherry. Bishop Makil had suffered considerably at the hands of the Northists who did not like a Southist to be their bishop. So Bishop Makeil, went to Rome and requested Pope Pius X to create a separate Diocese for Knanaya people. Pope Pius X established the Diocese of Kottayam exclusively for the Kananaya Catholics on 29th of August 1911. Bishop Makil became the first Bishop of Kottayam, who has jurisdiction over all the Kananaya faithful within the provinces of Ernakulam, Changanacherry, Trichur and Tellicherry. The auxiliary bishop of Kottayam as Syncellus or representative of the Bishop of Kottayam resides at Kannur in Northern Kerala and looks after the needs of the Kananaya faithful in the Northern Kerala. In 1923, the Vicariate Apostolic of Kottayam was raised to an eparchy and in 2005 it was elevated to an Archeparchy.

In 1921, Mar. Alexander Chulaparambil obtained from the Holy See to practice Syro-Malankara rite for the reunified people from Knanaya Jacobite church. Thus with this privilege, a few people from Knanaya Jacobite Church accepted Catholic faith and started practicing Syro-Malankara rite in the years that followed. After the reunion movement of Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilos in 1930 when the Syro-malankara church was formed in communion with Rome, some of the Kananaya parishes also followed the same. However instead of joining the Syro-Malankara Church they joined the diocese of Kottayam in the Syro-Malabar Church even though they follow the Antiochean liturgy. They have separate parishes and parish priests within the diocese of Kottayam.

Anglican churches - Protestant and Episcopal Churches

There are numerous Protestant Churches and Groups in Kerala, which had their origin in USA or European Countries. Chief among them are CSI, Assemblies of God, Ceylon Pentecost, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist, Church of God, Luther Mission etc. Most of these Churches have their origin after the 16th century when the Protestant Church broke off from the Catholic Church.

Church of South India (CSI)

Church of South India The Church of South India (CSI) is the result of the union of churches of varying traditions Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed in that area. It was formed in September 1947, after the Independence of India. It is the largest Protestant church in India, organized into 22 dioceses each under the spiritual supervision of a bishop, the church as a whole is governed by a synod, which elects a moderator (presiding bishop) every 2 years. Episcopacy is thus combined with synodical government, and the church explicitly recognizes that Episcopal, Presbyterian, and congregational elements are all necessary for the church's life. The Scriptures are the ultimate standard of faith and practice. The historic creeds are accepted as interpreting the biblical faith, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper are recognized as of binding obligation. 

The Church of South India has its own service book and communion service, both of which draw from several denominational sources. It is in limited communion with the Anglican Church of England and the Episcopal Church of the United States. The union, especially in its reconciliation of the Anglican doctrine of apostolic succession with the views of other denominations, is often cited as a landmark in the ecumenical movement. The Church of South India has 3.8 million members and 14000 congregations including one diocese in northern Sri Lanka.

Anglican Church of India (ACI)

The Anglican Church of India is a union of independent Anglican churches in India. When the Church of South India (CSI) was formed as a united church of Protestant faith, it accepted an order of uniformity in worship and practice which was at odds with some aspects of Anglican tradition. Traditional Anglicans in the CSI did not accept this and there was a provision for separation within a period of 30 years from the CSI. In 1964, some Anglicans decided to withdraw from the CSI union and re-established the Anglican Church of India on 24 August 1964, affiliated to the Traditional Anglican Communion. VJ Stephen was consecrated as a bishop by Anglican bishops from the United States and Africa on 5 May 1966. The Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) is an international communion of churches in the continuing Anglican movement independent of the Anglican Communion of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Even though the church was re-established in 1964, the synod of the Anglican Church of India was formed in 1990 at Kottayam. The synod consists of all the diocesan bishops, clergy secretaries, lay leaders of the dioceses and church-related organisations and representatives of each diocese and independent churches. Independent churches function where there are not enough congregations to form a diocese and are also given representation in the synod. An Archbishop serves as the chairman of the synod and also as the Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of India. It has about 5,00,000 members.



The matter for this article is collected from many websites, books and discussions. It is found that the version in the website of many sects are focused and skewed towards their belief. The author has tried to maintain a rational view in such conflicting versions.