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St. Thomas Christians and other Christian sects in Kerala History
The St. Thomas Christians of Kerala firmly believe that St. Thomas the Apostle is the father of Christianity in India. According to their tradition, he landed at Maliankara, near Cranganore in 52 A.D. He preached Christianity first among the Jews and then converted twelve Brahmin families from whom the Syrian Christians trace their genealogy. St. Thomas also founded seven churches at the following places: Maliankara, Palayur, Kottakavu, Quilon, Niranom, Nilakkal, and Chayal. After several years of work in Malabar, the Apostle went to the Coromandel Coast (East Coast) where he was assassinated by irate Brahmins (or by a hunter) in 72 A.D. This tradition along with many others legends is found in ancient Christian songs (seventeenth century and later) like the Veeradian Pattu, Thomma Parvom, and Margom Kali Pattu. The Acts of St. Thomas, an apocryphal work by the Syrian Bardesan (220 A.D.) also mentions the missionary work and martyrdom of St. Thomas in India.
There is no historical evidence -for the missionary work of St. Thomas on the West Coast of India. But there is enough evidence to believe that St. Thomas probably was buried at Mylapore. It is, then more likely that he preached Christianity and made Christian converts at Muziris on the mouth of Kaveri in Tamil Nadu rather than in Kerala. The early Christians were probably from the Jewish community, and the mainstream of the St. Thomas Christians are most likely composed of Munda-Dravidian converts and of Jewish converts, but not of Brahmins. These St. Thomas Chris^tens fled west across the Western Ghats in the sixth and seventh centuries, carry-ing with them their religious traditions except the tomb of St. Thomas. The Portuguese records of the sixteenth century say that the St. Thomas Christians told them that they originally came from Tamil Nadu and settled down in Kerala. Most likely the early Kerala Christians are not descend-ants of Nambutiri Brahmins because, as mentioned before, the Aryan Brahmins arrived in Kerala only in the eighth century. Further, there is no archeological evidence for the presence of any pre-eighth-century churches or temples in Kerala.
It is important to mention here that a group of Christians in Kerala, the Thekkumbhagar (Southists), call themselves Jewish Christians. They claim that their ancestors made up of 72 Jewish Christian families from around Baghdad, Nineveh, and Jerusalem came to India under the leadership of one Thomas of Cana (the place where Jesus turned water into wine), a blood-relative of Jesus. These new colonists settled down on the south-ern shore of the Periyar; hence they received the name "Southists," as opposed to the local "Northist" Christians who lived north of the river in Cranganore.
These St. Thomas Christians followed the Aramaic language in their liturgy and were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Oriental Patriarch of Celusia-Ctesiphon of Persia (Babylon) up until the arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. Until that time the Christians of Kerala were very Indian in their culture, though Middle-Eastern in worship. The Portuguese considered it their duty to bring these Oriental Christians under the supremacy of the Pope of Rome by Latinizing their Syrian liturgy and by purging them of their errors or "heresies." Dom Menezes, the Arch-bishop of Goa, convened a Synod at Udaimperur in 1599 for changing the Syrian Christians into "true" Roman Catholics. Dom Menezes persuaded the Synod delegates to pass several decrees which admitted that their Church had been heretical in some tenets and practices. The Synod severed the connection between the Kerala Church and the "heretical" Persian Church and declared their fealty to the Pope of Rome. Oom Menezes then appointed a Portuguese bishop over the Syrian Church.
A large number of the Syrian Christians resented this foreign incur-sion in the internal affairs of their Church. They wanted their own Syrian bishops. In 1653, Ahatulla, A Syrian bishop, arrived in Kerala, but he was detained illegally by the Portuguese, who — it was rumored — even assassina-ted him on his way from Mylapore to Kerala. The enraged Syrian Christians believing the rumors were true, assembled in thousands in front of the ancient cross (koonan kurisu) at Mattancherry and took a solemn pledge with oath that they would never again obey the Latin Archbishop or the Jesuits. These de-fiant Christians came to be called Puthencoor (Protestant) Syrians and those who remained loyal to the Roman Pontiff came to be called Pazhayacoor (Orthodox) Syrians. This basic division, with many subdivisions among the Puthencoor Syrians, persists even today.
The Portuguese missionaries introduced the Latin Church in Kerala and made many converts from among the untouchables of the coastal area. Today the Latin Church has several dioceses and parishes in Kerala. Numerically, however, the Syrian Christians -form about 80% of the total Christian population of Kerala, which is about 22% of the total population of Kerala.
Protestant missionaries from England came to Kerala with the English colonists in the seventeenth century. 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 the liturgy. For this purpose they formed a reform Church called "The Marthomite Church," which is a very progressive and prosperous Church today. 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 Nestorian Church, (5) the Anglican Church which is now part of the Church of South India, (6) the Marthoma Syrian Church, (7) the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. In addition, there are also a number of minor Churches and Missions.
The early Christians have, indeed, made significant contributions to the culture of Kerala. The Portuguese missionaries introduced printing in Kerala besides opening several theological seminaries for the education of the clergy. Chavittunatakam is a Portuguese-Christian art-form. The Protestant missionaries from Germany and England laid the foundations of western education in Kerala by opening English grammar schools, high schools, and colleges. Some of the early Christian missionaries had performed valuable services for the development of the Malayalam language; the grammatical works and dictionaries by Arnos Patiri (Johann Ernestus Hanxleden), Angelo Francis, Rev. Bailey, Rev. Richard Collins, and Dr. Gundert are substantial contributions to the study of Malayalam.