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The Syrian Church in India online

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THE



SYEIAN CHURCH IN INDIA




PERSIAN CROSS IN OLD CHURCH AT COTTAYAM.
About Tenth Century.



Frontispiece,



THE



SYEIAN CHURCH IN INDIA



BY



GEORGE MILNE RAE, M.A.

FELLOW OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MADRAS ; LATE PROFESSOR
IN THE MADRAS CHRISTIAN COLLEGE



WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS

EDINBURGH AND LONDON

MDCCCXCII



A.G\\*2i



HENRY



MORSE STE^>»»*»







TO



MY WIFE



512855



PEEFACE.



The Syrian Church in India, which is sometimes
called the Church of the Christians of St Thomas,
has hitherto been but little known in the West.
The first of the European nations that held inter-
course with it was the Portuguese, and it was from
the records of the ecclesiastical relations between
the Portuguese and the Syrians that Michael
Geddes compiled his ' History of the Church of
Malabar' (1694), which was the first work in Eng-
lish on the subject, and is still of considerable
value. Gibbon, who approached it by a diff*erent
route, introduced into a memorable chapter of the
' Decline and Fall ' a notice of the ancient Church
which for comprehensiveness of grasp and general
accuracy has not been surpassed. But it was
reserved for Claudius Buchanan, whose aims were



viii PREFACE.

of a distinctly practical character, to habilitate in
this country a knowledge of the Syrian Christians.

Buchanan, however, did not write history but
only an account of his own travels and observations ;
and, in so far as he touched on Syrian history or
Syrian doctrine, his information was imperfect and
in many cases misleading. He depended for light
largely on the talk of the Syrians themselves.
Still, his ' Christian Eesearches in Asia,' which
seldom failed to communicate a gleam of his own
enthusiasm to his followers, became the chief guide
of a band of writers, who, it must be added, never
moved out of traditional grooves.

When some twenty-four years ago I went as a
missionary to Madras in the service of the Free
Church of Scotland, I came, like Buchanan, into
direct touch with the Syrians. I found that there
were always representatives of the Syrian com-
munity among my students in the Christian Col-
lege. During the midsummer vacation in 1870,
I paid a visit to the Malabar coast, where the
Church had existed from a date earlier than the
coming of St Augustine and his monks to Canter-
bury. From time to time I examined the holy
places sacred to St Thomas in the neighbourhood
of Madras, where a sister Syrian Church had



PREFACE. IX

existed for the better part of a thousand years, and
ceased to be only about the time when Luther was
becoming a power in Europe. But satisfactory
historical knowledge seemed hard to acquire, and
something more was demanded than Geddes, or
Gibbon, or Buchanan and his following, or the
Syrians themselves could supply.

At length I was led into more fruitful fields of
inquiry. I explored the primitive traditions con-
cerning St Thomas, with a view to ascertain the
origin and value of the local tradition. I studied
the history of Christianity in other parts of Asia,
with a view to discover the true kinship of the
Syrian Church. I became acquainted with the
results of archaeological research and of Dravidian
scholarship relevant to my subject. I tracked the
footsteps of travellers in India in the middle ages,
and followed the political relations of European
peoples to the dwellers on the Malabar coast.
Finally, I acquired possession of copies of the
documents, the evidence of witnesses, and the
decisions of the judges in a case of disputed suc-
cession in the bishopric of the Syrian Church,
which ran the gauntlet of the civil courts of
Travancore, and which remained for ten years,
1879-89, on their files. Of m)^ obligations to these



X PREFACE.

classes of authorities, and to others, specific ac-
knowledgments are made in an appendix of notes.

Certain of the following chapters appeared in
such Indian periodicals as the 'Madras Christian
College Magazine,' the ' Indian Evangelical Ee-
view,' and the 'Harvest Field.' I was anxious to
offer facilities for criticism to educated members of
the Syrian community, from whose views on the
origin of their Church I strongly differed. My
challenge, if I may call it such, was promptly
taken up by a Syrian graduate of the Madras
University. From others, suggestions of value
were received. Many of the chapters therefore
have been entirely recast ; and the work, which
has been prepared in the midst of a busy mis-
sionary life, is now submitted to the kindly con-
sideration of scholars and the public, as a contri-
bution to the history of Christianity in India.

G. M. E.



CONTENTS.



INTRODUCTION.



CHAP.



I. THE HOME OP THE SYRIANS, .... 3

II. THE MIGRATION OF A TRADITION, ... 15

III. ST THOMAS, THE APOSTLE OP THE PARTHIANS, . 27

IV. ST THOMAS, THE APOSTLE OP THE INDIANS, . 39

V. THE PIRST INDIAN MISSIONARY, ... 62

VI. PERSIA AND INDIA, ..... 79

VII. WHICH INDIA ?...... 89



THE NESTORIAN PERIOD.

VIIL THE PATRIARCHATE OF BABYLON,

IX. THREE PERSIAN CROSSES,

X. THE JEWS OP COCHIN^

XI. TWO COPPER-PLATE CHARTERS, .

XIL THE LAST OF THE PERUMALS, .



105
114
131
154
169



Xll CONTENTS.

THE EOMAN PERIOD.

XIII. Rome's first work in india, . . . .187

XIV. THE INQUISITION AT GO A, . . . .198
XV. THE SYNOD OF DIAMPER, 1599, . . . . 225

XVI. AT THE COONEN CROSS, ..... 256

THE JACOBITE PERIOD.

XVII. THE SYRIAN JACOBITES, ..... 265

XVIII. THE ENGLISH MISSION TO THE SYRIANS, . .281

XIX. MAR ATHANASIUS MATTHEW, .... 304

XX. TEN YEARS OF LITIGATION, .. . . . 327

XXI. THE HOPE OF THE FUTURE, .... 353



APPENDIX, ........ 361

INDEX, 383



ILLUSTRATIONS.



PERSIAN CROSS IN OLD CHURCH AT COTTAYAM

ABOUT TENTH CENTURY,
MAILAPORE CATHEDRAL, ....
GONDOPHARES COINS, FIRST CENTURY, .

ST Thomas's mount, near madras, .

PERSIAN CROSS IN CHAPEL ON ST THOMAs's MOUNT

SEVENTH OR EIGHTH CENTURY,
CHURCH AND HERMITAGE AT THE LITTLE MOUNT

MADRAS, ......

RELIQUARY IN CHAPEL, MAILAPORE CATHEDRAL,



Frontispiece
To face p. 16
Pages 52, 53
To face p. 82

n 119

H 240
,. 312



INTRODUCTION



"^^^ The reference figures in this volume apply to Notes
collected in the Appendix,



THE SYEIAN CHIJECH IN INDIA.



CHAPTER I.

THE HOME OF THE SYRIANS.

The Syrian Church of Southern India is the
oldest of all the Indian Churches. It has seen
the lapse of nearly fourteen centuries of time, and
it still lives as a community more than 400,000
strong on the mountain-slopes and in the valleys
of the Malabar coast.

Malankarai, which is the official designation of the
Syrian diocese, falls within two native States allied
for the last hundred years as feudatories to the
British Government. It includes the whole of Cochin
and the northern or Malayalam-speaking portion of
Travancore, as far south as Trivandrum, the capital.



4 . ; . , , INTFvODUCTION.

The largest number, and probably the most enlight-
ened of the Syrians, dwell to-day in Travancore.

This land in which the Syrians live is possessed
of extraordinary riches in respect to both its fauna
and its flora.^ On his recent visit to Southern
India, one of the entertainments arranged for his
Eoyal Highness the late Duke of Clarence and
Avondale was a run into the hunting-grounds of
Travancore after such big game as elephants and
bison, tigers and black panthers ; while the export
of pepper and cardamoms, together with the fibre
and other products of the palm-tree, enrich the
markets alike of the Old World and the New. Its
ever green undulations of surface form a striking
contrast to the often parched plains on the eastern
side of the Ghauts.

The most outstanding feature of the landscape
is the great water-way which runs from end to end
of Malankarai. It consists of a series of lakes, con-
nected with one another, and separated from the
sea by a belt of land. Sometimes this back-water
expands to a breadth of many miles, sometimes
contracts to quite narrow channels. The banks are
clothed with cocoanut - palms and studded with
villages. All traffic is by water, and vessels of
many sorts and sizes are seen gliding in all direc-



HOME OF THE SYRIANS. 5

tions, giving life and animation to the foreground of
a picture which is rendered still more impressive by
a background of lofty mountains. Along this route
the voyager may travel, if he avoids the monsoon,
with much enjo5^ment. In one of the commodious
cabin-boats, manned by some fifteen lusty brown
rowers, whose indefatigable labours are accompanied
with songs or responsive chants in ringing metallic
notes, he is borne along at the rate of from four to
five miles an hour, with a wealth of tropical vegeta-
tion mirrored in the bright blue waters by day, and
the flitting light of myriads of fire-flies at night,
so that at every turn he is almost constrained to
fancy himself in fairy-land. The Brahmans have
invented the legend that all this region west of the
Ghauts was rescued from the sea by Parasurama,
an incarnation of Vishnu ; and, if it was so, the
feat was worthy of his mace.

The civil government of these two native States
has long been remarkably successful. The members
of the royal families have in some cases been ac-
complished men, a series of able native dewans
have been at- the head of the administration, and
the whole has been in a manner controlled by a
British Political Resident.

The Rajahs are Sudras, not Brahmans — an illus-



6 INTEODUCTION.

tration of the fact that, when the Brahmans first
came to Southern India, they sometimes found the
government in the hands of native princes, whom
they had the best of all reasons for not attempting
to replace. In the division of Sudras to which the
Eajahs belong, commonly called Nayars, a peculiar
law of inheritance obtains. Succession runs in the
female line. With us the king is succeeded by his
son or his son's son, but there he is succeeded by
his sister's son or his sister's daughter s son. Nor-
mally the nephew is the heir. If the king s sister
has several sons, the eldest may be succeeded by the
second, and the second by the third, and so on. In
the event of sisters or sisters' daughters failing,
recourse must be had to adoption of women from
other families, who thus, according to law and
custom, become the sisters of the princes of the
blood-royal. The Eajah's own children usually
receive some private property in the lifetime of
their father, but have no claim on the throne
or royal honours ; and their descendants in course
of time sink to the level of ordinary Sudras. Nor
is this peculiar law of inheritance ^ confined to the
royal families. The sons of any woman of that
caste inherit the property and heritable honours,
not of the father, but of their mother's brother.



HOME OF THE SYRIANS. 7

They are their uncle's nearest heirs, and he is
their legal guardian. A man s sister's son and a
woman's own son, as their respective nearest blood
relatives, perform (if their age permits) the funeral
rites on their decease.

The sovereigns of Travancore have to pass
through a singular experience. They are, as
we have seen, not Brahmans, but Sudras ; and,
although the law of the Brahman is the same
as that of the poet — he is born, not made —
yet the Maharajah of Travancore is an exception
of the kind which proves the rule. He is made
a Brahman, and the ceremony by which this
transformation is effected is curious.^ His High-
ness is first weighed against gold taken from his
own treasury, which is then melted and worked
into the form of a hollow cow. Into this hollow
cow the Maharajah is laid, and then removed,
and thus born again — the cow being a peculiarly
sacred animal in Hindu symbolism, and possessing
a sort of sacramental virtue. But this old-fash-
ioned method of exhibiting the pagan idea of
regeneration -has been superseded within recent
memory by another, perhaps less undignified.
The gold in this case is worked into the form of
a hollow cylinder, surmounted by a lotus-shaped



8 INTRODUCTION.

cover adoraed with precious stones — the lotus
among flowers being considered peculiarly sacred.
The entrance of the king into this cylinder, and
his exit from it — preceded, accompanied, and
followed by worshipful acts of an idolatrous char-
acter — are supposed to produce the desired eff*ect ;
one indispensable condition to be fulfilled by the
royal neophyte being that, whatever form the
golden matrix may have taken, the cow or lotus-
crowned cylinder, having served its purpose, shall
be converted into coins and distributed among
the Brahmans, in return for the doubtful privilege,
which the now twice -born Maharajah thencefor-
ward enjoys, of being no longer able to eat food
with the members of his own family.

This weighing ceremony is not in general per-
formed immediately on the accession of a sover-
eign ; and it has been suggested that it is put off*
to allow his Highness time to increase in stout-
ness and weight, and so the more to fatten the
Brahmans. Indeed there are darker rumours, to
the eff*ect that the days of the Maharajah are
sometimes shortened by means not sanctioned in
the moral law, on the unacknowledged plea that
the oftener such an enriching ceremonial is re-
peated the better. However this may be, when



HOME OF THE SYRIANS. 9

the weighing ceremony was performed in 1870,
the quantity of gold placed in the scale opposite
to the Maharajah, weighted with his sword and
shield, was 204 lb. avoirdupois. But this was only
a small part of the expenses attending all the cere-
monies connected with the materialistic exhibition
of the idea of regeneration. If Travancore were
not naturally rich, and well administered financi-
ally, it would be unable to stand such drains, in
this and other forms, as are made on its revenue
in the name of the gods.

With Brahmans, Nayars, and other Hindu
castes, with agrestic slaves and others who have
no caste at all, the Syrian Christians share the
picturesque territory of Malankarai ; and they
have from time immemorial claimed to be, in
point of social precedence, next to the Nayars.
In daily contact with pagan life and isolated as
they were for centuries from the rest of Christen-
dom, it is not wonderful that the habits of thought,
the forms of worship, and the life-practices of the
Syrians have been found to differ from those of
other Christian communities and to have become
deteriorated. Nevertheless their adhesion to the
worship of the one living God; their adoration
of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; their preser-



10 INTRODUCTIOX.

vation and use of the Holy Scriptures in the
Peschito version ; their maintaining houses of
prayer, and not forsaking the assembling of them-
selves together on the weekly Day of Eest ; their
administration of the Christian sacraments ; their
observance of the festivals of the Christian year ;
and the comparative respect and liberty accorded
to their women ; — all these things seem to entitle
them to one of the many mansions in the visible
Church.

They of course hold these doctrines and follow
these practices in their own oriental way ; and
much ignorance and many errors no doubt mingle
with them. Few weak communities, however, have
suffered so much at the hands of stronger ones,
on account of their being misunderstood and
unsj^mpathetically regarded. It seems always
difficult for the ecclesiastical mind, of whatever
school, to meet members of remote Churches on
the broad platform of humanity, to deal with
them in the first place as men bearing the image
of God, and to be helpful to them apart altogether
from considerations of proselytism. The Syrian
Christians have suffered not only at the hands
of non-Christian princes, but also at the hands of
ecclesiastics, both European and Asiatic, more



HOME OF THE SYKIANS. 11

especially the Portuguese, so that in their isola-
tion and distress thev have been sometimes com-
pared to the Walclenses. The valleys of Malabar
have awakened memories of the valleys of Pied-
mont. The Syrians will still tell you, as they told
Claudius Buchanan at the beo;innino; of the cen-
tury, how as a people they had seen better days,
and how they had been harried not only by the
pagan, but by folk from the West whom they had
reason to expect to be their friends. The advent
of the British to power on that coast delivered
them from at least the coarser forms of persecution.
The Syrian churches are prominent objects in
the landscape, being so much larger than the
houses in the villages where they are built.
Towers and spires are rare, and there is little
show of architectural elegance. Unadorned struc-
tures of brick and plaster, roofed with tiles and
dimly lighted, receive the Syrian worshippers.
No seats are provided, and the idea of pews has
not yet reached Malabar. At the western end
of the church is a gallery, part of which is divided
into rooms for the accommodation of the bishop
on the occasion of his visits. Part of the nave
immediately in front of the chancel is railed off,
and is used as a place for the interment of priests ;



12 INTRODUCTION.

and over this space hangs a brass lamp which
is kept burning night and day, and from which
oil is said to be sometimes taken for use in the
baptismal service, and sometimes for medical
purposes. In one of the side walls, and remote
from the chancel, is the baptismal font, which
consists of a hemispherical basin of hewn stone,
large enough for the baptism of infants by immer-
sion. Attached to or surrounding the central
edifice are open sheds, cook-houses, and other
buildings for the accommodation of the people on
festive occasions.

Public worship is conducted chiefly in Syriac,
and the Liturgy of St James, which has been made
accessible to English readers,^ is that which is now
used in the diocese. Additions, apparently author-
ised, are sometimes made to the Order of St James.
Claudius Buchanan, for example, describes an act
which pleased him much at the close of a service
which he witnessed one Sunday. " The priest (or
bishop if he be present)," he says, ''comes forward,
and all the people pass by him as they go out, re-
ceiving his benediction individually. If any man
has been guilty of any immorality, he does not
receive the blessing ; and this, in their primitive
and patriarchal state, is accounted a severe punish-



HOME OF THE SYRIANS. 13

ment." ''Instruction by preaching/' he adds, -'is
little used among them now."

Again, the Eev. S. Mateer, who has been for many
years a missionary in Travancore, and who was
present one Sunday at public worship in a Syrian
church, describes a ceremony called 'giving the
peace,' "which," he says, "was performed before
the consecration of the elements. The deacon who
carried the censer took from it a double handful of
the smoke, which he smelled, and then appeared to
hand it to the priest, who received it with both
hands. Going to the people, he gave it into the
hands of two or three of the nearest, who put it to
their faces, and then pretended to pass it on to the
others, till it went round the whole congregation.
One of the good people came up to me where I was
standing, and said, ' Do you want this peace, sir ?
This is the sign of peace.' 'Yes,' I replied, and
gave my hand, which he took in both his and
slightly stroked."

As a rule, marriages are celebrated on Sundays,
and forbidden on fast-days ; and the bride and
bridegroom must attend public worship before
being married, else a fine is imposed.

The local head of the church is the bishop or
metran {i.e,, metropolitan), with priests {cattanars)



14 INTRODUCTION.

and deacons under him. In old times the metran
not only was the spiritual ruler of his people, but
also had, within certain limits, jurisdiction over
them in civil and criminal affairs. Even still he
retains some tokens of a departed glory. When he
makes a visit of ceremony, his state palanquin, the
red umbrellas of his attendants, the white dresses
of the priests, and the flutter of a little crowd of
hangers-on, form a picturesque group in procession.
On such an occasion he wears a cassock of figured
lawn over crimson satin, and a tippet of em-
broidered cloth stiff with gold ; a mitre of red and
green velvet, with gold ornamentation ; a golden
cross studded with rubies on his breast ; an orna-
mental bag in his hand ; while a silver crosier is
carried behind him by an attendant priest.^

The metran s position might still be one of great
and beneficent influence over a peaceful, industrious,
and fairly prosperous section of the people of the
Malabar coast. But we can hardly be in a position
to understand the divided condition of the diocese
and other causes of its present weakness, or to
attempt to forecast its future, until after we have
traced the evolutions of its history from the begin-
ning down to the present time.



15



CHAPTER II.

THE MIGRATION OF A TEADITION.

The Syrian Church of Southern India is a most
interesting monument of the permanence of the
fruit of missionary effort. It is a heretical branch
of the Oriental Church, and its history must be
viewed in relation to the history of Christianity in
other parts of Asia.

Unfortunately its history has been overgrown by
a mass of local tradition. The local tradition pos-
tulates the personal advent of St Thomas, the
apostle, to peninsular India. The story goes that
St Thomas, having landed at Malankara, an island
in the lagoon near Cranganore, preached to the
natives and baptised many that believed ; that,
having planted seven churches ^ on the Malabar
coast like the seven churches of the Apocalypse, he
ordained two priests over them and departed ; that



16 INTRODUCTION.

he went to Mailapore on the Coromandel coast and
converted the king and all the people ; that he ex-
tended his journey to China with like results ; and
that, returning to Mailapore, he excited by his suc-
cesses the jealousy of the Brahmans, who stirred up
the people to stone him, after which one of them
thrust him through with a lance.

For these last scenes in the career of St Thomas,
fitting localities have been invented. There are
three such places in the neighbourhood of Madras.
They are marked respectively by a grave, a cross,
and a cave ; at each a church has been built ; and
they are all under the jurisdiction of the Eomaii
Catholic Bishop of Mailapore, who is subject to
the Archbishop of Goa.

The first of these holy places is Mailapore, or,
as the Portuguese named it, San Thome, three miles
south of Fort St George. Attached to the Roman
Catholic cathedral is a little chapel, in the floor
of which a trap-door gives access to what is popu-
larly regarded as the grave of St Thomas. From
this dark underground chamber many a handful
of dust is, as in the days of Marco Polo, carried
off* by the faithful to cure diseases. Over the
altar is a quaint old scrinmm, with a cruciform
reliquary, made of brass, and adorned with precious




RELIQUARY IN CHAPEL, MAILAPORE CATHEDRAL.
Said to contain the Relics of St Thomas.



, J", J > > J



MIGRATION OF A TRADITION. 17

stones, in which are deposited some of the ashes
and bones of the apostle, together with fragments
of the spear by which he won the crown of
martyrdom.

The discovery of these relics has all the interest
of a little romance. It appears that in 1517 certain
Portuguese adventurers visited the Coromandel
coast in company with an Armenian merchant who
was well acquainted with that part of India. They
landed at Pulicat, and went thence to Mailapore,
where they saw many ruined buildings and stones
of divers colours, still retaining traces of ancient
grandeur; whilst in the midst of these ruins was
a chapel, entire, of mean appearance, on the inside
and outside of which many crosses of a peculiar
form were carved. It would seem that the
Christian population of Mailapore had by that time
become extinct ^ ; but a Musalman who resided
there, perceiving the strangers examining the
locality, came up and told them that the church,
of which only a small part was then standing, was
the place where St Thomas and some of his first con-
verts lay buried. No further action, however, seems
to have been taken on this discovery until 1522,
when Duarte Menezes, viceroy of Goa, in pursuance
of orders from John III. of Portugal, appointed

B



18 INTEODUCTION.

a commission to visit Mailapore and search for the
body of St Thomas. The labours of this commis-


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