Apostle St. Thomas in India

Saint Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, was born in Galilee and supposed to have died in Madras, India.

Thomas was known as the 'doubtful one'. It is said that he was doubtful at first about the Resurrection, then Christ reappeared and asked Thomas to touch his wounds. His sudden realization of truth came out as "My Lord and my God", and this made Thomas the first person to explicitly acknowledge Jesus' divinity. (John 20:19-29)

Thomas is supposed to have gone to India in AD 52, and was to be the founder of Christianity in India. Thomas preached Christianity to the Brahmins of Malabar, who became the first Christians in India. Later he moved to Madras where he died. His burial place is still called St.Thomas Mount in Madras. Christians in South India, trace their ancestry to these events which date back to the Biblical times.

What's the Problem?

Well, the problem is that Western Theologians, today, doubt the above narrative. Vatican does n't make an explicit clarification about it. Scholars who discuss A-Z details, run away from this. Basic issue is that Churches in the West do not want to accept the fact that there was Christianity in India, even before there were Christians in Rome! And also, to say that Christianity there was started by none other than one of the twelve, is just unbelievable to them.

What are the facts?

Facts are very clear. After the crucification of Jesus Christ, the whole of Israel was under the Romans, who were not believers of Jesus those days. Followers were hunted and had to run away. The Apostles were also dispersed. Ecclesiastical History of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (4th century), says"(Peter)..at last, having come to Rome, he was crucified head-downwards; ... What do we need to say concerning Paul, who preached the Gospel of Christ from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and afterwards suffered martyrdom in Rome under Nero?"

Ecclesiastical History also says Thomas evangelized Parthia (part of today's Iran). Acts of Thomas, written in Syriac also supports this. It says Thomas visited the court of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophernes, who put him in charge of building a royal palace. He was also imprisoned there some time for spending the money for charity.

The above are coming from books which are very old. There are no hidden motives for anyone those days to simply say Thomas went to Parthia or India.

Once in Iran, the journey to India is not very far. There are archeological evidence of trade between South India and Roman Empire. Roman seals have been excavated in several places in Kerala, S.India. Thomas is supposed to have landed by sea at the port of Muziris(Cranganore today) in central Kerala. Local traditions and beliefs strongly support this theory. Today there is a memorial at the location.

St. Thomas landing
Cranganore, Kerala, India

St. Thomas Stamp
Issues by Govt of India

After preaching in Malabar, Thomas moved to Madras where he was to spend the rest of his life. The monuments are St.Thomas Mount (where he died and was buried) and San Thome Cathedral in Mylapore (Madras City). Acts of Thomas adds that his relics were taken to the West and finally enshrined at Ortona, Italy.

St. Thomas is recognized as the founder of the Chruch of the Syrian Malabar Christians. "High-caste" Hindu customs followed by the original Thomas Christians in Kerala show that they were converted from Brahmins. "Nasrani Mappila" (Respected Nazarene) became common appendage to many Christians. Olden days, untouchability was practised in Kerala. ie lower-caste Hindus were considered "pollutants" by caste Hindus. But Thomas Christians were considered equal to higher caste. All this show only one thing: Thomas Christians have been there "forever" as the locals believe.

Contrary to what many people in the West think, Christianity in India did not start with the Colonial Era. In fact, British East India Company did very little religious work; they were interested only in business, money and later political power! Portuguese who did take reiligious interest in Kerala in the 16th century ended up in taking a hardline alongwith Rome against the local Thomas Christians. When missionaries started the conversion of lower-caste Hindus, Thomas Christians did not encourage this; later Thomas Christians themselves became the target of serious missionary efforts.

Traditional sources, beliefs and very old books - all are consistent. But 'western experts' cannot believe. These are reflected in the words like "Thomas' subsequent history is uncertain", "Though some of the Acts of Thomas are probable, evidence remain inconclusive" Encyclopædia Britannica Vol 11, Page 712 1989 Edition] On the contrary, there is abosolutely no evidence to support anything else. There is no evidence to refute Thomas' trip to India in any writing. And there are no references anywhere else about St. Thomas' whereabouts.

Ridiculous Attempts

There have been attempts in the West in recent times to prove that the "Thomas" Indians talk about is not the apostle but another "Thomas"! In the fourth century, the head of the Christian Church in Mesopotamia dispatched a colonizing group headed by Thomas of Canaan to Kerala. Western experts are trying to prove that this might be the beginning of Christianity in Kerala. It is quite possible that many more people with name "Thomas" tarvelled to India, later also. But this does not prove that apostle Thomas did not come to India! Also local Brahmins would not have listened to a merchant group on spiritual matters. The very fact earlier writings of 3rd century (The Doctrine of the Apostles and the Acts of Thomas) mention the apostle's visit to India, disproves the Western experts' theory . But do not underestimate the 'modern experts'. They come up with another theory:

"Many Indias!"

This fancy theory is centered around a notion that Romans and others in the middle east did not know where exactly India was! They say that "Where for that matter was 'India'? In the first century it would have been applied to several regions around the Arabian Sea. It could have been anywhere from west coast of India to northwest frontier (today's Pakistan and Afghanistan) or even Ethiopia and Southern Arabia". Well, Afghan frontier like Gandhara (today's Kandahar) are historically mentioned as part of Indian Empires, but Ethiopia and Arabian peninsula were never thought of part of India, not even by mistake.

Roman traders were in business with South India. Muziriz (today Cranganore in Kerala) was the port. Roman historian of 1st century Pliny writes that Roman emperors were lavish in their use of luxury items from India. Exports from Rome did not cover the costs of the imports (one expensive item was pepper!). Rome had to pay a great deal in gold (Probably this might be the origin of the craze for gold ornaments among women in Kerala, which is the case even today). So the argument that India was a region "ill-defined" in the Roman world comes from today's imagination only. Romans, Jews and Mesopotamians knew very well where India was. Cochin still has got one of the oldest synagogues and one street in Madras is still called "Armenian Street".

One modern writer even implies that the author of Acts of Thomas (4th century) knew the above facts and probably assumed that Thomas could have gone to any Indian port from the mouth of Indus to Muziris on the Malabar Coast. But he did not go anywhere at random and the port is not chosen at random either. Romans did business mainly with South India. The spices are grown in Kerala, and not on the banks of river Indus!

Ephraem of Edessa

Syriac theologian of Mesopotamia, Ephraem (4th century) in one of the hymns, includes some allusions to Thomas' mission to India.

"Lo, in India, are thy miracles,O Thomas
And in our land is thy trumph,
And everyehere our festival"

"The sunburnt India thou has made fair...
A tained land of dark people thou hast purified.."


These do not need any commentary!

A Danish Wallpainting

In the Northern part of Danish Zealand, near the town of Holbæk, one finds the ruins of monastery Æbelholt which was consecrated to the apostle Thomas. In the nearby Church of Sønder Jernløse one finds the legend of Saint Thomas told in wallpaintings . The first picture shows Jesus ordering Thomas to go to India. The second picture shows Thomas on board the ship to India.

Today's Situation

Today, Christians in Kerala constitute 20+% of the Kerala population of 30 million. They are not considered as "converts" or "new comers" in Kerala. Understandably quite a large number of churches, schools, colleges and hospitals are named after St. Thomas. In paritcular, there are seven churches people consider to be founded by the apostle himself. People in Kerala do not discuss the "question of St Thomas' trip to India". For them, there are no such questions. They know that it is a historical fact, no amount of fancy writings by the western experts is going to change that.

UPDATE . FEB 2005

The author is a non-religious person, so my views here not prejudiced by any religious feelings. Quite recently I have coem across a book in Malayalam by well known rationalist Edamaruku Joseph, describing St Thomas's visit to India as just a fabricated story. Edamaruku is a person I do respect, but some of his arguments in this regard are not sound. I will be writing here more on this later. Bottomline is that even after reading Edamaruku, I think St Thomas indeed came to India!


http://www.indianchristianity.com/ Valuable Guide to Christianity in India
Marthoma Church Link Prof Ninan's article
Trichur Diocese Information in PDF format
thomas-malabar-connection-the-jewish-heritage
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christians

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