Monday, July 03, 2017

St. Thomas and India

The large 16th century monolithic granite cross at Kaduthuruthy Palli

I'm in India on the patronal Feast of St. Thomas. (St. Francis Xavier is the other Patron ... ). The gift travel writer (and historian and author), William Dalrymple had a neat account of the historicity of the claim that St. Thomas founded the Church in India, in a piece in The Guardian dating from 2000.
The more you investigate the evidence, the more irresistible is the conclusion that whether or not St Thomas himself came to India, he certainly could have. And if he didn't make the journey, it seems certain that some other very early Christian missionary did, for there is certainly evidence for a substantial Christian population in India by at least the third century.
And if there is no documentary proof to clinch the case, there is at least a very good reason for its absence: for the entire historical documentation of the St Thomas Christians was reduced to ashes in the 16th century - not by Muslims or Hindus, but by a newly arrived European Christian power: the Portuguese. As far as the Portuguese colonial authorities were concerned, the St Thomas Christians were heretics, an idea confirmed by their belief in astrology and reincarnation, and the Hindu-style sculptures of elephants and dancing girls found carved on their crosses.
It's absolutely worth a read.

Church Father expert extraordinaire, author, and friend, Mike Aquilina also has a helpful blog post on St. Thomas ... I've no idea why I've not taken up his suggested reading list so far ...
Some critical scholars (of course) dismiss the accounts of Thomas in India. But India’s historians have subjected the evidence to rigorous scrutiny in recent years, and even many Hindus have come to affirm its possibility and even probability. I’m definitely with them, and I hope to write a book on the subject in the not too distant future. I invite you to read a couple of books and study the matter for yourself. They’re not available in the United States, so you have to order them from India. (For such purchases I have received the best service from Merging Currents, a U.S.-based import company.) The books are A.M. Mundadan’s History of Christianity in India (Volume 1: From the Beginning up to the Middle of the Sixteenth Century) and George Menachery’s massive collection The Nazranies.
In 2010, I made my first (and to date only) visit to Kerala, where St. Thomas first arrived. This included a sanctuary in Kodungallur (Cranganore), where St. Thomas first landed .. .

Reliquary containing the bones of the arm of St. Thomas, Kodungaullur (Cranganore)
Mar Thoma Gate, Kodungallur
St. Thomas shrine, Kodungallur ...

... as well as the fascinating church at Kaduthuruthy (Kadhuthuruthy Valiya Palli). There's been a church on this site since at least the 4th century. The big granite cross dates from the 16h century, at the time of increasing Portuguese influence and interference. One can see pre-European Indian Christian motifs in the artwork at the base of the cross, as well as Babylonian/Chaldean motifs on the facade of the current church. What the Portuguese did to the cultural and religious heritage of the Thomas Christians was truly criminal ...

Virgin and child, Kaduthuruthy cross

Indian motifs, Kaduthuruthy cross 

Facade, with Chaldean motifs


Alex Vitus said...

Wow! Enjoy Kerala. Wish I was there with you. :)

Fr. Gaurav Shroff said...

I was there in 2010 :)

Alex Vitus said...

Ahh..ok! I guess I should've read it more closely. :)