PREFACE : A predictable component of platitudinous speeches by secularist politicians is that “Christianity was brought to India by the apostle Thomas in the first century AD, even before it was brought to Europe”. The intended thrust of this claim is that, unlike Hinduism which was imposed by the “Aryan invaders”, Christianity is somehow an Indian religion, even though it is expressly stated that it “was brought to India” from outside. As a matter of detail, St. Paul reported on Christian communities living in Greece, Rome and Spain in the fourties AD, while St. Thomas even according to his followers only came to India in 52 AD, so by all accounts, Christianity still reached Europe before India. At any rate, its origins lay in West Asia, outside India. But this geographical primacy is not the main issue here. More importantly, there is nothing factual, nor secular, about the claim that Thomas ever came to India. That claim is a stark instance of what secularists would denounce in other cases as a “myth”. By this, I don’t mean that it was concocted in a backroom conspiracy, then propagated by obliging mercenary scribes (the way many Hindus imagine the colonial origins of the “Aryan invasion myth” came into being). It came about in a fairly innocent manner, through a misunderstanding, a misreading of an apocryphal text, the miracle-laden hagiography Acts of Thomas. This is not the place to discuss the unflattering picture painted of Thomas in his own hagiography, which credits him with many anti-social acts. The point for now is that the text never mentions nor describes the subcontinent but merely has the apostle go from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are “Mazdei” [Zoroastrian] and have Persian names.
This is definitely not lush and green Kerala. Not only is there no independent record of Thomas ever coming near India, but the only source claimed for this story, doesn’t even make this claim either. However, we know of a Thomas of Cana who led a group of Christian refugees from Iran in the 4th century, when the christianisation of the Roman Empire caused the Iranians to see their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The name “Thomas Christians” may originally have referred to this fourth-century leader. Then again, those refugees may also have been “Thomas Christians” before their migration to India in the sense that their Christian community had been founded in Iran [viz. Church of Fars] by the apostle Thomas. That he lived and worked in some Iranian region is attested and likely, but in no case did he ever settle in India. The Church Fathers Clement of Alexandra, Origen and Eusebius confirm explicitly that he settled in “Parthia”, a part of the Iranian world. From the 3rd century, we do note an increasing tendency among Christian authors to locate him in a place labelled ‘India’, as does the Acts of Thomas. But it must be borne in mind that this term was very vague, designating the whole region extending from Iran eastwards. Remember that when Columbus had landed in America, which he thought was East Asia, he labelled the indigenous people “Indians”, meaning “Asians”. Afghanistan is one area that was Iranian-speaking and predominantly Mazdean [Zoroastrian] but often considered part of “India”. Moreover, in some periods of history it was even politically united with parts of “India” in the narrow sense. So, Afghanistan may well be the “Western India” where Pope Benedict placed St. Thomas in his controversial speech in September 2006, to the dismay of the South Indian bishops. While the belief that Thomas settled in South India came about as an honest mistake, the claim that he was martyred by Brahmins was always a deliberate lie, playing upon a possible confusion between the consonants of the expression “be ruhme”, meaning “with a spear”, and those of “Brahma” (Semitic alphabets usually don’t specify vowels).
That was the gratitude Hindus received in return for extending their hospitality to the Christian refugees: being blackened as the murderers of the refugees’ own hero. If the Indian bishops have any honour, they will themselves remove this false allegation from their discourse and their monuments, including the cathedral in Chennai built at the site of Thomas’s purported martyrdom (actually the site of a Shiva temple). Indeed, they will issue a historic declaration expressing their indebtedness to Hindu hospitality and pluralism and pledging to renounce their anti-Hindu animus. Secularists keep on reminding us that there is no archaeological evidence for Rama’s travels, and from this they deduce the non sequitur that Rama never existed, indeed that “Rama’s story is only a myth”. But I have already provided evidence in my mystery “ THE MYSTERY OF RAMAYANA “ that “ RAMA WAS A HISTORICAL FIGURE AND WAS AN ASSYRIAN KING , WHO REIGNED ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA or what we call that part as Today’s IRAQ . in Rama’s case, we at least do have a literary testimony, the Ramayana, and archaeological evidence in ancient Iraq , while in the case of Thomas’s alleged arrival in India, we don’t even have a literary account. The text cited in the story’s favour doesn’t even have him come to a region identifiable as South India. That is why Christian scholars outside India have no problem abandoning the myth of Thomas’s landing in Kerala and of his martyrdom in Tamil Nadu.
The legend of St. Thomas in India has its origin in the third century Gnostic religious text known as the Acts of Thomas. Judas Thomas called Didymus, identified in the Acts as the look-alike twin brother of Jesus, had travelled in Syria and Persia and had established a church in Fars. He was known as the Apostle of the East in all of West Asia and India up to the 1950s. His cult was brought to India by Syrian Christian refugees from Edessa and Babylon in the fourth century. Between the fourth and the sixteenth centuries, the Syrian Christians reinvented the tale many times over until at last they had St. Thomas coming to India himself to evangelize the heathen. St. Thomas then becomes the founder of Christianity in India and their very own “Indian” apostle. The legend was later embellished by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century, who made the extraordinary claim that the apostle’s tomb was on the Coromandal Coast, and then taken over by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, who following Marco Polo decided Mylapore with its great temple to Shiva was the place St. Thomas was buried. They added their own redactions of the Acts of Thomas to the legend, their favourite being St. Gregory’s De Miraculis (Beati) Thomae, and in 1523 having established themselves in the thriving Mylapore sea port, began destroying temples and building their St. Thomas churches on the ruins, pretending the sites were those of St. Thomas’s martyrdom and burial.
The main objective of the Church in India has been to work out a strategy with which If it can be shown that St. Thomas came to India and established the first Christian church in Malabar, then Christianity can claim religious hegemony in India and even claim to be the “original” religion of the Tamil people. The Syrian Church does not press the political issue of St. Thomas in India, but the Roman Church does claim India as part of her apostolic patrimony on the grounds that St. Thomas may have died here. The disclaimer “may” must be noted for the Church does not officially declare – and Pope Benedict XVI has categorically denied – that St. Thomas came to South India. Another reason for the legend to exist is to help the community conscious Syrian Christians maintain their caste identity. They claim to be Jews or Brahmins, the latter descendants of Namboodiris converted by St. Thomas in the first century CE – though there were no Namboodiris in Malabar in the first century and no Christians in India before the fourth century. When they did arrive under the leadership of Thomas of Cana and settled in the vicinity of Tiruvanchikulam, they would obtain a social position similar to that of Nairs. The first Indian St. Thomas story was invented by these Syrian immigrants to give themselves Indian ancestry and the patronage of a local martyr-saint – Christianity is the religion of martyrs – and it was resurrected and embellished in the sixteenth century by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries who needed a pious story of persecution to cover up their own persecution of the Hindus of Mylapore.
This is another reason for the Church to promote the story in Madras, for during that period she and her imperial Portuguese “secular arm” destroyed many temples in Mylapore and its environs. The Archaeological Survey of India has never investigated the origins of early Christian churches in India in the same way that it has studied old mosques and other Muslim monuments, but this work has been done by German scholars and awaits translation and publication in English. It shows that most sixteenth and seventeenth century churches in India contain temple rubble and are built on temple sites. The destruction of one of these temples, the ancient first Kapaleeswara Temple on the Mylapore beach, is reviewed here because of its inexorable link with the legend of St. Thomas in Madras. The famous English historian Arnold Toynbee observed that the mission and death of St. Thomas in India was legendary but that his reported burial place in Mylapore was a centre of pilgrimage for Indian Christians. We observe that this pretended burial place of St. Thomas – an empty tomb that has been refurbished at the cost of lakhs of rupees – must now become a centre of pilgrimage for archaeologists, historians and philosophers who do not have a theological axe to grind like the pilgrims of old and the priests of today, but who would know the plain truth about old Mylapore and record it for our children.
“All ages can testifie enough howe profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our companie.” – Pope Leo X to Cardinal Bembo in the Pageant of Popes by John Bale.
In the beginning of The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Roman Catholic hagiographer Donald Attwater writes, “Research into the lives of the earlier saints is beset with special difficulties. There are those which face other historians and biographers: fewness of records, their unreliability, uncertainties and contradictions, conflicting interpretations, and so on. But there are added to these, in particular, the ‘selectiveness’ of the material available and, not infrequently, what by later standards seems the unscrupulosity and absurd credulousness of many writers of the past. Most hagiographers were interested in nothing but the directly religious aspects of their subjects’ lives: at the worst, a ‘biography’ became no more than a list of miracles, often puerile, or of voluntary physical austerities, or, in the case of a martyr, of repeated torments a single one of which no human body could survive. Or again, when material was lacking, the earlier hagiographer sometimes did not disdain to manufacture it himself or to borrow it: so that we may even come upon two saints whose written lives are almost word for word the same, with only names and places different. A high degree of authenticity and historical interest is a rather rare element in the huge whole of earlier hagiographical literature; instead we find myth, folklore, legend, and romantic and ‘edifying’ fiction.” A prime example of this kind of myth making – besides the Jesus story itself – was the identification and validation of St. Peter’s tomb in Rome, said to be situated under the high altar of Christendom’s most famous church. In fact the tomb is not there, or to put it more politely, unverified by expert and disinterested parties as belonging to St. Peter or any other early Christian saint.
Attwater says that the excavations are “impressive and of profound interest, but not wholly conclusive on this point.” But the world’s leading authority on Roman Catholic affairs, Avro Manhattan, in The Vatican Billions, writes, “The most fabulous [story] was undoubtedly that promoted by the cult of the Blessed Peter, the Turnkey of Heaven. The cult demanded a journey to Rome where Peter’s tomb lay. “Peter had been crucified there, it was asserted with no more plausible data than a pious tradition, for the bishops of Rome had no more evidence then than the pontiffs of the twentieth century. The latter have tried to substantiate it with doubtful archaeological finds. The process begun by Pope Pius XII [in 1939] was completed by Pope Paul VI. In 1968 Paul declared officially that ‘a few fragments of human bones found under the Basilica of St. Peter are the authentic mortal remains of the Apostle’. “How the “identification” had been carried out, on a site where hundreds of thousands of bodies have been buried during many centuries, was never plausibly explained, in view also of the fact that there has never been any definite historical evidence to prove that Peter was ever in Rome.
The Roman bishops, however, cultivated the myth with undiminished eagerness. This they did not as mere upholders of a devout legend, but as the skilful promoters of a growing cult which had concrete and far-reaching objectives, since its magnification brought them immense authority and with it, money”. The revelation that the tomb of St. Peter is a fake will not come as a surprise to Europeans. They know better than anyone else the deceitful nature of the Roman Church. But the same revelation about the tomb of St. Thomas in Madras will come as a surprise to Indians. They know the story of St. Thomas in India because it has been repeated by interested persons of eminence and enterprise, and sometimes even of scholarship, since the sixteenth century. They accept it “on authority” and seem not to have found reason to doubt it – be they informed secular intellectuals or Dalit Christian converts. They have been put to sleep by its seemingly pious nature and so do not realise its implications. And they have been confounded by the fact that the legend is old and very complicated and keeps changing shape with each new rendition. It does not have any relevance to modern life, but it is still part of Indian Christian mythology and its unreformed mediaeval mind-set.
In this mystery we are going to try to unravel the St. Thomas legend as it is known in India, but before beginning at the beginning, with the Acts of Thomas itself, we must take a brief look at what Christian apologists say for the story they are so eager to sell to the professors and politicians – Indian Christians, Marxists, and mainstream secular media editors have already bought it; it is a good stick to beat Hindus with, as will soon enough be seen.
I do not want to present a biased point of view . Just because I am born a Hindu , does not give me the liberty of making accusations , if there are no evidences to support the view itself. And hence , I will provide , every evidence from the Christian perspective as well in this mystery .
For example, the Protestant missionary Claudius Buchanan, writing in the last century, in Christian Researches in India, says, “The nation in general are called St. Thomas Christians in all parts of India, and its imparts an antiquity that reaches far beyond the Eutychians and Nestorians or any other sect.... I am satisfied that we have as good authority for believing that the Apostle Thomas died in India as that the Apostle Peter died in Rome.” This “good authority” is of course no authority at all. There is no historical evidence that St. Peter died in Rome or that St. Thomas died in India. The assertion that the appellation “St. Thomas” Christians is used in all parts of India and imparts an antiquity, is simply not true. Syrian Christians were not called St. Thomas Christians until after the fourteenth century and that too by Roman Catholic missionaries in Malabar. Claudius Buchanan could as easily argue that Syrian Christians come from Syria because they are called “Syrian” Christians. He would be closer to the truth.
Next, the Roman Catholic historian Fr. A. Mathias Mundadan, writing in the early 1980s, in History of Christianity in India: From the Beginning up to the Middle of the Sixteenth Century, says, “Our effort should be to concentrate on the common, basic content of the tradition upheld by the various versions and couched in many unnecessary flourishes. The investigations made … into the western tradition and different aspects of the Indian tradition give me the impression that the central content stands out in clear relief, namely St. Thomas the Apostle preached, died and was buried in South India.” Fr. Mundadan is saying that he supports the Portuguese tale introduced into India in the sixteenth century and imposed on Mylapore by fraud and force of arms, even though it is known to be a fabricated tradition. This suggests that his position is political rather than academic. He has done his research with a foregone conclusion in mind and has reached the inevitable result. It is typical Roman Catholic scholarship and until the story of St. Thomas is taken out of such hands and looked at in its totality, which includes the traditions of the Hindu society in which it survives, we will never know the full truth of St. Thomas and India. Fr. Mundadan’s work is important to note, but for different reasons than he and his sponsors would like us to note it. He has had access to the best research facilities and materials that money can buy, and to professional assistance and encouragement that other scholars in India cannot hope to obtain, yet he has not been able to produce any proof or concrete historical evidence that St. Thomas came to India.
Fr. Mundadan has expressed his considered opinion that the Indian Christian tradition is true. Will he dare to consider the Hindu tradition too? Will he look at the material and literary evidence, and the most ancient living Hindu tradition, that a great Shiva temple once stood on the very place that he would have St. Thomas buried? There is yet more reasoning for St. Thomas in India, which is often presented to laymen by motivated clerics. It is a psychological device to put the unwary St. Thomas doubter on the defensive. It is called the “Why not?” argument. Duncan Forbes uses it in his book The Heart of India, more in an attempt to convince himself than his reader. He writes, “And why not believe?... There is really no reason why St. Thomas should not have come here. The route between the Roman world and India, which was Rome’s source for large quantities of fine muslins, pearls and spices, was well established.” The route between Rome and India was indeed old and established and the travellers went the other way too, to Alexandria and Rome from India. But the possibility that St. Thomas could come to India from Palestine does not prove that he did so. The possibility does not even make for a probability. We are looking for historical proof – travellers’ tales just don’t constitute proof; they only excite the imagination. William Dalrymple, the popular author of Indian historical fiction, is said to employ the same “Why not?” argument for St. Thomas in India. He will have to persuade himself about Judas Thomas and his alleged travels in India before he can persuade others in his story books.
The “Why not?” question does not have an answer of course. It is only a proposition – and it is for the St. Thomas protagonists to prove the proposition and not pretend that it stands proved until somebody comes along and disproves it. Duncan Forbes, like most western Christians, does not believe the St. Thomas legend himself. He is a travel writer and repeats the story in his book because it is entertaining. He gives himself away with the chapter headings. The chapter on St. Thomas is called “Doubting Thomas” and the chapter on St. Francis Xavier is called “The Apostle of the Indies”. Duncan Forbes has almost got it right this time. St. Francis Xavier was known as the “Apostle of India” up to 1953. In 1953 he was replaced by St. Thomas when Cardinal Tisserant brought a piece of Thomas’s arm bone to Kodungallur from its resting place in Ortona, Italy. Prior to this date St. Thomas had always been known as the “Apostle of the East”.
Lastly, we look at a diverting mantological novel that passes itself off as serious historical research, the Acta Indica by P.V. Mathew. It has everything in it to make a good night’s read – exploding meteors over Malabar and Prophet Mani of Persia camping at Kanchipuram – but it doesn’t have St. Thomas buried in Mylapore. P.V. Mathew believes that St. Thomas came to Malabar but not to Mylapore and asserts that the Mylapore story is a Portuguese invention. Not willing to leave well enough alone, he then asserts that Prophet Mani’s disciple Mar Ammon is buried in Mylapore instead. This Mar Ammon, according to P.V. Mathew, is now worshipped in Tamil villages as Goddess Mariamman, that Prophet Mani is worshipped in the same villages as God Subramanian, and that the Pallavas were really Persians. All of this will interest those who like to play etymological games with ancient names, secretly wish they were born in foreign, and still subscribe to the discredited Aryan invasion theory. P.V. Mathew belongs to the school that says there is nothing Hindu in Hindustan or Indian in India – nothing good anyway. It is an old missionary school and its thinking still dominates some of our most prestigious institutions. But the real problem with Acta Indica for the student of history is its supernatural origins. P.V. Mathew writes, “I am indebted to St. Thomas the glorious Apostle of India, who sanctified me with revealed knowledge; and Moran Sabarisho, the Saint of St. Thomas Christians (pre-Portuguese period) for granting me the wisdom to understand the revealed knowledge and record it as such in this book.”
P.V. Mathew’s admission of having suffered a divine revelation is detrimental to the Roman Catholic cause, though it is in keeping with its prophetic and weird traditions. It undermines whatever authority Christian scholars have been able to garner for their mundane St. Thomas dissertations. It also confirms Dr. A. Mingana’s view, in The Early Spread of Christianity in India, that, “What India gives us about Christianity in its midst is indeed nothing but pure fables.” At the same time, we, too, must make a confession. We have meditated on St. Thomas for years in a sincere attempt to discover the truth about his alleged sojourn in India. He has not responded to our prayers. We have had to do all the work our self, with the help of human friends, and we have had to start at the very beginning with the apocryphal Acts of Thomas. 4 This lugubrious and turgid religious story by Bardesanes of Edessa is not included in Christian bibles – not even Syrian or “St. Thomas” Christian bibles – although it is the only early ancient text to identify St. Thomas with India.
Bardesanes, the traditional author of the Acts of Thomas, was born at Edessa in Syria (now Sanliurfa or Urfa in south-eastern Turkey) in 154 CE. He died there, after a short exile in Armenia, in 233 CE. His parents were wealthy Persian aristocrats and he was brought up with a prince, Bar-Manu, who later succeeded to the throne of the Abgars. He married and had a son, Harmonius, who was a skilled musician and poet. He wrote in Greek and Syriac, the latter tongue a widely-spoken Aramaic dialect that was the Christian literary and liturgical language of Edessa up to the seventh century, when it was supplanted by Arabic. Bardesanes was converted to Gnosticism, or Christian theosophy, in 179 CE, and he persuaded his friend the prince to convert with him. He thus had a hand in creating the first Christian state, though it is said that St. Thomas had already visited the kingdom and a church had been established in it by his disciple Addai as early as 29 CE. Whatever the truth of the early stories – such as the one about the Abgar writing a letter to Jesus asking for a cure – Edessa had become a chief centre of Christianity in West Asia by the end of the second century. This attracted the attention of Rome, as the state stood between Rome and her enemy Parthia, and Emperor Caracalla invaded Edessa and defeated the Abgar in 216 CE. Bardesanes made a strong defence of Christianity before the Roman court, but subsequently left Edessa for a time and went to Armenia where he wrote a history based on the temple records of Ani. He wrote the Acts of Thomas at Edessa about 210 CE, before the Roman invasion, and is remembered by Christian theosophists as an ardent missionary and popular, charismatic religious leader.
G.R.S. Mead, in Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, writes, “Bardesanes was also a great student of Indian religion, and wrote a book on the subject, from which the Platonist Porphyry subsequently quoted. But it is as a poet and writer on Christian theology and theosophy that Bardesanes gained so wide a reputation; he wrote many books in Syriac and also Greek … [and] he was the first to adapt the Syriac tongue to metrical forms and set the words to music; these hymns became immensely popular, not only in the Edessene kingdom but wherever the Syriac tongue was spoken.” Bardesanes’s faith was true after his master Valentinus, the founder of Gnostic schools in Alexandria and Rome, and orthodox Christians have cursed him bitterly for it. Ephraim of Edessa, a father of the Church, writing 120 years after his death, says that he died “with the Lord in his mouth and demons in his heart”. He accused Bardesanes of being a heretic and sophist, a greedy sheep-dog in league with the wolves, and a cunning dissembler practicing deceit with his songs. If this is what a Christian saint has to say about his theology, it is something of an irony that Roman Catholic scholars are so eager to accept his geography. It may have been reasonable for Bardesanes to set the protagonist of his Gnostic romance, Judas Thomas, in India, as he was a student of Indian philosophy. But it is really not known what he meant by this geographical designation, as we will see, and except for the Persian names – or their Greek equivalent if it is a Greek version of the Acts – the idiom and atmosphere of the book are entirely West Asian with distinct Roman cultural overtones. It is also not known whether Bardesanes wrote the story in Greek or Syriac. Hans Jones, in The Gnostic Religion, argues that the Acts, a “Gnostic composition with orthodox reworkings”, was originally written in Syriac.
But Montague Rhodes James, the translator of the Oxford edition of The Apocryphal New Testament, believed that it was first written in Greek and soon afterward translated into Syriac. He says, “This is the only one of the five primary romances which we possess in its entirety. It is of great length and considerable interest.” Indeed, the text runs to 74 printed pages. We begin a summary of it with Mead, who writes, “The Apostle Judas Thomas, or the Twin of Jesus, is fabled to have received India by lot for his apostolic sphere of work. Thomas at first does not wish to go, but is sold by Jesus his master, to a trader from the East as a slave skilled in carpentry.” We continue the narrative with M.R. James, quoting at length his translation of the Acts from the Greek. It begins abruptly, without saying where Thomas is or how he got there, except for the indefinite geographical designation “India” which ancient authors used as a synonym for Asia. Judas Thomas and the merchant trader Abbanes (called Habban in Syrian tradition) arrive by ship at a royal city called Andropolis (identified as Sandaruck in Balochistan, one of the ancient Alexandrias). They disembark, “and lo, there were noises of flutes and water-organs … for the king hath an only daughter, and now he giveth her in marriage unto a husband … and Abbanes hearing that, said to the apostle: Let us go [to the marriage feast] lest we offend the king, especially seeing we are strangers. And he said: Let us go.... “And after they had put up in the inn and rested a little space they went to the marriage; and the apostle seeing them all reclining, laid himself, he also, in the midst … but Abbanes the merchant, being the master, laid himself in another place. “And as they dined and drank, the apostle tasted nothing; so that they were about him said unto him: Wherefore art thou come here, neither eating nor drinking? but he answered them, saying: I am come here for somewhat greater than the food or the drink, and that I may fulfill the king’s will, and whoso hearkeneth not to the heralds shall be subject to the king’s judgment. “So when they had dined and drunken, and garlands and unguents were brought to them, even man took of the unguent, and one anointed his face and another his beard and another other parts of his body; but the apostle anointed the top of his head and smeared a little upon his nostrils, and dropped it into his ears and touched his teeth with it, and carefully anointed the parts about his heart: and the wreath that was brought to him, woven of myrtle and other flowers, he took, and set it on his head, and took a branch of calamus and held it in his hand. “Now the flute-girl … went about to them all and played, but when she came to the place where the apostle was, she stood over him and played at his head for a long space: now this flute-girl was by race a Hebrew. “And as the apostle continued looking at the ground, one of the cupbearers stretched forth his hand and gave him a buffet; and the apostle lifted up his eyes and looked upon him that smote him and said: My God will forgive thee in the life to come this iniquity, but in this world thou shalt show forth his wonders, and even now shall I behold this hand that hath smitten me dragged by dogs. And having said so, he began to sing....”
Later that night, the apostle’s curse takes effect, and “the cup-bearer that had buffeted him went down to the well to draw water; and there chanced to be a lion there, and it slew him and left him lying in that place, having torn his limbs in pieces, and forthwith dogs seized his members, and among them one black dog holding his right hand in his mouth bare it into the place of the banquet.” This is how the drama in the Acts of Thomas opens. The fabulous story continues when the king, hearing of the apostle’s powers, comes and asks him to pray for his daughter and her new husband. Judas Thomas agrees, and laying hands on the newly wedded couple, he prays to Jesus, and then leaves them and that place and departs. Now the king asks for the room to be cleared, so that the couple may be left alone, “and when all were gone out and the doors were shut, the bridegroom lifted up the curtain of the bride-chamber to fetch the bride unto him. And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas and speaking with the bride – even of him that but now had blessed them and gone out from them, the apostle; and he saith unto him: Wentest thou not out in the sight of all? how then art thou found here? But the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas, but I am his brother. And the Lord sat down upon the bed and bade them also sit upon chairs, and began to say unto them: “Remember, my children, what my brother spake unto you and what he delivered before you: and know this, that if ye abstain from this foul intercourse....” The royal couple are persuaded to abstain, and are converted by Jesus, and are chaste and do not consummate their marriage, and “when the king heard these things from the bridegroom and the bride, he rent his clothes and said unto them that stood by him: Go forth quickly … and take and bring me that man that is a sorcerer who by ill fortune came unto this city; for with mine own hands I brought him into this house, and I told him to pray over this mine ill-starred daughter; and whoso findeth and bringeth him to me, I will give him whatever he asketh of me.”
But Judas Thomas was not to be found, for he had fled that place, and was come into the cities of India. “Now when the apostle was come into the cities of India with Abbanes the merchant, Abbanes went to salute the king Gundaphorus, and reported to him of the carpenter whom he had brought with him. And the king was glad … and the king said: Canst thou build me a palace? And he answered: Yea, I can both build and furnish it; for to this end am I come, to build and to do the work of a carpenter.”
Gundaphorus then takes Judas Thomas outside the city, to a wet, woody place where he desires the palace to be built. The apostle draws him an elaborate plan on the ground with a reed, and the king, being pleased says: “Verily thou art a craftsman, and it befitteth thee to be a servant of kings. And he left much money with him and departed from him.” Sometime later, the king sends more money and provisions to the apostle, whom he trusts as a good servant; but he, deceiving him, and not doing any work, goes about the countryside distributing the gold and silver as alms to the poor. “After these things the king sent an ambassador unto the apostle, and wrote thus: Signify unto me what thou hast done, or what I shall send thee, or of what thou hast need. And the apostle sent unto him, saying: The palace is builded and only the roof remaineth. And the king hearing it sent him again gold and silver, and wrote unto him: Let it be roofed, if it is done.” Now Gundaphorus comes on a tour to the city and inquires of his friends about the palace that Judas Thomas is building for him, and they say to him: “Neither hath he built a palace nor done aught else of that he promised to perform, but he goeth about the cities and countries, and whatsoever he hath he giveth unto the poor, and teacheth of a new God, and healeth the sick, and driveth out devils, and doeth many other wonderful things; and we think him to be a sorcerer.... And when the king heard that, he rubbed his face with his hands, and shook his head for a long space.” The king then sends for the merchant Abbanes and Judas Thomas, and says to the apostle: “Hast thou built me the palace? And he said: Yea and the king said: When, then, shall we go and see it? But he answered him and said: Thou canst not see it now, but when thou departest this life, then thou shalt see it.
And the king was exceedingly wroth, and commanded both the merchant and Judas which is called Thomas to be put in bonds and cast into prison until he should inquire and learn unto whom the king’s money had been given, and so destroy both him and the merchant.” Judas Thomas and the trader Abbanes are taken away to prison, and that night the king’s brother Gad falls ill, and sends for the king and says: “O king my brother, I commit unto thee mine house and my children; for I am vexed by reason of the provocation that hath befallen thee, and lo, I die … and as they talked together, the soul of his brother Gad departed.” And angels take the soul of the king’s brother up into heaven, and they ask him: “In which place wouldst thou dwell? And when they drew near unto the building of Thomas the apostle which he had built for the king, Gad saw it and said unto the angels: I beseech you, my lords, suffer me to dwell in one of the lowest rooms of these. And they said to him: Thou canst not dwell in this building…. This is that palace which that Christian builded for thy brother. And he said: I beseech you, my lords, suffer me to go to my brother that I may buy this palace of him; for my brother knoweth not of what sort it is, and he will sell it unto me.” And Gad returns to life, and the king is informed.
He comes and stands by his brother’s bed, amazed, and unable to speak, and Gad says to him: “Sell me that palace which thou hast in the heavens? And the king said: Whence should I have a palace in the heavens? And he said: Even that which the Christian built for thee which is now in the prison, whom the merchant brought unto thee, having purchased him of one Jesus: I mean that Hebrew slave whom thou desireth to punish as having suffered deceit at his hand: whereas I was grieved and died, and am now revived.” But the king having learned of the palace in heaven from his brother Gad, wants to keep it, and refuses to sell it; he says they must go to the apostle and ask his forgiveness, and ask him to build another palace in heaven. The brothers go to the prison, and Judas Thomas agrees to build another palace in heaven for Gad; and the king and his brother are converted, and baptized in the public baths, and chrismed, and the apostle prays:
“Come, thou power of the Most High, and the compassion that is perfect.
“Come, gift of the Most High.
“Come, compassionate mother.
“Come, she that revealeth the hidden mysteries.
“Come, communion of the male.
“Come, she that revealeth the hidden mysteries.
“Come, mother of the seven houses, that thy rest may be in the eighth house.
“Come, elder of the five members, mind, thought, reflection, consideration, reason; communicate with these young men.
“Come, holy spirit, and cleanse their reins and their heart, and give them the added seal, in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost.”
Then Judas Thomas, having accomplished the conversion of Gundaphorus and Gad, is directed by Jesus in a dream to leave the city. He goes out, having given up the pretence of being a carpenter, and soon after comes upon a beautiful youth lying dead by the wayside. He prays over the boy, and is immediately challenged by the dragon who has slain him. The dragon calls himself Satan – and says too that he is the Great Satan. But in the contest that follows he is defeated by the apostle and compelled to suck out the poison that has killed the youth. This causes him to burst and die, but not before he gives a long speech on fornication, of which the youth is accused. The youth revives, confesses his sins before the multitude, and Judas Thomas continues on his way. He heals the sick, raises the dead, and preaches an uncompromising doctrine of sexual continence. His sole theme is that a Christian must be chaste, even within the sacrament of marriage.
This teaching is not welcomed in the cities and towns that he visits, but the people are attracted by his bizarre and violent miracles. Some are converted, anointed with oil, and put into the care of a priest. He then moves to new cities and districts, heals the sick, raises the dead, and drives devils out of women. He hears the confession of a talking donkey who admits that he was a priest of Balaam before he turned to Jesus. But the apostle’s special field of work are women and virgins. He entices them away from their families, converts them, puts them into sackcloth and ashes, and locks them up behind doors. This causes great discord in the cities, and earns him the bitter enmity of the husbands and brothers of those he has bewitched with his words. He is finally brought before the king, Misdaeus,9 and asked about his activities. The king says: “Wherefore teachest thou this new doctrine, which both Gods and men hate, and which has nought of profit? And Judas said: What evil do I teach? And Misdaeus said: Thou teachest, saying that men cannot live well except that they live chastely with the God whom thou preachest.
Judas saith: Thou sayest true, O king: thus do I teach.” Now the time of the apostle’s death draws near. The narrative is given in full here so that the reader will have a reference with which to compare the tales that are told in Malabar and Mylapore. This is the original story, from which all other versions derive. It tells of the legitimate execution of a criminal for wicked deeds, by the king Misdaeus (Mazdai or Masdai) who has been severely provoked by his sorcery – though it has a posthumous royal conversion and is couched in much unctuous verbiage. Judas Thomas ignores the king’s warning. He converts the prince of the house, Iuzanes, and his mother the queen. The other women of the court have already left to follow the new creed. The city is in turmoil, and the deserted king is appalled by the events around him.
He has the apostle arrested, and confronts him. He asks: “Art thou bond or free? Thomas said: I am the bondsman of one only, over whom thou hast no authority. And Misdaeus saith to him: How didst thou run away and come into this country? And Thomas said: I was sold hither by my master, that I may save many, and by thy hand depart out of this world…. And Misdaeus saith unto him: I have not made haste to destroy thee, but have had long patience with thee: but thou has added unto thine evil deeds, and thy sorceries are dispersed abroad and heard of throughout all this country: but this I do that thy sorceries may depart with thee, and our land be cleansed from them.” But the apostle again rejects the king’s plea to reform, and so “Misdaeus considered how he should put him to death; for he was afraid because of the many people who were subject unto him, for many also of the nobles and of them that were in authority believed on him. He took him therefore and went out of the city; and armed soldiers went with him. And the people supposed that the king desired to learn somewhat of him, and they stood still and gave heed.
And when they had walked one mile, he delivered him unto four soldiers and an officer, and commanded them to take him into the mountain and there pierce him with spears and put an end to him, and return again to the city. And saying thus unto the soldiers, he himself also returned unto the city. “But the men ran after Thomas, desiring to deliver him from death. And two soldiers went on the right hand of the apostle and two on his left, holding spears, and the officer held his hand and supported him…. And being come up into the mountain unto the place where he was to be slain, he said unto them that held him, and to the rest: Brethren, hearken unto me now at the last; for I am come to my departure out of the body. Let not then the eyes of your heart be blinded, nor your ears be made deaf.
Believe on the God whom I preach, and be not guides unto yourselves in the hardness of your heart, but walk in all your liberty, and in the glory that is toward men, and the life that is toward God. And he said unto Iuzanes: Thou son of the earthly king Misdaeus and minister to the minister of our Lord Jesus Christ: give unto the servants of Misdaeus their price that they may suffer me to go and pray. And Iuzanes persuaded the soldiers to let him pray. And the blessed Thomas went to pray, and kneeled down and rose up and stretched forth his hands unto heaven … and when he had thus prayed he said unto the soldiers: Come hither and accomplish the commandments of him that sent you. And the four came and pierced him with their spears, and he fell down dead. “And all the brethren wept; and they brought beautiful robes and much and fair linen, and buried him in a royal sepulchre wherein the former first kings were laid.”
But Siphor the priest and Iuzanes the king’s son refuse to leave the apostle and continue to sit on the mountain. Thomas suddenly appears and orders them to go back to the city, as he is not there but has gone up to heaven. He promises that they will join him soon. So Siphor and Iuzanes go down from the mountain that held the sepulchre of ancient kings. “Now it came to pass after a long time that one of the children of Misadeus the king was smitten by a devil, and no man could cure him, for the devil was exceedingly fierce. And Misdaeus the king took thought and said: I will go and open the sepulchre, and take a bone of the apostle of God and hang it upon my son, and he shall be healed … and he went and opened the sepulchre, but found not the apostle there, for one of the brethren had stolen him away and taken him unto Mesopotamia; but from that place where the bones of the apostle had lain Misdaeus took dust and put it about his son’s neck, saying: I believe on thee, Jesus Christ, now that he hath left me which troubleth men and opposeth them lest they should see thee. And when he had hung it upon his son, the lad became whole.
“Misdaeus the king therefore was also gathered among the brethren, and bowed his head under the hands of Siphor the priest; and Siphor said unto the brethren: Pray ye for Misdaeus the king, that he may obtain mercy of Jesus Christ, and that he may no longer remember evil against him. They all therefore, with one accord rejoicing, made prayer for him … and he was gathered with the multitude of them that had believed in Christ, glorifying the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost; whose is power and adoration, now and forever and world without end. Amen.”
This is the essential Acts of Thomas, with the opening and closing acts quoted at length for reference. Fr. A. Mathias Mundadan, Professor of Church History and Theology at the Dharmaram Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, in History of Christianity in India, Vol. I, says “The description of the place of St. Thomas’s martyrdom [in the Acts] would easily suggest Mylapore as the town of king Mazdai [Misdaeus].” This statement is patently absurd in the face of the evidence of the Acts itself. Mylapore has never been “a desert country” as Mazdai’s land is described in the Acts – his city is not described at all – and has never had a Zoroastrian king or a mountain with an ancient royal sepulchre in it. Mylapore has always been known as a Hindu pilgrimage town and busy port, with jasmine gardens, jungles, peacocks and lush coconut groves. Mundadan can get away with his motivated assertions because most students of the St. Thomas legend do not know the Acts of Thomas or the topography of Mylapore and its larger environs.
They also do not know West Asia and Persia and the history of Christianity in these places and the Roman Empire. They have no means by which to judge the declared conceits of Mundadan and the tribe of scholars that he represents. They must accept these conceits in good faith – and unfortunately their good faith is exploited to the limit. There is simply nothing Indian, much less South Indian, in the setting and ambiance of the Acts of Thomas. All internal evidence suggests Syria, Iraq and Persia – or Parthia as it was called in the first century CE – as the place where the drama of the Acts was played out to its preordained end, or to a kingdom on the edge of the Roman Empire – like Edessa itself – as there are strong Greco-Roman influences in the text, India as a specific place and Gundaphorus and Misdaeus-Mazdai as Indian kings appear to be literary devices used by Bardesanes to give credibility to the unconventional religious theme of the book. C.B. Firth, in An Introduction to Indian Church History, writes, “it is no uncommon thing to find [ancient writers] using [the name India] of countries such as Ethiopia, Arabia or Afghanistan. Indeed, except for those who had reason to be acquainted with our India, ‘India’ was a vague term which might stand for almost any religion beyond the Empire’s south-eastern frontiers.… To the fourth century Fathers India is the place of St. Thomas’s labours; but others, of earlier date, say Parthia, that is the Persian Empire stretching from North-West India to Mesopotamia; and of these the most notable is Eusebius the historian, who wrote in the fourth century.
He says, ‘When the holy apostles and disciples of our Saviour were scattered over all the world, Thomas, so the tradition has it, obtained as his portion Parthia….’ Eusebius quotes as his authority for this statement the famous Alexandrian Father, Origen (ca. 185-254), thus carrying back the tradition to the first half of the third century. According to Origen and Eusebius, then, it was Parthia to which St. Thomas went. Moreover in another place Eusebius says that it was St. Bartholomew who went to India…. In what he says of St. Bartholomew Eusebius may well have in mind one of the countries bordering on the Red Sea.” C.B. Firth could have included the testimony of Origen’s teacher, the Greek missionary theologian Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-235), who had travelled from Greece to Italy, Syria and Palestine before settling in Egypt. Clement is known as an apologist rather than a father of the Church, as he tried to reconcile Platonic philosophy with Christian doctrine.
He is the first orthodox Christian scholar to say that St. Thomas went to Parthia. But before we continue with the fathers of the Church and their testimony for or against St. Thomas in India, reference must be made to another apocryphal Syrian text called the Didache or Teaching of the Apostles. It was written at Edessa by an unknown Arian author about 250 CE and deals with Christian ethics, the duties of priests, the Eucharistic liturgy, rituals, and various other church problems. It says, “India and all its own countries, and those bordering on it, even to the farthest sea, received the Apostle’s Hand of the Priesthood from Judas Thomas, who was Guide and Ruler in the church which he built and ministered there.” Further on the Teaching names the land that had priests ordained by Aggaeus the disciple of Addaeus (Addai) the disciple of Judas Thomas, as “the whole of Persia of the Assyrians and Medes, and the countries round about Babylon … even to the borders of the Indians and even to the country of Gog and Magog. In hoary British tradition, Gog and Magog are two giants of Cornwall who were slain by Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of London, but the author of the Teaching is probably referring to Prophet Ezekiel and the land of Magog from whence Gog would come, which lay somewhere to the north of Israel.
The Teaching of the Apostles is following the earlier Acts of Thomas when it says that St. Thomas evangelized India – by which it means Parthia from the evidence in the text itself – as it was written at Edessa too where the Acts was written by a heterodox author who could have been a disciple of Bardesanes. He is a typical hagiographer, magnifying the works of St. Thomas and his disciples throughout the world – for this must be the significance of the reference to the mythical land of Gog and Magog. These two third century Syrian texts are the literary foundation on which the tradition of St. Thomas in India is built. Without them, and especially without the Acts, there is no St. Thomas east of Khorasan – the Land of the Rising Sun – which was the centre of the Parthian Empire and is the “India” of the Acts, even as “the farthest sea” of the Teaching is the Red and Arabian Seas that bordered the Parthian Empire. Now to return to the fathers and doctors of the Church who testify to the coming of St. Thomas to India, the fourth century Ephraim of Edessa (the same who attacked Bardesanes), Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, the fifth century Gaudentius of Brescia, Paulinus of Nola, the sixth century Gregory of Tours, the seventh century Isidore of Seville, and the eighth century Bede of Jarrow, are all quoting the Acts, or works and verbal traditions based on the Acts, or the authority of each other. Their testimony is worthless as history even if it is made in good faith.
The same could be said of the testimony of the second and third century Clement and Origen, and fourth century Eusebius, but the difference is that their earlier date and closeness to the alleged events and its first traditions – which are not recorded in a stylized religious fiction like the Acts – give them more credibility. They, too, had knowledge of the Acts and Teaching but chose to ignore them and declare that St. Thomas went to Parthia. Eusebius, who had done research at Edessa for his Ecclesiastical History but lived at Caesarea Maritima in Palestine, the port from which St. Thomas would have had to embark for India (unless he used the Gulf of Aqaba port of Eilat or the Egyptian ports of Elim or Berenice), certainly knew both traditions thoroughly and is a principal witness. Moreover he held unorthodox religious views and would have been sympathetic to the Christian theosophy expounded in the Acts. Yet he states that St. Thomas went from Jerusalem by land to proselytise the Parthians. This supports the tradition that St. Thomas went to Edessa to meet his disciple Addai, whom he had sent earlier to meet the Abgar – the same Edessa that would later honour him with a book, a mummy, a tomb, and a cult. But Clement, Origen and Eusebius are not the only early Christian scholars to say that St. Thomas went to Parthia. There is also the fourth century priest, Rufinus of Aquileia, who translated Greek theological texts into Latin, and the fifth century Byzantine church historian and legal consultant, Socrates of Constantinople, who also wrote an Ecclesiastical History after Eusebius, the second edition which is still completely extant and considered an indispensable documentary source of early church history.
Both Rufinus and Socrates would have known the Greek version of the Acts which was made immediately after the Syriac text was written (if it wasn’t the other way round as some scholars believe). They would also have known the testimony of Ephraim, Gregory, Ambrose and Jerome for St. Thomas in India. Yet Rufinus and Socrates both declare that St. Thomas went to Parthia. The reason that the testimony of the Acts of Thomas is rejected by Clement, Origen, Eusebius, Rufinus and Socrates is the same as that of modern scholars who reject it. The Acts is a purely fictional work without any historical authority, written specifically to promote the doctrine that a Christian must be chaste even within the relationship of marriage. This opinion, held by some Gnostics and apparently by St. Thomas too, was presented to the Edessene public by Bardesanes in the form of an engaging miracle romance. The story was deliberately set in India, a vast land to the east of Edessa from which all sort of peculiar religious theories emanated. Bardesanes was a theologian not a geographer, and the latter discipline was made to serve the former – just as it is made to do today by interested Catholic scholars. The reasonable view held by many scholars today, that nobody in third century Asia was interested in St. Thomas except Edessa, where his cult was centred and from where it radiated, was anticipated by Dr. G. Milne Rae at the end of the last century.
Milne Rae was a professor at Madras Christian College and wrote a book, The Syrian Church in India, which provoked severe criticism from the Syrian Christian community. In it he denies the Indian apostolate of St. Thomas, and in another research paper asks, “In what literature is the name of St. Thomas first associated with India? It will appear I think the home of that literature, the original hotbed in which it was reared, was no other than the Church of Edessa. For there is no place within the area occupied, by the language in which those books were written, that had any such interest in the fortunes and destiny of the Apostle. The story of Thomas preaching and his martyrdom in India is first found in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas and it is curious to note that throughout the work the Apostle is generally called Judas Thomas, a name which he also received in that group of documents which Eusebius found among the archives at Edessa. It is palpably a Gnostic work and students of Gnosticism, judging from the stages of development at which they find the heresy in the Acts, assign it to the end of the second century.
It may have been written by Bardesanes. But whoever the real author was, I think the details of this work are not only consistent with the belief that they were put together by a member of the Edessene Church, but also defy explanation on any other hypothesis.” Donald Attwater, in The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, with reference to L.W. Brown in The Indian Christians of St. Thomas, writes, “There is endless discussion about St. Thomas’s subsequent life. In particular, did he take the gospel to India, where for many centuries the Christians of Kerala have called themselves ‘St. Thomas Christians’? That he did so, and was martyred there, is the theme of a long document of the third or fourth century, called the Acts of Thomas. This is one of the most readable and intrinsically interesting of early Christian apocryphal writings; but it is no more than a popular romance, written in the interest of false Gnostic teachings (e.g. the virtual necessity of celibacy for Christians). It is not impossible that St. Thomas should have reached southern India, but the historical reality of his mission there cannot be considered proved. It is also said that he evangelized Parthia, and in the fourth century his relics were claimed to be at Edessa in Mesopotamia.”
As for the testimony of the early fathers Ephraim, Gregory, Ambrose and Jerome, M. Augustus Neander, in General History of the Christian Religion and Church, writes, “The writings of the so-called apostolic fathers have unhappily for the most part come down to us in a condition very little worthy of confidence. At a very early date spurious writings were planned in the names of these men so highly venerated in the church for the purpose of giving authority to particular opinions or principles.” Augustus Neander is being generous to the fathers of the Church. Herbert Cutner, in Jesus: God, Man or Myth?, accuses them directly of being credulous. He writes, “If the crass superstition of that parcel of fools, the Apostolic Fathers, and the idiotic ‘details’ put in the various apocryphal [Acts and] Gospels do not in themselves put these ‘authorities’ out of court, then I’m afraid no argument ever discovered could do so.” In a sense this is the last word, for the Acts of Thomas does by its own internal “details” destroy the history that it is said to record, and the testimony of the fathers, with few exceptions, is disproved by their mindless pronouncements on what they wish to confirm. Their “evidence” is never anything more than a pious testimony based on personal faith and opinion that was highly coloured by the political and theological pressures of the day. Their “authority” has been exploited down the ages and is a precursor of the modern Catholic superstition of papal infallibility.
Judge C.B. Waite, in History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two Hundred, carefully reviewed all the available early documents of the Church. His impartial criticism of them caused many scholars to conclude that Church history of the first two centuries is based on myth and invention. S.J. Case, in The Historicity of Jesus, while defending the historicity of Jesus, admits that the apocryphal books are not true in their details. L. de la Vallee-Poussin, A. Harnack and Richard Garbe do not give the Acts of Thomas any credibility at all. Jacques Basnage, the Protestant French minister and historiographer of the seventeenth century, rejected the tradition that St. Thomas came to India. So did the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical historian of the same period, Louis-Sebastien Le Nain de Tillemont, who provided a rigorous appraisal of early historical writing in his Memoirs useful for the Ecclesiastical History of the First Six Centuries.
The French Protestant La Croze in the eighteenth century and the English Protestants James Hough and Sir John Kaye in the nineteenth century, all historians of repute, also rejected the tradition. The Jesuit Bollandist Peeters and Maurice Winternitz, Professor of Indian Philology and Ethnology at the German University of Prague, categorically deny that St. Thomas came to India. And the Indian “St. Thomas” Christian K.E. Job, a cautious voice among three archbishops, eleven bishops, and fifty-three priests who contributed to the Mar Thoma Centenary Commemoration Volume 1952, writes, “But there are few records enabling one to be positive about the scene of the activities of each of these Apostles [Peter and Paul] and how each of them carried out the commands of their Master … [and] certain knowledge about the other Apostles [Thomas and Bartholomew] is absolutely inadequate.”
Dr. J.N. Farquhar, author of The Apostle Thomas in North India and The Apostle Thomas in South India, admits, “We cannot prove that the story [of St. Thomas] is history.” Dr. A. Mingana, in The Early Spread of Christianity in Asia and the Far East and The Early Spread of Christianity in India, adopts a non-committal attitude towards St. Thomas. We have quoted him as saying, “What India gives us about Christianity in its midst in indeed nothing but pure fables.” Professor Arnold Toynbee, in A Study of History, observes, “Though the Saint’s mission and death in India are probably legendary, his reputed burial place was a centre of pilgrimage for Indian Christians.” Bishop Stephen Neill studied the St. Thomas legend carefully during his years in India, and lamented its spread among Indian Christians. He regarded the story as spurious history, and in History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to 1707 A.D., writes, “A number of scholars, among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medleycott, J.N. Farquhar and the Jesuit J. Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect the vividness of their imaginations rather than the prudence of rigid historical critics.”
Bishop Neill is being charitable to Bishop Medleycott when he calls his India and the Apostle Thomas an imaginative romance built on slender foundations. Henry Love, in Vestiges of Old Madras, is even more forgiving when he writes, “Bishop Medleycott, who has sifted every shred of evidence on the subject, concludes that St. Thomas the Apostle preached and suffered on the Mount, but his arguments do not appear to be altogether convincing.” Bishop Medleycott is the godfather of Thomas-in-India scholarship in India, and even in his day he was accused of working under racial, religious, regional, linguistic, and political influences. He was the Vicar Apostolic of Trichur from 1887 to 1896, the diocese in which the alleged landing-place of St. Thomas, Cranganore, is located, and was the first European missionary bishop to be appointed by Rome to rule over the local Syrian Christian community.
This community existed in a forgotten Kerala backwater that was overshadowed by San Thome at Mylapore, and Bishop Medleycott had a mandate – or believed he had a mandate – to raise Cranganore’s status and prepare the ideological ground for the apostle’s “return”. Medleycott soon discovered that this was not very hard to do. The old tradition of St. Thomas was still alive in Malabar, in medieval Syrian wedding songs and “evidence” left behind by those pious forgers and pirates, the Portuguese, and he had local Syrian priests to advise him. There was also the Acts of Thomas, which nobody knew in the original and which no Christian priest would dare to teach to his congregation. All that was needed was inventive Catholic scholarship to turn a local Kerala Christian tradition into world history. Bishop Medleycott won the day with his work, though he didn’t live to see it. St. Thomas was “returned” to Cranganore – now Kodungallur – in 1953, in the form of a piece of bone from the elbow of his right arm.
The relic was a gift from the clergy of Ortona, Italy, where the apostle’s Church-authenticated remains had lain since 1258. They had been brought to Ortona from Edessa by way of Chios in Greece, and, according to one tradition that is repeated today as factual if unverified, had arrived in Edessa from "India" between 222 and 235 CE. In the Acts of Thomas the bones were transferred to Mesopotamia from "India" – the "desert country" of King Mazdai – in the lifetime of the Persian king. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the other imaginative writer of oriental church history, led the “second coming” to Cranganore, and he later proceeded to Mylapore with another bit of Ortona bone for the cathedral there. For the first time in history both sites in India associated with St. Thomas in legend and story could truly say that they possessed his relics. This event and the alleged first century coming of the apostle were commemorated by the Government of India with postage stamps that were issued in 1964 and 1973.
The first stamp depicts the silver bust of St. Thomas that is in the cathedral at Ortona, which contains his complete skull, and the second shows the eighth century Persian “St. Thomas” cross on St. Thomas Mount near Madras. That neither these artefacts nor the relics, or, for that matter, the legendary event that they celebrate, are Indian, is one of the ironies that is part of the history of the story of St. Thomas in India. But Bishop Medleycott’s victory went further. He got himself named as the St. Thomas authority in the prestigious Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition, 1984, along with Chevalier F.A. D’Cruz, editor of the old Mylapore Catholic Register and author of St. Thomas the Apostle in India. The unsigned main entry for St. Thomas in the Encyclopaedia is muddled and dissembling and simply wrong in some places. After giving the New Testament references, it says, “Thomas’ subsequent history is uncertain. According to the 4th century Ecclesiastical History of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he evangelized Parthia (modern Khorasan).
Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate into India, where he is recognized as the founder of the church of the Syrian Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas. In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, originally composed in Syriac, his martyrdom is cited under the king of Mylapore at Madras....” The Acts does not “cite” this at all of course, as we have shown by direct quotation; it does not even remotely suggest it. There is no known record that Mylapore had a king in the first century and if it did, he was not a Zoroastrian with the name of Mazdai. The story in the Acts and the Mylapore legend have nothing in common, though the latter can be said to exist only because of the former. Further on the article says, “He allegedly visited the court of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophernes … though some of the Acts of Thomas is probable, evidence remains inconclusive.”
Now even if some of the Acts is accepted as probable, the composer of this entry still hasn't got the story right. He uses the word “allegedly” for the visit of St. Thomas to the court of Gondophernes – assuming that Gondophernes is the same as Gundaphorus – when he could correctly cite the Acts for the reference. These errors are deliberate and motivated, given their context and arrangement, and this St. Thomas entry in the Encyclopaedia has been written by a Catholic scholar who not only subscribes to the apostle’s alleged South Indian adventure, but wishes to place the Mylapore tale over that of the Malabar tradition. He does this by mixing the North Indian legend, represented by the Acts, with the South Indian fable that the Portuguese left in Mylapore, to promote his particular South Indian masala view. He gets away with the deception because nobody has read the Acts of Thomas and studied its references to the kings Gundaphorus and Misdaeus-Mazdai, and the execution of Judas Thomas on a mountain that contained an ancient royal tomb. If we take a look at the St. Thomas entry on the Encyclopaedia Britannica website. It says very little about St. Thomas and we could not access the full article, but it begins like this, "... born, probably Galilee, died AD 53, Madras, India ..."
The entry for Kottayam, the centre of Syrian Christianity in India, says in part, "The town is a centre of the Syrian Christian community, which traces its origin to the apostle St. Thomas, who is believed to have visited Kerala in 53 CE and to have established seven churches on the Malabar Coast." The entry for Christians of Saint Thomas reads, "The origins of the Christians of St. Thomas are uncertain, though they seem to have been in existence before the 6th century and probably derive from the missionary activity of the East Syrian (Nestorian) Church – which held that, in effect, the two natures of Christ were two persons, somehow joined in a moral union – centred at Ctesiphon."
None of these entries are correct but the reference to Kottayam and Madras, giving the specific date of 53 CE for St. Thomas, is just a reworking of the Encyclopaedia's 1984 entry. The various dates for St. Thomas's arrival in India and death in Madras are inventions that were added to the legend in the nineteenth century. The charge that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a Catholic encyclopaedia intent on promoting a traditional Christian point of view remains. It has always been that way with the Encyclopaedia: Joseph McCabe, the great linguist and historian of early Christianity, could not get it to correct and change its wrong entries for early Christian history either. Bishop Medleycott with his papal mandate and imperial urges, totally discredited as a historian of Christianity in India, remains the last word on St. Thomas in India in all Catholic encyclopaedias and, believe it or not, the Internet's modern, up-to-date Wikipedia as well.
Historicity of St. Thomas controversial and disputed , in this this article we will have to consider the fact that all references to Thomas in Indian Christian tradition and folklore have been rejected as unhistorical by responsible Christian scholars and ecclesiastics (barring a few like Medleycott and Arulappa) for the past two centuries. The elaborate and confusing mythology of Thomas is not factual or verifiable and cannot ethically be represented as true history in an encyclopaedia. These pious legends may have a role to play in religion but they do not have a place in Indian history writing unless they are identified and qualified for the general reader. The reputed Christian historian A. Mingana has written in The Early Spread of Christianity in India that "What India gives us about Christianity in its midst is indeed nothing but pure fables". This is true about the Thomas tradition in India and in the numerous other places it exists in Asia except perhaps Edessa where it originated. Any serious article about Thomas in India, or the various controversial and disputed places of pilgrimage associated with him, should be unambiguously declared as faith-based and historically unverified.
To do otherwise in an encyclopaedia article is intellectually dishonest and misleading and amounts to little more than religious propaganda created in the interests of a certain theological point of view. The Trichur bishop Medleycott wrote his Thomas history with ulterior motive and is the favourite scholar of Thomas protagonists who quote him at length (including the EB which is a known RCbiased encyclopaedia). He has been discredited by the renowned Christian historian Bishop Stephen Neill. Neill spent many years in India researching Indian Christian Thomas traditions and the Thomas legend and wrote in 1985, in History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to 1707 A.D., that "A number of scholars, among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medleycott, J.N. Farquhar and the Jesuit J. Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect the vividness of their imaginations rather than the prudence of rigid historical critics." Bishop Neill goes on to say, "Millions of Christians in India are certain that the founder of their church is none other than the apostle Thomas himself.
The historian cannot prove to them that they are mistaken in their belief. He may feel it right to warn them that historical research cannot pronounce on the matter with a confidence equal to that which they entertain by faith." The point is that this Wikipedia article Thomas the Apostle is a matter of Indian Christian faith, not Indian history, and it should not be presented in an encyclopaedia as Indian history. Some parts of the article are neutral and other parts are just fiction propped up with facts and figures, names and dates, or some doubtful reference. In some cases the article assumes too much, and in others it shows extreme bias. In fact, the whole project shows bias in its declared intention, when it treats as proven a legend that most respected world historians declare is fiction and unprovable. What the article needs is review and revision by a neutral historical critic who has no Indian Christian axe to grind. Is this possible in the Wikipedia scenario? Would the article’s administrator and watchdog, with his declared special interests, ever permit it? – Vena Varcas (talk) 15:55, 15 May 2008 (UTC). We then set to work on the Wikipedia Thomas the Apostle article adding verifiable references and short sections with citations. Every statement we made was supported with an authoritative reference from a recognized historian of Christianity. We were very careful not to delete any material already posted on the page or refer to the demolition of the Kapaleeswara Temple in Mylapore by the Portuguese.
However, as our contribution progressed, Mylapore did come into the picture and we introduced it with a reference to Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Math in Mylapore and the article he had written in Vedanta Kesari called "The Legend of a Slain Saint to Stain Hinduism." This single attributed reference to a Hindu scholar was too much for the Kerala Christian Wikipedia page administrator Tinucherian (Cherian Tinu Abraham). Within an hour of the post, he deleted our reference to Swami Tapsyananda and rolled back the other postings we had made that day. It was a real surprise to us. Where we had made an effort not to interfere with earlier postings, we discovered that the same courtesy was not extended to us and that we would not be informed when we had “offended” Tinucherian's Christian enterprise. We abandoned Wikipedia as a waste of time and effort and our contributions were soon perverted or deleted altogether. The concocted absurdities found in the Wikipedia Thomas the Apostle article today, which has neither citations or credible references, can be exposed with a single example: the statement in the Thomas and India subsection of the main article that the king who executed Judas Thomas for sorcery and crimes against women, Mazdai (also Masdai; Misdaeus in Greek), was "the local king at Mylapore". This is a preposterous statement. The name Mazdai is Persian and specifically identifies a person who is Zoroastrian by religion. Mazdaism identifies a worshiper of Ahura Mazda and is a synonym for Zoroastrianism. Associating the Acts of Thomas and its Persian king Mazdai with Mylapore is motivated Christian scholarship – something "Dr." Deivanayakam of the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese would produce – and the fact that the Wikipedia administrator, Tinucherian, allows such unsupported statements to stand unchallenged shows that he is deeply involved in the crime of writing a deliberately false and perverted history of Christianity in Mylapore.
Wikipedia by its free-for-all constitution and arbitrary, secretive contribution and editorial oversight system lacks all credibility. Every fact checked with this Internet reference has to be checked someplace else if it is to be accepted as authoritative. Many of its articles on Christianity in India are propaganda projects set up to project a particular Christian world view. This is to be expected: the wiki editing system invites India's cultural enemies, Christian missionaries and other western neo-colonialists, to propound their hostile, anti-Indian theories. Its administrators are not authorities on the subjects they oversee (Tinucherian is a Bangalore software engineer who knows nothing about St. Thomas and the history of Christianity in India except for what his pious mother may have taught him) and their personal prejudices soon become evident and interfere with factual and cited contributions. Wikipedia is the perfect platform for Christian propaganda in India and is being used for that purpose with great effect in its Christianity in India project. This Wikipedia series even employs the symbol of a cross superimposed on a light blue map of India, a symbol that is highly offensive to the majority Hindu population who identify India as their mother and civilizational homeland.
The fabulous and false "facts" about St. Thomas and India found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and its Internet sister Wikipedia make the ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabo into a prophet (he was a contemporary of Jesus and Thomas). He said, "Generally speaking the men who have written on India were a set of liars." And so it is with the contributors to the mainstream encyclopaedias and dictionaries that reference Indian history today. But it is not only international English-language reference works that repeat the falsehood that St. Thomas came to South India and was murdered in Madras by hostile Hindus. Indian reference books repeat the St. Thomas tale because they are too lazy to do any original research of their own and simply copy existing sources which are usually Christian or western sources. For example, the Internet reference Indianetzone in its long self-persuading entry for St. Thomas treats him as Kerala's first Christian missionary. They wax eloquent about the old St. Thomas traditions in Kerala and how everybody believes them so they must be true. Fine for the Christian faithful, but this is story telling not India history writing. A lie does not become truth with old age and much repetition by Christian priests! We have twice contacted the editors and given them the known historical data on St. Thomas, but to no effect. They block our comments, delete our registration from their site, and refuse to acknowledge our mail. Like the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia, Indianetzone is deeply attached to its fictitious and fabulous St. Thomas entry and will not let it go for a more prosaic and truthful account of Christianity's origins in India. If St. Thomas lived at all – and we have no positive evidence for this either – it was in Palestine and Syria, and it was in Syria and Persia, or Parthia, that he proselytised the inhabitants and established churches.
This is what the most ancient Alexandrian tradition maintains and what the seventh and eighth century Metropolitans of Fars, Mar Isho Yahb and Mar Thiomothy, testify to when they refuse to submit to the Patriarch of the East at Seleucia-Ctesiphon because their Persian church had been established by Thomas while his had not. The later Edessene tradition is a case of Edessa glorifying an apostle they considered their own – Thomas had visited their city and they possessed his bones – at the expense of India – if of course the “India” of the Acts doesn’t simply mean Parthia or Persia.
The first Christians to emigrate to India came in 345 CE. They landed at Cranganore in Malabar, the ancient port of Muziris on the mouth of the Periyar River where it joined the Arabian Sea. They were four hundred refugees from Babylon and Nineveh, belonging to seven tribes and seventy-two families. They were fleeing religious persecution under the Persian king Shapur II. He had driven them out of Syria and Mesopotamia because he considered them a state liability. Rome, Persia’s arch enemy, had begun to christianise under Constantine,18 and Shapur had come to suspect the allegiances of his Christian subjects. The Syrian refugees were led by a semi-legendary figure who is known to history variously as Thomas of Cana, Thomas the Merchant, Thomas the Canaanite, Thomas of Jerusalem, Knai Thoma, Thomas Cananeus, or Thomas Cannaneo. Nothing is known about him except his name and that of his companion Bishop Joseph of Edessa, and this migration of Christians also cannot be treated as historical fact. “No deeds of copper plates in the name of Thomas of Cana are now extant,” writes, C.B. Firth in An Introduction to Indian Church History, “… [and] it would be rash to insist upon all the details of the story of Thomas the Merchant as history. Nevertheless the main point – the settlement in Malabar of a considerable colony of Syrians – may well be true.” K.S. Latourette, the American church historian, in A History of the Expansion of Christianity, supports this view. He does not allow for the possibility of Christians coming to India by any route before the third century.
T. Edmunds, the Lutheran church historian at TBM Lutheran College, Porayar, Tamil Nadu, confirms the traditional date of 345 CE for the first migration. Dr. Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Chaldean Syrian Church of the East of Trichur, Kerala, in The Chaldean Syrian Church of the East, writes, “Most church historians, who doubt the tradition of the doubting Thomas in India, will admit that there was a church in India in the middle of the sixth century when Cosmas Indicopleustes visited India…. According to Cosmas, Christians existed in Male and at [Quilon] where a bishop, ordained in Persia, lived.” Cosmas the Alexandrian was a theologian, geographer and merchant who traded with Ethiopia and Ceylon. He visited Malabar in 520-525 CE, and in Christian Topography gives the first acceptable evidence for Christian communities in India. C.B. Firth continues, “The second migration [of Syrian Christians] is dated in the year 823, when a number of Christians from Persia, including two bishops, came to Quilon in Travancore and settled there, having obtained from the local ruler grants of land and various other privileges … and this time contemporary evidence is available in the form of five copper plates recording various grants to the Christians. What these plates actually say is uncertain as they are inscribed in Tamil-Malayalam, Pahlavi and Arabic, and some of the signatures appear to be in Hebrew.
The only date on the plates, that of the fifth year of Raja Stanu Ravi Gupta, who is identified with Cheraman Perumal, is debatable, as the period of Cheraman Perumal is given variously from the fourth to the ninth century. There is also the controversial evidence of the Persian “St. Thomas” crosses made of black granite, that have been provisionally dated to the seventh or eighth century. Rev. C.E. Abraham, in an article in The Cultural Heritage of India, writes, “The Persian crosses – or so-called ‘Thomas’ crosses – with inscriptions in Pahlavi, one found in St. Thomas Mount, Madras, and two in a church in Kottayam in Travancore, are evidence of the connection of the Malabar Church with the Church of Persia.” According to C.P.T. Winckworth, whose translation of the Pahlavi inscriptions has been accepted, they (except for one, which is partly in Syriac) read: "My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chaharbukht the Syrian, who cut this." These crosses may be evidence of the connection of the Christian church in India with Persia, but they may also be evidence of temple destruction and the planting of Christian relics in temple foundations – at least the one on St. Thomas Mount may be so considered. The motif on this black granite slab is cut in relief, and on each side of the cross, which is surmounted by a descending dove, are pillars crowned with supernatural composite animals, or yalis, from whose mouths issue an arch that joins together above the dove.
These yalis are Hindu symbols, not Christian, and Veda Prakash, Director of the Institute for the Study of Western Religions, Madras, asserts that the cross on St. Thomas Mount is an over-cut temple stone. He claims support for this view from the most unexpected quarter. Dr. R. Arulappa, the former Roman Catholic archbishop of Madras, in Punitha Thomaiyar, says that yantra stones in temple foundations were dug up by the Portuguese at three of the four sites in Madras that they associated with St. Thomas and where they built churches – Mylapore, Little Mount at Saidapet, and Big Mount at St. Thomas Mount. The dove-and-cross motif of this stone has been described by one writer as Manichaean and by another as Nestorian. Fr. Herman D’Souza, in In the Steps of St. Thomas, quoting Francis Gouvea on the sixteenth century Portuguese “excavation” at St. Thomas Mount, identifies the motif with that used by the Knights of Aviz in Portugal.
The solution to this problem of the origin and identification of the Persian crosses and all other relics associated with St. Thomas is to have them examined by independent forensic experts. If the Bishop of Turin could surrender the famous Shroud of Turin, alleged burial cloth of Jesus, to scientists and accept their verdict that it is a mediaeval fake, then the Archbishop of Madras should be willing to do the same with the various St. Thomas relics in his possession. But to return to the immediate problem of the origins of Christianity in India. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, in its article on the Christians of Saint Thomas, says, “The origins of the so-called Malabar Christians is uncertain, though they seem to have been in existence before the 6th century AD and probably derive from the missionary activity of the East Syrian (Nestorian) Church – which held that, in effect, the two natures of Christ were two persons, somehow joined in a moral union – centred at Ctesiphon. Despite their geographical isolation, they retained the Chaldean liturgy and Syriac language and maintained fraternal ties with the Babylonian (Baghdad) patriarchate.”
Edward Gibbon, writing about the Syrian Christians of Malabar, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, says, “The difference of their character and colour attest the mixture of a foreign race.… Their conformity with the faith and practice of the fifth century world equally disappoint the prejudices of a Papist or Protestant.” And Leonardo Olschki, in Marco Polo’s Asia, declares, “The Nestorians in India … venerated St. Thomas as the patron of Asiatic Christianity – mark, not of Indian Christianity.” St. Thomas, then, was not the Apostle of India – as he was designated by Rome in 1953 – but the Apostle of the East, and the Church of the East was historically the first Christian church in India.
Thomas of Cana, or Knai Thoma as he is known to Syrian Christians, the Canaanite merchant from Jerusalem who had led the fourth century migration of Syrian Christians to Malabar, was probably a Manichee Christian. This may be inferred from the name of the Christian quarter that he built, Mahadevarapatnam, at Cranganore, on land that had been given to him and Bishop Joseph of Edessa by Cheraman Perumal. Cranganore had a great Shiva temple in its vicinity, at Tiruvanchikulam, and it was not possible that Christians who followed and fed on the intolerant salvation cult of the Roman Empire would call their quarter after the name of a Hindu deity. Manichaeism, on the other hand, was a benign, eclectic religion that mixed the teachings of Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses and Jesus in a cosmic system devised by Mani, a third century Parthian aristocrat who had studied in a Judeo-Christian community of Baptists in southern Babylonia. He called himself the Apostle of Light and said that he was the last prophet after a long line that had begun with Adam.
Mani's religion was evangelical and ascetic, and tended to take on the form of the religious culture of the place it was in. As it flourished in a Mesopotamia and Persia that had been Christianised by St. Thomas and his disciples, it was a form of Gnostic Christianity not very different from that of Bardesanes and the Acts of Thomas. Mani had studied the teachings of Bardesanes and apocryphal Christian texts like the Acts formed part of the Manichaean canon. Indeed, there were very striking similarities between the story of Mani and that of Judas Thomas. They preached in the same places in the Persian Empire, performed the same miracles, used the same ritual chrism or baptism with oil, and laid the same emphasis on sexual continence. Mani is also said to have converted a king of India, probably in Baluchistan which is the furthest east he travelled, and he was martyred even as Judas Thomas, by a Zoroastrian king at Gondeshapur in Fars. Henry Love, writing about the establishment of the first Syrian church in Malabar, in Vestiges of Old Madras, says, “Whether the founder of this church was the apostle, or Thomas the Manichaean who lived in the third century, or whether the Christians named themselves after Thomas the Armenian … is a debatable matter which need not be discussed.” Thomas of Cana – or his bishop from Edessa, Joseph – can be said to be the founder of the church in Malabar, but within a hundred years of his death it would join itself to the Nestorian Church at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, which in turn was closely linked to the Church of Edessa. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, in Eastern Christianity in India, gives the date of this event as about 450 CE, and it is because of the union that the Church of the East can be said to be the first Christian church in India – Manichaeism being a religion in its own right.
The attachment of the Syrian Christians of Malabar to the Nestorian Church was necessitated by their geographical isolation. They required bishops with a valid ordination and these could only be obtained from Mesopotamia and Persia. But there was a sentimental attraction too. The Nestorians also revered St. Thomas – Edessa had become their theological stronghold – and Nestorian bishops wholeheartedly promoted his cult in India. This cult amounted to a kind of St. Thomas religion, and this is attested to by Bishop Jordan, the French Dominican friar who was sent to Quilon by Pope John XXII, in 1330, to convert the Syrians to the Roman creed. Friar Jordan soon had to abandon his Indian flock as incorrigible, and in Marvels Described, writes, “In this India there is a scattered people, one here, another there, who call themselves Christian, but are not so, nor have they baptism, nor do they know anything about the faith: nay, they believe St. Thomas the Great to be Christ.” There was a good reason for this identification of St. Thomas with Jesus – aside from their physical resemblance – and the Syrian Christians seem to have retained a memory of it from their Judeo-Gnostic origins. These origins were indicated by the appellation “Nazarene” or “Nazarani” (being the same as the biblical “Nazarite”) which they carried into the seventeenth century, along with uncut hair that was worn tied up with a cross in a top-knot.
The Nazarenes were an ancient Jewish sect whose most famous member before Jesus was Samson, known from the Old Testament story. They gave special importance to uncut hair, which they believed to contain divine power, and were later associated with the Essenes, the nationalistic religious community on the Dead Sea to which Jesus and Thomas belonged. The Nazarenes did not originally regard Jesus as divine or a universal saviour of mankind, though they did believe him to be their promised messiah. His twin brother Thomas was revered as co-messiah with him, and together they constituted the hereditary king and high priest of Israel, in the royal line of David. Their nationalistic cult spread northwards among the Jews, to supplant the similar and ancient Greek cult of the Divine Twins, Castor and Pollux, at Edessa. Judas Thomas had visited Edessa after sending his disciple Addai there, to instruct the king in his Nazarene doctrine. The creed demanded strict adherence to orthodox Jewish law and recognition of Jesus as messiah and earthly king of Israel. It repudiated the Virgin Birth and Resurrection, and maintained a militant hostility towards Paul and the whole edifice of Pauline thought. This meant that Jesus was not Christ – an idea that Paul had borrowed from Greek philosophy – but resurgent Israel’s national saviour. The Nazarene hierarchy of Jerusalem had fled to Edessa prior to the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 CE, and it is only after the Nazarenes had lost the national cause that Jesus and Judas Thomas took on divine roles. Paul’s Greek – some say Gnostic – ideas were accepted over those of orthodox Judaism, and for the first time in history the appellation “Christian” came into use in Syria, even as the first Christian church was built at Edessa on the ruins of the demolished Greek temple: Jesus and Judas had ousted Castor and Pollux. Later, near the end of the second century, the Abgar, Edessa’s prince and Bardesanes’s friend, was baptized a Christian and Edessa became a Christian state.
But from the beginning of the Christian era to the Arab invasions of the seventh century, Judas Thomas was and remained the central object of worship at Edessa. He had lived and taught in the city and if he did not die there, his body was returned soon afterwards from Persia. His cult was brought to India by Thomas of Cana and the four hundred Syrian refugees he led, in 345 CE, and even as St. Thomas was identified with Jesus, so Thomas of Cana came to be identified with St. Thomas within a few generations of his death in Malabar. This is an old idea. Henry Love had suggested it in the last century, in Vestiges of Old Madras, and before him England’s greatest historian, Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, had asked if the Indian Thomas was an apostle, an Armenian merchant, or a Manichaean. Major T.R. Vedantham had again questioned the identity of St. Thomas in 1987, in the “St. Thomas Legend”, serialized in the South Madras News. He had carefully reviewed the material available and come to the inescapable conclusion that Thomas of Cana was the man whom Syrian Christians had made into their Indian apostle St. Thomas.
Marco Polo, the famous Venetian traveller, is said to have visited South India twice, in 1288 and 1292, where he saw a tomb of St. Thomas “at a certain little town” which he does not name. Many historians accept these dates and visits without question, and identify the little town that he speaks of with Mylapore. Yet it would appear that they are mistaken about the visits, as, indeed, was Marco Polo about the tomb of St. Thomas.23 Marco Polo left Acre, in Palestine, about 1272, carrying an introduction to the Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan, from his friend Pope Gregory X. He travelled with his father and uncle, by land, following the Silk Road north and east to China, which he reached about three years later. He remained in China for the next seventeen years, and was said to be at Yang-chou, in Kansu, around 1287. It is thus not possible for him to have been in South India in 1288 and this date can be rejected.
Macro Polo left China about 1292 with a fleet of fourteen ships, six hundred courtiers and sailors, and a princess whom he was to deliver to a khan in Persia. He sailed to Sumatra where he passed the monsoon, passed by the Nicobar Islands, passed through the Palk Strait into the Gulf of Mannar, stopped in Ceylon where he first heard the story of St. Thomas, then proceeded up the west coast of India and along the south coast of Persia until he reached Hormuz. From there he travelled by land to Khorasan with the princess, and then returned back down the Silk Road to Europe. Macro Polo thus did not visit the Coromandel Coast in 1292 either, though this date still attracts many historians. Fosco Maraini, the Macro Polo authority at the University of Florence, in his Encyclopaedia Britannica article, is very positive about Marco Polo’s route and it did not include Mylapore. We would like to leave Marco Polo here but unfortunately he wrote a book, or, rather, dictated it to a fellow prisoner in Genoa – Venice and Genoa were always quarrelling and Marco had been captured by Genoa – one Rustichello, a writer of chivalrous romances and popular fiction. The book was officially called the Description of the World but soon came to be known as the Il Milione ("The Million"), a name which has the implied meaning of “tall tale”.
In it Marco Polo says that he visited every place that he describes, though this was obviously not possible and evidently not true of the Coromandel Coast. Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy and Marco Polo’s contemporary, seems to have regarded the book as a dangerous and impious invention. But it was an instant success in Venice and within a year was being read throughout southern Europe.
Macro Polo is the first writer in history to locate the tomb of St. Thomas on a seashore and by doing so he revolutionizes the legend. All documents in the world prior to his locate the tomb on a mountain following the Acts of Thomas. Macro Polo is also the first writer in history to locate the tomb in South India, in a certain unnamed little town, though some Christian scholars argue that Metropolitan Mar Solomon of Basra, in his Book of the Bee, ca. 1222, did this before him. They identify Mar Solomon’s Mahluph with Mylapore, but do this after the fact of the Portuguese identification of Mylapore with St. Thomas. There is no existing original manuscript of the Book of the Bee – as there is none of the Milione – and various copies of it give various places of burial. One says “Mahluph” which has never been identified, a second “India” but not which India or where in which India, a third “Edessa”, and a fourth “Calamina”. Mar Solomon’s contemporary neighbour Bishop BarHebraeus of Tigris, in his Matthaeus and Syriac-language Chronicle, ca. 1250, is more consistent. Like Mar Solomon ,he says that St. Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes and Indians (some add Hyrcanians and Bactrians), but in his books he asserts that the apostle was killed and buried at Calamina.
Macro Polo collected his stories of St. Thomas from the Muslims and Syrian Christians – the latter were known to Europeans as Nestorians – in the ports of Ceylon and Malabar. However, Leonardo Olschki, in Marco Polo’s Asia, accepts Marco Polo’s claim that he had visited a Christian shrine in the Coromandel Coast, and also the opinion that the identity of the town that contained the shrine was Mylapore, but he does not accept that the shrine was the tomb of St. Thomas. In his commentary on the Milione, he writes, “The shrine [of St. Thomas] is portrayed as isolated in a small village remote from everything, but the goal of continual pilgrimages consecrated by ancient and recent miracles. From Marco’s references we understand that it was then one of the characteristic Asiatic sanctuaries which, like the supposed tomb of the Magi in Persia, the Manichaean temple at Foochow, Adam’s sepulchre in Ceylon, and others not mentioned in the Milione, had from time immemorial served the purposes of the various successive cults there, which rose and fell in a fangled mass of traditions, legends, and reciprocal influences now well-nigh impossible to unravel or specify. They are reflected in Marco’s data and observations with regard to this dispersed Indo-African Christianity, of which almost nothing is known from other sources but which is still worthy of study. “The authenticity of St. Thomas’s tomb at Mailapur is almost as doubtful as that of Adam’s in Ceylon. However, while the latter arouses Marco’s suspicions because, as he asserts, the Holy Scriptures place it elsewhere, his critical faculties are lulled by the evidence of the miracles that the apostle continued to work in favour of the Christians of that region. He therefore accepted the opinion of the Nestorians of India, who venerated St. Thomas as the patron of Asiatic Christianity, and was unmindful of those numerous fellow believers who, with more legitimate reasons, had set up a whole mythology about his legendary tomb at Edessa.
“The first to describe this celebrated Indo-Christian sanctuary and to spread its fame abroad with his book, Marco transformed a place of pilgrimage not very widely important into a centre of Christian piety and propaganda, almost a far eastern peer of Santiago de Compostela [in Spain] at the western limits of the European world, with the difference that the tomb of St. Thomas was guarded by Christians opposed to the Church of Rome. The monks who dwelt nearby, according to Marco’s account, lived on coconut ‘which the land there freely produces’. These religious must have been fairly numerous if, thirty years later, [in 1322,] when the cult was already in its decline, Friar Odoric of Pordenone counted some fifteen buildings about the sanctuary. This had in the meantime become a Hindu temple filled with idols, lacking any visible trace of its ancient Christian cult. Friar John of Monte Corvino, on the other hand, after having passed some thirteen months in that region almost contemporaneously with Marco’s visit, says nothing of the apostle’s tomb, and mentions the church only in passing.... “The story of the apostle’s martyrdom told to Marco by the people of the country is far from original, and is probably of local origin.... We read in the Milione that St. Thomas ended his days as the victim of a hunting accident when the arrow of a native pagan, aimed at a peacock, pierced the apostle’s right side while he was absorbed in prayer.... “No less worthy is the reference to Thomas’s apostolate in Nubia, which, according to information gathered by Marco at this sanctuary, was supposed to have preceded the saint’s sojourn in Coromandel; this would make Thomas the apostle of India and Africa, contrary to the legend that represents him as the evangelist of China.”
Among the other stories told to Marco Polo by the Syrian Christians, is one that is very revealing. “We also learn from him,” writes Olschki, “of the first attempt known to us to suppress this cult, which was carried out … by the sovereign of that kingdom. Indeed, when a pagan ruler of the region filled with rice the church and monasteries of Mailapur, in order to put an end to the Christian practices of the Nestorian rites, the apostle threateningly appeared to him in a dream and made him so far change his ways as to exempt the faithful from all tribute and to safeguard the church from violation.” Olschki calls this a conventional piece of hagiography, but there is more in it then the pious account of a saint exercising his occult power over a persecuting ruler. The Hindu king did not of course violate a church – in all of Indian history there is no evidence of such acts; Hindu kings gave generous donations for the building of churches and had already done so in Malabar – nor would he have objected to the rites that were being performed in a Christian church. The king would have objected to Christian rites being performed in a Hindu temple, and would have certainly put a stop to them. He would have had the temple filled with raw rice as part of a suddhi (purification) or pratistha (consecration) ritual; or, again, he would have been doing anna abhisekam (food offering) to the Lord by filling the sanctum with huge quantities of cooked rice – even as it is done today in the great Shiva temples of South India.
What emerges from this story is that the Syrian Christians were worshipping in a Hindu temple, which they called a church, at least up to 1322 when Friar Oderic visited Mylapore. Henry Yule, in Cathay and the Way Thither, referring to Friar Oderic’s description of the church, declares, “This is clearly a Hindu temple.” Marco Polo did not visit Mylapore; indeed, Mylapore is not identified in the Milione though it may be inferred to be the destination of Christian pilgrims from later Portuguese tales. Marco Polo is only repeating the pious stories of Christians and Muslims – the latter also claimed St. Thomas; he was, they told Marco, not only an apostle from Nubia, but a Muslim apostle – who apparently worshipped in a Hindu temple, each justifying his presence there by identifying the shrine with his own Thomas.
Bishop Giovanni dei Marignolli, a Franciscan friar from Florence, visited Mylapore in 1349 on his return journey to Italy from China. His notes are full of St. Thomas exotica. He had baptized some Syrian Christians and lower caste Hindus the year before, in Quilon, and built a Roman Catholic church there. Historically, he is the first person on record to use the appellation “St. Thomas” Christians. He did this to distinguish the Syrian Christians in his congregation from the lower caste Indian converts. Niccolo dei Conti, from Venice, visited in ca. 1425, and records that there were about a thousand Nestorians, i.e., Syrian Christians, in Mylapore. Lodovico de Varthema, from Bologna, visited between 1503 and 1508, and Durate Barbosa, the first Portuguese visitor, came in 1509, and describes a “St. Thomas tomb” in a dilapidated building that was occupied by a Muslim fakir. Diogo Fernandez, also Portuguese, came in 1517 with some Armenian merchants who were returning to Malabar from Malacca. He is an ambiguous figure who will play a key role in the evolution of the St. Thomas myth after Mylapore was occupied by the Portuguese. Lodovico de Varthema and Duarte Barbosa were soldiers of fortune who spent their time at Vijayanagar. There is no reason to believe that they actually visited Mylapore. Their stories, like Marco Polo’s, were collected in the bazaar from Muslim and Christian pilgrims and retold in their adventure books, to please the European audience of the day. Conti’s account, called India in the Fifteenth Century, is more serious and considered authentic. But whether or not these travellers actually came to Mylapore is not important; they are all repeating the same St. Thomas tale told up and down the South Indian coasts by the Syrian Christians.
Vasco da Gama arrived at Calicut in 1498 with the help of an Arab pilot. He was a clever navigator and one of history’s most brutal men, but he was not very bright when it came to religion. He thought Calicut was a Christian city and returned to Portugal with the impression that the temples he had prayed in were churches. Catholic historians still argue that he saw two hundred thousand Christians on his first visit to Malabar, when in fact he had seen only Hindus whose piety he had unwittingly praised and whose wealth he coveted for his own. Vasco da Gama’s mistake was corrected when he returned to Malabar in 1502 and was met by a deputation of Syrian Christians. They identified themselves, surrendered their ancient honours and documents, and invited him to make war on their Hindu king. George Menachery, a Catholic apologist and former adviser to the Kerala State Department of Archaeology, in Kodungallur: City of St. Thomas, writes, “They presented him a ‘Rod of Justice’ and swore allegiance to the Portuguese king and implored Portuguese protection. The Admiral received them very kindly and promised all help and protection. The significance of this event is variously interpreted by historians.”
Indeed it is – but only Catholic historians prevaricate on why this highranking community of merchants and soldiers had turned on their king in this perfidious way. K.M. Panikkar, in Malabar and the Portuguese, writes, “More than this, they suggested to [Vasco da Gama] that with their help he should conquer the Hindu kingdoms and invited him to build a fortress for this purpose in Cranganore. This was the recompense which the Hindu rajas received for treating with liberality and kindness the Christians in their midst.” The Syrians had of course acted on the exigencies of their Christian religion, which harbours in its heart a demon that divides mankind into friend and foe on ideological grounds. King Shapur II of Persia had not been mistaken about the allegiances of his Christian subjects in the fourth century. The Syrian Christians would soon come to grief for their treachery. The Portuguese regarded them as heretics and schismatics who were no better in "true religion" than their Hindu neighbours. They had come with cannon and a papal mandate to instruct the inhabitants of the land in the Catholic faith and this included non-Roman Christians. Their arrival and that of the first Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, in 1542, turned Christianity in India into a violent and destructive political force that continues to operate in the country till today.
After 1502, the Syrian Christians and Roman Catholic Church embarked on a confrontation. It went on for decades and was aggravated by the activities of the Jesuits. In 1653 a Syrian bishop was burned at the stake at Goa by the Inquisition – it had been invited into the country by Francis Xavier himself though he did not live long enough to savor the horrifying drama it unleashed in Goa. The confrontation only began to subside with the decline of Portuguese power, as the Pope and the Jesuits were both dependant on Portuguese arms to enforce their will. A compromise was eventually reached between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Christians, and various oriental rite churches came into being. But whatever the arrangements or relationship with Rome, the Jesuits, true to their evil genius, had succeeded in destroying the Syrian Christian community in India. There is some justice in this fate, for had the Syrian Christians remained true to their adopted country and Hindu king, they would have remained a happy, respected and united community. The Portuguese had come to India to spread their religion and to trade – in that order, too, which is why Portugal is a poor country today even after ruling rich colonies. In the process they acquired the raw materials for a new cult, the St. Thomas legend, which would prove to be their most enduring “gift” to Mylapore – along with a large number of churches that have been built on temple sites around the southern coasts. The cult would also give imported Christianity the veneer of being an indigenous Indian religion, a political gift to the Roman Catholic Church in India more valuable than all the pearls and pepper that went to Lisbon.
The Portuguese were familiar with the St. Thomas legend long before they arrived in India. They knew Marco Polo’s Il Milione, made popular in Europe in the fourteenth century, and the earlier sixth century Latin romances De Miraculis [Beati] Thomae and Passio Thomae. The Passio Thomae was a redaction of the Acts of Thomas, but both Latin books contained a major diversion from the original story that would, like the seashore tomb in the Milione, permanently alter the course of the St. Thomas legend after the Portuguese had established themselves in Mylapore. The Passio Thomae had St. Thomas killed by a Pagan priest with a sword, and De Miraculis Thomae had him killed by a Pagan priest with a lance. These stories were at odds with the one found in the Acts of Thomas, which had the apostle executed on the orders of a Persian king, by four royal soldiers with spears. The Portuguese preferred the Pagan-priest-with-a-lance story found in De Miraculis Thomae. They added Marco Polo’s seaside tomb to it, and elements from Syrian Christian traditions that they had gathered in Malabar, and concocted a legend, largely European in character, that they identified with various Hindu sites in Malabar and Mylapore.
The Portuguese story has not changed very much till today, though it has many variations. Victor J.F. Kulanday, in The Paganization of the Church in India, writes, “According to tradition, hallowed by time and strongly held by the Christians of Kerala, St. Thomas after visiting Socotra, an island in the Arabian Sea, landed near Cranganore on the Periyar estuary, north of Cochin in 52 AD.33 He preached the Gospel and a number of people to Christianity. Later, he travelled further south and converted many more. Among those who embraced Christianity were several Namboodiri Brahmin families considered among Hindus as the highest class. He ordained priests from four of these families – Pakalomatton, Shankarapuri, Kalli and Kaliankal. He founded churches in seven places – Maliankara, Palayur, Parur, Gokamangalam, Niranam, Chayal, and Quilon. “From the west coast he proceeded to the east and further to Malacca and China. He is believed to have returned after some time to Madras. There his preaching aroused hostility among Brahmins and he was speared to death on July 3, 72 AD. He met his end on a hill now bearing the name St. Thomas Mount.36 He was buried at a place called Mylapore in Madras. Over his tomb now stands the Basilica of San Thome.”
One version of the fable asserts that he converted 6,850 Brahmins, 2,800 Kshatriyas, 3,750 Vaishyas and 4,250 Shudras. Another version maintains it was 17,490 Brahmins, 350 Vaishyas and 4,280 Shudras – Kshatriyas are not included except for the Raja of Tiruvanchikulam. In a third version 40 Jews are among the converts, and in a fourth the converts are the Raja’s son and son-in-law, some Brahmins, and a lone barber to keep them all trimmed and shaved (he also would have had to circumcise the male converts, as Judas Thomas was an orthodox Jew and not part of St. Paul's innovations in favour of the Gentiles). There are also the miracles, all carefully catalogued by the Portuguese: 19 raised from the dead, 260 exorcised of their demons, 330 cured of leprosy, 250 of blindness, 120 of paralysis and 20 of dumbness. And there is the famous curse of Cochin, that its inhabitants might suffer from elephantiasis which is now called St. Thomas Foot in that city. This is the South Indian version of the St. Thomas fable which now passes for Indian history. It was compiled by the Portuguese, but T.K. Joseph, a “St. Thomas” Christian scholar (the first to put the appellation between quotation marks), in Six St. Thomases of South India, points out that the legend is now said to be based on the alleged but non-existent St. Thomas Biography composed by a St. Thomas disciple in 73 CE. The Biography, which nobody has ever seen, is said to be summarised in the St. Thomas Song “of 1601”, which, again, is the same as the Rabban Pattu that was composed by Varghese Palayur in 1892 and first published in 1916 by Fr. Bernard of Travancore.
Now the fact that the South Indian St. Thomas story was not written down until 1892, as T.K. Joseph testifies, is an extraordinary circumstance for so famous a piece of Indian “history”. It also brings Bishop Medleycott of Trichur back into the picture. He was the great St. Thomas advocate in South India from 1887 to 1896, and had the motive and means to assist Varghese Palayur in writing his “ancient” composition. The Vatican had declared the apostolate of St. Thomas in South India as unverified after studying the Rabban Pattu, but the Roman Catholic Church in India then and now is still the only entity that reaps any benefit from the propagation of the myth among Indians. Whatever the truth of the matter and whoever the real author of the current South Indian legend – aside from the Portuguese – Vincent A. Smith, in The Oxford History of India, writes “Both stories [– the one in the Acts and the one in South India –] obviously cannot be true; even an apostle can die but once. My personal impression, formed after much examination of the evidence, is that the story of the martyrdom in southern India is the better supported of the two versions of the saint’s death.
But it is by no means certain that St. Thomas was martyred at all. An early writer, Heracleon the Gnostic, asserts that he ended his days in peace.” Heracleon was from Italy or Sicily and flourished around ca. 180 CE. He led a westernizing Italian school of Gnosticism, probably at Rome, which diverged from the better known oriental school of Valentinus that Bardesanes followed. His testimony regarding the natural death of St. Thomas carries more weight than that of Bardesanes who mythicised the apostle thirty years later in the Acts, to promote his own theological views. A.D. Burnell, in an article in the Indian Antiquary of May 1875, writes, “The attribution of the origin of South Indian Christianity to the apostle Thomas seems very attractive to those who hold certain theological opinion. But the real question is, on what evidence does it rest? Without real or sufficient evidence so improbable a circumstance is to be at once rejected. Pious fictions have no place in historical research.”
Prof. Jarl Charpentier, in St. Thomas the Apostle and India, writes, “There is absolutely not the shadow of a proof that an Apostle of our Lord – be his name Thomas or something else – ever visited South India or Ceylon and founded Christian communities there.” And Rev. J. Hough, in Christianity in India, writes, “It is not probable that any of the Apostles of our Lord embarked on a voyage … to India.”
The Vatican officially stated in 1952 that the landing of St. Thomas at Cranganore in 52 CE was “unverified” (that it would send, in 1953, a piece of the Ortona St. Thomas bone for a pontifical shrine at AzhicodeKodungallur (Cranganore) is another matter). Before this, in 1729, the Bishop of Mylapore had written to the Sacred Congregation of Rites and asked for verification as to “whether this place be the true sepulchre of St. Thomas.” The Vatican’s reply has never been published, and we may safely assume that it was a negative reply. However, the total lack of evidence for the apostolate of St. Thomas in India, did not stop Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI, in letters dated 1886 and 1923, from repeating the refrain found in the heretical Acts of Thomas, that India fell to the lot of Thomas, though they were careful not to include Malabar and Mylapore in their references. Sir Henry Yule, writing in his Marco Polo about the Church’s position on St. Thomas in Mylapore, in 1903, says, “The question [of St. Thomas] appears to have become a party one among the Romanists in India in connection with other differences, and I see that the authorities now ruling the Catholics at Madras are strong in disparagement of the localities and of the whole story connecting St. Thomas with Mailapur.”
After this disparagement by the Mylapore prelates, came the learned discourse of T.K. Joseph in a number of books on St. Thomas. He had done years of research on the South Indian tradition, and had presented his findings to a number of famous scholars, who had replied to him by post. In 1926, Prof. E.J. Rapson, who had written on St. Thomas in the Cambridge History of India, wrote, “I have read [your letter] carefully, and my impression is that you have given good reasons for doubting the historical truth of the story of St. Thomas in South India.” In 1927, Sylvain Levi, the renowned Parisian Indologist and research scholar, wrote. “You are right in denying any historical value to local legends which have nothing to bring to their support. What is known from early books points only to North-West India, and no other place, for St. Thomas’s apostolic activity and martyrdom. This is, of course, mere tradition, not real history.” In 1952, Prof. K.S. Latourette, the Yale University church historian who had written A History of the Expansion of Christianity, wrote to T.K. Joseph that the evidence against St. Thomas in South India “is very convincing”. And in 1953, Fr. H. Heras, H. Heras, S.J., Director of the Historical Research Institute, St. Xavier’s College, Bombay, wrote, “I am fully convinced that [the tomb of St. Thomas] has never been in Mylapore. I have said that many times.” Earlier, in 1944, in The Two Apostles of India, he had argued on the basis of Malabar’s inauthentic St. Thomas Song that St. Thomas was buried at Mylapore.
But when T.K. Joseph wrote to the Encyclopaedia Britannica editor at Chicago in 1950, pointing out the errors in the Encyclopaedia’s 1947 Fourteenth Edition St. Thomas article, he was not successful in getting them corrected. We have shown in this mystery that the St. Thomas article in the Encyclopaedia’s 1984 Fifteenth Edition and 2010 Internet edition are also grossly mistaken.
Sita Ram Goel, the only Indian historian in the last hundred years who had a clear understanding of Christian theory and practice, in Papacy: Its Doctrine and History, writes, “The manufacturers of this myth about St. Thomas may be asked a simple question: What difference does it make whether Christianity came to India in the first or the fourth century? Why raise such a squabble when no one denies that the Syrian Christians of Malabar are old immigrants to this country? “The matter, however, is not so simple as it sounds at first. Nor can the scholarly exercise be understood easily by those who have not been initiated in the intricacies of Catholic theology.
“Firstly, it is one thing for some Christian refugees to come to a country and build some churches, and quite another for an apostle of Jesus Christ to appear in flesh and blood for spreading the Good News. If it can be established that Christianity is as ancient in India as the prevailing forms of Hinduism, no one can nail it down as an imported creed brought in by Western imperialism.
“Secondly, the Catholic Church in India stands badly in need of a spectacular martyr of its own. Unfortunately for it, St. Francis Xavier died a natural death and that, too, in a distant place. Hindus, too, have persistently refused to oblige the Church in this respect, in spite of all provocations. The Church has to use its own resources and churn out something. St. Thomas, about whom nobody knows anything, offers a ready-made martyr.
“Thirdly, the Catholic Church can malign the Brahmins more confidently. Brahmins have been the main target of its attack from the beginning. Now it can be shown that the Brahmins have always been a vicious brood, so much so that they would not stop from murdering a holy man who was only telling God’s own truth to a tormented people. At the same time, the religion of the Brahmins can be held responsible for their depravity.
“Fourthly, the Catholics in India need no more feel uncomfortable when faced with historical evidence about their Church’s close cooperation with the Portuguese pirates, in committing abominable crimes against the Indian people. The commencement of the Church can be disentangled from the advent of the Portuguese by dating the Church to some distant past. The Church was here long before the Portuguese arrived. It was a mere coincidence that the Portuguese also called themselves Catholics. Guilt by association is groundless.
“Lastly, it is quite within the ken of Catholic theology to claim that a land which has been honoured by the visit of an apostle has become a patrimony of the Catholic Church. India might have been a Hindu homeland from times immemorial, but since that auspicious moment when St. Thomas stepped on her soil, The Hindu claim stands cancelled. The country has belonged to the Catholic Church from the first century onwards, no matter how long the Church takes to conquer it completely for Christ.”
The conquering of India for Christ by the Popes and their Portuguese “secular arm” started in earnest with the arrival in India of Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. His fleet, the first to reach Calicut after Vasco da Gama’s bloody landing, carried eight ordinary priests and eight Franciscan friars. C.B. Firth, in An Introduction to Indian Church History, explains, “Though it was the hope of gain that brought the Portuguese adventurers to India, it was also the purpose of their kings to promote the spread of Christianity among those who came under their rule. On this ground several of the fifteenth century Popes granted them rights of dominion and commercial monopoly in the newly acquired territories. A modern reader will wonder what right the Popes had to do this; but in mediaeval Europe theologians held that the Pope, as Vicar of Christ, had a direct domination over the kingdoms of the earth, and so such grants did not seem outrageous – not to the beneficiaries at any rate. In a famous bull of 1493 Pope Alexander VI, to settle rivalry between Spain and Portugal, the two colonial powers of those days, drew a line down the map of the Atlantic Ocean south of the Azores Islands to form a boundary between their respective spheres of influence. All lands not already under Christian rule ‘discovered or yet to be discovered’ to the west of the line, he assigned to Spain; those to the east, to Portugal. Along with this fantastic enactment went a command to the Spanish and Portuguese kings ‘to send to the said lands and islands good men who fear God and are learned, skilled and expert, to instruct the inhabitants in the Catholic Faith and good morals’. Moreover, other foreigners were forbidden to enter those lands without license from these kings. Whatever may be thought nowadays of such orders, the Spaniards and Portuguese were prepared to act on them; and not only in claiming and exercising, as far as they were able, rights of dominion and trade; they were seriously prepared to propagate Christianity.”
K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, in A History of South India, tells the story of the propagation of Christianity in India. He writes, “[The Portuguese] acted throughout as if they had a divine right to the pillage, robbery, and massacre of the natives of India. Not to mince matters, their whole record is one of a series of atrocities. They delighted particularly in plundering all rich temples within their reach, even Tirupati not escaping their predatory attentions…. The Roman Catholic missionaries, headed by St. Francis Xavier, were not only forcefully converting to their faith large numbers on the pearl-fishery coast … but induced the fishermen to transfer their allegiance to the king of Portugal…. The Franciscan friars and Jesuits were busy demolishing temples and building churches in the coastal cities, and the Portuguese governor of Goa was reported to be organising a plundering raid against the rich temples of Kanchipuram. ... The Portuguese policy of [destroying temples and] turning religious propaganda to political use roused the resentment of even the tolerant rulers of Vijayanagar and their Feudatories.” M. Arunachalam, in an article in Christianity in India: A Critical Study, writes, “It is well known that the Portuguese sacked the famous Tiruchendur Murugan Temple on the sea coast and threw the idol into the sea. Sometime later, in 1654, the chieftain Vadamalaiyappa Pillai of Tirunelveli, salvaged the idol from the sea and installed it at the present Tiruchendur temple."
He continues, “The Tirumalai Nayak Mahal [at Madurai] is another example. Jealous of its magnificence, the British began demolishing it, but public agitation checked it and what we have today is only a part of what was originally there.”
The British were generally less destructive than the Portuguese and the French, but they did not hesitate to attack temples that were in the way of construction works or to desecrate them as a means of intimidating the local populace. They fired on the temples of Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh for this last reason; and Victoria Terminus in Bombay is built on the original site of that city’s famous Mumbai Devi Temple. In Madras they obliterated the small Hindu shrines that once stood inside Fort St. George. The fort now contains St. Mary’s Church, the first Protestant church built east of Suez. But it is the French who vied with the Portuguese in their Christian zeal to destroy Pagan places of worship. Henry Love, in Vestiges of Old Madras, records that they used temples as barracks in their military operations against the British. Between 1672 and 1674, at Madras, they fortified the rebuilt Kapaleeswara Temple in Mylapore and the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane when they were besieged by Golconda and the Dutch.
Sita Ram Goel, in History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, quoting The Private Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai translated by J. Frederick Price and K. Rangachari, gives a graphic account of the destruction of the Vedapuri Iswaran Temple at Pondicherry by the French governor’s wife, Madame Dupliex, and the Jesuits. He writes, “The Vedapuri Iswaran Temple was the principle place of worship for the Hindus of Pondicherry. The Jesuit missionaries built the Church of St. Paul adjacent to it and obtained an order from the King of France that the Hindu temple should be destroyed…. “The first incident at the Vedapuri Temple took place on March 17, 1746, ‘On Wednesday night at 11,’ writes Pillai, ‘two unknown persons entered the Iswaran Temple carrying in a vessel of liquid filth, which they poured on the heads of the Gods around the altar, and into the temple, through the drain of the shrine of Iswaran; and having broken the pot of dirt on the image of the God Nandi, they went away through a part of the building which had been demolished.’ … “As the report of this sacrilege spread, Hindus ‘from the Brahmin to the pariah,’ held a public meeting. The governor, Dupliex, when he heard of it, sent his chief peon to disperse the meeting…. The people, however, defied the order and protested, ‘you better kill us all.’ ...
“The next incident recorded by Pillai took place on December 31, 1746. ‘It was reported,’ he writes, ‘tonight at 7, that an earthen jar, filled with filth, was thrown from within the grounds of the Church of St. Paul, into the Temple of Vedapuri Iswaran. It very nearly fell on the head of Sankara Aiyan, who was at the shrine of the God Pillaiyar, on his way round the temple, in the performance of religious duties. When the jar struck the ground, and broke to pieces, the stench emitted was unbearable.’ ... “The temple was now doomed to destruction. ‘Yesterday,’ Pillai continued in his diary of September 8, ‘200 soldiers, 60 or 70 troopers and sepoys were stationed at St. Paul’s Church in view of the matter in hand. This morning, M. Gerbault (the engineer), the priests with diggers, masons, coolies and other 200 in all, with spades, pick-axes and whatever is needed to demolish walls, began to pull down the southern wall of the Vedapuri Iswaran Temple and the outhouses. At once the temple managers, Brahmins and mendicants came and told me.... Just then … news, was brought that Father Coeurdoux, the superior of St. Paul’s Church, had kicked the inner shrines with his foot, and had ordered the Coffrees to remove the doors, and the Christians to break the Vahanams.’” ...
Pillai now went to Governor Dupliex, in an attempt to save the temple, as did the caste leaders who sought to save the temple’s movable articles, but it was all to no avail. ‘“Then Father Coeurdox of Karikal came with a great hammer, kicked the Lingam, broke it with his hammer, and ordered the Coffrees and the Europeans to break the images of Vishnu and the other Gods. Madame [Dupliex] went and told the priest that he might break the idols as he pleased. He answered that she had accomplished what had been impossible for fifty years, that she must be one of those Mahatmas who established [Christian] religion in old days, and that he would publish her fame throughout the world…. Then [the native convert] Varlam also kicked the great Lingam nine or ten times with his sandals in the presence of Madame and the priest, and spat on it out of gladness, and hoping that the priest and Madame would regard him also as a Mahatma. Then he followed Madame. I can neither write nor describe what abominations were done in the temple. I know not what fruit they will reap. All the Tamils think the end of the world has come. The priests, the Tamil Christians, the Governor and his wife are more delighted than they have ever been before, but they have not yet considered what will befall them in the future.’”
If it took the French fifty years to destroy the Vedapuri Iswaran Temple at Pondicherry, it took the Portuguese as long or longer to bring down the Kapaleeswara Temple on the Mylapore beach and build their St. Thomas Church in its place. They, too, would succeed because the Hindus, who had resisted them over the years, ultimately could not resist their superior European weapons and guile. P.K. Nambiar, in Census of India 1961, Vol. IX, Part XI, writes, “Mylapore, which is a part of Madras city, is an ancient town. Sri Tiruvalluvar, the author of the famous Kural known as Tamil Vedham, who lived in the first century AD, lived his entire life at Mylapore. Saints Sambandar and Appar have composed songs mentioning the God of Mylapore as Shri Kapaleeswara. It was a prosperous town when the English built the Fort St. George in 1593. But the present temple does not contain any feature of the Dravidian style of architecture. The carvings in the pillars are poor specimens compared with those in some of the ancient temples. When there was an erosion of the sea about the close of the last century, there was a landslip on the San Thome beach. It revealed carved stone pillars and broken stones of mandapam found only in Hindu temples. It is a historical fact that the Portuguese, who visited India in the 16th century, had one of their earliest settlements at San Thome, Mylapore. In those days they were very cruel and had iconoclastic tendencies. They razed some Hindu temples to the ground. It is probable that the other Mylapore temple referred to in the Thevaram hymns was built on the seashore and that it was destroyed by the Portuguese about the beginning of the 16th century.”
This is the understatement of a government historiographer writing in an official publication. M. Arunachalam, in an article in Christianity in India: A Critical Study, is more direct when he writes, “The Kapaleeswara Temple at Mylapore, Madras, is a standing example of Christian desecration. The great temple of Shiva at Mylapore was situated not in its present site, but at the site of the present San Thome Church even up to the end of the 16th century. It was demolished by the Portuguese vandals and their missionaries of that period, who erected their church on the site where the Hindu temple originally stood. “Rama Raya, the Vijayanagar ruler, to save the Hindu temples, waged a war on the Portuguese in Mylapore and Goa simultaneously. The Portuguese were defeated and he took a tribute from them for their vandalism. But, when the Vijayanagar rule fell at the Battle of Talikota (1565) before the Mohammedans, the Portuguese continued their demolition work.”
Rama Raya came to Mylapore in 1559, and R.S. Whiteway, in The Rise of Portuguese Power in India, observes that “when San Thome was held to ransom for the intolerant acts of some Jesuits and Franciscans, the Raja of Vijayanagar kept such faith with the Portuguese that, as one of them says, such humanity and justice are not to be found among Christians.” N. Murugesa Mudaliar, in Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple Mylapore, writes, “Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in 1566, when the temple suffered demolition. The present temple was rebuilt around three hundred years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple still found in the St. Thomas Cathedral.” M. Arunachalam also says, “Later, devout Hindus built the present temple of Mylapore at a different site, a few furlongs west, out of whatever they could salvage from the ruins of the old temple. A number of carved temple stones can still be seen on the compound wall of the church.” V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, quoted in Tiru Mayil Kapaleecharam Kumbhabisheka Malar 1982, believed that the great Shiva temple covered the area now occupied by the palace of the Roman Catholic bishop of Madras. This estate, on the south side of San Thome Cathedral, still contains scattered temple ruins and includes a museum.
V. Balambal, in Journal of Indian History 1986, Vol. LXIV, Parts 1-3, writes, “According to certain Dutch sources quoted by A. Gelletti, the old town of Mylapore was demolished in 1674 by the order of the King of Golconda and was in ruins. This hypothesis is questioned as some epigraphs51 specify that the old shore Temple of Kapaleeswara was demolished in the 16th century by the Portuguese and some of the ruins including a broken Vinayaka image are still seen scattered within the demesne of the Mylapore bishop’s palace. It is also said that the remnants of the temple, its pillars, etc., were found immersed in the sea sixty years ago.” Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu Government, and present Director of the Indian Institute of Culture, Madras, in “Testimony of Religious Ethos”, published in The Hindu, Madras, on 30 April 1990, writes, “A careful study of the monuments and the lithic records in Madras reveal a great destruction caused by the Portuguese to the Hindu temples in the 16th century A.D. The most important Temple of Kapaleeswara lost all its ancient building during the Portuguese devastation and was originally located near the San Thome Cathedral. A few Chola records found in the San Thome Cathedral and Bishop’s House refer to Kapaleeswara Temple and Poompavai. A Chola record in fragment found on the east wall of the San Thome Cathedral refer to the image of Lord Nataraja of the Kapaleeswara Temple. The temple was moved to the present location in the 16th century and was probably built by one Mallappa [or Mayil Nattu Muthiyappa Mudaliar].”
Later on he states, “A fragmentary inscription, 12th century Chola record in the San Thome Church region, refers to a Jain temple dedicated to Neminathaswami.” A. Ekambaranath and C.K. Sivaprakasham, in Jain Inscriptions in Tamil Nadu, following the Jesuit Fr. H. Hosten, describe a stone in the eastern side of the church which records in twelfth century Tamil characters a gift made to Neminathaswami by Palantipara(yan). They remark, “The existence of a Jain temple dedicated to Neminatha at Mylapore (of which San Thome is a part) is not only known from this record, but also from the Mackenzie Manuscripts, recording the transfer of a Neminatha image from Mylapore to Chittamur, probably to protect it from destruction. Some Jain images are said to have been buried by the side of the nunnery at San Thome.”
Fr. H. Hosten’s testimony, in Antiquities from San Thome and Mylapore, is interesting and worthy of review. He writes, “Fragmentary Tamil inscription of eight lines on a stone found at the cathedral, northwest end of the veranda, on the top line of the granite foundations of walls projecting from the veranda into the garden. “When I visited Mylapore last February, 1924, the stone was still lying near the place of the find. It ought to go to the Bishop’s Museum and receive an appropriate number. “According to the Assistant Archaeological Superintendent of Epigraphs, Madras, this inscription is a fragment in Tamil and it seems to register a tax-free gift for burning at night a lamp before the image of Kuttaduvar (Nataraja) in the temple of Suramudaiyar. Palaeographically this inscription may be assigned to the 11th century A.D. “A later communication from the Government Epigraphist for India, Fernhill, Nilgiris, says that Mr. Venkoba Rao, the Assistant Archaeological Superintendent for Epigraphy, Madras, pronounces the inscription belongs to Vikrama Chola’s time (12th century) and that the gift was to the Hindu god Nataraja, whose shrine is always to be seen in a Siva temple.
“The stone was not found at its original site, as is shown by its fragmentary condition, the parts above and below, as well as right and left, being wanting. All we can gather is that the foundations in which the stone was inserted are of a date later than the inscription. To argue, as was done at the time of discovery in the Madras Mail, that, if the stone was dug up from any depth, it would indicate an original Saiva temple, on the ruins of which the Portuguese church of modern St. Thomas was erected, is to show a lamentable ignorance of what Marco Polo and even earlier writers have written about St. Thomas.”
The lamentable ignorance was with Fr. Hosten of course, for accepting unquestioned Marco Polo’s “tall tale”. He did not know that without Marco Polo there is no St. Thomas in a South Indian seashore tomb; he also did not know that all earlier accounts of the legend have St. Thomas buried on a mountain to the west of sub-continental India – in “India” that is Parthia, or Edessa, or mysterious Calamina. The writer in the Madras Mail was mistaken for believing that a stone dug up from a depth must be in its original position, but Fr. Hosten was mistaken for thinking that a stone is not at its original site because it is near the surface of the ground, in a newer foundation and in a fragmentary condition. The plain truth is that the stone should not have been in the church at all. Temple-breakers invariably use the rubble they have created in the new building that they put up at a site, if only because it is available and must be utilized, and it is quite reasonable to assert that if temple stones are found in the walls and foundation of San Thome Cathedral, it is because they have originated there or very nearby. Again, Fr. Hosten writes, “During the excavations made near the tomb this year (1923), when an Indian inscription was found which no one could read, one writer wrote to the Madras Mail to insist that the church was on the site of a Hindu fane. This writer would have been greatly puzzled if we had asked him at which time the place became Christian.”
Indeed, Marco Polo would have been greatly puzzled too, had he been able to investigate the story he had heard from the Syrian Christians in Ceylon. But Fr. Hosten could not do better than follow Marco Polo blindly, and ignore the consistent and continuous claims that Hindus have made to the site since the Portuguese occupied it in the sixteenth century. Unfortunately, he is yet another Catholic scholar working within his own self-defined “sacred space”, oblivious to the established traditions and evidence around him because they are not part of his exclusive mythology and do not fit into his peculiar world view.
San Thome Cathedral and Bishop’s House have been renovated and rebuilt many times over in the last hundred and fifty years, and there is a quiet effort being made by Church authorities to hide the evidence of destroyed Hindu, Jain and Buddhist54 religious buildings that once occupied this sacred stretch of Mylapore seafront. The clean-up coincides with the work of resurrecting the communal Brahmin-killed-Thomas fable that was first propagated by the Portuguese – Marco Polo cannot be blamed for this story; his St. Thomas was accidentally killed by a pariah hunting peacocks.
Indeed, since the day the book titled “ The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple “ was published in 1995 the clean-up and rebuilding of San Thome Cathedral's compound, the second "St. Thomas” tomb, and the whole area surrounding the church on St. Thomas Mount has been total. All evidence of Hindu temples has been clandestinely removed and the ancient rubble disposed of in an unknown place. We have an eye-witness account of this nefarious work done by the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese later in this book.
The Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits who destroyed the temples of Goa, Kerala, Pondicherry and along the Tamil coast-line, were generally more circumspect than their Muslim counterparts. They did not leave much evidence behind in the churches they built on or near temple sites. But it is also true that Indian archaeologists have not studied Christian churches as closely and in the same probing manner that they have studied mosques and other Muslim monuments. The exception is German scholars whose work on Indian churches is yet to be translated and published in English. They assert that most sixteenth and seventeenth century churches in India contain temple rubble and are built on temple sites. And there is the written record, some of it couched in strange language or found in a stranger context, but easy enough to interpret once it is established that the account has not been deliberately falsified. For example, Fr. Hosten writes, “The first Portuguese historians say ... that St. Thomas built his ‘house’, meaning his church, on the site where a Jogi had his temple.”
This is an open admission by the Portuguese that a church had been built on a temple site at Mylapore – only they have backdated the event to the first century and attributed the crime to St. Thomas. How extraordinary – or is it? The Portuguese, and Syrian Christians before them, had given the “honour” of temple-breaking to St. Thomas at Palayur, north of Cranganore, where an early seventeenth century Portuguese church built by the Jesuit Fr. James Fenicio rises amidst temple ruins today. Fr. A. Mathias Mundadan, in History of Christianity in India, Vol. I, writes, “The remains of old temples found at Palayur and near the other traditional churches are proof of this.” Proof of what? Proof, it would seem, that St. Thomas destroyed temples at all the places where he is said to have built churches. St. Thomas can be accused of many things, including crimes against women (as recorded in the Acts of Thomas), but he cannot be accused of destroying temples in India. This was done by his followers from about the ninth century onwards, and later by the Portuguese, and Christian historians who take the position that he did the deeds himself, citing them as “positive” proof that he came to India, cannot be taken seriously.
Dr. R. Arulappa, the former Archbishop of Madras, is one such facile scholar – and yet he has made some unusual contributions to the study of Tamil history. In his book Punitha Thomayar – where he tries to show that Tiruvalluvar’s Kural is a Christian work – he mentions the finding of yantra stones in ancient foundations on all the sites in Madras associated with St. Thomas. He does not expand on these momentous discoveries or say where the stones are today, and it is not clear why he refers to them, but it is certainly true that the Agama Shastra requires the placing of such stones beneath the foundations of new temples before their construction begins. The Portuguese historian Gaspar Correa, probably the most credulous annalist in history, describes extensive ruins in Mylapore and its environs including Big Mount. He attributes this devastation to the wind and rain and angry sea rather than his bigoted and iconoclastic countrymen. But at the same time he gives backhanded testimony for a Shiva temple on the Mylapore beach. In Lendas da India, quoted by George Mark Moraes in A History of Christianity in India, he writes, “On their festival days the Hindus would bring their images accompanied by large crowds and great rejoicing and would, as they approached the door of the church, lower them three times to the ground as a mark of reverence to it, a practice which had been followed from time immemorial.”
The practice had indeed been followed from time immemorial, in the first Shiva temple where it originated, whose place on the beach was now usurped by the Portuguese church. The practice was to take the festival image around the temple and lower them three times to the ground, at the sanctum door before the muladeva. The Hindus were continuing the ritual in the second temple, and by taking the festival images to the church on the beach were reverencing the ancient mulasthana – even if Christians and Gaspar Correa vainly thought otherwise.
R.S. Whiteway, in The Rise of Portuguese Power in India, writes, “[The Portuguese historians] all … dilate on the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Thomas at a spot near where Madras now stands; the narrative of Correa is singularly naïve, and as he was an eyewitness to some of the earlier transactions, singularly valuable. It leaves a feeling of wonder that in such an entire absence of evidence the identification of an event historical or otherwise should be considered complete.
The best evidence for a Shiva temple on the Mylapore beach is offered by the Tamil saints. Iyadigal Kadavarkon, the sixth century Shaivite prince of Kanchipuram, Jnanasambandar and Arunagirinathar, the sixth and fifteenth century Shaivite poets, consistently mention in their hymns that the Kapaleeswara Temple was on the seashore. Jnanasambandar writes, "The Lord of Kapaleeswaram sat watching the people of Mylapore – a place full of flowering coconut palms – taking ceremonial bath in the sea on the full moon day of the month of Masai." Nine centuries later, and one century before the arrival of the Portuguese, Arunagirinathar writes, "O Lord of Mylapore temple, situated on the shores of the sea with raging waves...."
Both saints show in these verses that the Lord was on the seashore, and Jnanasambandar marks that He was watching His devotees in the sea – that He must have been facing east. This is not the case today. The seventeenth century Vijayanagar temple is built inland and the Lord faces west, with the all – important flag pole and image of Nandi in the western courtyard before Him. This arrangement indicates that the present temple is a second temple, as the Agama Shastra does not permit a temple that has been moved from its original site and rebuilt to face in the same direction as its predecessor.
Neither Jnanasambandar nor Arunagirinathar had reason to sing of the Lord by the sea if He was not there. Their testimony is impeccable and by itself destroys the argument for a seashore tomb of St. Thomas.
If St. Thomas was a carpenter slave, then Diogo Femandez is the gentleman architect who laid the foundation stone for his church on the Mylapore beach. He was Albuquerque's attendant at Goa and is described by N. Figuerdo, in St. Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore, as "a virtuous old man of good conduct". Very probably he was – so long as the virtue did not interfere with the demands of his Roman Catholic faith. He arrived at Mylapore in 1517 in the company of some wealthy Armenian merchants who were coming from Malacca. They knew Marco Polo's story and knew, too, that the "Thomas" revered by Syrian Christians at Mylapore was not a martyr. This was not a very satisfactory circumstance for them or the Portuguese. Their passionate nature and martyrolatrous religion required a sacrifice.
All the apostles had suffered martyrdom except St. John,58 and St. Thomas was not going to get away with an accidental death in Portuguese territory. Moreover, if the Portuguese knew Marco Polo's story, they knew better the Latin fables Passio Thomae and De Miraculis Thomae, which had been circulating in Europe for a thousand years. Both legends deviated from the Acts of Thomas, in which St. Thomas had been executed by king's men with spears, and described his death as being at the hands of a Pagan priest of the Sun – or Zoroastrian – who, in one, had stabbed him with a lance, and in the other, with a sword. The Portuguese preferred De Miraculis Thomae, in which the priest used a lance, and had the romance published in Portugal in 1531 and 1552 to substantiate the "discovery" they had made at Mylapore in 1523.
It did not matter to them that this European story, too, had St. Thomas buried on a mountain, while they had in their possession only a seashore tomb. Earlier, in 1521-22, the Portuguese had opened two tombs in the Shiva temple's northern precincts. One tomb contained a "black" skeleton, which, according to its inscription, belonged to a Chola king. The Portuguese nevertheless "identified" him as being a disciple of St. Thomas. The second tomb revealed a "white" skeleton, which, naturally, "belonged" to the white Jew Thomas. This second skeleton was sent to Goa for verification – where it languishes till today, unsung and unrecognised.
As these diggings did not produce the required result, Diogo Fernandez was asked, in 1523, to excavate a third tomb which lay partly under the foundation of a dilapidated building that had been occupied by the Portuguese. He refused at first but was persuaded by the attending priest, Fr. Antonio Gil, who heard his confession and that of the two men, Braz Fernandez and Diogo Lourenco, who would assist him in the pious enterprise. They then began the excavation of a deep and elaborate, and very much empty, tomb. It was Saturday afternoon, and they continued the work into the late evening, when, on the suggestion of Diogo Fernandez, they abandoned their unproductive labours and retired for the night. The excavation was left open and unattended until the next morning, a Sunday, when the men began digging again. It was not long now before the grave disgorged bones that were "much worn out", portions of skull and spine, and a clay pot of earth "bedewed with blood", with a thigh bone in it, and hidden in the red earth an iron Malabar spearhead shaped like an olive leaf, which, after fifteen Christian centuries, still had a piece of wooden shaft miraculously preserved in its socket.
The bones of "St. Thomas" were collected – there was no doubt this time in the Portuguese mind that they were his – and later, with due ceremony, placed in a Chinese coffer with silver locks, along with the bones of the Chola king, another "disciple" whose remains had been found nearby, and those of two children. The key to the coffer was then sent to the Viceroy at Goa, but two years later Fr. Penteado broke the locks as he felt that the bones were in a poor condition and needed attention. He transferred them to a wooden chest and hid this in a place known only to himself and Rodrigo Alvares.
The chest was then presumed to be lost, and, in 1530, a new search was mounted for the relics. Diogo Fernandez was again called in and through his intercession with Rodrigo Alvares, the chest was found in a decayed condition under the main altar of the church – for a small church, the first Christian church to rise on the Mylapore beach, had been built, in 1523, by Augustinian friars beside the newly found “St. Thomas” tomb.
Fr. Hosten, in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1923, writes, “If what the Portuguese found at Mylapore in 1523 in a tomb … was not part of St. Thomas’s body, then the whole connection with St. Thomas seems to be lost.”
Fr. Hosten would come to accept the story that St. Thomas had come to South India, but not on the evidence of the excavations made by himself or the Portuguese. He was persuaded, like other Catholic scholars, by the spurious St. Thomas Song or Rabban Pattu that had been composed by Varghese Palayur in 1892 and published in 1916 by Fr. Bernard of Travancore.
Fr. Heras, former Director of the Historical Research Institute, St. Xavier’s College, Bombay, who had said in 1953 that he was convinced that the tomb of St. Thomas was not in Mylapore, had said earlier and emphatically, in The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagar, that the Portuguese account of their discovery of some relics was “a most barefaced imposture [with] all elements of a forgery.”
This is certainly true and it is one of the wonders of modern Catholic scholarship that the depositions of Diogo Fernandez made in 1533 and 1543 are accepted as authentic – especially as they include a most fanciful christianised history of Mylapore from before the time of the Portuguese.
St. Francis Xavier visited Mylapore in 1545 and had nothing to say about Diogo Fernandez’s report, which he read, or the relics and tomb which he prayed before. Yet his Jesuit biographer, Fr. Georg Schurhammer, strictly adhering to the Jesuit discipline of specious reasoning (and criticizing Fr. Heras for not doing so), treats both the relics and reports as authentic in his Francis Xavier: His Life, His Times.
But if for the sake of argument it is agreed that the depositions of Diogo Fernandez are not fabricated – he could have been an uninformed witness to the “discovery” (though it is very unlikely) – then it must be said that the relics themselves most certainly are, in keeping with the ancient tradition of fraud so dear to the Church, Veda Prakash, in Indiavil Saint Thomas Kattukkadai, shows that the relics were produced out of materials brought from Goa and then planted in the empty tomb. He also shows that the Portuguese reworked the existing Syrian Christian version of the myth, changing the Syriac be ruhme, meaning “by spear”, to read Brahmins in order to implicate Brahmins in the apostle’s murder. The Malabar tradition was thus brought into line with the European romance, De Miraculis Thomae, where St. Thomas is killed by a Pagan priest with a lance – though the contradiction of lance in the story and spear-head in the reliquary remains today.
The question of whether the Portuguese relics are genuine or not – and whether the South Indian legend is history or not – will be conclusively answered as soon as the Archbishop of Madras gives them to independent forensic experts for testing. But he may be also aware that such a gesture would be redundant, as all of the bones of St. Thomas were resting in the cathedral at Ortona, Italy, while Diogo Fernandez was digging for them in Mylapore. They had been there since 1258, and before that at Chios, Greece, and Edessa, and in 1566 the Bishop of Ortona had issued a Deed of Verification for these bones, which, in itself, proves that the bones produced by the Portuguese out of the Mylapore tomb cannot possibly be those of St. Thomas.
The Portuguese themselves appear to have treated this “momentous discovery” in a cavalier fashion, which is why the relics got lost in 1525. When they were located again, in 1530, the bones and spearhead – shaped like an olive leaf, though there are no olive trees in India – were transferred to a small box, locked up in a chapel in the church, and the key kept by the pastor.
This church, originally built in 1523 and called San Thome or San Thome de Meliapore, was subsequently enlarged and extended, and the encroachment on the Kapaleeswara Temple began in earnest. The Christians had done this before, building a church against a temple wall and then taking over the temple, and that the Shiva temple survived as long as it did, up to 1566 according to some authorities, is grand testimony to the patient and courageous resistance the Hindus of Mylapore had put up against this ruthless Catholic power.
In 1606 the Pope, at the request of the King of Portugal, made San Thome de Meliapore into a diocese independent of Goa. The church was extended again and became the seat of a bishop, but, in 1893, this building was demolished by the bishop and the present Gothic cathedral put up in its place. It was completed and consecrated in 1896. In 1952 the archdiocese of Madras and Mylapore was constituted, and in 1956, after much lobbying by the Indian hierarchy, Pope Pius XII raised the status of San Thome to that of a minor basilica. This church dignity is of no consequence but it affords the archbishop some minor liturgical privileges.
Diogo Fernandez’s “St. Thomas” relics still remain in the church today. The iron spearhead and piece of skull are kept in a monstrance, along with the relics of St. Francis Xavier, St. Isabella, St. Vincentio and the Martyrs of Morocco. The first “St. Thomas” tomb, which contained the “white” skeleton that was sent to Goa, is empty and ignored, but the second “St. Thomas” tomb is pointed out to pilgrims and tourists. It contains the remainder of Diogo Fernandez’s “findings”, the pieces of spine and thigh bone, and, presumably, the pot of “blood-bedewed” earth.
Yet this is not the end of the bones at San Thome. The cathedral also has in its possession a piece of Church-certified Ortona bone which it obtained from Cardinal Tisserant in 1953, after he had deposited the apostle’s right arm at Kodungallur (and demoted him from being the great Apostle of the East to simply being the Apostle of India). The pastor of San Thome can now say with some pride that he is the keeper of a real St. Thomas bone – keeping in mind that the acceptance of the Ortona gift is also an admission that the Portuguese relics in his care are not those of St. Thomas.
There are four places in Madras and its environs, other than San Thome, that the Portuguese associated with St. Thomas. The first is a rocky hillock called Little Mount, four miles southwest of Mylapore, on the south bank of the Adyar River at Saidapet. Fr. Herman D'Souza, in In the Steps of St. Thomas, writes, "Hoary tradition among Catholics and non-Catholics ... proudly holds that this part of [Madras] extended shelter to the Apostle, when the ministers of the local king, Mahadevan, were out to murder him.... The favourite of the king, Thomas was ever in danger of losing his precious life – thanks to the scheming ministers whipped up by Hindu priests.... There is a version that the Apostle was actually handled brutally more than once in his apartment, in the absence of the king. In order to save his life for yet a little while for the greater glory of God, Thomas is reported to have sought refuge in the jungle of Little Mount."
This sly communal tale, invented by Jesuits and improved on by Fr. D'Souza, is peculiar to Madras. He tries to establish Hindu support for the story by quoting Hindu publications that repeat it. But Hindu traditions about Little Mount and the other "St. Thomas" sites are quite different and much older than those of the Portuguese.62 They believe that the hillock, with its cave and spring and imprint of peacock's feet in the rock, was sacred to Murugan, and Hindu women used to visit the site even after the Portuguese had cleared it of shrines.
In 1551, a church was built by the cave, called Blessed Sacrement Chapel, and the Jesuits built a second church by the spring of which nothing remains today. The archaeological evidence on the site was destroyed years ago when it was blasted to make way for the modern circular church. Called Our Lady of Health, that now stands there. St. Thomas had to leave Little Mount when the king's men found him in the cave. He fled to Big Mount, two miles further south, by a secret underground passage. But Big Mount did not offer refuge either.
Fr. D'Souza writes, "His murderers sought him there and were on the point of seizing him. How long St. Thomas made his abode on the top of the hill, one cannot say. Unbroken tradition maintains that while the Apostle was praying before the cross carved by him on a stone, an assassin suborned by King Mahadevan's priest and ministers, crept up stealthily and pierced him with a lance from behind. Thereupon the Apostle is reported to have fallen on the stone cross and embraced it; his blood crimsoned the stone cross and the space around. Thus did he seal his apostolate with his blood, even as the other Apostles, save St. John.... His disciples took his body to [Mylapore] ... and interred it at his dear old place, about the year AD 68."
This rendition of the fable has no equivalent in Malabar and no relationship to the account in the Acts of Thomas, though it does have in it the priest and lance found in the Portuguese De Miraculis Thomae. There is no record that Mylapore had a temporal king of any name in 68 CE – the date first appeared on a memorial plaque in San Thome Cathedral in the eighteenth century and was after wards incorporated into the story. But as is the case with many historical fabrications, it contains an element of truth and this gives the fictional parts credibility. Mahadevan is a reference to Lord Shiva, who was of course the King of Mylapore in the first century CE, even as He is today – though Catholic writers today try to turn the Persian king Mazdai (Misdaeus in Greek) of the Acts of Thomas into a Mylapore king called Mahadevan.
Dr. R. Arulappa, in Punitha Thomayar, asserts that Big Mount was originally called Bhrigu Malai (Brungi in Tamil) and was the seat of the Hindu sage Bhrigu Rishi (Brungi Munivar) until St. Thomas came and chased him away. This story, like the one above, is another piece of fiction that has at its core a little truth. The hill was sacred to Shiva whom Bhrigu Rishi worshiped, and it is the Portuguese who chased the rishi away, not St. Thomas. The temple was destroyed around 1545, when they gained effective control of the hill, which was the highest point in the area and the southern limit of their territory. Portuguese historians describe it as being crowded with ruins then, and broken temple stones could still be found on its slopes, on the south and west side in 1995. The Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore has since cleaned up the evidence with the connivance of the Archaeological Survey of India, and completely rebuilt the hilltop.
The Portuguese had begun to settle around Big Mount as early as 1523 – the same year they "discovered" the tomb of "St. Thomas" – and one of the first to take up residence there was Diogo Fernandez. He would succeed in erecting a small chapel on the hill before 1545, but the construction of the church, called Our Lady of Expectation, did not commence until 1547. It was built on the east-west alignment of the temple foundation – the ancient granite base of the flag pole is on the eastern side of the church and this writer had observed it in 1991 – but the Portuguese reversed this order in keeping with established Christian practice when building on a Pagan site, and the church entrance is on the western side. In 1707, the building was extended by an Armenian merchant who also constructed the stairs going up the hill to the church, and the royal arms of Portugal were added to the facade of the main porch.
It was when clearing the rubble for the church, in 1547, that the Portuguese "discovered" the famous Persian "St. Thomas" cross in the temple foundation. Diogo Fernandez is not implicated in this fraud, but the Vicar of San Thome, Fr. Gaspar Coelho, and the Captain of the Coromandel, Gabriel de Athaide, are, as the construction was under their direct supervision. St. Thomas could not have carved this cross;63 it has been dated to the eighth century, and like its counterparts in Kerala was carved by a Syrian Christian named Afras who inscribed its border in Pahlavi (Persian) script. It was kept inside the church behind the altar, and used to "bleed" at irregular intervals up to 1704. This phenomenon stopped as soon as the sensible and schismatic British began to move into the area and build a cantonment.
The other "St. Thomas" relic in the church is a brightly coloured icon of Mary and the child Jesus. It is said to have been painted by St. Luke64 and brought to India by St. Thomas, who wore it on his chest as a scapular or badge of mission. In fact, it does not appear in Portuguese records until 1559, and the diverse stories that go with it were invented after this date.
The church also has paintings of St. Thomas and his Hindu assassin. One of them, on the reredos of the altar, depicts an Iyengar Brahmin with namam about to stab the praying apostle from behind. It defeats its purpose inasmuch as Vaishnavas did not wear namam, the sectarian U-shaped forehead mark, until after Ramanuja introduced it in the eleventh century. The other painting, very large and part of a series of the apostles and their various modes of death, shows St. Thomas with a book, a lance, and his sturdy Hindu assassin, who, this time, does not wear sectarian marks or orthodox dress.
The next place in Madras associated with St. Thomas is the Descanco Church in Mylapore, which was built by the Madeiros family to mark the place where story says St. Thomas rested on his daily march between the Mylapore beach and Little Mount. It is the last church the Portuguese raised in Madras and of a later date and lesser importance than the others.
And finally there is Luz Church, the first church the Portuguese would build in Mylapore and possibly the oldest standing Portuguese church on the Tamil coastline. It, too, is built on temple ruins, according to Archaeological Survey of India records, and was raised in 1516 by the Franciscan missionary priest Pedro da Atongia. The Catholic fortnightly Madras Musings says, "But with the Portuguese only occasional visitors to this coast from 1509 and settlers only from 1522, the dates on the stone plaque and above the church's entrance seem more likely the date of the establishment of a shrine in the 'grove of Thomas' than the date of the surviving building."
Yes, indeed – but the "grove of Thomas" once contained a "pool of Vishnu". What happened to it in 1516?
Madras Musings is edited by the pseudo-historian and accomplished St. Thomas apologist S. Muthiah. He is – or was – a director at TT Maps and Publications Ltd., the TTK company that produces and sells the St. Thomas fable to unwitting tourists, and more recently has got associated with Chennai's Marxist newspaper The Hindu. He admits that there is no historical evidence for the alleged visit of St. Thomas to India, but will follow this statement up with another about India’s "1,800 year-old, and possibly older, Christian tradition."
Muthiah's allusion is to Pantaenus the Alexandrian, who is said to have visited "the land of the Indians" before 190 CE. The first reference is made by Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, which others follow, but Dr. A. Mingana, an authority on the spread of Christianity in India, quoted by C.B. Firth in An Introduction to Indian Church History, asserts, "... the India they refer to is without doubt Arabia Felix. The fact has been recognised by all historians since Assemani and Tillemont, and has been considered as established even by such a conservative writer as Medleycott. It will be a matter of surprise if any responsible author will mention in the future Pantaenus in connection with India proper."
But ancient history – whether tucked away in the Cairo Museum or Vatican Library – is not Muthiah's first line of defence. He prefers to use emotional tactics when dealing with unbelievers, and declares through his amanuensis in a Madras Musings editorial that, "Christian tradition, as much an article of faith, has Thomas who Doubted, the Apostle of India, living and preaching in this part of the Coromandel from about 65 AD till his death in 72 AD."
This "Apostle of India" tradition is not an "article of faith" for Christians of course. Protestants reject it outright as a Catholic superstition, and Catholics themselves are not obliged to accept it. This point is clarified by Papal Chevalier F.A. D'Cruz, in St. Thomas the Apostle in India, when he discusses the belief in the "St. Thomas" relics and tomb in San Thome Cathedral. He writes, "Catholics who venerate the tomb are not compelled to believe in its genuineness; and they know well that it is a question of evidence and that they may be mistaken as to the fact. They regard it, in any case, in the light of a memorial, whereby the saint is remembered and honoured. If miracles are said to have occurred in connection with the reputed tomb or relics, Catholics understand again here also it is a question of evidence and that, if genuine, they are the result of faith excited by the memorial of the saint whose intercession had been implored by clients for Divine interposition on their behalf."
There are six tombs for St. Thomas in South India. Two are in San Thome Cathedral at Mylapore, a third on an island southwest of Cochin, a fourth in a Syrian church at Tiruvancode in Travancore, a fifth in a Shiva temple at Malayattur in Travancore, and a sixth at Kalayamuthur west of Madurai near the Palani Hills. There are also six tombs for St. Thomas abroad: one in Brazil, a second in Germany, a third in Japan, a fourth in Malacca, a fifth in Tibet, and a sixth in China.
But this is not the end of the matter of tombs. Bardesanes's Acts of Thomas has St. Thomas buried in a royal tomb on a mountain in King Mazdai's desert country and the Ethiopian version of the same Acts has the tomb located in Qantaria, which some say is ancient Gandhara in Afghanistan. The Alexandrian doctors say the tomb is in Parthia that is Persia, but Antipope Hippolytus of Portus says it is in Calamina, a city much discussed and never found, and which, today, remains as elusive a place as the Elioforum of the Passio Thomae. Still others say the tomb is in Betumah, which the Syrians identify with Mylapore but the Arabs say is east of Cape Comorin and Colonel Gerini, in Researches on Ptolemy's Geography of Eastern Asia, says is east of Singapore. This is still not the end of the tombs for St. Thomas, but we will stop with the Codex Fuldensis, ca. 541-546 CE, of the Latin version of Tatian's Syriac Diatessaron, ca. 160-175 CE, which says, "Thomas – In India – Civitate Iothabis".
Now Iothabis is Iotha, which is a spelling mistake for Iorha, which is Latin for Urhai the Syriac name for Edessa, which, finally, is modern Sanliurfa (commonly Urfa) in Turkey. Edessa as the burial place of St. Thomas can be considered seriously. It is here and in Persia that he proselytized the Syrians, and it is here that the Syrian Christians, known to Europeans as Nestorians, would flourish and spread eastwards after the sixth century even up to Kubli Khan's court in China. The Latin version of the Diatessaron places Edessa in India because "India" was the term that ancient geographers used to designate the lands east and south of the Roman Empire's frontiers.
Marco Polo is the first storyteller to place the tomb of St. Thomas in South India and a village on the Coromandel Coast. He does not name the village nor did he visit it, yet most of his interpreters will identify the village with Mylapore. T.K. Joseph, author of Six St. Thomases of South India, accepts Marco Polo's story but believes that the identification of the tomb in Mylapore as a Christian tomb is a case of wrong identification, of the Syrian Christians identifying the tomb of a Muslim Thomas with their Christian Thomas. In fact, the Mylapore tomb is a Portuguese fake, and the early Syrian Christians were probably worshipping in the great Shiva temple itself or at a yogi’s samadhi connected with it.
Be this as it may, when asked to explain how the South Indian tradition of St. Thomas arose, T.K. Joseph replies, "There are many such problems to be solved. For instance, how was St. Thomas located in Brazil, Germany, Tibet, Malacca, Japan, China, etc.? How have his footprints, knee marks, finger marks, mummies, three skeletons, more than half-a-dozen tombs, etc., been found in Asia?... How were the seven dates (AD 50, 51, etc.) for his landing first in South India, and the ten or eleven dates for his death (as non-martyr or martyr) fabricated in South India after 1500 AD? How was he made to land first in Malliankara, or Cranganore, or Mylapore, diversely? How was the Rampan Song about him composed 'in 1601 AD' as quite reliable, and then tampered with in 1952? How has elephantiasis in Cochin been connected with St. Thomas?
"Again, how did the Ceylon tradition arise that on 'Adam's Peak' there, 'is the sepulchre of Adam, our first parent', as Marco Polo recorded? How has another tomb of the same Adam been located in Arabia?... How has Ceylon found in it the Buddha's, Adam's and St. Thomas's footprints? How were 'Indians' found in America by the first Europeans who reached it?"
This rhetoric is all very well insofar as it goes, but it does not go far enough and T.K. Joseph admits the lacuna when he uses phrases like "fabricated in South India after 1500 AD" and "tampered with in 1952" in his discourse. Unfortunately for history, and especially the study of Indian history, he is unwilling to openly indict the Portuguese and the popes and the Roman Catholic Church of today, though he could do so with effect as he had access to information and documents that we cannot hope to obtain.
T.K. Joseph's weakness – like that of other honest Christian scholars – is inhibition and a limited perspective. He treats the problem of St. Thomas as an internal matter of the Christian community rather than a problem of Indian history. He refuses to consider the Hindu side of the story or to admit that temples were destroyed in Mylapore in the sixteenth century by Franciscan monks and Jesuit priests. He rejects the Malabar and Mylapore legends of St. Thomas as inventions, but seems to be unaware that Marco Polo's "tall tale' is just that – a tall tale of St. Thomas picked up in a Ceylonese port bazaar and retold with additions to an eager Italian public. His acceptance of the geographical designation "India" in the Acts of Thomas, as the field of the apostle's work, is unreasonable, as the internal cultural evidence of the Acts points to West Asia and not North-West India. He admits that he is forced to accept the testimony of the Acts as it is the only ancient document that says St. Thomas came to India – and he believes that St. Thomas did come to North-West India and may have been first buried near ancient Taxila.
T.K. Joseph – and other Christian scholars who depend on the Acts of Thomas to fulfil their St. Thomas desires – seem to be unaware of Thomas Paine's famous dictum concerning another collection of acts and gospels – the Bible. Paine said, "It has often been said that anything may be proved from the Bible; but before anything can be admitted as proved by the Bible, the Bible itself must be proved to be true; for if the Bible be not true, or the truth of it doubtful, it ceases to have authority, and cannot be admitted as proof of anything."
The Rev. Dr. G. Milne Rae, author of The Syrian Church in India, was even more unsparing than T.K. Joseph in his criticism of the St. Thomas fable. He did not allow that St. Thomas came further east than Afghanistan, and told the Syrian Christians that they reasoned fallaciously about their identity and “wove a fictitious story of their origin”. The two “facts” that they worked from, he said, were (1) the ancient beliefs of their church that St. Thomas was the apostle of the Indians, and (2) that they were Christians of St. Thomas. The ratiocination of these points went like this: St. Thomas was the apostle of the Indians; we are Indians; therefore he is our apostle. If this is not proof enough, there is his tomb in Mylapore, and we have been called "St. Thomas" Christians from the first century.
On the first point, the ancient beliefs of the Syrian Church, however dear to Syrian Christians, cannot be admitted as evidence until they are proved to be historically true. This has not yet happened, though men of genius and integrity have worked at the problem for centuries. The second point, which is simply repeated twice or thrice in the reasoning, also cannot be admitted as evidence because there is no record – indeed, no tradition – of any group calling themselves “St. Thomas” Christians prior to the fourteenth century.
Bishop Giovanni dei Marignolli, the Franciscan papal legate who built a Roman Catholic church in Quilon, in 1348, is the first person to use the appellation "St. Thomas" Christians. He did this to distinguish Syrian converts from low-caste Hindu converts in his congregation. This allowed the former Nestorians to retain their caste status as Roman Catholics. The appellation "St. Thomas" Christian is thus of Roman Catholic origin and indicates a social division within the Roman Catholic Church.
This observation does not exclude the probability that the Syrian Christians, within a few generations of their arrival in India from Persia in the fourth century, identified their community patriarch Thomas the Merchant with their spiritual patriarch Thomas the Apostle – especially as both were also called Thomas of Jerusalem. Thomas had evangelized their forefathers in Syria and Persia and was their apostle, but this did not make him India's apostle any more than Abraham and Moses were India's prophets, though they were the spiritual patriarchs of other immigrant communities in Malabar.
Moreover, there is no evidence that there ever was a Church of India, as such an early Thomas-founded church would have been called, though there was admittedly a Church of Persia founded by St. Thomas. Nor is there any record that Malabar ever had its own ecclesiastical hierarchy; hierarchs were always brought into India from Persia or Mesopotamia or, as today, from Antioch.
This circumstance is very unusual, for if the Syrian Church was not an immigrant church as its name and the importation of bishops implies, and St. Thomas was as closely and indissolubly associated with India as legend says, then there should be a Church of India – or some concrete record of it – with an indigenous hierarchy and an apostolic succession of bishops from St. Thomas. Yet there is nothing, absolutely nothing to show that St. Thomas established a church in India – notwithstanding the reams of reasonings and professions of faith that "St. Thomas" Christians produce today.
We have only the many and various legends and even they continue to change with the changing political needs of the Church. T.K. Joseph, the "St. Thomas" Christian who began his investigation into the St. Thomas legend when he suspected the authority of Malabar's “authoritative” St. Thomas Song, writes, “St. Thomas Christians seem to be ready to welcome any number of additions to their [Marco Polo] recorded St. Thomas traditions of 1288 to the present day if the fundamental concept of St. Thomas's preaching and death in their South India itself is left intact. They do not mind if he is a non-martyr or a martyr, and do not seem to care if they or their ancestors are accused of sins committed for his sake, or if the Saint himself is described in their records as having ... sinned. They will perhaps readily accept his Ceylon log of wood, his three skeletons, his two Mylapore tombs, his footprints on rocks, his dates 52, 68 AD, etc., his [non-existent] contemporary Biography of 72-73 AD, his waist cord presented to him by St. Mary on her 'Assumption' to heaven, his coming to South India along with King Gaspar of Jaffna, his settling the Goddess Kali in the Cranganore temple,69 his withdrawing his dead hand from Chinese intruders to his tomb in Mylapore, and other such things of the kind.”
This short list of St. Thomas curiosities contains an error and an important omission. The error is that Catholics will not tolerate a non-martyred apostle in their pantheon of saints – they have even martyred St. John, who was never martyred – and the omission is that T.K. Joseph has neglected to mention that Catholics like to believe that St. Thomas was killed by a Hindu king and his attending Brahmin priest.
The “martyred” St. Thomas has existed since the Acts of Thomas, ca. 210 CE, in which he is executed by King Mazdai for social crimes and sorcery. The Portuguese added the Brahmin assassin after 1517 and he has remained the first choice of the Roman Catholic Church since, for without him the Hindu community cannot be successfully maligned and the continuing cover-up of the destruction of temples in Mylapore cannot be successfully maintained by the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese and its anti-Hindu secular sponsors in the government.
Where, then, is the tomb of St. Thomas if the two in Mylapore are Portuguese fakes? Where did he experience his passion and seal his mission with blood if not in India? We do not know the answer to this question, but there is a verse in an ancient St. Thomas hymn which says:
Thou despisest error;
Thou destroyest unbelievers:
For, in the city where thou truly liest,
There never lives any of the heretics,
Jews, or Pagans.
Most ethnic and religious communities localise their myths of origin when they migrate to new lands and establish themselves there permanently. This is part of the psychological process of becoming a native. The tradition they bring from abroad is altered enough to identify its main themes and characters with local places. Time does the rest and the second and third generation soon forget the original story and its foreign locales. Inter-community relationships will mix in local legends with the imported myth. In the case of the Syrian Christians, the process was irresistible because the charismatic, semi-legendary Thomas of Cana who led the first Christian immigrants to Malabar from Persia and Mesopotamia in 345 CE, was not really any different a community hero than the charismatic, semi-legendary Thomas the Apostle. The fact that both leaders were also known as Thomas of Jerusalem would have made the identification of the fourth century merchant with the first century saint inevitable.
None of this would amount to anything more than an ethnological curiosity except that the Syrian Christian tradition of St. Thomas became the property of the Portuguese and the Roman Catholic Church. Both imperialist powers needed more than anything else in their ideological arsenals this emotionally-charged fable to legitimize their presence and justify their violent, viciously bigoted conduct in India.
T.G. Percival Spear, author of India: A Modern History and co-author of the Oxford History of India, commenting on the Portuguese in India in an Encyclopaedia Britannica article, writes, "The Portuguese early considered that no faith need be kept with an infidel, and to this policy of perfidy they added a tendency to cruelty beyond the normal limits of a very rough age; the result was to deprive them of Indian sympathy. In religion the Portuguese were distinguished by missionary fervour and intolerance.... Of the latter, there was the Inquisition of Goa and the forcible subjection of the Syrian church to Rome at the Synod of Diamper in 1599."
The Synod of Diamper was followed by the burning of Syrian books by Archbishop Menezes of Goa, and the myth of St. Thomas, now firmly in the hands of the Church, took on a marked anti-Hindu character. Roman Catholic bigotry is ancient and universal – and it continues till today. Percival Spear observes, "Then came Roman Catholicism, which today has perhaps 5,000,000 followers and an array of churches, convents, and colleges all over India. A by-product has been a tradition of intolerance, which still lingers."
This last remark is a serious indictment of Indian Christianity, coming as it does from a reputed Cambridge historian, and it probably has not been made about any other modern religious community in the whole Encyclopaedia.
Christians have always capitalized on the established tradition that they have been persecuted, but the plain truth is that they have done most of the persecuting in recorded history and this started in earnest when they obtained political power in Rome in the fourth century .If they attracted persecution before this time from the Pagan emperors, it was exactly because of their religious intolerance and a peculiarly Christian crime that originated in Rome and continues in India today: the forging of documents to create a fabricated social and religious history that Christians believe will give Christianity authority and prestige, and which disparages the ancient Hindu civilization that hosts it.
Arthur Frederick Ide, in Unzipped: The Popes Bare All, writes, "One primary reason Rome turned against the Christians was the Christians were violently intolerant. Christians would not accept altars to gods other than their own even though the Romans offered an altar to the Christian god. Christians spat upon those who would not convert. They hid documents. They alienated families. They prayed for the end of the empire and the enthronement of their god as the new king. These were actions which were socially disconcerting, disrupting, and dangerous.
"Contrary to the Christian apologist Justin, the Christians were not dispatched from this life because they were Christians. Christians were executed only after their actions (not their beliefs) were seen as riot-inducing, treasonous, and detrimental to the family unit, and especially dangerous to the children."
Christian churches in India continue these same ancient anti-social activities today. The difference is that they have vast sums of money from Christians abroad with which to finance their culturally destructive missionary enterprises. They also have the sympathy of alienated anti-Hindu Marxist intellectuals and academics, the so-called secular mainstream media which is wholly or partly owned by Christian interests, and the support of state governments that are run by nominally Hindu criminal families as private fiefdoms.
Christians have never been persecuted in India by Hindus, and their deeply resented and disruptive socio-political activity, religious conversion, is accommodated by Indian politicians because the Christian community represents a dedicated vote bank. Yet this coddling and a long list of other official favours has not made Indian Christians any more tolerant today than their Mediterranean counterparts were in the fourth century.
Percival Spear's remark about a "tradition of intolerance" is unfortunately true of Christianity itself. Jesus was the first religious teacher in history to threaten those who did not agree with him with eternal damnation. This is the only original idea that he contributed to the world's vast body of religious thought, and in two millennia it has destroyed nations and whole civilizations and caused Thomas Jefferson to declare, "The Christian God is cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust."
Credits : Ishwar Sharan for his massively researched Book
To Download the Original Book by Ishwar Sharan from Amazon >>> https://www.amazon.in/Saint-Thomas-Mylapore-Shiva-Temple/dp/8185990913