Wednesday, 18 October 2017

History of Catholic Church of England and Syriac Spirituality

                     History of Catholic Church of England and Syriac Spirituality
Martin Thomas Antony

England is a country organised based on Christian principles. The history of Christianity in England and on a wider sense in Britain is very old going back to first few centuries of Christian era.
Catholic Church in England is a minority Christian denomination. The first authoritative Papal Mission to England was in AD 597 with St Augustine of Canterbury by the establishment of a direct link between the Kingdom of  Kent to the See of Rome and the establishment of the Benedictine form of monasticism.[i] The Christianity in England was always adherent to the Roman Catholic Church but after the Henrician reformation of the 16 th century, the official Christian Church in England became the Church of England and the Catholic Church suffered a lot of persecutions and produced many martyrs. Being a persecuted church, Catholic Church in England still is an active Christian community with a large number of Church attendees compared to Church of England.

Catholic Church.

The term 'Catholic Church' means the Universal Church. In AD 110, Ignatius of Antioch uses the term 'Catholic church' in his epistle to the 'Smyrneans' with the meaning of universal church. This was to differentiate the local particular church under the leadership of the Bishop and the Catholic Church as the aggregate of all local churches.[ii]

The term 'Catholic' also means the true church differentiating from heretic sects. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the fourth century that the church is called 'Catholic' not only because it is spread throughout the world but also it teaches all the doctrines completely without any defect. Thus, Catholic church means the Universal Christian church which is orthodox in faith.[iii]

The word 'Catholic' word derived from Greek 'Katholicos' and Latin 'catholicus' meaning universal.(Oxford dictionary)

Ecclesiastically, the term 'Catholic Church' means the Universal Catholic Church, the communion of Roman Catholic Church and 23 sui iuris Churches,  the largest Christian communion in the world.
Almost all Christian denominations claim that their church is 'Catholic'. The East Syriac church- the mother of the Syriac stream of Christianity, the continuation of the Judeo Christian movement of the Apostles and the very first Christian Church that got separated from the rest of Christendom after the Council of Nicea which depicted the first uniform Christian creed, - calls their church as Holy Catholic Apostolic Church of the East.

'Catholic' is one of the four attributes or markers of the Christian church according to the Nicean creed promulgated by the first Council of Constantinople in AD 381- One, Holy, Catholic, and  Apostolic.

Christianity in Britain
Celtic Christianity.
Tertullian, the father of Latin theology has commented that by about AD 200, Christianity was spread in to even areas of the Britain inaccessible to the Romans-Britannorum inaccessa romanis loca.[iv] Christianity in Britain had its beginnings with Celtic converts. Celtic Christianity was related Gallic[v] Christianity[vi].[vii] It was easy for the Celtic people to accept Christianity, due to certain similarities between pagan Celtic beliefs and Christian beliefs.[viii]  In the history, the first signs of Christianity in Britain are seen from the early third century. The martyrdoms of Aaron, Julian and Alban are dated in the mid-third century[ix]. These were part of Roman persecutions. British Bishops were documented present in the Council of Arles in AD 314.The early Christianity in the Britain was related to the Roman occupation in the Britain. Much of Great Britain was incorporated into the Roman Empire by 43 AD[x].  Emperor Constantine abolished persecution of  Christianity in the Roman Empire by Edict of Milan in AD 313.  Later, with the Edict of Thessalonica in AD 380, Catholic Orthodoxy as depicted in the Councils of  Nicea (AD 325)  and Constantinople(381)  was declared as the state religion of Roman Empire[xi].
Archaeological studies show evidence of Christianity in Britain in the 4 th century AD  in the form of personal items bearing Christian imagery, liturgical fonts or basins, church structures and burial sites.[xii] Excavations at Canterbury revealed the presence of buildings of Roman period which were Christian Churches, another building at Reculver with archaeological features of a Christian church and a few other buildings at Roman occupied areas in England like Frampton in Dorsetshire and in Chedworth in Gloucestershire with Christian monograms[xiii].
Excavation near Trafalgar square in London revealed at least 1400 yr old Christian burial site in the traditional Christian manner east to west.[xiv] The excavation also shows evidence of Christianity pre dating the Anglo Saxon conversion.
Celtic Christianity has left a large number of Christian buildings, art objects, manuscripts, bronze bells, crosiers etc. Spiritually, their monastic life was intense as seen in Egypt or Syria.[xv] It has been proposed that these Celtic Christians had contacts with the Mesopotamia and Egypt  that  Celtic sacred  manuscript as the Gospel text known as 'The Book of Durrow' and similar figures in Celtic sculptures of the late sixth century derive from the ancient Syriac Gospel book 'Diatessaron' and the Religio cultural symbol of  Celtic Christianity  (like  the Saint Thomas Crosses of India), the 'Celtic crosses' have precedents in the art of Coptic Christianity[xvi]. Thus, we can presume that the  Celtic Christians, even though they used Latin as their liturgical language, was constantly communicating and updating with the Christianity in the land and the culture where it originated, the Eastern Syriac Christianity.
Anglo Saxon period.
Early 5th century, Romans abandoned their hold in England. Jutes, Angles and Saxons from continental  Europe invaded England who destroyed the Christianity. The Christians might have got absorbed into the new society or pushed to the mountains of Wales or Cornish Tores [xvii]. In AD 597, Pope Gregory I sent Saint Augustine from the monastery of Saint Andrew to preach to the Anglo Saxons. Anglo Saxons were the Germanic tribes migrated to Britain from the Continental Europe. The Anglo Saxon conversion was a revival of Catholicism in England.  Bede's ecclesiastical history narrates that Augustine was consecrated as the Bishop with his base at Canterbury. The local King had known about Christians and there was a Bishop already as a chaplain of the Queen who was a catholic.[xviii] This revival continued with two provinces Canterbury and York.
Anglo Saxon chronicles also describe about an embassy sent to India. Anglo Saxon chronicles describe that in AD 883, King Alfred of England sends envoy with offerings that he woved  to Saint Thomas's Tomb in India in thanksgiving for his victory over Dunes in London.[xix]for  and Saint Bar thulomy in India[xx]
Norman period
11th century Norman conquest gave further revival to the English Catholicism with Romanesque Cathedrals  and spiritual revival with Benedictines like Anslem and  Lanfranc. Monasteries and convents flourished as the centres of learning. Pilgrimage was another feature of this period. Walsingham[xxi] in 1061 witnessed a Marian apparition and became a pilgrim centre. Similar pilgrim centres were Holywell to commemorate St Winefred, Canterbury after the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, and so on. Pope Adrian IV was born in England and was elected as Pope in 1954.[xxii]
Henrician reformation and subsequent persecution
Catholicism flourished in Britain in constant communion with the See of Rome until the reformation by Henry VIII. In 1534, Henry VIII suppressed Catholicism in Britain  and established a National Church- the Church of England due to a number of reasons namely the King Henry VIII could not have an heir through his wife Catherine of Aragon and the Pope refused to annul the marriage with her so that Henry VIII can have an heir through another wife. This resulted in King and the Parliament renouncing the authority of the Pope and subsequent legislation lead to the formation of the Church of England with no communion with the Pope of Rome any actions opposing these legislation publicly considered as treason. This lead to persecution of Catholics- Saints John Fisher, Thomas Moore and others were martyred. Even though Henry VIII opposed to Protestantism and did not accept Protestant theology in doctrine or worship, the subsequent Monarchs allowed Protestant influence in the Church of England. Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries and took over the rich properties of Catholic Church[xxiii]. The period immediately followed Henry VIII was volatile. Edward IV (1547-1553)moved the Church of England into Protestant influence. During the period of Queen Mary 1 (1553-58) tried to bring back the Church into Catholicism. Elizabeth I (1558-1603 ) tried to abolish the authority of Pope in England by a number of legislatures by which it was made a crime to assert the authority of a foreign prince, prelate or authority.  Pope Pius V in 1570  in his bull 'Regnans in Excelsis' excommunicated the Queen and obliged all Catholics to try to overthrow her. This resulted in the Government making more rigorous actions against the Catholics and persecutions against Catholics.
An assassination plot against King James I of England and King James VI of Scotland by blowing up the House of Lords with gunpowder on the 5th of November 1605 by a group of English Catholics was foiled and the culprits were convicted. The commemoration of this victory over the rebellion Catholics was evolved into the Bonafire night celebrated even today.
Such actions by Catholics made them appear rebellious to the country and further persecutions followed for next  200 years. The act of settlement of 1701decided that the Monarch of England should only be a Protestant. Catholic presence and influence in the public life was limited, they did not have the right to vote, right to own property was limited. Civil rights were limited.
During these dark years, the Roman Catholic Church existed in England as Apostolic vicariates. Diocesan Episcopacy was restored only in 1850. By 1778, by Catholic relief act, there was some liberalisation in the anti-Catholic laws.
Second Catholic revival
The situation changed by  the influx of French Catholics by the end of 18th century due to French Revolution which was evidently anti-catholic, influx of Irish Catholics in the  19th century due to famine in the background of unification of Ireland leading to increased population of Catholics in England leading to pressure for abolishing the anti-catholic laws. Also some Anglican conversion to catholic church that involved eminent intellectuals. Roman Catholic relief act of 1829 reinstated equal civil rights to Catholics. Catholic hierarchy was restored with the establishment of Dioceses in place of vicariates in 1850.Catholic church grew in 20th century with an increased number of practicing Catholics actively participating in worship on Sundays compared to the Church of England.
Later, with modernisation and liberalisation of the society, practising Catholics became more of the older generation, but, being a persecuted church, Catholics were more in number compared to Church of England in active in religious practices and witnessing. But there was significant reduction in vocations.
By the end of 20th century, further immigration of Catholics from south Asia including South India, Philippines etc further boosted catholic numbers and more and more young people are seen in the church.

Catholic Church of England today.

English Roman Catholic Church comprises of 5  provinces Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, Southwark and Westminster with 22 dioceses. There are about 4.1 million faithful in England according to 2011 census[xxiv]. Archbishop Vincent Cardinal Nicholls is the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. With the spirit of II Vatican Council, the Catholic Church of England actively participates in ecumenical activities with other Christian Churches. Even being a minority in the country, with the history of a persecuted church, Catholic churches are still very active in religious life compared to the vast majority Church of England.

Post Vatican council II -traditional Catholics versus liberal Catholics.

There is a strong group of Catholics in England who loves the traditional Latin mass. The changes in the liturgy and church architecture in par with the so-called spirit of II Vatican Council  and the liberalism has upset many the traditional catholic faithful. Latin mass Society[xxv] is an organisation promoting the spirituality of Traditional Latin rite.  There are several churches in England where traditional Latin liturgy is regularly celebrated with Gregorian chants and Holy Mass fully ad orietum.[xxvi]

Eastern Catholic Churches.

Syro Malabar Church

Syro Malabar Church is a Major Archi Episcopal Church with a strong base in England. Syro Malabar church is the second largest church in England after the Roman Rite. In the late 20th century, there was a mass migration of Nurses from Kerala to England[xxvii]. Most of these Nurses came over from the Middle East where religious rights to Christians are minimal. They all came over to England with their secret prayer group spirituality. A number of Priests and certain lay leaders led these small communities with regular prayers, night vigils and celebration of Eucharistic liturgy in Malayalam language. These all were on the interests of a few dedicated Priests and the Charismatic movement. The main theme was pastoral care in Malayalam language and regular Charismatic retreats and prayers rather than the spirituality and rite of Syro Malabar Church.
Later, the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church also took initiative and Chaplaincies were formed. In 2007, Pope Francis established an Eparchy of Great Britain for the Syro Malabar's and Bishop Mar Joseph Srampikkal was consecrated amidst a large crowd of faithful of about 12000 at Preston on 09th October 2016[xxviii].
With the establishment of the Eparchy, the Syro Malabar Church in England is growing in her own spirituality from an ethnolinguistic identity. Comparing to other ethnic groups, the English Catholic Church is hopeful that the Syro Malabar Church would lead a new revival with a different Eastern spirituality in England. The English church is very supportive to the Syro Malabar Church and spirituality and insists that the Liturgy and sacraments of Syro Malabar Church is protected and preserved in England[xxix]. It is a great opportunity to the Syro Malabar faithful to witness the Apostolic spirituality of Syro Malabar Church which is closer to the Judeo Christian movement of the Apostles than the familiar hellenised Latin West and Greek East and faith transmission in the Syriac spirituality to the native English people.

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is another Major Archi Episcopal Church which has about 15000[xxx] faithful living in England. They have an Eparchy in London with a Bishop. They take a very active role in introducing the Eastern Churches to the Western church through the Society of Saint John Chrysostom. In 2015, Society of Saint John Chrysostom organised a Festival of Eastern Catholic Churches with the theme on Syriac Christianity and Syro Malabar Church[xxxi].

Other Eastern Catholic Churches.

There are chaplaincies of Maronite Church, Erythtrean Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Chaldean Church and Syro Malankara Church operates in England adding to the Universality of Catholic Church.

Other Ethno linguistic groups.

Polish migrant Catholics are organised in England as congregations based on a few churches but they are part of English Catholic Parishes. There are large number of Philippino Catholics also in England associated with English parishes.  

Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham

This is an establishment promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to accommodate the reunion of   Anglicans while preserving the distinctive elements of Anglican Patrimony[xxxii]. A number of serving and retired Bishops and several clergy and laymen joined the movement.

Catholic Church of England and Eastern Spirituality.

The Catholic Church of England is experiencing a new revival with the immigrant Catholics and Eastern catholic Churches, especially the Syro Malabar Church. Syriac Spirituality is not new to England. Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury(668-690 AD) was a Greek from Tarsus but was fluent in Syriac[xxxiii]. The influence of Syriac exegetical literature is widely seen in the Biblical commentaries of the Canterbury School of Theodore [xxxiv]. Now, Bishop Mar Joseph Srampikkal, a Syro Malabar Bishop who had his training and formation in Syriac tradition is leading the Syriac spirituality in England. The young active practicing Catholics of Syro Malabar Church is giving a vibrancy to the English parishes. Large-scale Charismatic prayer meetings and night vigils organised by the Syro Malabar faithful are common in all areas of England attracting the English Catholics as well.

English Saints

There are a large number of native Saints venerated in the English Catholic Church. There are pre reformation saints and fathers and several martyrs during the period of persecution.

Walsingham is a Norfolk village where a woman Richeldis de Faverches reported a Marian apparition in 1061. The shrine there is a major place of Pilgrimage. Syro Malabar faithful are also very enthusiastic about Walsingham Pilgrimage. The Syro Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain has also taken a very keen interest in Walsingham pilgrimage.
Holywell in North Wales in the memory of St Winefried, Canterbury in memory of Saint Thomas Becket, Westminster Abbey to commemorate Edward the confessor are a few of them.


Catholic Church in England is an ancient church with a glorious beginning and then dark ages of persecution. The Church became a minority and viewed by the general public as rebellious and radical to the nation but the spirituality of the Church sustained with the strong faithful. European and Asian immigration gave the English Catholic church great revival. The presence of Eastern Catholic churches adds the richness and universality of the Church life in England. The Catholic Church in England always stood for social justice, rights of the common workers and immigrants.

[i] accessed on 25 June 2017
[ii] Rev J H Srawley, The Epistles of St Iganatius vol II Early Church classics, Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1910 p 41 foot note 4
[iii] Rev J H Srawley, opus cited p 42 foot note
[iv] Charles Thomas, Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 500, University of California press, 1981, p 43
[v] Gaul (Latin Gallia)is a region in the Western Europe which was a heartland of Latin Christianity comprise of todays France, Luxumborg, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy.
[vi] Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity, Penguin Books, p330.The Celtic Christians  were vibrant  Catholics. They kept the language of Western Latin Christianity as their sacred and liturgical language . Gallic Christianity was initially Arian Christianity.
[vii] F J Haverfield, Early British Christianity, English Historical review, vol 11, 1896, pp417-430
[viii] Kimberley Rachel Grunke, The effects of Christianity upon the British Celts, University of Wisconsin La Crosse  Journal of Undergraduate research, XI, 2008, p1
[ix] Kimberley Rachel Grunke, The effects of Christianity upon the British Celts, University of Wisconsin La Crosse  Journal of Undergraduate research, XI, 2008, p
[x] Cassiun Dio,Roman History, accessed from*.html#19 on 25 June 2017, Book LX, Nos 19-22
[xi] Sydney Z Ehler, John B Morrall, (Ed), Church and State through the Centuries,: A collection of Historic documents with commentaries, Biblo and Tannen Publishers,1967, p 6-7
[xii] David Petts, The oxford handbook of Roman Britain
[xiii] E P Loftus Brock, Christianity in Britain in Roman Times with reference to recent discoveries at Canterbury, Archaeologia Cantiana vol 15, 1883, pp 38-55
[xiv] David M Keys, accessed on 26 May 2017
[xv] Diarmaid  MacCulloch, A History of Christianity, Penguin Books, p 332.
[xvi] Diarmaid MacCulloch, opus cit p332
[xvii] John Mooreman, History of the Church in England, III edn,
[xviii] Judith McClure, Roger Collins, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, The Greater Chronicle, Bede's letter to Egbert, Oxford University Press, p 39-40
[xix] Diana Webb, Medieval European Pilgrimage C700-c 1500, Palgrave, p146
[xx] Rev James Ingram, The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, A history of England from Roman Times to the Norman conquest, Red and Black publishers, St Petersburg, Florida, p 57
[xxi] It is not surprising that a large number of Syro Malabar faithful from Kerala are very enthusiastic in Wasingham pilgrimage as they come from Kuravilangad, the ancient church in Kerala where the Mother Mary appeared to children in AD 325. Walsingham could be considered as the Kuravilangad of the England.
[xxii] John Duncan Mackie, Pope Adrian IV: The Lothian Essay, Blackwell Publishers page 5
[xxiii] G W Bernard, The dissolution of the monasteries, History, 2011 cited in Wikipedia accessed on 26 June 2017
[xxiv] accessed on 29 June 2017
[xxv] accessed on 29 June 2017
[xxvi] It is very sad to note that in one of those English Catholic churches in England where only Tridentine Mass is celebrated, (fully ad orientum)  one of the prominent Syro Malabar Pastors used to celebrate Syro Malabar Liturgy fully ad populum on a regular basis ridiculing the spirituality, traditions and over all of this, the decision of the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar church about celebrations of the holy Eucharistic liturgy among migrants.
[xxvii] Rev Fr Mathew Thottathimyalil, History of Syro Malabar Church in the UK and Eire, 2005, p6, 37.
[xxviii] accessed on 29 June 2017
[xxix] Archbishop Vincent Cardinal Nicholls, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, personal letter dated 21 January 2014 to the author with a copy to the then Co ordinator of the Syro Malabar Mission in England.
[xxx] accessed on 29 June 2017
[xxxi] accessed on 28 June 2017
[xxxii] accessed on 29 June 2017
[xxxiii] Panteleimon Tzorbatzoglou, St Theodore, Archbishop of canterbury (668-690AD), A Greek from Tarsus of Cilicia in England: Some aspects of his life, Mediterranean Chronicle, vol 2, 2012 Diavlos, p 80
[xxxiv] Sebstian Brock, St Theodore of Canterbury, the Canterbury school and the Christian East,  Heythorpe Journal, XXXVI, 1995, p433
[xxxv] accessed on 29 June 2017

Friday, 6 October 2017

Pahlavi inscribed Sliva of Irinjalakkuda : An appraisal of the iconography and theology.

Martin Thomas Antony[1], Judeson Kochuparampil[2], Alphin Joseph Chackochan[3].

[1] Author of the paper.[2] Contribution to the theological and iconographic discussion.
[3] Contribution in the form of unveiling this previously not very well known sliva to the public by his investigative and research attitude towards Thomasine Christianity and traditions and the photograph of the Saint Thomas cathedral at Irinjalakkuda.


Pahlavi inscribed bas relief crosses are the most ancient antiquities of the Saint Thomas Christians of India. A modern  Pahlavi inscribed granite bas relief sliva has been installed at the Saint Thomas cathedral of Irinjalakkuda belonging to the Syro Malabar Major Archi-episcopal Church. This was during the renovation of the cathedral on the occasion of  the Silver Jubilee celebration of the eparchy and cathedral in 2003.This sliva  is found on the left wall of the main nave of the church on the side of the altar. There are several such crosses excavated from South India and South Asia reminding us of the common religio cultural patrimony of the East Syriac Christians of the area. Several scholars have studied these crosses and they have been discussed in many oriental scholastic forums. It has been confirmed that these inscriptions are in the Pahlavi script that was used to write middle Iranian languages.

The ancient sliva of Alengad[1] is supposed to be most ancient of this genre of crosses based on the epigraphical studies[2]. The Alengad sliva has been dated back to the 3rd or 4th century AD. It is accepted by scholars that these crosses in South India are unintelligent copies of a single original[3] which could be  the Alengad sliva.

It was Arthur Coke Burnell[4] who first reported that these inscriptions are in Pahlavi, a Middle Persian language[5]. Due to the presence of a Middle Persian language on it, Burnell commented that these could belong to a group of Christians who were once Manicheans and then converted to Christianity as the cross and inscriptions are definitely of Christian in character[6]. Burnell wrote that he would expect more evidence of a Manichean presence in South India.

Richard Collins refuted Burnell's arguments quoting Eusebius' account of Panthaenus who reported to have found Christians with a Gospel of Mathew in Hebrew  characters before the second century to prove that Christianity existed in India before the period of Manes[7].

Further research brought out a large body of evidence pointing towards the presence of Syriac Christianity in relation to Persian Church in Malabar and its connection to the Persian Church refuting the argument of Burnell. Moreover,further studies were carried out and more Pahlavi inscribed crosses were excavated which lead to accurate reading of the inscriptions. It confirmed that these crosses are the most ancient artefacts of the East Syriac Thomasine Christianity in Malabar and its relationshipwith the Church of Fars in Persia Proper.

Certain vested interests within the Syro Malabar Church once resulted in accusations that these crosses were Manichean in origin by misquoting Burnell.  Burnell never commented that these crosses were Manichaean. He only commented that as these crosses bear Pahlavi inscriptions, they could belong to a group of Christians who were once Manicheans[8].

Christian community of Irinjalakkuda

The Christian community of Irinjalakkuda belong to the ancient Christian community of 'Kodungallur'. Due to political disturbances in 'Kodungallur' during 1523-24[9], Christians migrated to nearby places. There is an ancient Christian church at 'Mapranam' near 'Irinjalakkuda' dedicated to 'Mar Sliva'- Holy Cross.

The Eparchy of 'Irinjalakkuada' is part of the Syro Malabar Major Archi episcopal Church within the province of the Arch eparchy of Trichur. Within the religio cultural politics of Thomas Christians of Kerala during the 16th to 19th centuries, the Christian community of 'Irinjalakkuda' and the Eparchy of 'Irinjalakkuda' were part of the  'Pazhayacoor' community of Syriac Christians who remained loyal to the communion with the Universal Catholic Church effected through the Patriarchate of Chaldeans since AD 1552.

During the advent of the colonial Portuguese missionaries, the Saint Thomas Christians were in friendship with them in the initial period. However, due to the heavy handedness of the Portuguese missionaries and attempts at Latinisation, the entire Saint Thomas Christian community in Kerala revolted against the missionaries through the great 'Coonan Cross oath'[10]. Due to the intervention of Rome, Carmelite Missionaries were sent to pacify the situation and majority of the Thomas Christians returned to the Roman communion due to the following reasons.  

The East Syriac Church always accepted the primacy of the Bishop of Rome even when there was no explicit communion[11]. There were several Patriarchs who sent formal letters of communion with the Pope of Rome[12]. One of the famous among them is the visit of 'Ramban Sauma', the then Patriarchal visitor who travelled to Rome to meet with the Pope in 1287.  'Ramban Sauma' was received by the 12 member Cardinals. There was a  formal communion. The Pope allowed 'Ramban Sauma' to celebrate Holy Qurbana in Vatican in the Syriac language.The Pope send  a golden crown, a red embroidered vestment and a ring to Patriarch Jaballaha III with a letter of authorisation as Patriarch of all over the Orientals and made 'Rabban Bar Sauma' as the Papal visitator in 1288[13]. Since 1552, beginning with the Chaldean schism inside the Church of the East, a section lead by Patriarch Yohannan Sulakha came into full communion with the Pope of Rome and there was a continuous line of Bishops sent to Malabar from the Patriarchate of the Chaldeans approved by the Pope of Rome. Since the Synod of Diamper in AD 1599, the whole of Saint Thomas Christian community were in full communion with the Pope of Rome.  

Moreover, the revolting Archdeacon did not have  a canonically legitimate Bishopric consecration while the group that returned to Roman communion had a native Thomas Christian Mar Parambil Chandy as a Bishop with canonically legitimate Bishopric consecration. This led to the majority of Thomas Christians returning to the communion with the Pope of Rome[14].

Paulose Pandari, Mar Rokos, Mar Melus and the Chaldeans of Trichur

The Pazhayacoor group were adherent to the Christian principles of obedience and submission to their legitimate spiritual superiors. This led them to fall into the trap of the spirituo-colonial obedience and submissive stewardship of the Roman Catholic missionaries. The heavy handed attitude of the missionaries were intolerable and it led to the community seeking to get reconnected to the  Babylonian Patriarchate of the Chaldeans. Several delegates were sent to the Patriarchate that resulted in consecrating a native Thomas Christian as a Bishop in 1798- 'Paulose Pandary' as Mar Abraham[15] and sending Patriarchal visitors to Malabar- Mar Thomas Rokos in 1861  and Mar Elia Melus in 1874[16]. These two Patriarchal visitors and their activities resulted in a minor division among the 'Pazhayacoor' which resulted in a group of the followers of Mar Melus joining the non Catholic Church of the East.

Saint Thomas Cathedral of Irinjalakkuda

The Saint Thomas' Cathedral at Irinjalakkuda was formerly the Saint George's church founded in AD 1845 by the migration of Christians from Mapranam, Kalparambu, Veleyanad and nearby places. During the time of 'Mellusian' influence, a majority joined  the Melus party. Some of whom later became the Church of the East in India also called Chaldeans of Trichur. During that time, those 'Pazhayacoor' Syriac Christians in allegiance with the Pope of Rome built another church in 1880 in the name of 'Marth Maryam'. Later, the 'Mellusians' returned to the 'Pazhayacoor' community and both churches became Catholic churches side by side.

When the eparchy of Irinjalakkuda was formed in AD 1978, both the parishes were amalgamated and Saint George's Church was renamed as Saint Thomas' Cathedral.
On the occasion of  the Silver Jubilee of the Eparchy of Irinjalakkuda, renovation works were carried out at the Cathedral church and as part of it , a granite bas relief 'sliva' was made and installed in the church in 2003. Rev Fr Jose Irimpan was the Cathedral Vicar during that period. Fr Irimpan commented that he was aware of the disputes about these crosses but did not consider the disputes as  relevant. Hence he considered installing such a cross in the renovated cathedral. He found this design of cross in a book and commissioned a stone smith at 'Kurukkanpara' near Trichur to make one and installed it in the church[17]

There is no surprise to see this cross installed in the cathedral at Irinjalakkuda as it is very appropriate. The opposition and disputes about these crosses were not from the ordinary faithful or clergy but from certain groups with vested interest inside the Church. The Syro Malabar faithful in Trichur area, being the descendants of the Christians of the ancient Christian centres of Kodungallur and Palayur would be more adherent to the East Syriac spirituality and traditions. They even today celebrate the feast of Denha as 'Pindikuthy perunnaal' with lamps lighted on a plantain bark- pindi. Singing the syriac chant 'El payya- God is Light' was traditionaly associated with this celebration.

Irinjalakkuda Sliva

The basic structure of this  sliva is similar to the most famous among the genre of Pahlavi inscribed crosses of south Asia, 'the Mount Cross'- the sliva adorned in the main altar of the Saint Thomas Mount church at 'Mailappore'. The 'Irinjalakkuda sliva' has a few unique features. It is more complex and elaborate in its artwork.

This 'sliva' looks very  fine in the art work and finish, like a modern make. The granite tablet was made into a niche with two pillars and  an arch with beautiful floral pattern on the base and above the arch. There are a series of flowery pattern engraved over the arch as a band in between two lines. There are floral designs seen on the base also, in 5 square pattern and 4 circles in between with leaf design on both ends. These circular and rectangular shaped 'end on' view floral design is a common theme on the pedestals of most of the open -air rock crosses found in front of the ancient Saint Thomas Christian Churches. The plaster art seen on the walls and facades of some of the ancient Nasrani churches also shows the same pattern. Above the band of floral design on the top of the arch, a plain cross is engraved in the centre with symmetrical leaf petal design on both sides.

Within the niche, the Pahlavi inscribed cross design has been carved. There are again two pillars and a round arch within the niche on either sides of the cross. with Pahlavi inscriptions outside the pillars and arch. On the top of the pillars, as seen on the mount cross, we can identify  the aquatic creature- 'makara'  as seen in the Mount Cross. The arch is three layered with segmentation on the middle layer. The cross has longer lower arm with three buds on all four ends. There is upward directed curved flowery design in three layers surrounded with a linear leaf petal design towards the outer side. Below this, there is downward directed curved pattern with inner layer as plain raised edge and outer two layers appear segmented like linear leaf petal design.

Within this downward directed curved floral pattern, there is an inverted arrow or spear like structure with curved top with indentations. The spear  penetrates into the base design which is a symmetrical rectangular structure with curled vine design on it.

Unlike most Pahlavi inscribed slivas, the three steps on the base of the cross is not present here. The dove is very well designed with two wings and a tail with the feathers clearly seen. On either sides of the dove, there is another inverted floral design.

The Pahlavi inscriptions seem to be the copy of the rest of the crosses. As we already know, the inscriptions on these crosses are unintelligent copies of an original. Since this inscription is a modern make, there is not much epigraphic value in it.

East Syriac theology behind the sliva

'Prabho Mihindukulasuriya' of the Colombo Theological seminary has commented that the Pahlavi inscribed crosses of Sri Lanka and  South India bear three important stylistic elements that characterise East Syriac or Nestorian crosses. They are the leaved elements emerging from the base of the cross, the pearl like element on the ends of the four arms and the three-stepped pedestal[18].

Leaved elements on Crosses, the Tree of Life.

The leaf like design seen on the base of the cross and the sides of the dove and on the top of the slab are quite similar to the  East Syriac Christian iconographic style. K Parry comments that leaved crosses- plain crosses with flared arms with two large leaves raising either side of the base is seen in both East Syriac Christianity and in the Byzantine Christianity.[19]  Armenian Khatchkar, the religio cultural symbol of the ancient Christianity of Armenia, are stone crosses widely seen in Armenia with a plain cross emerging from two leaf like structures on either side. Archaeological studies  of crosses found at  'Ain Shaia' in Iraq, 'Al Qusur' on the island of 'Failaka' of the sixth century and island of 'Kharg' of the sixth century demonstrate that the leaved cross design is common among the East Syriac Christians.[20]

The cross emerging from the leaves on either side symbolises the Tree of Life. For the Syriac fathers, the tree of life symbolises Christ and the Cross[21]. In the Syriac language, the term 'Sliva' denotes 'the Cross', also has a meaning 'the one who is crucified'. The word sliva originates from the root 'slb' which means to crucify. Sliva means the object that is used to crucify and also the one who is crucified. Thus sliva means Christ.

In 'Mapranam', near 'Irinjalakkuda', there is an ancient church in the name of Mar Sliva. The devoteees traditionally call the Sliva as 'Sliva Muthappan'- personifying the cross into a person rather than an object. Here, 'Sliva Muthappan' is Christ himself[22]. This is agreeing with the East Syriac tradition of placing the 'Sliva' in the Madbha as body of Christ and the 'Word'  as the soul of Christ[23]

Gregory of Nazianzen wrote 'Jesus himself is the tree of life, in the same theme of the burial of Jesus it is appropriate to speak of his Person being planted in the earth than the Cross'[24] St Cyril of Jerusalem depicts the Cross as the tree that overcome the sin that came through a tree.[25]
The Irinjalakkuda sliva is adorned with plenty of artwork of leafy pattern above the arch. Many of the leafy pattern is of a  bipetal arrangement.

The Pearl ended arms

The pearl arrangement at the ends of the four arms is also a theme in Syriac devotional literature and iconography. The pearl is a famous theme in Syriac poetry, the Hymn of the Pearl mentioned  in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas depicts partaking in the kingdom of God[26].

In Hymns of the Pearl, Ephraim the Syrian, the great Syriac father and the Harp of the Holy Spirit  highlights the Pearl as salvation.[27]  Crosses with expanding and bifurcating arms terminating in one or three pearls are very common on Christian seals of the Sassanian period. Such crosses are found in stucco crosses and other Christian artefacts in the Far East also. K Parry comments that these crosses ending in pearls are more representatives of the Church of the East than the leaved crosses[28].

Spear replacing the three steps

An important feature of the Irinjalakkuda sliva is the absence of the three steps. The three -steps are replaced with an inverted spear penetrating a rectangular base which is decorated with vine design. This could be the depiction of resurrection. The spear head opening the tomb and the risen Christ stands over it triumphantly depicting the victory over death.

Iconographic and theological development

Overall, the Irinjalakkuda sliva depicts the development of the theology of worship and iconography from simple 'lotus cross and dove' design  to a more complex and elaborate design. As it is a modern design from a book and no local progressive development,  it cannot be considered as a native development of theology or iconography but an adoption from elsewhere. We can observe some initial progressive development of these crosses from the Alengad Sliva to the Mount Cross at Mailappore. Alengad Sliva shows the leafy arrangement similar to that of Mesopotamia which developed into more or less like a lotus shape in the Mount Cross. The lotus is more well defined in similar crosses of Far East. The  pearl at the end of the arms also shows development into a well defined tri petal arrangement like a bud.

The descending dove is an addition from the famous Armenian Khatchkar crosses which are only leaved crosses. This is a theological development in iconography, new life of the church in the Holy Spirit[29]. Descending dove onto a cross has been seen in many ancient Christian artefacts. The sacrophagus of Archbishop Theodore who died in 691 at Ravenna, the apse mosaic of the basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome [30] and a Syrian marble slab of the sixth or seventh centuries[31] are some examples.

Indian religio cultural influence.

When we move from the western coast to the eastern coast of South India, we can see the adoption of more of Indian inculturation in the development of the Sliva specifically with regard to the arch, pillars and  the lotus. The arch is pointed in the Alenagd sliva which becomes a rounded 'torana' on the Mount cross. The round arch is common in Hindu and Budhist art. The arch springs from an aquatic object makara. Makara torana is also seen in Kailasanatha temple of Ellora, seventh century rock temples in Mahabalipuram and at the Vaikuntha Perumal and the eighth century Kailasanatha temples at Kanchipuram[32]. There are many ancient south Indian sculptures from Hindu temples displayed in the British Museum in London  displaying the round arch. This shows the adoption of local culture in the development of iconography of  these Pahlavi inscribed granite crosses of South India. The Saint Thomas Cross is an early, perhaps the earliest example of inculturated Christian art in India.[33]


Saint Thomas Crosses are the only developed icons of worship found among Saint Thomas Christians. According to the early Portuguese writers, the ancient Churches of the Saint Thomas Christians were adorned with only these crosses.

All the so called disputes about this sliva in the 1980s and 1990s came out of the involvement of certain vested interests and  hatemongering groups within the Syro Malabar Church who created anarchy, indiscipline and hatred that hampered the development of the Church. This cross itself is a proof of the evolution of a definite theological development in the church which could have lead to a locally developed liturgical rite. These crosses are an expression of our faith and worship. Theology develops from worship. Icons of worship develop from the faith experience of the community. Iconographic studies are important in studying about worship and the theology of the Church.
Studying about these crosses will definitely lead us to more understanding of our faith and worship and theological development. Ignoring the iconography and theology of  these crosses would be detrimental to the study and development of theology of the Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar. The Theologians and Liturgists of the Syro Malabar Church should focus on studying these Pahlavi inscribed bas relief crosses and inscriptions which could pave way to the development of a local liturgical theology, as a section in the Church is pushing for writing a new anaphora for the Syro Malabar Church. Liturgical theology cannot develop instantaneously on its own as evolution of Liturgy is a progressive development imbibing the local traditions of worship and culture. Any development of Liturgy or Anaphora without considering these crosses are like implanting a new theology to the Church against a natural and progressive theological development.

Thanks to Mr Mathew Mailapprampil for reviewing the paper thoroughly and for opinions, comments  and language corrections.

[1] Alengatte Purathana Thoma sleeha Kurish (Malayalam) Ernakulam Missam, February 1930, pp 78-79. This ancient Pahlavi inscribed granite sliva found near Alengad Church. This was found on the basement of an open air rock cross at the junction near the church.
[2] M T Antony, Alengad Sliva: The neglected jewel of the ancient Christian settlement in Alengad and the most ancient Christian artefact of Malabar, South India, The Harp, Vol XXX, 2016, p267-316.
[3] C P T Winkworth, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi  Cross inscription of South India, The Journal of Theological Studies, April 1929.pp237-243.
[4] Arthur Coke Burnell was an English Sanskrit scholar born in Gloucester in 1870. His father was an official in the East India Company and he moved to Madras in 1860 as a member of the Indian Civil Service. He acquired and presented a collection of 350 Sanskrit manuscripts to the India library in 1870. In 1874, he published 'A handbook of South Indian Paleography'. He wrote articles about the Pahlavi inscriptions on the Mailappore Cross in Indian Antiquary in 1874
[5] A C Burnell, Pehlevi inscriptions, The Academy Vol IV, No 74, June 14, 1873, pp237-238.
[6] A C Burnell, Earliest Christian Missions in South India, in Correspondence and Miscellanea  as a reply to Rev, 18 May 1875, in Indian Antiquary, vol IV, 1875
[7] Richard Collins, Malabar Christians, in Correspondence and Miscellanea, 23 June 1875 Indian Antiquary Vol IV 1875
[8] Burnell connected these Crosses to Persia and assumed that as Christianity was vogue in Persia and Manicheans were popular, it could belong to a group of Christians who were once Manicheans., as the inscription on the Cross was Christian in its content.
[9] Jacob Kollaparambil, The Persian Crosses of India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient,  vol XVMarch 1994 citing A M Mundadan, The Arrival of the Portuguese in India and the Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob, (Bangalore, 1967), PP 99-100
A M Mundadan, History of Christianity in India Vol 1, Church History Association of India, Bangalore, 2001p 302. The Samuthiry and the Muslim army attached Cranganore and burnt the Saint Thomas Christian Churches in AD 1523-24. Christians escaped Kodungallur to nearby places.
[10] Joseph Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India Vol II, Church History Association of India Bangalore, 2001, pp 91-94. The community had sent several letters to Eastern Patriarchs to send a Bishop to Malabar. As a response, one Mar Ahathalla arrived in Mailappore in AD 1652. Two deacons who were in Mailappore on pilgrimage brought this information with a letter from Mar Ahathalla to Kerala in which he stated that he was a Patriarch sent by the Pope. Mar Ahathalla was taken by the Portuguese for inquisition. Archdeacon Thomas organised a meeting of the community at Udayamperoor and requested Archbishop Garcia to take Mar Ahathalla to Malabar. Archbishop Garcia responded that even if Mar Ahathalla was sent by the Pope, Ahathalla did not have the authority from the King of Portugal(Padruado) and hence could not be released. Mar Ahathalla was taken to Goa. In their anger and disappointment of having a Syriac rite Bishop, they took a public oath at Mattancherry on 03 January 1653, stating that they rejected Archbishop Garcia and the Jesuites who disobeyed the Pope and removed their Patriarch sent by the Pope from them. They took this oath by tying a rope to a cross in front of the Church of Our Lady at Mattancherry and  the cross bent as people pulled the rope. Hence, this oath was called the Coonan Cross oath- the bent cross oath.
[11] Rev Dr Placid Podipara, The Church of Selucia and its Catholic Communion, in Collected Works of Rev Dr Placid J Podipara, C M I, vol I Ed. Fr Thomas Kalayil C MI, San Jos Publications, Mannanam, Kottayam, 2007, pp 66-133.. Church of Selucia declared independence from Church of Antioch by the Synod of Markabta in AD 424 by declaring the title of the Metropolitan of Selucia as Catholicose -Patriarch and the second Peter and decided that there should not be any appeals to the Western Fathers. This means only that the Catholicose Patriarch will do all the matters like resolution  of disputes etc that were done by the Western Fathers. According to Rev Dr Placid Podipara, this was only an evolution and organisation of an ecclesiastical assembly. By stating that the Catholicose is second Peter, the Church remained in the Catholic communion by accepting the primacy of Peter. The then Universal Church anathemised Nestorius in the Synod of Ephesus in which the Church of Seleucia did not take part probably due to political reasons. Due to this, the Church of Seleucia was  accused by the later Historians as Nestorians. Later, the Universal Church by the Synod of Chalcedon, accepted the so called Nestorian principles by vehement denial of the Monophytism. Patriarch Timothy I in AD 778 wrote 'If because of the Apostle Peter the first and the Chief rank is preserved to Rome, how much more to Selucia and Ctesiphon   because of the Lord Peter' attesting the Primacy of Peter and  Rome. Another Bishop David contemporary of Patriarch Timothy I praises Rome  "..... glorius Rome  where Peter and Paul are placed as pillars where are the ornament of princess and the stole of those of the household of Abraham..."  in the book 'Mensura Climatum et Variationes Dierum ac Noctium'. Bishop Elias Damascenus of the Churchof the East in AD 893 wrote " have ordered and said let there be in the whole world of four Patriarchs, and more, as four Evangelists.. and let him be the Superior who is Rome...", " The first Patriarch is the Patriarch of Rome  who has so much honour  and eminence  over all the Patriarchs...". Abdallaha Benattubus, a famous canonist of East Syriac Church in  the 11th century  wrote "like the number of four parts of the globe, the Patriarchs are to be four and their Chief , the Patriarch of Rome as the Appostles have ordained."
[12] Rev Dr Placid Podipara, opus cit. pp 136-150.Since the time of Crusades, there was communications between various Popes and East Syriac church. Pope Innocent IV sent Dominican Friars to the Nestorian and Jacobite Patriarchs. The Nestorians gladly entered into communion with the Roman Patriarch. Patriarch Jaballaha II in 1233 professed Catholic faith according to the writings of Guriel. Patriarch Sabriso in AD 1247 had closer relations with the Pope Innocent IV. Pope sent a letter to Sabriso V according to Giamil. Patriarch's vicar Rabban Ara, representing the whole Selucian church submitted a letter to Pope  along with a letter from Chinese Christians  and Metropolitan  Isoyahb of Nisbis and two other Archbishops and three Bishops. This was a formal letter from the Hierarchy of the East Syriac Church. Patriarch Jaballaha III (Monk Markose) sent  Rabban Bar Sauma as his visitator to Rome in 1287.Pope Nicholas IV allowed Rabban Bar Sauma to celebrate Holy Qurbana in Syriac at Rome and on the Palm Sunday, Bar Sauma received Holy Communion from the Pope.
[13] James  A Montgomery, The History of Yaballaha III, Nestorian Patriarch and his vicar Bar Sauma.
[14] It is very interesting to note that prominent Syriac Orthodox churches like Manarcadu, Piravom, Kottayam  Valiyapalli etc were with Bishop Chandy Parampil in the initial period while the Marth Maryam Basilica at Champakulam was with the Archdeacon.
[15] Rev Dr James Puliyurumpil, History of Syro Malabar Church, OIRSI NO 382, pp265-67.Pandary Seesma, (Malayalam) OIRSI Publications,  no 279, p 67.
[16] Cherian Varicatt, The Suriyani Church of India, her quest for autochthonous Bishops (1877-1896), OIRSI no 175 pp6-7 and 14-16
[17] Personal communication with Rev. Dr Irimpan.
[18] Prabho Mihindukulasuriya, Persian Christians of the Anuradhapura Period, in A Cultured faith: Essays in honour of Professor G P V Somaratna on His Seventieth Birthday, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Colombo Theological Seminary, 2011.
[19] K Parry, Images in the Church of the East: The evidence from Central Asia and China, p145, Bulletin of John Rylands University Library, Manchester, 1996
[20] K Parry, opus cit p 146
[21] Mar Aprem wrote that the wood will resemble the cross through the various use of it. It carries on the sea, it guides on the land, it multiplies itself in its advantages and becomes rish in its assistance.
[22] In many places in Kerala where churches are devoted to Mar Sliva, devotees call the sliva  'kuriyachan' in the meaning 'kurish achan' personifying the Cross as a person. This must be the continuation of ancient usage in Syriac tradition. 
[23] Charles Pyngott CMI, The Cross, its place in the Hudra and its sign in Baptism and Eucharist, Doctoral Dissertation submitted to Pontifical Oriental  Institute , Rome, 1971, directed by  Rev Alphons Raes S J, pp 40-41
[24] Gregory of Nazianzen, Oratio XXIX Theologica tertia, Patrologia Greeca, J P  Migne, Paris,36, col 101 cited by Joseph Vazhuthannappally, Archeology of Mar Sliba, OIRSI No 139, p33
[25] Joseph Vazhuthannappalli, Archaeology of Mar Sliba. OIRSI No 139,p 32
[26] A F J Klijn, The so called Hymn of the Pearl, Acts of Thomas Ch 108-113, Vigilie Christiane, vol 14 No 3, sep 1960, pp 154-64
[27] Kathleen E McVey, Ephraim the Syrian, in the Early Christian World Vol II, Ed. Philip Francis Esler, Routledge,  p 449
[28] K Parry, opus cit p 146
[29] Dove and Cross, Indian Church history review, IV.1 June 1970, pp 3-4 cited by Eckehard Bickelmann, The Saint Thomas Cross: An early example of the inculturation of Christian art in India, Indian Church History review, p 66.
[30] John Butler, Further thoughts on the South Indian Crosses, Indian Church History Review,   IV No 2 1970, p 73-74
[31] Eckehard Bickelmann, The saint Thomas Cross: An early example of the inculturation of Christian art in India, Indian Church History review , 25/1 June 1991, p 66.
[32] Eckehard Bickelmann, opus cit,p 64
[33] Eckehard Bickelmann, opus cit,  p 64.