Sunday 20 May 2012

"Cruz de Sam Thome" - Crosses of Saint Thomas- Mar Thoma Sliba

Antonio Gouvea has documented that the Pahlavi inscribed crosses of South India as Crosses of Saint Thomas. He has witnessed that our churches were all adorned with these Crosses like those of the miracle of S. Thome, which they call Cross of Saint Thomas. (1). Gouvea used the phrase "Cruz de Sam Thome." in his famous book 'Jornada of Dom Alexis Menesis' (2) His accounts show two important points.

1 Our Churches were adorned with Mar Thoma Crosses.

2 The native Christians called them Crosses of Saint Thomas- Mar Thoma Slibas.

There are many who argues that with the phrase "Cruz de Sam Thome", Gouvea meant as Cross of the city of Saint Thomas- Mailappore. In short, their argument is that Gouvea called these as Crosses of Mailappore not Crosses of Saint Thomas. They argue that the term Saint Thomas Cross or Mar Thoma Sliba is a later invention manipulating Gouvea's words. It is not true.

Gouvea was describing widespread presence of granite Crosses in Malabar Churches as a prominent religio cultural symbol of Thomas Christians of Malabar. Addressing these Crosses as Crosses of Mailappore does not fit into the context as there was only one Cross at Mailppore and how can he name Crosses found in Malabar as Crosses of Mailappore, another geographical place ? Crosses of Saint Thomas or Crosses of Saint Thomas Christians or Crosses of Saint Thomas' tradition may fit well in this context. He could have only mentioned, Crosses similar to that of Mailappore, which he did already.

Here, it is not what he wanted to say, but he was reporting what people said during the time period.

Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil is an Associate Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi.He has published 10 books and over a hundread research articles at International level.

His areas of Specialisations are Indo Portuguese History, Trans marine trade, Maritime history of India, European expansion and urbanisation in Asia, Socio economic history of Medieval India, culture and state of South India, studies in Indian Ocean societies and religion and society in South Asia. (3)

Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil, with his immense knowledge and experience in the Medieval History of South India and Indo Portuguese History, comments that with the phrase "Cruz de Sam Thome", Gouvea meant exactly Crosses of Saint Thomas. As he has studied the book of Gouvea, Jornanda of Archbishop Alexis Dom Menesis, and also with his experience in the Portuguese documents and language at that time, gives an opinion that Gouvea used the word "Sam Thome" to denote the person Saint Thomas the Apostle and the abbreviation "S. Thome" to denote the City of Saint Thomas- Mailappore as elsewhere in the book. (4) Wherever he used the word "Sam Thome" or "Sao Thome" in his book, he used it to mean the person Saint Thomas the Apostle and wherever he used the abbreviation "S . Thome" or "S. Thome", he used it to mean the City of Saint Thomas- Mailappore. Same is the case in most of the Portuguese documents since AD 1520.The word "Sam" in not a Portuguese word, but a Spanish word. The equivalent Portuguese word is "Sao". Many spanish words were used in Gouvea's book Jornada and also in many Portuguese documents. In most of the Portuguese documents, Mailappore is mentioned as "S. Thome" or " S.Tome", since the excavations of Mailapoore in AD 1520.

Rev Dr Malekkandathil admits that this opinion is based purely on his familiarisation of the documents of the time period rather than any written law. (5)

So,the terminology “Mar Thoma Sliba” or “Saint Thomas Cross” was used to denote these Pahlavi inscribed Crosses of Thomas Christians even before the arrival Portuguse as witnessed by Antonio Gouvea, and hence, unlike the arguments of some, the term “Saint Thomas Cross” or “Mar Thoma Sliba” is not a later invention.

These Crosses were called Mar Thoma Slibas or Saint Thomas Crosses, but these are not erected by Saint Thomas the Apostle himself. We all know that during Apostolic times, Cross was not recognized as a Christian emblem. Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil observes that all these Crosses might have been copies of the Cranganore cross which has been attributed to Apostle Thomas by tradition and hence called Saint Thomas Crosses.

Gouvea also witnesses the oral tradition or belief of the local Nasranis that the Cross at Cranganore, which was similar to that found in Mailppore was placed there by Apostle Thomas himself. (6) Gouvea describes that the Cranganore cross was very important to the nasranis. It was placed in the middle of a chapel which is open on one side with railings. The local Nasranis had a lot of devotion to this Cross which was believed to have made so many miracles even to the gentiles. Gouvea describes that the gentile king, when he lost something precious, sent some oil to this cross and he found the lost thing. This shows that there was facility for burning oil in front of this cross. Archbishop Menesis had celebrated a mass in front of this Cross. (7)

These Crosses were called by local Nasranis as Saint Thomas Crosses or Mar Thoma Slibas when the Portuguese arrived. The Portuguese found these Crosses as the most prominent Religio Cultural Emblem of the Thomas Christians. It is a meaningful religious symbol of Thomas Christian tradition. (8)

Foot notes.

1. Jornada of Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Ed. Dr. Pius Malekandathil, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2003, pp244- 245

2.The full title is 'Jornada do Arcebispo de Goa Dom frei Aleixo de Menezes Primaz da India Orientali, Religioso da Ordem de s. Agostinho. Quando foy as Serras do Malavar, & Iugares em que morao os antigos Christaos de S. Thome & os tirou de muytos erros& obediencia da Santa Igreja Romana, da qual passava de mil annosquhe estavao apartados'

3. NSC network, Nasrani Christians and Social processes of Kerala, 07/03/2011 accessed on 20 May 2012

4. Jornada of Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguse Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Ed. Dr. Pius Malekandathil, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2003, foot note p 245

5. Personal communication with Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil dated 29/04/2012.

6. Jornada of Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Ed. Dr. Pius Malekandathil, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2003 p216

7 Jornada of Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Ed. Dr. Pius Malekandathil, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2003 p 216

This particular Cross, that has been mentioned in very detail by Gouvea in AD 1606 is not seen in Cranganore today. We know that in AD 1524, all the three Churches of Nasranis at Cranganore- Saint Mary's, Saint Thomas' and Saint Kuriackose' churches were burned down in a war, the Christians took their crosses and moved to Kaduthuruthy and from there these Crosses were moved to Kottayam.( Fr Jacob Kollamparabil, Persian crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994, quoting Mundadan, The arrival of Portuguese in India and the Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob, pp99-100 ) We can see two of those crosses in Kottayam Valiyaplli even today. This cross described by Gouvea in AD 1606 could be the third cross which was hidden somewhere in Cranganore, was re-erected when the political circumstances where favourable. There is an argument that the Cross found near Saint Mary's Forane Church, Alengadu, under the Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam- Angamaly of the Syro Malabar Church-'The Alengadu Cross' is the Cranganore Cross described by Gouvea.( B T Anklesaria, )During the tension between Thomas Christians and the Portuguese Missionaries, there was a move of Eastern Iconoclasm by the Portuguese and this Cross might have been moved or abandoned and found on the wayside in AD 1930

8. G Nedungatt, Quest for the Historical Thomas Apostle of India, a rereading of evidence, 2008, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore , p386-387

Sunday 8 January 2012


Major Archbishop Alencherril Mar Giwargis Bava has been designated as a Cardinal. The Syro Malabar Church- the Holy See of Apostle Thomas has been recognised again. The Father and Head of the Catholic Thomas Christians is in the supreme council of the See of Apostle Peter.

It was not unexpected that Major Archbishop Alencherril Mar Giwargis Bava would be elevated into a Cardinal. The first Syro Malabar dignitary to become a Cardinal was Mar Joseph Parekkattil, the late Archbishop of Ernaculum in AD 1969. The first Indian Cardinal was Cardinal Valarian Gracious who was the Archbishop of Bombay, elevated to the rank of a Cardinal in AD 1953.There were 10 Cardinals from India so far.

They were

1 Cardinal Valarian Gracious (1953)
2.Cardinal Joseph Parekkattiil (1969)
3.Cardinal Lawrence Picachy- (1976)
4.Cardinal Simon Lourdesami (1985)
5 Cardinal Antony Padiyara (1988)
6 Cardinal Simon Pimenta (1988)
7 Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil (2001)
8 Cardinal Ivan Dias (2001)
9 Cardinal Telesphore Toppo (2003)
10 Cardinal Oswald Gracias (2007)

Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinals are important dignitaries-senior ecclesiastical official- of the Roman Catholic Church. They are called Princes of the Church. The Cardinals work as counsellors to the Pope of Rome in various aspects of the government of the Church. They assist the Roman Pontiff either collegially or individually when they occupy various offices in the Roman Curia. The college of Cardinals elect the Pope of Rome in a vacancy. Thus, the college of Cardinals function like a 'Permanent Synod'. (1) Cardinals are so previlaged in the Catholic Church that they come immediately after the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.

The three Grades of Cardinals

The Cardinals are of three degrees- The Cardinal Bishops, The Cardinal Priests and the Cardinal Deacons.

Cardinal Bishops

Even though all the Cardinals are of Episcopal order, Cardinals are of three degrees. Cardinal Bishops are senior prelates holding titles of titular bishops of the Sees in the vicinity of Rome(suburbicarian Sees) and hold important administrative positions in the Roman Curia. They are limited in number. The Eastern Patriarchs who were elevated to the Cardinals are also included in this order, but they hold their original title. Cardinal Bishops have always been from the Episcopal order. The head of the College of Cardinals- the Dean is elected from the Cardinal Bishops. The Dean of the College of Cardinals presides over should a vacancy of a Pope occurs and coordinates the conclave.

Cardinal Priests.

Today, most of the Cardinals are Cardinal Priests, even though they are Bishops. In the past, Cardinal Priests were important Priests in Rome who were selected by the Pope to assist and advise him. When the church started appointing Cardinals from beyond Roman territories, each one is assigned to a titular church in Rome. Cardinal Priests are inferior in rank to the Cardinal Bishops.

Cardinal Deacons.

Cardinal Deacons are the most inferior in rank among the cardinals. They represent the ancient seven deacons of the Papal household and seven deacons who supervised the work of the church in seven districts of Rome. Today, the Cardinal Deacons are the officials of Roman Curia or Priests who were elevated to a Cardinal after the age of 80. The senior most Cardinal Deacon is called the Cardinal Proto Deacon or Senior Cardinal Deacon, who announces the election of a Pope after the conclave. In the past, laymen could become a Cardinal and were enrolled as a Cardinal Deacon. In 1917,( Pope Benedict XV) it was promulgated that only Priests and Bishops could become a Cardinal. Since the time of Pope John XXIII, it became customary that a Cardinal designate who is not a Bishop has to be consecrated as a Bishop before occupying the post. (2)


Cardinals wear a scarlett cassock- blood like red colour symbolises that they are willing to die for the church, over which, a white rochet, scarlet mozzetta and a scarlet biretta- a square cap. But, Eastern rite Patriarchs continue to wear their normal dress appropriate to their rite. All the previous Syro Malabar Cardinals were seen wearing the Latin vestments.

It is enlightening that our Bava has hinted that he would not prefer Roman vestments and continue to wear the vestments appropriate to the Syro Malabar Church. We are grateful to the Lord Iso Mishiha in having a Pontiff who upholds the identity and individuality of our Church in the Universal Catholic Communion.

Cardinals from Syro Malabar Church.

Syro Malabar hierarchy was restored in AD 1887. Native Prelates were appointed in only AD 1896.

The first person elevated to a Cardinal from the Syro Malabar Church was Mar Joseph Parekkattil, the late Archbishop of Ernaculum in AD 1969. He was enrolled as a Cardinal Priest of S. Maria "Regina Pacis" a Monte Verde in the consistory of 28 April 1969. He has participated in the conclave in August 1978 to elect Pope John Paul I and also in October 1978 to elect pope John Paul II.

Late Major Archbishop Padiyara Mar Antonius Bava was elevated as a Cardinal Priest in 1988. He was enrolled in the consistory of 28 June 1988 as the Cardinal Priest of S. Maria "Regina Pacis" a Monte Verde.

Late Major Archbishop Vithayathil Mar Giwargis I Bava was elevated as a Cardinal Priest of S Bernardo alle Terme on 21 Feb 2001 and has attended the conclave in 2005 to elect Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, Major Archbishop Alencheril Mar Giwargis II Bava has been designated as a Cardinal and will be enrolled in the consistory on 18 February 2012.

Cardinal position for Eastern Churches.

College of Cardinals are like the permanent synod of the Universal Catholic Church. It is considered as a special recognition of the Eastern particular churches, to include them also in the College of Cardinlas. Syro Malabar Church has been recognised to be elevated into this status for the last 43 years and thus, the voices of the Syro Malabar church was heard in the highest statutory body of the Universal Catholic Church.

All these recognition are the effects of the great work done by personalities like Rev Dr Placid Podipara in Rome. As a Consultor in Rome for the Holy See, he argued for the recognition of the Eastern Rite particular churches in the Catholic communion and promulgated the concept of the Universal Catholic Church as a communion of the See of Rome and the Eastern churches. Eastern Churches were given autonomy.

Still, many corners consider that the concept of the Universality of Catholic Church is not completely evolved yet. Roman rite is still considered as the Universal church with Eastern Churches as its minor partners. We need people like Rev Dr Placid today to redefine the concept Universal Catholic Church with Roman rite and Eastern rites as its equal partners accepting the primacy of the Patriarch of Rome. Now, the representation of Eastern Catholic Churches is merely the membership of four or five in the college of 192 Cardinals.

The Universal Catholic Communion has to have another superior level of council like a real permanent synod with all the heads of the particular churches as members with its primus inter pares(first among equals), the Patriarch of Rome. Let the College of Cardinals be the superior council of the Roman Curia as it is now. In this situation, the Eastern Patriarchs and Archbishops need not be members of the College of Cardinals but members of the superior authority- the permanent synod of the Universal Catholic Church which deals with the Universality of the Church. This status will give more independence to the Eastern churches and limit the confusion among the Bishops, clergy and laity about the role of a Particular Church in the communion. This will encourage ecumenism also as many non catholic churches are still anxious about the colonial hang up of the Roman Rite. Let us hope that the Ruha D Kudisha will guide our Fathers in this regard and influence them to lead the evolution of the Universal Catholic Communion in the real sense.


Let us hope that we don't under estimate the title of Major Archbishop over this Cardinal title. Many people consider the title of Cardinal, superior to that of a Major Archbishop, which s not true. Major Archbishop is the Father and Head of the Particular Church- the Director of the See of Apostle Thomas. It is much a higher dignity than membership in the College of Cardinals.
Let us pray our Lord to strengthen our Bava to lead us to eternal salvation by keeping our identity and individuality in the Universal Catholic Church. Let the Ruha D Kudisha inspire him to influence the Fathers of the Universal Church in his new role.


1. Catholic encyclopedia article about Cardinal. accessed on 08 Jan 2012
2 Wikipeia article about Cardinal ( catholicism) accessed on 08 January 2011