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