13 February 2021: the 250th Dukhrana of Sahada Mar Ikkako cathanar of Champakulam
Dr Martin Thomas Antony
Ikkako Cathanar of Champakulam who lived in the 18th century, was a Saintly Martyr of the Pazhayacoor Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar. He was subjected to inquisition and torture and was unlawfully killed in the custody of the European Missionaries at Verapoly, which was the headquarters of the Carmelites of the Malabar Mission since the 17th century. Ikkako Cathanar’s death resulted in significant upheaval in the resistance of the Saint Thomas Christians against Latinisations and colonial suppression by the European Missionaries. Ikkako Cathanar’s firm stands for safeguarding the religio-cultural tradition of the local Church cost him his life.
Church of Saint Thomas Christians.
The Church of Saint Thomas Christians of India is an ancient apostolic church that developed in the Indian subcontinent and was founded by Apostle Thomas. It grew in communion with the East Syriac family of churches. Churches in Edessa, Selucia- Ctesiphon, Persia and India were founded by either Apostle Thomas or his disciples Mar Addai and Mar Mari. These churches constitute the East Syriac family of Churches and also referred to as the Church of the East. These Thomasine Churches developed outside the Roman Empire in a Judeo-Christian background. Eastern Syriac was their liturgical language.
The Saint Thomas Christians thrived in the socio-cultural milieu of South India as an indigenous community and thrived as a Christian republic as narrated by some of the Early European Missionaries[i]. Even when they were under different Kings, the community was governed by local, regional and national assemblies (Palliyogams) developed in the form of ‘manrams’ of the ancient Dravidian communities[ii]. The Palliyogam held authority over all Christians in social, ecclesial, civil, and even criminal matters. The Archdeacon, a native priest was the President of the National Assembly and the administrator while the Bishops were only spiritual authority.
Colonial Missionary Enterprise.
During the middle ages, Portuguese Roman Catholic Missionaries arrived in Babylon and India. In Babylon, they managed to get a faction of the East Syriac Church (Church of the Est) into the Catholic communion and they formed the Patriarchate of Chaldeans in AD 1552. In AD 1498, the first fleet of Portuguese navigators arrived in Kerala under the leadership of Vasco Da Gama. This was followed by traders and Missionaries. Since then, the Roman Catholic Missionaries continued their influence in the public and religious life of the Saint Thomas Christians using political force and commercial and economic influence on the local rulers. They interfered with the religio cultural aspects of the native Thomas Christians and tried to separate them from the Patriarchate of Chaldeans and Patriarchate of Babylon and to subjugate them under the Roman Catholic Church. When Mar Abraham, the last Chaldean Bishop died in 1597, the missionaries tried everything to make sure that no other bishops should come from Babylon. The Roman Catholic Missionaries felt that everything not under the Roman Catholic faith was wrong and heretic. They considered the Syriac language and the Bishops of Syriac rite arriving in Kerala as vehicles of heresy[iii]. The unlawful synod of Diamper organised by the European Missionaries suppressed the authority of the Archdeacon and the Church assemblies. Eventually, the Church of Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala lost its connection to the Church of the East and was subjugated to the Roman Catholic Church. They had to depend on the Latin rite Bishops for all the ecclesial and spiritual needs. Their religio cultural life was suppressed and the community underwent persecution[iv].
This resulted in a great revolt, known as the Coonan Cross Oath and subsequent installation of the Archdeacon as the Bishop and Head of the local Church was a declaration of independence from the colonial European Missionaries. The efforts of reconciliation by the Church of Rome with the Carmelites and the change in the political situation, with the Dutch capturing Cochin and forcing all European Missionaries to leave Malabar resulted in Palliveettil Chandy Cathanar a nephew of the Archdeacon and a former consulter being canonically consecrated as the Bishop of Saint Thomas Christians. Thus, the community divided into two, those who continued the existent rite and communion with the Roman Church for about 99 years were called Pazhayacoor- the old allegiance, and those who sought for a new alliance with the Syriac Church of Antioch were called the Puthencoor-the new allegiance.
The Portuguese Missionaries with their religiopolitical force made sure that no Bishops from the East Syriac Church could arrive in Malabar. When the Puthencoor became converted to the Antiochene West Syriac rite, the gap between the two communities widened and the Missionaries then realised that the Pazhayacoor Thomas Christians are helpless as they could neither join the Puthencoor nor could they re-establish the age-old alliance with the Patriarchate of Chaldeans. They used this pathetic situation to completely subjugate them and try to convert them en masse to the Latin Rite.
The native Priests were very resistant to latinisations. They considered their East Syriac tradition and liturgy as their blood and race. Palakkunnathu Mathai Mariam Cathanar wrote in his chronicles that his blood was Chaldean and hence he did not agree with the actions of the Missionaries[v]. The native Christians proclaimed that the Syriac language and worship were handed over to them by Apostle Thomas[vi]. And hence they were so attached to it.
The European Missionaries wanted to hurt the pride of the native clergy by bullying and harassing them as they knew that they would not want to join the Puthencoor faction and they were unable to re-establish their connection to the East Syriac Church. The Missionaries started harassing and intimidating the native priests to subjugate them as they were helpless. The native Christians were accused as heretics and their priests were considered as inferior to the European Priests. The native priests were not even allowed to sit before European Missionaries or dine with them. Several Priests were persecuted, tortured, and even killed. The native Priests were subjected to severe harassment because of their race and colour.
Sahada Mar Ikkako Cathanar.
Ikkako Cathanar was born in the Puthenpurackal/Puthenparampil[vii] family at Chamapakulam. He was the vicar of Edappalli Church and was martyred by the colonial European Missionaries in AD 1771. With the available documents, we can assume that Ikkako Cathanar was wrongly accused in the case of a lost gold monstrance at the Verapoly church in AD 1771 and was forcefully taken in custody by the European Missionaries, tortured and killed unlawfully in custody. This case was heard by a minister of the Kingdom of Travancore and two missionaries were convicted to pay a fine[viii]. There is also documentary evidence that Lawrence Justiniani, the Carmelite Apostolic visitor of the time who attended the Maha Palliyogam of Mar Thoma Nasranis at Mar Hormis Church Angamaly held from the 20th of August to 5th of September 1773, agreed along with many things, that the Mar Thoma Nasrani Cathanars would not be punished without being judged by the representatives of four churches (regional Palli yogams) He also agreed in writing that in future, the native Cathanars would not be tortured or punished without studying the matter[ix]. Some authors like Ambrosius commented that it was agreed that all cases of the Syrians would be judged by their own judges[x]. This is an admission that Ikkako Cathanar was convicted, ill-treated, tortured, and killed without a fair trial.
Moreover, a letter from Congregation of Propaganda Fide to Vicar Apostolic in Malabar in 1774[xi] also mentions “sacred congregation orders and commands both the Vicar Apostolic and the missionaries of that mission that for the future they should abstain from practising such cruelties especially towards the priests and the ecclesiastics of that nation. In punishing them for their faults after having had legitimate proofs, they should adopt only means in harmony with meekness and sweetness demanded by charity, the character of their office, and prudence, which should direct them not to anger a nation which suffers badly from the yoke of being governed by the directors and the heads of a different rite on whose will alone depends on its separation from the Catholic union at one stroke”. In this, it is obvious that the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of Faith observed that Ikkako Cathanar was convicted without having legitimate proofs and was ill-treated, tortured and killed.
From history, we can see that during his last days, Ikkako Cathanar pleaded for the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharist but they were denied to him[xii]. This itself is enough for us to believe that Ikkako Cathanar achieved a glorious place in the house of the Lord Almighty.
Ikkako Cathanar was buried without any sacredness on the side of a pond on the premises of Verapoly church.[xiii]
The Chronicles of Poothara Korah Cathanar kept with the Poothara family at Champakulam describes a dispute with European Padres at Champakulam in which Ikkako Cathanar standing firmly for the rights of the ‘Desathupattakkar’ (priests of the Parish) for leading and carrying the reliquary at the procession during the celebration of the main feast of the church.[xiv] A few people who accompanied the European Missionaries were caught in action while trying to take valuable gold ornaments from the reliquaries. This resulted in public disgrace to the European Missionaries. As Ikkako Cathanar was in the forefront of this resistance to the colonial-minded Missionaries for invading into the law, customs, and rituals of this local church, he was targeted for revenge when he was at Verapoly[xv].
The author has recently visited the church at Verapoly(Saint Joseph’s and Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, Verapoly, Ernakulam District, Kerala). There is a pond on the right side of the church about 500 metres away behind the school and in front of the parish hall. The pond has been modified, concreted all around as it is in front of the parish hall. This could be the pond on the side of which, Ikkako Cathanar was buried without any sacredness.
Observations on Ikkako Cathanar event
1. This was a conflict between two individual churches. A native church was forcefully invaded by another church of different rite and traditions using the colonial power. Mar Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of Mar Yohannan the Evangelist is the first Church Father who used the term ‘catholic,’ in his Epistle to Smyrneans, where he used it in the meaning a communion of local churches of different traditions[xvi]. Therefore, this was against the concept of the Universal church encoded since the Apostolic period.
2. One of the European Missionaries who had a significant role in the persecution and murder of Ikkako Cathanar was later appointed as the vicar apostolic to the Pazhayacoor, the Thomas Christians in the Catholic fold. This shows the pathetic situation of the Catholic Thomas Christians. Even with these harassments and helpless situation, the native Thomas Christian Priests of the Catholic fold continued their resistance to Latinisations and love to their local church and rite resulted in Rome recognising their rite and establishing Vicariates for Syo Chaldean faithful in Malabar in 1887 and later the Syro Malabar Hierarchy in 1923.
3.This event was an example of persecution of native Christians by European Missionaries.
3.a The faithful and their Priests were stamped as heretics.
3b. Discrimination of the native Priests based on race. The native priests were neither allowed to sit before the European Priests not dine with them. This is seen in the documentations by Nidheerickal Mani Cathanar and Palakkunnel Mathai Maryam Cathanar[xvii].
3c. Persecutions in the form of beating the Priests, chaining the Priests and displaying them in public, beating up by people of inferior caste in a caste driven socio-political milieu of the middle ages[xviii]. It would be surprising to note that these persecutions were carried out for not obeying the Missionaries, for carrying the reliquaries on a feast etc.
4 It is obvious that the foreign Missionaries did not observe the moral and ethical values narrated and propagated in the Synod of Diamper in treating the native Priests and faithful.
Implications of Ikkako Cathanar event and the Angamaly Mahayogam.
Ikkako Cathanar’s death resulted in significant upheaval in the resistance of the Saint Thomas Christians against Latinisations and colonial suppression by the European Missionaries.
Ikkako Cathanar event and the intimidation at the funeral service of Bishop Florence in 1773 resulted in the famous Angamaly Yogam- the Synod of Angamaly in 1773 AD for 16 days from Aug 23 to Sept 5 at the St Hormiz church Angamaly. About 500 representatives from 72 Churches attended the Synod. The Synod demanded a solution for the maltreatment and harassment from the European Missionaries[xix].
The Synod could force the representatives of the Missionaries to agree with the demands in writing but one can observe that they did not observe them[xx].
The synod also resulted in these issues being discussed in the Sacred Congregation for the propagation of the faith in the Roman Curia in 1774 AD[xxi]. This was a great achievement. The Sacred Congregation sent a letter to the Missionaries in Malabar prohibiting them from these kinds of maltreatment and commented that “ in punishing them for their faults after having had legitimate proofs, they should adopt only means in harmony with meekness and sweetness demanded by charity, the character of their office, and prudence, which should direct them not to anger a nation which suffers badly from the yoke of being governed by the directors and the heads of a different rite on whose will alone depends on its separation from the Catholic union at one stroke.[xxii]”
From this, one can observe that the martyrdom of Mar Ikkako Cathanar resulted in Rome realising the need for recognising the Saint Thomas Christians, their rite and traditions which might have paved the way for establishing the Syro Malabar Hierarchy later.
According to certain family documents, the date of the martyrdom of Ikkako cathanar was ME 946 Kumbham 5[xxiii] which would be 13th February 1771[xxiv]. Therefore, February 2021 would be the 250th martyrdom. (But, ME 1196 Kumbham 5 will be 17 February 2021[xxv]) The faithful of the Syro Malabar Church would like the sacred memory of Sahada Mar Ikkako Cathanar of Champakulam to be remembered and glorified. Mar Ikkako Cathanar was a martyr for the local particular Church of Saint Thomas Christians and steadfastly stood firm for their particular law, traditions, and customs. He was also martyred on wrong accusations and without proper trial and evidence. Mar Ikkako Cathanar could escape these persecutions if he had admitted the accusations but he stood for the truth and dignity of the local church.
In connection with the 250th year of the martyrdom of Ikkako cathanar, Ruha Media organised a webinar on 8th November 2020. See the link.
(Credits. Thanks to Mr Mathew Mailapparampil for thoroughly reviewing the paper and for suggestions and corrections. Thanks to Ruha Media for permission to use the link to the webinar.)
[i] Paulinus De Bartholomew, Viaggio alle Indie Orientali, Roma Presso Antonio Fulgoni, 1796, p 136, William Johnston, A voyage to East Indies containing an account of the manners customs and of the natives with geographical description of the country collected from observations made during a residence of thirteen years between 1776 and 1789 in districts little frequented by Europeans by Fra Paolino Da San Bartolomeo with notes and illustrations by John Reinhold Forster, translated from German by William Johnston, London, 1800, p 196
[ii] Alexander P varghese, India: History, Religion, vision, and contribution to the world, vol 1 Atlantic Publishers New Delhi, 2008, p 318
[iii] David Taylor, The Channel through which flows every kind of heresy: European antagonism towards Syriac language and texts on the Malabar coast , 16-18 centuries, Paper presented to Aram Society for Syro Mesopotamian Studies Forty Eighth International Conference on Syriac Christianity, 11-13 July 2018
[iv] Abraham M Nidhiry, Father Nidhiri, A History of his time, Kottayam 1971, p53, 65
[v] Palakkunnel Mathai Maryam Cathanar, Palakkunnel Valyachante Nalagamam Malayalam (Chronicles of Palakkunnel Mathai Maryam cathanar), Palakkunnel Mathai mariam Cathanar Death centnary Committee, 2000, p 145
[vi] Rev Dr Placid Podipara, The Hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church, in Rev Dr Thomas Kalayil (Ed) Collected works of Rev Dr Placid Podipara CMI, Vol 1 p678 citing Giamil who narrated that in a letter sent by three saint Thomas Christians in 1578 to Pope saying our prayers are in Syriac or Chaldean language which was handed over to us by our Lord Saint Thomas and we and our predecessors have been taught this language.
[vii] The Editor of Varthamana pusthakam published by OIRSI 1989 edition states the family name as Puthenpurackal. Many documents from Chamapkulam use the term Puthenpurackal- like the Chronicles of Poothara Korah Cathanaar, the book of Jacob J Kurialacherry But Fr Bernard Thomas in Keralathile Mar Thoma Kristhysnikal, mentions the family name Puthenparampil. Fr Jacob Nellikkunnath in Changanacherry athiroopatha innale, innu, mentions Puthenparampil in page 87 and Rev Dr Xavier Koodapuzha in Bharatha sabha Charithram. It seems those who accepted the term Puthenparampil are quoting Bernard Thomas.
[viii] Rev. Dr.Thomas Kalayail, Ed. Collected works of Rev Dr Placid J Podipara CMI Vol I, The Thomas Christians, p 393, Rev. Dr Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion Efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical-Critical analysis of the Contemporary Documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trichur, 2008, p 229
[ix] Revd. Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion Efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical-Critical analysis of the Contemporary Documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trichur, 2008, p 225
[x] Revd. Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion Efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical-Critical analysis of the Contemporary Documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trichur, 2008, p 225 citing Ambrosius, Hierarchia Carmelitana seu Series Illistrium Praesulum Ecclesiasticorum ex Ordine Carmelitarum Discalceatorum, Fasc. IV, Romae, 1939
[xi] Archives of the Congregation of the Evangelisation of People, Istruzion Tomus II, ff 76v-77r and Scritture Originali Riferite nei Congressi Generali 839, f.224 cited by Dr V Puthusserry, Reunion Efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical-Critical analysis of the Contemporary Documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trichur, 2008, p 226.
[xiii] Paremmakkal Thomman cathanar, Varthamana pusthakam, OIRSI Pubications Vadavathoor Edition 1989 p 52
[xiv] Abraham M Nidhiri, Father Nidhiri:A History of his time, Kottayam, 1971, p 65. It was the right of the local priests to carry the reliquaries on the processions but when Florence of Jesus of nazerath was the Vicar Apostolic (1752-1773) he insisted that the European Padres should lead the processions and carry the reliquaries.
[xv] Mathew Mailaparampil, Joseph George, Ikkako Kathanar, the forgotten martyr, March 19, 2014 at www.nasrani.net accessed on 03/02/2019 https://www.nasrani.net/2012/07/01/ikkako-kathanar-the-forgotten-martyr/#identifier_12_976 citing Jacob J Kuriallacherry, Kalloorkkadu Palliyum Suriyani Christianikalum, (mal) Chamapakulam, 1986.
[xvi] Richardson, Cyril C. “The Church in Ignatius of Antioch.” The Journal of Religion, vol. 17, no. 4, 1937, pp. 428–443. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1196375. Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.
[xvii] Abraham M Nidhiry, Father Nidhiri, A History of his time, Kottayam 1971, p53, 65and 100; Palakkunnel Mathai Maryam Cathanar, Palakkunnel Valyachante Nalagamam Malayalam (Chronicles of Palakkunnel Mathai Maryam cathanar), Palakkunnel Mathai mariam Cathanar Death centnary Committee, 2000, p270.
[xviii] Rev Dr Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical- critical analysis of the contemporary documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trissur,2008, p221- 233;
[xix] Rev Dr Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical- critical analysis of the contemporary documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trissur,2008 p 216
[xx] Rev Dr Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical- critical analysis of the contemporary documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trissur,2008 p 233
[xxi] Rev Dr Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion efforts of St Thomas Christians of India 1750-1773, A Historical- critical analysis of the contemporary documents, Mary Matha Publications, Trissur,2008 p224-225
[xxii] Rev Dr Varghese Puthusserry, Reunion efforts of St Thomas Christians of India (1750-1773) citing Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of the peoples, Iztruzione Tomus 2, ff 76v-77r and Scritture Originali Riferite nei Congressi Vol839, f 224
[xxiii] Mathew Mailapparampil, Joseph George, Ikkako kathanar, the forgotten martyr, NSC network. https://www.nasrani.net/2012/07/01/ikkako-kathanar-the-forgotten-martyr/ accessed on 09 Feb 2021.
[xxiv] https://www.drikpanchang.com/malayalam/malayalam-month-calendar.html?date=09/02/1771 accessed on 10 Feb 2021
[xxv] https://www.drikpanchang.com/malayalam/malayalam-month-calendar.html accessed on 10 Feb 2021