St. Thomas

On the command of Jesus to spread the Gospel to the four corners of Earth, all disciples traveled to different parts of the world. St. Thomas was given East and India and he came to North west India and later South India and spread the holy gospel of Jesus. Apostle converted many people to the Christian faith and rituals. The people who thus became Christians called themselves Marthoma Christians.clip_image001

The history of Christianity in India thus starts from the missionary activity of St. Thomas. The early biographical details, early life, relatives etc. of St. Thomas are not recorded in the Gospels. Only Indication in the holy Bible is that the apostle was a native of Galilee in Palestine, and was a fisherman by profession. He was called Thomas and had a second name. Didymos which is the Greek word for “Twin”. In the Jewish tradition the name Thomas is absent. The real name must be Jude. In the Syriac tradition he is called Jude Thomas or Thoma, who is called Jude  Thomas.



Thomas who is called Jude (John 14:18, and 24) and the other Jude is used in Codex Sinaiticus to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, the traitor disciple, who showed Jesus to Jewish authorities for 30 silver coins. The synoptic gospels also used the name Juda. The Acts of Thoma also calls him Jude Thomas. Mar Aprem, for John 20:24, also used the name Juda thoma. The occidental tradition calls hime Thomas, but the oriental tradition calls hime Juda. The Syriac traditions holds that Thomas is one among the four brothers of Jesus, hinted in the Synoptic gospel. Modern historical research by Martin Gielen also holds this views. They were actually the children of clepha’s (brother of Joseph) daughter Mariam, thus cousin brothers of Jesus. They grew up with Jesus in Galilee and hence considered brothers of Jesus.

The aprocryphal book of Thomas the contender, also pictures apostle Thomas as brother of Jesus. But it cannot be held indisputably whether St. Thomas was one among these three or four brothers. St. John the apostle, in his gospel gave much importance to St. Thomas. This means that eastern European traditions carried the west Asian traditions connected with St. Thomas in Persia.

“Let us also go and die with him” and the declaration of faith “my Lord and my God” are credited to St. Thomas in the Gospel according to St. John. The innocent expression of St. Thomas that “We do not know, where are thou going unto” paved way for the declaration of Jesus “I am the way, the truth and life” in the end. St. Thomas was courageous, truthful and expressed his logical mind in the gospel. The declaration of the godhood, personality and messianic role of Jesus came from the words of St. Thomas. It is a great testimony of the greatness of the disciple (John 11:8, 14: 20-28). The Epistle of Hebrews, and Epistle of Jude are credited to St. Thomas by Gielen.

The Manichaen and Gnostic thoughts are given in the three apocryphal books, gospel According to St. Thomas, gospel according to St. Mary and one Act of Thomas. They are credited to the authorship of the apostle. They  were detected in 1945 from the Nag Hammadi Texts of Egypt. These books give clear evidence of his single handed missionary journey in the west Asian and central Asian lands and in the Mesopotomian crescent including the Persian lands of oxus-Jaxartes basins, media, Bactria,Sind etc. The Indian missionary activity was given a foundation and initial seeds were sown by him, in his lonely effort. It is also handed down in tradition that he gave sermons in Ceylon and China.

The apocryphal biography of St.Mary, States that St. Thomas reached the Jerusalem tomb of St. Mary and very typical of him asked to open the tomb to see her mortal remains. The tomb was found empty and this is cited as one of the evidences of the  assumption of St. Mary to heaven. But taken in totality St. Thomas is usually called and universally known as “The apostle of India”. He is the founding father of so many Christian congregations and Churches in India. The Jewish merchant guilds in the trade cities Kerala were a guiding source of St. Thomas journey, through the trade route to Kerala. The Jew towns existed in cranganore and palayur from 5th century B.C. It is suspected by some historians that Jews established  trade with South India even from the times of Solomon the wise from B.C. 10th century. Jewish settlements started from B.C. 557 in the Kerala coast. The items like peacock, monkey, spices, rice, teak, sandalwood etc. were exported from Kerala to Jewish lands. The Syriac words became common to South Indian words in this process.

  • Peacock  – Tokai in Tamil. Tuki in Syriac the word used in vulgate and septugint versions of the Bible AD 1st Century
  • Monkey  –  Kapi in Sanskrit and Kaphi in Syriac
  • Sandalwood  –  Chandan in Tamil   Chandal in Syriac
  • Rice – Arisai in Tamil Oryz in Latin and oryza sativa in Botanical name, Greek word for rice is Ari the same word in Malayalam
  • Mother – Amma in Tamil Emma in Syriac
  • Father –  Appa in Tamil   Abba in Syriac
  • Teak  – Take in Tamil   Teak in Syriac

 These are quoted by linguistic experts in support of the theory of Kerala trade with Jews from 10th century, B.C.
St. Thomas the apostle first came to Taxila in present day Pakistan first. Edessa, Nisibus, Hormuz and Jadaddala were the trade route to India. He established the native Churches there. These Churches were later destroyed during the Hunnish invasion from A.D. 380-500 in North west India. He went back to Jerusalem from western India by A.D. 50. In the second Journey, he came to South India. Hippalus, the navigator had discovered the monsoon wind sailing route and its mechanism by the first century AD. St.Thomas might have used these merchant ships to arrive at the coast of Kerala. He landed at crangenore or muziris in AD 52 and established the congregations namely cranganore, Palayur (Trichur District),  Paravur or Kottakavu (Ernakulam District) Niranam, Kokkamangalam(Alleppy district) Kollam(Kollam district) Chayal or Nilakkal (Hill Slopes of Pathanamthitta District). Nilakkal was the township on the trade rout connecting Madurai to Cranganore , and the other six places were either sea ports or backwater ports in lakesides. All of them were trade centers in the beginning of Christian Era. He later went to eastern coast and was martyred at Mylapore. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo records in 1290 AD that a hunter aiming and shooting a peacock hit St.Thomas and caused his death. The other names of Mylapore are myloor, Mylan, Calemina, Coyilavaya, Calemena, Calevonec, Calavini. The Chinnamala is called in Syriac language “Galmano”. Medlycott (Page 87-86) argues that “Galmano” became “Calamina” of the Acta Thoma, the apocryphal book.

The martyrdoms of other apostles are no more credible than the martyrdom of St. Thomas. All stories and histories of St. Thomas, cannot write his biography without mentioning or narrating India. The pilgrimage to St. Thomas Tomb was an age old tradition. The soil taken from Mylapore was mixed with water and used as medicine in Kerala. Till 13th century there was a Christian community in Mylapore. During the malik Kafur’s invasion of Tamilnadu, the Christians fled from Mylapore to Kanyakumari District. The tomb of St. Thomas was protected by Muslims when Marcopolo and Portugese saw the tomb in 13th and 16th century. Marcopolo (13th century) Monte Corvino (13th century) Oderic (14th century) Maringoli, Nicolo Comti, Barbosa are some of the European travelers visiting Mylapore. In 1522, Portuguese opened the tomb  and got the mortal remains shifted to Goa. Archeologists confirm  the tomb to be centuries of age. The present Mylapore church was constructed in 1547. the Periamala is known as St. Thomas mount. The bones which were carried to Edessa in 3rd century was later shifted to Orthona, and one bone was later brought  back by Cardinal Tisserent to Kodungalloor in 1953 and is kept there. When Mosul church was renovated, the remains of St. Thomas was found in a box and one bone was brought and kept in  Catholicate chapel  in Devalokam, Kottayam in 1965. One bone of St. Thomas was brought in 1994 and is kept in Mulanthuruthy Marthoman Church.

The evidence of St. Thomas mission in India
The mission of St. Thomas to India is attested by lot of foreign authorities, though original records may not be forth coming. The destruction of all antique records in the Synod of Diamper, 1599 by Portuguese may be one of the reasons. Inscriptions on stone or copper plates are far and few and the palmyra leaf writings were all perishable material in a monsoon intested Kerala climate. Hence we are forced to be content with little number of records. The chief records are the following.



Syriac, Doctrine of Apostles

St. Thomas wrote letters from “India”. He evangelized “India” and countries bordering on it.




St. Thomas died a natural death



Clementine  Recognitions

St. Thomas evangelized the Parthians



Clement of Alexandria

St. Thomas died a natural  death




St. Thomas evangelized the Parthians




St. Thomas evangelized the Parthians




St. Thomas was martyred in “India, His relics were part at Edessa, Part in India.



St. Gregory of Nazianzus

St. Thomas evangelized India



St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Thomas  Evangelised Mesopotamia




St.Thomas was martyrd




St.Thomas was martyrd



St. John Chrysostom

The locality of the grave of St. Thomas was known to him.




St. Thomas evangelized Parthia. His relics were at Edessa.




St. Thomas was martyred in India. Some of his relics were at Brescia.




St. Thomas was in India




St. Thomas was allotted India




He mentions the famous church of St. Thomas at Edessa, and perhaps implies that his relics were there.




He mentions the famous church of St. Thomas at Edessa, and perhaps implies that his relics were there.



St. Gregory of Tours

St. Thomas was martyred in India; his relics were transferred to Edessa, and there was then existing a famous Chrch in India, at the place where the body of the apostle was first buried.

Before Cosmos Indicopleustes, there is no reference about Christianity in south India. There are other records of the St. Thomas history other than the list prepared by W.R. Philips. Main among them are:-

  1. Kavya in Malayalam called Thoma Parvam
  2. A detailed descriptions in Remban Pattu.
  3. Reference to St. Thomas in the daily prayers of Christians in the Kerala from the beginning.
  4. Martydom day of Dukrana as observed on July 3rd in Kerala   from ancient times.
  5. The 7 Churches which have been established by St. Thomas and the stories and geographical details and unity among them in the 7 different places.
  6. Evidences by St. Mark in Syria, the 6th Century.
  7. Detailed references in the Roman Brevier.
  8. Reference by Marco Polo, who is the ancient traveler who visited Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the 13th Century.
  9. References by Gregory of tours.
  10. References by traveler Nocolo Comti.
  11. Refrences by John Marangoli
  12. Refrences in England in the records of king Alfred in the 8th Century.
  13. Historical attestations by Vincent smith, Shur Shamar’s recent history.
  14. References by missionaries like Claudius Buchanan, Bishop Heeber and Mignana

The Byzantine traditional liturgy and the Antiochean liturgy also testifies to St. Thomas tradition. The teachings of Mar Adai testifies to the martyrdom of St. Thomas. In the folklore tradition there is a song called veeradian Pattu, refers to St. Thomas, Canae Thomas and the titles received from Cheraman Perumal. Modern authorities are countless.

Foreign Visits and References

 It is opened by some like T.K.Joseph that Thirukkural of Thiruvalluvar possibly of 2nd century A.D., has some Christian influences. But all the Sangha kala works are totally silent on Christianity. The visit of Alexandrian monk Pantaneus, to Kodungallur who had an intellectual debate with Brahmins is an important indication. This is testified by St. Eusebius and St. Jerome. In A.D 295, on the request of Kerala Christians, the Persian Catholicos sent a bishop called Daud to India. [Chronique da seeret Historia Nestorians Page. 236]. In the synod of Nicea Bishop John represented Persia and Greater India.

The arrival of Canae Thoma reinvigorated the Kerala church. Whether he came in 337 AD, 754 AD or 874 AD is a disputed question among historians. Cosmos Indicopleutus reports that Kalliana has Christians and their bishop were ordained in Persia. The places like Taprobane (Tamraparni) Ceylon, Kalliana etc. are mentioned. The land of pepper vines are referred and this last one is certainly Malabar of Kerala. Mignana also referes to Priests ordained in Persia. The travelogue of Marcopolo (1290 Ad) and the writings of Tertullian refers to Indian Christians.