Saint Thomas is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. He is also known as “doubting Thomas” as he did not initially believe in the resurrection of Jesus. According to Christian mythology he is supposed to have visited India in 52 AD. Catholic tradition also states that he was killed by a Brahmin and buried in Mylapore (Saint Thomas Mount).
As a Malayalee I have always been fascinated by the mythology surrounding Saint Thomas. If the story is true then it would put one of the founding fathers of Christianity in India centuries before there was an agreement on a uniform Christian doctrine which was achieved only after the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
In India there is little room for debate as far as the validity of this story is concerned. This story is part of our school curriculum. It is mentioned in official government documents and books. It is part of the story of India and the history of Kerala. It is used as an example to show that Christianity was in India long before it was in Europe. But the question is whether the stories surrounding Saint Thomas in India are real or mythical just like the stories of many other gods, saints and angels.
In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI made a speech in which he stated that Saint Thomas evangelized Syria and Persia and went to Western India. Christianity according to him then reached South India. This statement completely contradicts the story of Saint Thomas (if he did not visit India then whose body was buried at Saint Thomas Mount?). Many Catholics in India were very unhappy with the Pope’s statements. Due to the furor the Vatican “amended” the Pope’s published statements!
The story of Saint Thomas in India puts the Vatican in a tough spot. Catholics for the most part believe that Jesus Christ is the only son of god. However, the main source of information for Saint Thomas comes from the “The Acts of Thomas” and the “Gospel of Thomas” both of which indicate that Saint Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus Christ. This obviously contradicts traditional Catholic beliefs.
Both the Acts of Thomas and the Gospel of Thomas are considered Gnostic (not part of the Bible). Today very few educational institutions outside of India including Catholic schools teach the story of Saint Thomas visiting India as a historical fact.
Once you start reading about Saint Thomas and look at the “evidences” in support of his story one thing clearly stands out. There are a lot of Christian references to Saint Thomas in India from sources in the Middle East. But there is very little or no corroborating evidence or reference to such a historical event in Indian history before the Europeans arrived in India in the 15th century first as traders and later as conquerors.
There is no evidence of the “Seven and a Half Churches” (Ezharappallikal) established by Saint Thomas in Kerala (the first Church built in Kerala and in India is the beautiful Saint Francis Church in Kochi built during the year 1503 which still stands today). There are attempts to label the Saint Francis Church just as the first “European church in India” (which it is) and not as the first church in India.
The story about the Saints death in Mylapore at the hands of a Brahmin is controversial to say the least. It should be noted that this story is not part of the original tradition and is not found in the Act of Thomas or the Gospel of Thomas. It clearly came about after the Portuguese arrived in Chennai (Madras). In fact the Portuguese version is very different from what is described in the Gnostic texts about the circumstances surrounding the death of Saint Thomas.
There is no consensus among the Christian community as to where Saint Thomas died. There are two tombs for Saint Thomas in Mylapore alone. In all there are six tombs for the Saint in India and many others outside of India including in countries like Brazil, China (and Tibet), Japan and Germany. How did Saint Thomas visit Brazil and die there when the South American continent was not discovered until the 14th century? It is interesting to note that Brazil was also a Portuguese colony. Were the Portuguese spreading this myth everywhere they went?
So who are the Syrian Christians (Nazarenes) of Kerala? Please read Part 2 of this article.
- Syrian Christians of Kerala
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- Ravi Zacharias: Christian Missionary From India
- India Should Not Arrest the Avatar of Sai Baba
- Gay Prostitution Scandal Rocks Vatican
Category: Culture & Religion