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Discover The Magic Of Malabar....

  • Writer's pictureVijay Nair

Christianity In Kerala

Welcome to the fascinating world of Christianity in Kerala, India. This southern state holds a rich history of Christian tradition dating back to the arrival of Saint Thomas in 52 AD. Saint Thomas, who is considered as one of the apostles of Jesus, traveled to India and converted many of the natives to Christianity. These people and their later generations are referred to as Syrian Christians.

The Syrian Christians of Kerala have maintained their unique tradition and heritage to this day. This makes a visit to this region of India an unforgettable cultural experience. From visiting their ancient churches to exploring the traditions and customs they still follow, the Syrian Christian community of Kerala offers an insight into the rich Christian heritage of India.

However, the history of Christianity in Kerala has not always been smooth sailing. The Synod of Diamper and the Coonan Cross Oath are significant events in its history, marking a turning point in the religious practices and liturgy of the Syrian Christians.

When the Portuguese arrived in Kerala in 1498, they not only wanted to trade but also propagate their religion, Catholicism, and bring the local Syrian Christians under the control of the Pope. In order to achieve this goal, the Portuguese organized a Synod at Udayamperoor in 1599, attended by both the Syrian Christians and the Portuguese.

The Synod of Diamper was a significant event in the history of Kerala Christianity as it marked a turning point in the religious practices and liturgy of the Syrian Christians. The Syro-Chaldean liturgy was replaced by the Latin liturgy. This change marked a shift in the religious practices of the Syrian Christians and was a major step towards their assimilation into the Catholic Church. Kerala Christians were brought under the control of the Pope. This was a major shift from the previous independent state of the Syrian Christians, who followed their own religious practices and were not under the control of the Pope. Religious practices that were adopted from the Hindu religion were ended. The Portuguese wanted to rid the Syrian Christians of any non-Catholic religious practices and beliefs. The King of the Portuguese became the protector of the Indian Christians. This marked the beginning of the Portuguese rule over the Indian Christians and solidified their control over the Syrian Christians in Kerala.

After the Synod of Diamper, the Syrian Christians were brought under the control of the Pope. European bishops were appointed by the Portuguese King to oversee the community in Kerala, but these bishops were met with disdain and arrogance by the natives. As a result, issues began to arise between the Syrian Christians and the Portuguese.

In response to the Portuguese' condescension, the Syrian Christians severed ties with the Pope and accepted the leadership of the Patriarch of Antioch. However, the arrival of a bishop sent by the Patriarch, Ahatalla, was met with opposition by the Portuguese. Rumors of Ahatalla's imprisonment and possible murder fueled the anger of the Syrian Christians.

In 1653, thousands of Syrian Christians gathered at an old cross in Mattancherry to take an oath of independence from the European bishops and priests. To symbolize their unity and resolve, they took the oath by touching the cross. Since all the people could not touch the cross, a long rope was tied around it, and the people held on to the rope while taking the oath. This caused the cross to bend, earning it the name "Coonan Cross" (bent cross).

The Coonan Cross Oath was a crucial moment in the history of Christianity in Kerala. It signified the determination and strength of the Syrian Christians, who stood up against the oppression of the Portuguese and reclaimed their religious independence. Today, the Coonan Cross remains a symbol of this historic event and is an important stop for those who are interested in exploring the religious heritage of Kerala

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