History of Christianity in Kerala
The most popularly accepted theory among the Christians in Kerala is that St.Thomas the Apostle of the Lord
Jesus founded the church in Kerala. It is believed that he landed in Cranganore near Cochin in about 52 A.D. He is said to
have preached to the Jewish Colony settled there and to have made converts both among them and their neighbors. After
preaching the gospel and establishing churches in Kerala he is believed to have travelled to the east coast and eastward
from there to Malacca and even to China, and finally to have returned to Mylapore, now part of the city of Chennai. Here
his preaching aroused the hostility of the local Brahmins, who raised a riot against him, during which he was speared to
death. The year of his martyrdom is said to have been about 72 A.D. In later centuries there were migrations from Syria
which finally resulted in the formation of a strong Christian community in Kerala having their liturgy in Syriac and known
as Syrian Chrstians. The relations of the Kerala Church and other oriental churches in the Middle East might have had
started from the time of the first Syrian migration to Kerala in the year A.D.345 and it continued in the following centuries.
It is clear from the early history that the church in Kerala used to depend upon the oriental churches for preserving the
apostolic succession of its priesthood.
The influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the Church in Malabar began with the arrival of Vasco-da-
gama, who landed at Calicut in 1498. At this time the Portuguese who were Roman Catholics, were powerful in the East
and had control of the sea routes.
Synod of Diamper
Alexio-de-Menezes, a powerful Archbishop arrived in Goa in 1592. He came to Malabar and managed to win over
to his side many of the leaders of the church by friendly visits, bribery and threats. He also won the support of the Raja of
Cochin. He then convened a synod at Udayamperoor (Diamper), south of Ernakulam from 20th to 26th June 1599, which
made vigorous attempt to win the St. Thomas Christians to the Roman Catholic faith.
The representatives sent from various congregations were forced to accept the decrees read out by the Arch Bishop.
Thus the Syrian Church of Malabar was brought under the Pope. For half a century from AD 1600 the Malabar Church
continued under the Roman domination. But with the decline of the Portuguese power in India the Syrian church found its
way to assert its independence.
Vow at the Coonen Cross
The Jesuit missionaries, to whom the work of carrying out the Decree of Diamper was entrusted, offended many by
their harshness. Appeals, which the Syrians made to Rome, went unheeded. There were also some provocative incidents. So
a crowd of about twenty thousand people marched into Cochin in 1653 under the leadership of Arch Deacon Thomas. They
marched to the open space in front of the church at Mattancherry, a part of the town in Cochin. There was stone cross in
front of the church. The people wanted to take an oath, touching the cross. As everyone could not touch the cross for taking
the vow, they tied ropes to the cross and holding the ropes in their hands took an oath severing connection with Rome.
When all the people pulled the ropes the cross became Coonen, means slanted or bend. This incident is known as the “vow
at the Coonen Cross”. Thus independence was re-established in the Malabar church. But later yielding to the propaganda
and pressures of the Roman Catholic Church, a large number of those who took the oath re-entered the Roman fold. And
there were clashes between the followers of both groups and a large number of Christians who were opposed to the Roman
Church had to flee their settlements to safer places for a peaceful living and to protect their faith.
More than the physical division in the church there was severe doctrinal division also. Many of the hitherto
unheard heresies crept into the church as a result of the Roman dominion. Under the Papal supremacy, the decrees of the
Council of Trent and of the inquisition were introduced; the doctrine of Transubstantiation was accepted; the adoration of
images, the prayers for the dead, intercession of saints and doctrine of purgatory were adopted. When the Malabar church
remained under the Roman yoke for half a century, the new doctrines and practices introduced by the Catholics destroyed
the freedom of the church and paved the way for a number of heretical practices to get rooted in the life of the church.
The heresies that emerged in the Mar Thoma church in later years ,which resulted in the launching of a reform
movement(Pathyopadeshasamithy) and the formation of the St Thomas Evangelical Church of India in 1961 has its roots in
the Roman bondage of half a century in the former half of the 17th century. The Mar Thoma Church, which came out of
the Jacobite Church in the latter part of the 19th century as a reformed church, later drifted away from the Evangelical
doctrines and gone back many times to the Roman Catholic and Jacobite heresies and practices. That resulted in the
formation of the St Thomas Evangelical Church of India, which committed itself to safeguard the Sound Evangelical
Doctrines in their pristine purity.
The CMS Mission of Help
Claudius Buchanan, the East India Company Chaplain from Calcutta, prepared the way for the noble venture of
helping the Malankara church. He visited the Malankara Church at the instance of Lord Wellesley, Governor General of
India. Buchanan published his report in the famous document known as “Christian Researches in Asia”He urged the idea
of “Anglican aid” to the Syrian Christians This created a genuine interest in England. He also took the initiative to translate
the four Gospels into Malayalam. Col.Monroe who was the British Resident in Travancore also took great interest in
helping the Syrian Church. He wrote to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the CMS readily responded to Munro’s
request. In the course of the next few years they sent a number of missionaries to Kerala. The coming of the missionaries
sent by the society was a great blessing to the Christian Church in Malabar. The first to arrive was the Rev. Thomas Norton
who lived and worked in Alleppey. After him came the Revds. Benjamin Bailey, Joseph Fenn and Henry Baker. Benjamin
Bailey was active in literary work. He set up a press in Kottayam and translated the Bible and the English Book of
Common Prayer into Malayalam in the year 1841. Schools were started at different places under CMS. These pioneer
efforts in the field of education were of immense value to the people of Kerala.
Reformation in the Malankara Church.
A Reformation similar to the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther took
place in the Kerala church in the 19th century. This is very much linked to the formation history of the St Thomas
Evangelical Church of India. The serious charge leveled against the leadership of the Mar Thoma Church by the founding
fathers of the breakaway church, the STECI was that the former deviated from the Reformation and faith principles of
the reformers. The preaching of the missionaries and the printing and distribution of the Bible in the local language went a
long way in opening the eyes of the people to the spiritual truths. Naturally this paved the way for a reformation in the
The Reformation movement in the Syrian Church was spearheaded by two Syrian Christian priests, Abraham
Malpan of Maramon and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan of Kottayam, who were at that time professors in the
Theological Seminary at Kottayam . By coming into contact with the missionaries and by studying the Bible carefully, they
realized that there were many errors in the form of the worship and prevailing practices of the church. The reformers then
decided upon making changes in the liturgy and working for reform. Abraham Malpan began to use the revised liturgy in
accordance with the Biblical principles whenever he celebrated the Holy Communion. The use of the revised liturgy and the
changes he brought about in practices offended the Metropolitan and he was excommunicated. Disowned by the Jacobite
Church for his faith and convictions, what was he to do now? Under the guidance of Anglican Missionaries,prominent
among whom was Thomas Walker of Tinnevely, the reforming party decided to constitute themselves an independent
Indian Church, called the Mar Thoma church. In keeping with the spirit of reformation, the Mar Thoma Evangelistic
Association was formed in 1888 to train evangelists and to send them to unreached areas to preach the Gospel. In 1895 the
great Maramon Convention was started, where thousands of people gathered to listen to evangelical preachers.