SAINT THOMAS’ CROSS- A RELIGIO CULTURAL SYMBOL OF SAINT THOMAS CHRSITANS

Dr. M. Thomas Antony

 m.thomas.antony@live.co.uk

www.thomaschristians.blogspot.com

M Thomas Antony is a General Surgeon working in the National Health Services of the United Kingdom. He holds a FRCS from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Diploma in Laparoscopic Surgery from the Loius Pasteur Univeristy, Strasbourg, France and  a Diploma in Health Services Management from Keele University, England, UK. Studying about Syriac Christianity especially about Saint Thomas Christians has been a passion for him. He has published several articles in NSC Network- www.nasrani.net  and he has a blog
www.thomaschristians.blogspot.com. In the printed media, he has contributed to ‘The way of Life’ ISBN 978-93-81207-00-0 Denha Services, Kottayam and Chan Kim-Kwong, ‘Lotus and Swasthika in Assyrian Church in China:Budhist Legacy or Aryan heritage ? Ching Feng, A Journal on Christianity and Chinese Religion and Culture, New Series vol 1-2, 2010-11


Mar Thoma SlibaINTRODUCTION

Cross is a universal symbol of Christians all over the world. Primitive Christian groups used the image of fish as their symbol. The Sign of the cross was reported to be used by primitive Christians according to Tertullian (b AD 160)[1]. Early in the third century, Clement of Alexandria mentions the Cross as the symbol of the Lord.[2] It was from the 4th century that  the Cross was emerged as the public symbol of Christians, after the finding of the real Cross of Calvary by saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine who declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  (It is considered that the Cross is a post-Constantine development after the “exaltation” of the Holy Cross.[3]

Cross was an instrument of punishment before it became a sign of Christianity. Romans and Greeks executed people on crosses. Cross or look-alikes were used by humans even from the Neolithic period. Swasthika was used by people of Indo-Europen origin like Indians, Persians, Slavs, Celts and Greeks.[4]

 There are different types of Christian crosses existing in the world used by different ethnic and cultural groups. St Thomas Crosses are unique among St Thomas Christians. These were named Crosses of Saint Thomas Christians by the Portuguese missionaries as they found these widespread in almost all of the Saint Thomas Christian churches. Antonio De Gouvea and Duarte Barbosa give good account of the widespread use of these Crosses in South India. This cross is the most ancient Christian emblem yet discovered in India.[5] The Celtic Cross (Gaelic Cross) is such a religio-cultural symbol found among the Celtic people. Celtic crosses are excavated in  places where Celtic people live.[6]

Other parallels exists in Armenia and Georgia where stone monuments  with  cross were erected in the fifth through the seventh centuries.[7] The Armenian Khatchkar is the typical Armenian monument and  an emblem of Armenia.[8] 

CROSS IN THOMASINE CHRISTIAN TRADITION

According to St Thomas Christian tradition, The Apostle Thomas planted crosses in the Christian communities he established. ‘Acts of the Apostles’ doesn’t comment about any such acts by any Apostles. St Paul who himself being a champion of the power of Cross.(1 Cor.1:17, Gal.6:14) doesn’t comment about any such acts in any of his epistles. “Acts of Thomas” describes the Apostle performing miracles with a simple sign of cross. This could be  a retrojection of later developments to the apostolic times.[9] The Syriac Christian tradition developed a rich symbolism and use of the Cross.[10] The Cross occupies a prominent place in the East Syriac tradition, especially in liturgy. The East syriac liturgy of hours is particularly rich in hymns on the Cross. The Syriac word for Cross is sliba which also represents the word for ‘the crucified ‘ and hence several hymns developed in Syriac tradition with the meanings cross and the crucified. The symbolism of cross gained prominence in the Syriac tradition earlier than it did in  the other traditions”.[11]

East Syrian Church had a great veneration of the cross from very early times. They even considered the sign of the cross as one of the sacraments.[12] As far back as in  AD 250, East Syrians erected crosses at their tombs.[13]  St Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, was a Syriac Christian who discovered the wood of the true cross. It may be her Syriac Christian heritage and the veneration for the Cross by her church  that led her to search for the wood of the true cross.[14]

MAR THOMA SLIBA- SAINT THOMAS’ CROSS- A RELIGIO CULTURAL SYMBOL

The Saint Thomas Cross or the Mar Thoma Sliba is the religio cultural symbol of Saint Thomas Christians of India. This Cross was the only object venerated in the Churches of Saint Thomas Christians when the Portuguese missionaries arrived. These Crosses were called as Crosses of the Saint Thomas Christians by the early European writers and thus led to the name Cross of the Saint Thomas Christians- Saint Thomas Cross.

The most popular  model of these crosses is that of the Cross found at Parangi Malai (Saint Thomas Mount), near present Chennai,  at the place of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas the Apostle. This is an ancient cross discovered by the Portuguese in the ruins of the Church at Saint Thomas Mount in AD 1547. This was well popularised by the Portuguese Missionaries in Europe and glorified as the Miraculous Cross of Mailappore.

Mar Thoma Sliba was the only symbol of worship used by the Thomas Christians before the contact with the European Missionaries. It is well documented that the Christians of St Thomas did not have anything other than their Cross in their churches.

ANCIENT WITNESSES

1. The narrations of Joseph the Indian

‘Joseph the Indian’ was a Christian Priest of Malabar travelled to Portugal and then to Rome in AD 1502 and gave an interview to the signoria of Venice. He describes about the churches of Saint Thomas Christians and reports that they have only crosses in their churches. The Latin text clearly states that there are no statues. Joseph also mentions about a big cross at the foundation of the churches- probably the open air rock crosses found in Malabar.[15]

2. Duarte Barbosa

Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguse traveller who came to India  with Cabral in AD 1501. When Cabral left Malabar with ‘Joseph the Indian’ and others, Barbosa stayed in Malabar and  started exploring the country. Barbosa has written a lot about Christians in Malabar. He reports “ they say mass on altars like ours with a cross in front of them. And he who says mass is in the middle of the altar, and those who assist him are at the sides”[16] Again, Barbosa describes the ancient church at cape Comorin- “At this cape Comory there is ancient church of Christians, which was founded by the Armeninas, who still direct it, and perform in it the divine service of Christians and have crosses on the altars”.[17]

These paragraphs clearly state the situation of Saint Thomas Christians just before the arrival of Portuguese. It is assumed that Barbosa completed his book by 1514-1517 period. He has clearly documented the crosses in our churches and our devotion to the cross. If you read this together with Gouvea, it is evident that these crosses are those of Mylappore. Barbosa also talks about the tradition of martyrdom of Apostle Thomas at Mylappore.

3. Giovanni De Empoli

In AD 1503, Giovanni De Empoli refers to a Cross in Quilon in his work  ‘Viaggio fatto nell’India per Gionni da Empoli fattore  su la nave del serenissimo re di Portugallo per conto de marchioni de Lisboa.’[18] 

4. Muttuchira Lithic inscriptions

Muttuchira Lithic inscriptions describes about setting up of three Crosses in AD 1528- an open air granite Cross, a granite and wooden Crosses  similar to Mailappore Cross.[19]   The inscriptions clearly describes about the Granite Cross ( Open air Cross) and the bleeding Cross (rudhira kurishu)- Mar Thoma Sliba. The Mar Thoma Sliba was placed in the Madbaha on the feast of sliba on 18th December 1580.[20] The Muttuchira Cross was found hidden in the wooden rathaal of the church in AD 1925 on the northern altar. It was found when the wooden rathaal was removed as part of renovation of the church.[21]

5. Antonio De Gouvea

Antonio de Gouvea   has written  that Saint Thomas Christians had a great veneration towards Cross. Even in a remote place, there will be a Cross with facilities for a lamp which is lit throughout the night.[22]

Gouvea compiled his original work ‘Jornada do Arcebispo de Goa Dom Frei Aleixo de Menezes Primaz da India Orientali, Religioso da ordfem de S. Agostinho. Quando foy as Serras do Malavar, and lugares em que morao os antigos Christaos de S. Thome and os tirou de muytos erros and obediencia da santa Igreja Romana, da qual passava de mil annos que estavao and reduzio a nossa Sancta Fe Catholica and obediencia da Santa Igreja Romana, da qual passava de mil annosqhe estavao apartados’ in AD 1603 from the notes of Archbishop Alexis Dom Menezis during his visits to numerous Nasrani Churches.[23]

Kodungalloor (Cranganore) Cross:

Gouvea also describes about a miraculous Cross in Cranganore town. This cross was kept in a chapel which is open on one side only, with railings. Archbishop Menesis  celebrated a Holy Mass in front of this Cross. That means this Cross could have been  kept in the madbaha of that chapel.Gouvea reports that this Cross was the most ancient one and the local Christians believed that this Cross was planted by Apostle Thomas himself. This is a witness that there was a tradition among Thomas Christians that the Cranganore Cross was planted by the Apostle Thomas himself and hence they called it as Cross of Saint Thomas.[24] This is  a real witness statement that in AD 1603, the local Thomas Christians called these crosses as Saint Thomas Crosses.

Gouvea describes that the Cranganore cross was very important to the nasranis. It was placed in the middle of a chapel which is open on one side with railings. The local Nasranis had a lot of devotion to this Cross which was believed to have made so many miracles even to the gentiles. Gouvea describes that the gentile king, when he lost something precious, sent some oil to this cross and he found the lost thing.[25]

  ‘MAR THOMA SLIBA’ – ST THOMAS CROSS- NOT A NEW INVENTION

Antoniuo Gouvea’s original work ‘Jornada do Arcebispo de Goa Dom Frei Aleixo de Menezes Primaz da India Orientali, Religioso da ordfem de S. Agostinho. Quando foy as Serras do Malavar, and lugares em que morao os antigos Christaos de S. Thome and os tirou de muytos erros and obediencia da santa Igreja Romana, da qual passava de mil annos que estavao and reduzio a nossa Sancta Fe Catholica and obediencia da Santa Igreja Romana, da qual passava de mil annosqhe estavao apartados’  p 162 states that the old churches of this community were full of Crosses of the type discovered from Mailappore. This  invalidates the argument that many of these crosses were erected after the Portuguese glorified the Mailappore Cross.[26]

Thus, the terminology “Mar Thoma Sliba” or “Saint Thomas Cross” was used to denote these Pahlavi inscribed Crosses of Thomas Christians even before the arrival Portuguse  and hence, unlike the arguments of some, the term “Saint Thomas Cross” or “Mar Thoma Sliba” is not a later invention. These Crosses were called Mar Thoma Slibas or Saint Thomas Crosses, but these might not be erected by Saint Thomas the Apostle himself. We all know that during Apostolic times, Cross was not recognized as a Christian emblem. Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil observes that all these Crosses might have been copies of the Cranganore cross which has been attributed to Apostle Thomas by tradition and hence called Saint Thomas Crosses.[27]

Cruz de Sam Thome- Cross of Saint Thomas

Gouvea in his work used the term ‘Cruz de Sam Thome’. There are many who argue that with the phrase “Cruz de Sam Thome”, Gouvea meant as Cross of the city of Saint Thomas- Mailappore- Sam Thome means the City of Saint Thomas. In short, their argument is that Gouvea called these as Crosses of Mailappore, not Crosses of Saint Thomas. They argue that the term Saint Thomas Cross or Mar Thoma Sliba is a later invention manipulating Gouvea’s words. It is not true. Gouvea was describing widespread presence of granite Crosses in Malabar Churches as a prominent religio cultural symbol of Thomas Christians of Malabar. Addressing these Crosses as Crosses of Mailappore does not fit into the context as there was only one Cross at Mailppore and how can he name Crosses found in Malabar as Crosses of Mailappore, another geographical place ?.

Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil, with his immense knowledge and experience in the Medieval History of South India and Indo Portuguese History, comments that with the phrase “Cruz de Sam Thome”, Gouvea meant exactly Crosses of Saint Thomas. As Rev. Dr. Malekkandathil  has done a detailed study on  the book of Gouvea, Jornanda of Archbishop Alexis Dom Menesis, and also with his experience in the Portuguese documents and language at that time, gives an opinion that Gouvea used the word “Sam Thome” to denote the person Saint Thomas the Apostle and the abbreviation “S. Thome” to denote the City of Saint Thomas- Mailappore as elsewhere in the bookWherever he used the word “Sam Thome” or “Sao Tome” in his book, he used it to mean the person Saint Thomas the Apostle and wherever he used the abbreviation “S . Thome” or “S. Thome”, he used it to mean the City of Saint Thomas- Mailappore. Same is the case in most of the Portuguese documents since AD 1520.The word “Sam” in not a Portuguese word, but a Spanish word. The equivalent Portuguese word is “Sao”. Many spanish words were used in Gouvea’s book Jornada and also in many Portuguese documents. In most of the Portuguese documents, Mailappore is mentioned as “S. Thome” or ” S.Tome”, since the excavations of Mailapoore in AD 1520. . [28]  Rev Dr Malekkandathil admits that this opinion is based purely on his familiarisation of the documents of the time period rather than any written law.[29]

SAINT THOMAS CROSS- THE MOST ANCIENT SYMBOL OF  THOMAS CHRISTIANS

The only archaeological evidence left about the antiquity of St Thomas Christians is the number of these Crosses found scattered in South Asia. There are 6 such crosses found in Kerala. They are two in the Great Church of Kottayam- Kottayam Valiya palli of the Knanaya Diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church (Jacobite Church), one each in Ruha d’ Qudisha Forane Church at Muttuchira and Gervasis and Prothasis Church, Kothanalloor under the eparchy of Pala and Saint Mary’s Church Alengadu, under the eparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly all of the Syro Malabar Church and one at St George Church Kadamattom of the Syrian orthodox Church (Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church). The others in the region are found in Chennai- the Mount Cross found in the Saint Thomas Mount, Agasim in Goa and three such crosses found in Sri Lanka, one at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka kept in the museum of Anuradhapura, one at Kotte and another at Gintumpitiya (Saint Thomas Town), Colombo. The last two are lost now.[30] This widespread distribution of similar crosses with lotus and dove in this region signifies the common religio-cultural hertitage of the  Saint Thomas Christians in the region.

CROSSES IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

Similar Crosses are also found in South East Asia and China. All these show similar design with the Eastern Cross on lotus without the body of Jesus.[31] Monasteries decorated with East Syrian crosses dated seventh century and a coin with East Syrian Church cross set in a ring of pearls found in Samarqand. Similar crosses were reported to be  discovered in East Turkestan, Turfan and Dunhuang also.[32]

Similar crosses are found in Buddhist monasteries in Tibet also. A cross with Tibetan inscriptions and a figure of Dove is found in Shatschukul and a large iron corn measure decorated with a Nestorian cross was reported to be found Lhasa .[33]

A copper cross on marble tablet was dug up in Malacca around AD 1613. It was found in the ruins of an underground house of bricks, like a hermitage, and it was of the shape of the crosses of the knights of Calatrava-a Greek cross in gules with fleur-de-lis at its ends. It was supposed to have belonged to some Christians of Mylappore who had come to Malacca with merchants of Coromandel. The Malacca cross was suggested by the Portuguese similar to the cross of St Thomas Mount, Chennai.[34]

In a cave at Kyanzittha, near Pagan in Burma, in what is now a Buddhist shrine, found a fresco with 9 crosses of a simple pattern: 8 crosses occupying the petals of an eight petalled lotus and the central cross lying in the cup.[35]

Taxilla cross is a cross pendant found in Taxilla in Pakistan but there are arguments that it is a pre Christian symbol.  Several pre Christian coins are found in the region with similar cross embossed.[36]

LOTUS, DOVE AND CROSS

The salient feature of these crosses is lotus on the bottom and dove on the top on a decorative cross without the figure of Jesus. Crosses with the figure of Jesus- the crucifix became popular only by 12th century in the Latin Church.[37]  The ancient Christian communities used the cross as an emblem without the figure of Jesus.

The emblem of cross has been considered very important by the primitive Christian community. The cross has been considered the sign of Jesus.  ‘And then the sign of Son of man will appear in the heaven and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.( Matthew 24:30) The East Syrian liturgy of hours says that the sliba will be held by Gabriel on the day of last judgement The Latin church liturgy says the sign of cross appear in the sky on the day of second coming of Jesus. Mar Aprem considered the Sliba as a sign that appear before the second coming of Jesus.  Luke says ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”(Luke 24: 26) From these, we can see that the Cross is a sign of salvation. Cross reminds us about the victory of Jesus over death. It is the sign of eternal life. The whole theme of  Jesus’s incarnation was salvation- eternal life. It was the victory of Jesus and salvation, not the death on cross was the central theme of the faith. That was the reason why crucifix was not used in the primitive church. Later, in Latin Church, by the influence of piety on the sufferings of Jesus, Crucifix was evolved.[38]

As all know, different statues and Crucifix were brought to India by Portuguese missionaries and they forcefully introduced these to Saint Thomas Christians replacing our religio-cultural symbol, the Cross of Saint Thomas Christians. The proof for this is seen in the deliberate attempts of mutilation of many of the Saint Thomas Crosses. It is also to be noted that, so far, not any ancient crucifixes have been found from Kerala that can be attributed from the Pre Portuguese period.

Lotus has been considered as a symbol of Budhism and it became the symbol of India itself due the influence of Budhism especially during the time of Ashoka.. It symbolises purity also. We can see many Indian Gods standing on lotus in various art forms.  Lotus and Cross is the main theme of most of the ancient crosses found in the Chineese provinces.[39]  In one of the Chineese crosses, fire or a flame is also seen on the top.

The dove depicts the Holy Spirit. Dove and cross is a popular design in the ancient church. A dove descending onto a cross is seen on the sarcophagus of Archbishop Theodore who died in AD 691, in Ravenna in Italy.[40]  In the Apse mosaic of Saint John Lateran, Rome, shows an empty cross with a dove descending  beak first onto it.[41] Professor Gensichen  of Heidelberg  suggests that the cross and dove iconographic  tradition of south India conforms with the mainstream Christian tradition of that time.[42]  John F Butler discusses the cross and dove in his paper ‘Further thoughts on the South Indian Crosses’ he describes a 15th century orprey in Whitworth Art Gallery in the University of Manchester, showing the Father seated in a shrine within the top arm of the cross and a dove descending from his lap with the beak almost touching the INRI titulus which is immediately above the Son’s head. Another orprey shows a dove descending onto the titulus of the cross above the Son’s head kept in the Art gallery of the Corporation of Burnley.  These show the dove as the Holy Spirit in the Trinity of Father, Son and The Dove.[43]

SYMBOLISM AND INCULTURATION IN THE CROSS OF SAINT THOMAS.

The Cross of Saint Thomas is the best example of Inculturation. This is a Cross evolved in Indian culture.

1. Symbolism of various elements

The elements of the Cross of Saint Thomas Christians have been analysed by various scholars. Rev Dr Varghese Pathikulangara, describes the Mar Thoma Cross with his immense knowledge in East Syriac theology, as a dynamic symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Indian context. It proclaims the theological, Christological, Pneumatological, Eschatological and ecclesiological specifications of Christian faith as the Thomas Christians practice in India. He considers this cross as an invaluable historical data of the living faith of authentic Saint Thomas Christians.

 

The empty cross is an imitation of the empty tomb that symbolises the resurrection of Jesus. The blooming buds at the ends of the four arms of this cross symbolises the new life that is restored to man in the resurrection of Jesus.

The descending dove symbolise the Holy Spirit. As Saint Paul teaches, Holy Spirit transforms Jesus’ flesh body into Spirit Body and thus vivifies the dead Jesus Christ. (Rom  8, 11)

The lotus on the bottom shows the Christian faith erected on Indian culture.

The three steps on the bottom of the lotus signify the gogulta, the Calvary.[44]

2. Comparisons with Indian art

The Mount Cross shows two pillars on either side with a round arch on the top. Jyothi Sahi, a Christian artist observed that this arch belongs to the well known torana type, also found in Buddhist and Hindu art. This arch springs from the opened mouth of an aquatic monster known as makara. The proto type of the makara torana can be seen in famous Kailasanadha temple of Ellora. Here, in a pillared chamber, the three river goddesses Ganga, Saraswathi and Jamuna are exquisitely carved  under a makara torana against the background of rich floral designs.[45]  In Ellora, the makara are sitting on the capitals while in Mount Cross, they sit on an abacus(plate)which is laid on the cushion. This type of Cushion capital  with abacus can be seen in Mahabalipuram and at Vaikuntha Permal and Kailsanadha temples in Kanchipuram which are assigned to the middle of the eighth century , being built by the pallava dynasty.[46]  Thus, it is clear that the Saint Thomas Cross encircled by the makara torana  is an early perhaps the earliest example of inculturated Christian art in India.[47] This is clearly an inculturated Christian monument of authentic Thomasine Christians of South India.

3. Iconoclasm by the Portuguese missionaries

The Portuguese missionaries tried to get rid of this ancient monument and traditions of Saint Thomas Christians to replace it with the Western Christianity. Despite their force and might, the Church of Saint Thomas Christians was successful in keeping their apostolic experience of Christianity handed down from their forefathers. It is evident that the Portuguese missionaries destroyed or abandoned these crosses in our community deliberately to keep the Catholic Syriac community away from their memories of their ancient traditions, to make them in conformity with the Latin rite. These crosses were replaced by the Crucifix introduced by the Portuguese missionaries after the Synod of Diamper. We can see that the Saint Thomas Crosses at Goa and Muttuchira are found mutilated. The cross at Kothanallor was made invisible by covering it by plaster, (but it became visible when the plaster started falling away from the granite cross). The cross at Alengadu was just abandoned in the ground and was found accidentally. Surprisingly, the original Cross found at Saint Thomas Mount was preserved by the Portuguese as it had sweat blood and played miracles. It has to be noted that there were no significant Saint Thomas Christian community at Mylappore at the time of Portuguese and hence, preserving it might not have caused any consequences for their proselitysation efforts where as in Malabar, it might have caused the community to go back to their old East Syriac heritage. The crosses at Kottayam were preserved well in the altar as the Church there was not under the control of the Portuguese missionaries.

SAINT THOMAS CROSS OR MANICHEAN CROSS ?

There has been deliberate attempts from a section in the Syro Malabar Church to portrait the Saint Thomas Cross as Manichean cross. I think these were part of the group politics in the church in the 1990s regarding the restoration of the Liturgy to the roots of the Thomasine Christianity against the so called reformation in terms of Indianisation.

1. Manichean theory and Burnell

The Manichean theory came into the arena from A C Burnell who was an archaeologist. Burnell studied about the Pahlavi inscriptions in India. Burnell proposed that the earliest Christian settlements in India were Persian, not Syrian as Pahlavi was the language in Persia until AD 650. He argued that it was Gnosticism and Manichaeism that was prevalent in Persia not Christianity and hence he proposed that the so called early  Persian Christians in Kerala  were Manicheans. He has based his arguments on certain references about Manichean missions to Hind and Sin from Manichean epistles, witness of Cosmas Indecapleutes in AD 6th century about presence of Persian Christians and Persian Bishop, presence of Pahlavi language in different crosses and Copper plates. In a nutshell, Burnell’s argument was that, as the early so called Christians were Persian, they should be Manicheans as Christianity in Perisan empire was vogue during the period of Sassaninas. Burnell published his article in AD 1874 in Indian Antiquary.

There was a series of discussions in Indian Antiquary with different arguments from Col H Yule(Indian Antiquary Jan 1875 p8-10), Richard Collins ( Indian Antiquary, May 1875 pp153-155), Burnell’s reply( Indian Antiquary, June 1875 pp181-183), Collins’ counter argument(Indian Antiquary, Oct 1875 pp 311-314). From these articles, it appears that Burnell disagrees with the Apostolate of St Thomas in India and accuses that it was the Roman Catholic missionaries who supported the local legends about Saint Thomas, the Apostle,  to make it a history. He agrees that the inscriptions on these crosses were not Manichean but Christian itself and argues that those were made to convert the Manichaens. He interprets the inscriptions as “who is the true messiah and God above and Holy Ghost”.  Burnell wrote,

If my reading be allowed, the whole would run: ( Syriac) “Let me not glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”; (Pahlavi) “Who is the true Messiah and God above and Holy Ghost”. This statement appears to be intended to contradict the Manichean doctrine that the crucified Messiah was the son of a poor widow, and not Jesus. If these Pahlavi inscriptions were Manichean, they would be in a different character. It seems to me not unlikely, however, that relics of Manicheans may yet remain to be discovered on the west coast of the peninsula, where they once were very numerous.[48]

From these, we can see, Burnell agreeing that these crosses were Christian crosses with Christian inscriptions and not Manichean.

2. Persian Christian monument- Collins

Collins argues against Burnell’s theory and commented that ‘Burnell’s interpretation of the cross inscriptions itself are not Manichaen but Christian, and they simply connect the Malabar Christians with Persia during some time in the Sassanian dynasty. There are Syrian documents which tell us that the Christians of Malabar were early connected to urrhoi or Edessa and those are enough to account for any amount of Persian antiquities now discoverable, without the supposition that the only Persian arrivals were Manicheans’. Collins also discusses about Burnells argument that ‘manigramams’ were Manicheans and declares that “there may indeed have been Manichaens in South India and in Ceylon; but I do not think we have found any certain trace  of them at present, and we shall most certainly be misled if we begin to look up all the word beginning with mani”. He concludes that the ‘Manichean origin of Christianity in South India, then, is a thorough miserrimus dexter and we may safely shelve the subject till the “relics of manichaens” actually do come to light’.[49]

Burnells’s main argument for Manichaen theory was that, as Manichaens were stronger and Christians were very vogue in existence in the Sassanian kingdom during the period, the Persian settlers should be manichaen. Fr Jacob Kollamparambil comments that Burnell’s understanding of Persian Christianity and its history is defective.[50]  Fr Kollamparabil writes that Christianity in the Persian empire from the early centuries was much different from what Burnell wrote. Under the Sassanian rule from 3rd century to 8th century, the East Syrian Church had gathered considerable strength in Persia proper, Khuzistan, Babylonia, Adiabene,  and Mesopotamia. Towards the end of the Sassanian rule,  before the Isalmic conquest,  in the  middle of the 7th century, the Metropolitan Province of Riwardushir alone in Persia had grown into  a super province having 18 suffragan eparchies.[51]  Eventhough Manichaeism was favoured in Sassanian rule under Shapor I (AD 240-273), it had lost the favour and under Bahram-I (AD 274-277), Manichaens were persecuted and Mani was executed.[52]

After  Burnell- Collins dispute in Indian Antiquary, the Manichaen theory was refuted and discredited and  became dead among scholarly historians and many new articles were published from scholars who gave strong evidence of the presence of the Church of the East in Persia and its connections to India.[53]  Now, 135 years after his publication of the article, many different experts interpreted these inscriptions; many other crosses also found later with the same inscriptions which were also subject to serious research by many eminent scholars, but not a tiny grain of evidence to support the Manichean theory has emerged yet! We have to understand that when Burnell wrote the article, not much information was available about the strong connection between the Church of Saint Thomas Christians in Malabar and the Persian Church. Now a sea of evidence is available and if Burnell had information about it, he would not have presented this theory.

3. Pahlavi- the language of Persian Christians

The Church of Rewardashir of Fars was one of a definite stream of the East Syrian Church with its own culture. The Indian church was under the Metropolitan of Fars until the time of Patriarch Timothy I. The Metropilitanate of Fars had some differences from the Patriarcate of Ctesiphon based on the usage of Pahlavi language, besides issues like ordination of Bishops and monasticism. The Church of Ctesiphon had Syriac as its liturgical language whereas Church of Fars (Persia) used Pahlavi as its liturgical language in the 5th century.[54]  Chronicles of Seert mentions about Ma’ana of Rewardashir wrote religious discourses, canticles and hymns in Persian language and translated the theological works of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia from Greek and sent copies to the islands of the sea and India.[55]  Parts of a Bible written in Pahlavi language has been excavated from Turfan in China in AD1966 and is now kept in Berlin.[56]

Thus, even when the East Syrian Patriarchate was based at Ctesiphon after AD 420,  Church at Fars developed into a parallel ecclesiastical centre and  during the period 554- 790,  Metropolitan of Fars separated his diocese from  the Patriarch of Ctesiphone and himself ordained the Bishops for the six  Bishoprics under him. The six towns of Bet Qatraye/ Bahraine- Oman, Socotora and coastal south west India  were also under the Bishopric of Pars.[57]  The Catholicose of the East Syrian Church  Isho Yab III (650-658) records that  in his day, the Metropolitan of Rewardashir was responsible  not only for the dioceses Fars alone but also for India, a geographical concept in which he included the places between the maritime borders of the Sassanid kingdom to the country called Qal’ah in Malayan peninsula, covering a distance of 12300 parasangs.[58]

4. If  Manichean, why only in India ?

Pius Malekkandathil also discusses the Manichean theory in his article ‘Saint Thomas Christians; A historical analysis of their origin and development up to 9th century AD’. He argues that it is true that some Manichaen texts speak of Manichaen missionaries travelling to India; if they were Manichaen crosses, it should have been found in places, where Manichaen doctrines got wide acceptance. Since it had more lasting impact on the western church than on Indian church , these crosses should have been found more in Europe, but so far none is recovered from Europe or from the heartland of Manichaeism.[59]

Dr Pius Malekkandathil also argues that no historical evidence is discovered either from India, or from the heartland of Manichaeism in Iran, Central Asia, and the fringes of Mediterranean to link these crosses with Manichean community.

5. Did Manicheans ever venerate a Cross?

There is no evidence or citation about Mani erecting crosses or, Manicheans worshipping or venerating Crosses. Fr Jacob Kollamparambil asks, did Manichaens ever venerate a cross ? According to Manichaen principles, Jesus did not die on a cross but it was a substitute. Mani also did not die on a cross. Mani was imprisoned by Bahram I and died in the prison in chains. His corpse was pierced through with a buming torch and then mutilated. The severed head was hung up over the city gate of Bet- Lapat. His remains were buried by his followers at Ctesiphon.[60] So, if cross is nothing important to Manichaens, then why would Manichaens venerate a cross?

The well known Pahlavi expert and researcher Mr B T Anklesaria also doubts Manichaens would ever raise a Cross for any reason.[61]

RELIGIOUS SYMBOL OF SAINT THOMAS CHRISTIANS      

Rev Dr George Nedungatt certifies Saint Thomas Cross, “The Saint Thomas Cross has been dubbed by some critics as manichaen, but there is no valid reason for doing so…Neither Apostolic nor Manichaen in origin, the Saint Thomas’ Cross is a beautiful and meaningful religious symbol of the Thomas Christian tradition.[62]

DIFFERENT CROSSES

The Pahlavi inscribed Crosses found in the Indian subcontinent are grouped into two designs. Both the designs are displayed together at Kottayam valiya palli on the side altars for easy comparison. One with round upper border, well defined dove on the top and lotus on the bottom with pillars and arch encircling the cross whereas the second group has pointed upper end, ill defined dove and lotus and no pillars and arch

1. The Mount Cross- The Bleeding CrossMount Cross

This is the first discovered Persian Cross. Mylappore (Chennai) has been considered as the site of martyrdom and the burial place of Saint Thomas the Apostle . Saint Thomas’ Christians had a tradition of annual pilgrimage to Mylappore from ancient times. A E Medlycott discusses well about the tradition of Mailappore connected to Apostle Thomas in his book ‘India and Apostle Thomas’. Marco Polo in AD 1293, wrote that the body of Saint Thomas the apostle lies in this province of Maabar in a ‘little town.’ John of Monte Carvino AD 1292-1293  wrote that he stayed in the country of India wherein stands the church of Saint Thomas the Apostle for thirteen months and baptised people and buried his companion in the church of Saint Thomas.Yule’s’ Cathay’ reports Blessed Oderic (AD 1324-25) visiting Malabar,(he uses the term ‘Minibar’) and then another ten days journey to Mobaar where laid the body of Thomas Apostle. John De Marignolli in AD  1349 visiting Columbum- Quilon and then proceeding to visit the shrine of the Apostle Thomas in Mirapolis. Nocola De Conti (AD 1425-1430) visited maritime city named Malepur situated in the second gulf of India- Bay of Bengal-where the body of Saint Thomas is honourably buried.[63]  Narrations of Joseph, the Indian (AD 1501)confirms that Saint Thomas Christians go to Mylappore on  pilgrimage where the body of Saint Thomas is buried.[64]  Duarte Barbosa also reports the prevailing tradition in AD1514 that Mylappore was the site of martyrdom and the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle.[65] This proves that the tradition about Mylappore was present even before Portuguese.

When the first Portuguese arrived there, there was no building, only foundation walls that rose above the ground about 1 cubit, stretching east to west. The first Portuguese missionaries built a small oratory on this foundation in AD 1523.Later, in 1547, they decided to build a larger church and on the Tuesday 23rd of March 1547, when they dug around the old foundation, found another foundation deep, also east to west, which was unknown until then. They continued digging down and at 3 cubic, they found the ‘Holy Stone’. This stone was of the size of a mile stone with the cross engraved on it, facing down with fresh blood stains on it. This narration was taken by a Bishop from the elders of the area and from the writings of Nuno Luis and from others and published later.[66]

The granite tablet on which the cross is engraved,   has raised edges and is round on the top. The Pahlavi inscriptions are on this round edge with a small cross in between two parts of the inscriptions. The cross inside is surrounded by two pillars and an arch surrounding it. The arch originates from the open mouth of something like an aquatic creature.

The cross has three steps on the bottom, three downward facing petals and upward facing floral petals look like a lotus on which the cross is erected. The cross shows the arms ends in a bud pattern. The bottom arm is a bit longer than the rest. A dove is seen facing downwards on the top arm. The entire structure is like a niche in which the cross and pillars are carved.

 2. Kottayam Valiyapalli Crosses

Two similar crosses are found in Kottayam Valiya palli, on both side altars. The one on the south altar is exactly similar in design to the Mount Cross but the one on the north altar is a bit different. These are the two different designs of Persian Crosses found in the Indian subcontinent.

Kottayam valiyapalli cross-2a. Cross at north altar (Left side)

This cross is smaller with a pointed border compared to the round upper border of the Mount cross. The pillars and arch are not seen. The border around the cross is pointed, and the Pahlavi inscription is over the edge of the slab outside the border.  The petals on the bottom of the cross is different from that of Mount Cross. They are mainly directed downwards with a small bud upwards on either ends. The arms of the cross are almost equal in length, but the ends show an additional button. The dove on the top is smaller, not very clear; it may be interpreted as a dove or even a flame. This cross is considered to be the older one among the two.

b. Cross at the south altar (Right side)Kottayam valiyapalli cross-1

This is larger and the design is identical to the Mount cross. Four arms are almost equal in length but ends shows an additional tongue shaped structure besides the three button/bud design. In the centre where all the four arms meet, there is a circular floral design. The dove is well defined and clear. On the bottom, three steps are clear, the downward facing petals are more like concentric semicircles but the upward facing petals are similar to mount cross floral arrangement. The Pahlavi inscriptions are on the raised round edges of the slab on the top. In addition, East Syriac inscriptions are also seen on the bottom raised edge of the slab which reads ‘but far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom  the world has vbeen crucified to me and I to the world’( Gal. 6,14). Below the syriac inscriptions, there are 5 or 6 floral design seen. Above this whole design, another small cross similar to mount cross with two peacocks kissing the ends of the side arms and a floral decoration above it. This part is not well visible now as it is covered by the wooden decoration of the church altar but described by Joseph Vazhuthanappalli and other authors.[67]

Kothanalloor Cross3. Kothanalloor Cross

This is found at the Gervasis and Prothasis church at Kothanalloor of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church. This church was believed to be founded by Persian Bishops Mar Sabour and Afroath in AD 826. Mar Sabour and Afroath were two twin brothers. This cross was found on the northern wall of the church covered with plaster on 14/09/1987.[68]  This seems to be a deliberate attempt to hide away the cross. Now, the cross is installed in a small chapel outside the church near the presbytery. It is believed that the original church was in Pallikkunnu and when they moved to the present site, the cross was installed on the side wall and probably someone deliberately wanted to cover it with plaster to remove the memories of Mar Sabour and Afroath. When the synod of Diamper declared Mar Sabor and Afroath as heretics and commanded all the churches dedicated to Sabour and Afroth should be rededicated to all saints. As the community was resilient to give up the twin saints popularly known as Kantheesangal, (syriac word kantheesangal means holy men) the missionaries found another twin saints from Milan – Saints Gervasis and Prothasis who lived in AD 160-180 and were martyrs and renamed  this church  after them, but the name Kantheesangal continued. This seems that the people were tricked by installing a set of different twin saints in the same name Kantheesangal.

This cross is similar to the smaller cross at Kottayam Valiyapally with pointed upper border but no inscriptions. The three steps are seen, the petal arrangement below the cross is identical to the smaller Kottayam cross. Four arms are equal in length and ends show the additional bud on the three button arrangement which is projecting into the raised border. The dove on the top is not very clear, it is small and can be interpreted as a flame or fire.

4. Muttuchira CrossMuttuchira Cross

This was found in Ruha’D Qudisha Forane Church, Muttuchira of the Syro Malabar Catholic church.  The history and details of this cross is well described on a granite slab in vattezhuthu which is lying neglected on the premises of the church!

This cross is similar in design to the smaller cross at Kottyam Valiyapalli and Kothanalloor crosses, but the border is not pointed, but rounded. There is no pillar or arch, the Pahlavi  inscriptions are seen on the round edge.These inscriptions are seen partially mutilated raising the suspicion that it was also subject to destruction by authorities. The design of the cross is similar to the Kothanalloor cross- equal arms, design of the petal arrangements below the cross, and the dove is inconspicuous, like a flame or fire.  The Muttuchira rock inscriptions in vattezhuthu tell us about installation of this cross in AD 1580 by Mar Simon, a Chaldean Bishop.[69]  It is not clear whether it was a re-erection of an old cross.

Alengadu Cross5. Alengadu Cross

This is found near Saint Mary’s Forane Church at Alengadu, of the Syro Malabar Catholic church. This cross was abandoned and was lying like a mile stone. It was identified only in AD 1931 and is installed in a roadside chapel near the church.

This cross is similar to the smaller cross of Kottayam valiyapally. There is no arch and pillars. The border is pointed and there are Pahlavi inscription on the border. The dove is small and inconspicuous seen like a flame or fire.

B T Anklesaria comments that the Cross found at Alengadu was brought from Crangannore.[70]  Thus, the Alengadu Cross is the famous Cross described by Gouvea. After a detailed analysis of the inscriptions, Anklesaria comments that the Alengadu Cross in the  most ancient of all these Pahlavi inscribed Crosses.

6. Kadamattom CrossKadamattom Cross

This cross is found on the south wall of the altar of the Syrian Orthodox Church at Kadamattom. This cross is in a niche with two pillars and arch surrounding the cross.[71] Pahlavi inscriptions are on the raised edge of the niche as in Mount Cross. The four arms are equal in length. The dove does not show definite anatomy of a bird, it could be a fire. The petal arrangement on the bottom of the cross is similar to Mount cross. The steps are clear. On the bottom of the niche, where we see the syriac inscriptions in Kottayam valiyapalli cross, there are five vertical lines seen as five small pillars. There is an oblique grove connecting the second and third lines making it like N, make it read as INRI, but the R is not clear. If it is INRI, it may be a later addition after the arrival of Portuguese.

Agassim Cross7. Goa cross- Agassim cross

This was discovered by Fr Cosme Costa SFX, an archaeologist cum historian of the Pilar Society of Goa accidentally on 27th of April 2001. This was found in a mound of Rock in a thicket in the premises of Saint Peter’s chapel at Dandiin Agaism at the far end of the old port of Gopakapattana. This was actually the base of granite cross of Latin design- plain cross- which had crumbled down around 1995 on a cyclonic storm and was neglected since then. This Persian cross was hidden inside the mound and had come out and was about to fall into the sea. This was a granite slab with a Persian cross similar to the Mount cross- the two pillars and the arch encircling the Persian cross in a niche carved in granite. The round edge of the upper part shows the same Pahlavi inscriptions. The cross is similar to mount cross with dove above, three steps and the petal arrangement as in mount cross, equal armed cross with ends like a bud.

There was a Portuguese inscription on the bottom of the niche. This cross was broken and only 4/5th of the cross was found. Hence half of the Pahlavi inscriptions are lost. The Portuguese inscriptions runs like this- ‘…A DE s.TOME…..DO R….ILEZ VS…..642…..’which has been interpreted as ‘A deS (Sao) Tome…do R(Regiao?) Ilez (Ilhas?) vs (Vizinhas?)…642(1642)’ It could be roughly translated as That which belongs to Saint Thomas’ (Christians?) from the region  of (the neighbouring) islands (Tiswadi) 1642.’ This cross is unique in that we can see the evidence that this Persian cross was destroyed and put in the mound and erected a Latin cross instead on the same site.[72]

8. Other crosses

a. Kaduthuruthy Cross

This is seen on the baptismal font at Kaduthuruthy valiyapalli. It is of 9th century AD. I have not seen this cross personally. The information is from Fr Jacob Kollamparambil’s article in the Christian orient.

b. Changanacherry CrossChanganacherry Cross (1)

There are two crosses found at Changanacherry valiyapalli. One at the open air rock cross and the other inside the oldest church, on the left side of the new church. The cross has four steps on the bottom, There is no figure of Jesus, and there is a dove on the top as descending down and on either sides, there are two doves kissing the ends of the cross.[73]  There is a similar cross at Kottayam Cheriya palli also, on the front of the church, above the archdoor that opens into the portico. Here, instead of two doves on either side, we can see two peacocks on either side. Above the larger  cross of Kottayam valiyapalli also, we can see a similar design, with two peacocks on either side, but that is now hidden in the decorative wood work of the altar.

THE STORY TOLD BY THESE PAHLAVI CROSSES

On detailed analysis, we can see that these Pahlavi crosses reveal a mine of very interesting information. It tells us the tradition of Saint Thomas Christians and their veneration of Cross. It gives a hint that these crosses were present in the past and revived in the 6-7th centuries centuries by putting the Pahlavi inscriptions around it and made copies everywhere. It also tells us the story of Iconoclasm by the Portuguese.

The Pahlavi crosses at Mylappore and Kottayam were kept and venerated in the Church. The Pahlavi crosses in Syro Malabar churches all were seen neglected or damaged- Kothanalloor hidden in the wall covered with plaster, Muttuchira seen mutilated, Alengadu seen neglected and thrown away and found on the wayside. Only those churches which after 1663, remained with the Jacobite Syrians or under Dutch or British control like that of Mylappore could preserve the Pahlavi crosses intact.[74] It is evident that all these Pahlavi crosses in South India bear same inscriptions and there is evidence that these inscriptions are copies. CPT Winkworth has done extensive research on these Pahlavi inscriptions and published his papers in the journal of Theological studies, in 1929 and concludes that the Mount cross is the original one and the rest must be copies of it.[75]  He found that all these crosses bear Pahlavi inscriptions but with minor differences in the letters and on careful study, found that these are unintelligent copies. He proposes that a series of rubbings on paper or parchment arranged in the order to reproduce the inscriptions and while doing so, many characters were not reproduced correctly as the sculptor was illiterate in Pahlavi and many characters were mirror images as he used the reverse side of the paper or medium used for rubbings. At one part, a letter was upside down. By his studies, he argues that the smaller Kottayam cross ( North altar Cross) is a reasonably intelligent copy of the Mount cross, from which the larger Kottayam cross (South altar Cross) was copied and the Kadamattom cross was a very unintelligent copy of the Kottayam larger cross. This shows that by 8-9 centuries, our leaders tried to copy this cross and spread it over to the whole community.

It seems that one of the Kottayam Crosses is taken from somewhere else, as there is no logic in having two similar crosses in the same altar. Also it should be noted that the Kadamattom cross inscription is a copy of the Kottayam Valiyapalli south altar Cross. That means, when they copied, the only cross available in Kottayam was the South Altar Cross. Kadamattom cross design also is similar to Kottayam South Altar Cross. According to Winkworth’s theory, Kottayam South Altar cross inscription is a copy of the North altar inscription which is a more intelligent copy of the original Mount Cross. There is now, a possibility that when the South altar cross was erected, they copied it from the north altar cross which was erected somewhere else.

Fr Jacob Kollamparambil writes that Christians from Kodungalloor had to migrate to south in the early 16th century because of the power struggle between Portuguese and the Muslims. Southists took their cross from Kodungalloor and migrated to Kaduthuruthy and later to Kottayam valiyapalli and erected the cross in the altar. Fr Kollamparambil writes ‘The Kottayam Crosses are said to have been brought from Cranganore via Kaduthuruthy. The crosses were taken from Cranganore probably in AD 1524, when in a war with the King of Cranganore, Samoothiri of Calicut assisted by Muslim soldiers conquered, sacked and destroyed Cranganore. All the three churches of Cranganore- Saint Mary’s, Saint Thomas’ and saint Kuriakose’s were burned down.   The Christians fled with the valuable relics they could take with them’. [76]

According to Fr Kollamparambil, the crosses were first brought to Kaduthuruthy and in 1550, they were moved to Kottayam due to another war between the King of Wadakkumkoor and the King of Cochin helped by the Portuguese where the King of Wadakkumkoor was killed by Portuguese commander Francesco Silveira de Menesis. The Wadakkumkoor army then formed chaver squads- suicide squads- who attacked and killed the Saint Thomas Christians, the co-religionists of the murderer.[77]

That means, the North altar cross may have been brought to Kottayam from Cranganore.  Gouvea talks about a famous cross at Cranganore in a chapel in the city. Archbishop Menesis celebrated a High mass in front of it.[78] This cross is not seen now. This cross was found in Cranganore in AD 1606 period and hence, it may not be the one that was transfered to Kottayam valiyapalli.

Noted Pahlavi expert and researcher, Mr B T Anklesaria published a paper in the Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute in 1958 about the pahlavi inscriptions of the crosses in South India after studying the Alengadu Cross. He is the only Pahlavi expert who has studied all the Persian Crosses of Kerala. He comments that the Alengadu cross was taken from Cranganore.[79]  It is not clear the source of this information, but he argues that the Alengadu Cross is the oldest based on the epigraphical and orthographical evidences. Anklesaria thinks, these Pahlavi cross inscriptions could be  as early as of AD 340.[80]  He concludes that certain words are distinctly cut only in Alengadu Cross and hence it could be the original and the rest are copies.[81]  It has to be noted that Winkworth came up with the explanation of the theory of copying the inscriptions, but when Winkworth published his paper, Alengadu cross was not yet discovered. Obviously, Anklesaria has had the advantage of having opportunity to study all the six crosses of Kerala and the Mount Cross. It seems that these crosses were originally installed in Malabar coast and then copied to Coromandel coast with local adaptations- the Pallava architectural features of arch, makara torana etc. We have Kadamattom and the larger cross at Kottayam only show similarity to Mount Cross, all the rest are similar to Alengadu Cross.

Are these inscriptions related to re-erection of pre existent cross?

CPT Winkworth’s interpretation of the inscriptions suggests that the Mount Cross was re erected by the inscriber. He interpreted the inscriptions like this:-[82]

(a)‘ My Lord Christ, have mercy upon  Afras, son of Chaharbukht, the Syrian who cut this’              

(b) My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chahrbukht, the Syrian who preserved this’

 (c )My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of chahrbukht, the Syrian who put this around’

The interpretation (b) and (c) are amendments of (a) after studying the inscriptions on all replicas of these crosses, analysing more clear pictures and discussing with other scholars in an international meeting which included scholars from Iran also.

On analysing the inscription itself, we can assume that these inscriptions were entered by Afras, son of Chaharbukht, the Syrian. It also says, Afras has preserved this/put it around. That means, the cross without any inscriptions was already there, and Afras found it and preserved it- put it up. Putting an inscription around a cross is not a meritorious act, but setting up a cross or preserving a neglected cross is definitely a meritorious act.[83]  This raises the possibility that the Mount cross was found by Afras and he preserved it in AD 650 period and inscribed that on it.

Famous Malabar Historian T K Joseph argues that ‘it may justify the supposition that the cross without inscriptions had been in existence on the Coromandel coast prior to the time of Mar Sabour Afroath who arrived in AD 825. We may also presume that on his visit from Quilon to the Mylappore tomb of Saint Thomas and the Mount Church or its ruins, Afras found the cross in a neglected condition and preserved it.’[84]  Then he or the Christians of Malabar made copies of it in Malabar and that became our tradition from AD 825 onwards until the Portuguese found and witnessed the ‘Cross of saint Thomas’ in our churches.

It has to be noted that the Kothanalloor Cross doesn’t have any inscriptions on it. This cross is an evidence to the theory that we had these Crosses without any inscriptions on it and the inscriptions were made later.

Other interpretations.[85]

Several scholars have interpreted the Pahlavi inscriptions on these crosses. Burnell was the first scholar who interpreted the inscriptions.

A C Burnell- ‘In punishment by the cross (was) the sufferings of this one. Who is the true Christ and God above and guide ever pure.’

Martin Haug ‘He who believes in the messiah and in God on high and also in the Holy Ghost is in the grace of Him who bore the pain of the cross’

E M West-  (a) ‘what freed the true Messiah, the forgiving, the upraising from hardships

(b)He whom the sufferings of the self same messiah, the forgiving and upraising, has saved is offering the plea whose origin was the agony of this’

Harlez- ‘He who is the true messiah the reconciler, the resuscitator, for ever punished by virtue of the crucifixion’

Sanjana- (a) Such was the affliction of the wounding and spearing of him on the cross who was the faithful messiah is forgiver of superior dignity , the descendant of Chaharbukt’

 (b) Messiah the merciful one, the descendant of the Great Abraham who was the descendant of Chahar bukht’

(c ) ‘He , of whom the faithful messiah was a foregiver was highly exalted. He was redeemed frommthe four regions of hell. This was due to the afflictions of the spearing and wounding of the messiah on the cross’

 (d) ‘This was the affliction on the cross even of the messiah of jehova’

Modi- ‘ I, a beautiful bird from Nineveh, have come to this country . Written Mar Shapor I whom the Holy messiah  the forgiver freed from the thorn’

CPT Winkworth- (a)‘ My Lord Christ, have mercy upon  Afras, son of Chaharbukht, the Syrian wo cut this’                          

 (b) My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chahrbukht, the Syrian who preserved this.  

 (c )My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of chahrbukht, the Syrian who put this around’

Gerd Gropp- ‘may our Lord the messiah have mercy on Gabriel, son of Chaharbukht, grandson of Durzad, who made this’.[86]

May our Lord, the messiah have mercy on Sabriso, son of Caharboxt the deft, who sculpted this’.[87]IMG_1167

A model of installing Marthoma Sleeva in homes

CONCLUSION

Saint Thomas Crosses are really inculturated Crosses of Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar and is the Religio cultural symbol of the authentic Saint Thomas Christians. This glorious Cross is the living sign of Jesus’ victory over death, sin and sufferings. It is a symbol of risen Jesus. It denotes the tree of life, stem of Jesse, staff of comfort(Holy Spirit), Ark of Noah(Church), sign of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and that of Christian perfection- sum total of old and new testaments. It is not a statue. It is a symbol of our tradition. Let us pray our Lord to guide us to keep the Apostolic experience of Christ  received in our cultural milieu to pass over to our future generations and to  become the authentic witness of our Apostolic heritage and the catholicity of the universal Church.[88]

( This article was first published by NSC Network  at www.nasrani.net on  09 October 2010 and later published in the book ‘The Way of Life, Festchrift in Honour of Professor Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara, CMI by Denha Services, Kottayam, 2011, pp 237-270. ISBN 978-93-81207-00-0. This is a revised and updated version of the original article)


[1] Herbert Thurston. “Sign of the Cross.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13785a.htm>.. accessed on 2 Jan. 2011.

[2] Orazio Marucchi. “Archæology of the Cross and Crucifix.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04517a.htm>. accessed on 2 Jan. 2011.

[3] George Nedungatt. A Quest for the Historical Thomas Apostle of India, a rereading of Evidence,Theological publications in India, Bangalore, p 346.

[4] Wikipedia article about swasthika-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika#cite_ref-Haarmann_2002.2C_20_9-0- archived on 11/09/2010.

[6] Wikipedia article about Celtic Cross, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_cross, accessed on 02/01/2011;

Stephen Walker, Celtic Cross, History and symbolism, http://www.celtarts.com/celtic.htm accessed on 02/01/2011;

Stephen Walker, Celtic revival crosses, http://www.celtarts.com/revival_crosses.htm accessed on 02/01/2011;

Jill S Quattlebaun, The Role of the High Cross in Early Christian Ireland-8-11th centuries, Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1993,Ch 3, pp38-41.

[7] Jill S Quattlebaun, The Role of the High Cross in Early Christian Ireland-8-11th centuries, Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1993,Ch 3, p 46.

[8] Hilary Richardson and John Scarry, An introduction to Irish High Crosses, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1990,p 22 cited by Jill S Quattlebaun, The Role of the High Cross in Early Christian Ireland-8-11th centuries, Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1993,Ch 3, p 46.

[9] George Nedungattu, A Quest for the Historical Thomas Apostle of India, a rereading of Evidence,Theological publications in India, Bangalore p387.

[10] George  Nedungatt, Quest for the Historical Thomas Apostle of India, a rereading of evidence, 2008, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, p346.

[11] George Nedungattu, A Quest for the Historical Thomas Apostle of India, a rereading of Evidence,Theological publications in India, Bangalore p387.

[12] Jacob Kollamparambil, The Persian Crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994,  p  29 citing Abdisho of Soba, Liber argaritae, tract IV, ch I and Tract T , ch 2.

[13] E Yarshater, The Cambridge History of Iran III, 2 Cambridge, 1983, p929, E E Herzfeld, Archaeological History of iran, London, 1930, pp 103-104, cited by Jacob Kollamparambil, The Persian Crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994, p 30.

[14] Jacob Kollamparambil, The Persian Crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994  p 30.

[15] Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD, Gorgias Press, pp166-167, 231.

[16] Duarte Barbosa, A description of the coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of Sixteenth century, p 162).

[17] Duarte Barbosa, , A description of the coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of Sixteenth century, p 163).

[18] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar,LRC Publlications, Koch 2003, p 188 foot note 159 quoting Giovanni De Empoli, ‘Viaggio fatto nell’India per Gionni da Empoli fattore  su la nave del serenissimo re di Portugallo per conto de marchioni de Lisboa, fol 57’.

[19] T K Joseph, notes on ‘The Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar AD 1490-1504’ by Rev Fr henry Hosten S J, ,Kerala Society Papers series 5,, p253-254.

[20] H Hosten, Antiquities of San Thome and Mylappore, p 351.

[21] T K Joseph, notes on ‘The Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar AD 1490-1504’ by Rev Fr henry Hosten S J, ,Kerala Society Papers series 5,, p253-254.

[22] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar,LRC Publlications, Koch 2003, p 187).

[23] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis De menezes: A postuguese account of the Sixteenth century Malabar. publisher’s note and forward.

[24] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar,LRC Publlications, Koch 2003,p 216 foot note 177, p 245 foot note 190).

[25] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar,LRC Publlications, Koch 2003 p217.

[26] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menesis: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar,LRC Publlications, Koch 2003 p 245 foot note 190).

[27] Pius p216 foot note 177).

[28] Jornada of Alexis De Menesis: A Portuguse Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Ed. Dr. Pius Malekandathil, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2003, foot note p 245 ).

[29] My personal e mail communication with Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil dated 29/04/2012).

[30] H Hosten, Antiquities from San Thome and Mylappore,1936 pp474, 477-478, 484 , cited by John F Butler, The iconography of the ancient South Indian incised Crosses, Indian Church History Review,Vol VIII, No 2, 1969 p87.

[31] T P Elias, East Syrian Missions to Asia with special reference to Malabar coast from sixth century to sixteenth century AD and its influence on Indian religious Society and Culture, Thesis submitted to the degree of Ph D in Syriac studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, India,  p200.

[32] T P Elias, East Syrian Missions to Asia with special reference to Malabar coast from sixth century to sixteenth century AD and its influence on Indian religious Society and Culture, Thesis submitted to the degree of Ph D in Syriac studies, mahatma Gandhi University, India,  p146.

[33] T P Elias, East Syrian Missions to Asia with special reference to Malabar coast from sixth century to sixteenth century AD and its influence on Indian religious Society and Culture, Thesis submitted to the degree of Ph D in Syriac studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, India,pp154.

[34] H Hosten,Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar(AD1490-1504), Kerala Society Papers, Series 5, 1929,  Ed T K Joseph, p 237.

[35] H Hosten, Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar (AD 1490-1504), Kerala Society Papers, series 5, Trivandrum, Ed T K Joseph, 1929, p 237.

[36] Gunnar Myhlman, The hidden string between the Indus valley bead culture and the Buddhist bead culture, http://www.ancientbead.com/IndusBuddhistCulture.html.

[37] Joseph Perumthottam, Circular 10 Ch  67-114, Vedaprachara Madhyasthan, September 2010, p7.

[38] Joseph  Perumthottam, Circular 10 Ch  67-114, Vedaprachara Madhyasthan, September 2010, p5.

[40] Eckerhard Bickelmann, The saint Thomas Cross, An early example of the inculturation of Christian art in India, Indian Church History Review, Vol IV, No 2 1970 p66, John F Butler, Further thoughts on South Indian Crosses, Indian Church History Review, Vol IV, No 2, p74.

[41] John F Butler, Further thoughts on South Indian Crosses, Indian Church History Review, Vol IV, No 2, p75. 

[42] Professor Dr D W Gensichen, Indian Church History Review, Vol IV, No 1 June 1970, p3 cited by John F Butler, Further thoughts on South Indian Crosses, ICHR, IV, No 2 p 76.

[43] John F butler, Further thoughts on the South Indian Crosses, Indian Church History Review, Vol IV, No 2 1970, p73.

[44] Varghese Pathikulangara, Mar Thoma Sleeva wall calendar, Denha Services, 2006.

[45] C Sivarama Murti, Indian, Kunst and Kultur, Frielberg, 1975 cited by Eckehard Bickelmann, The saint Thomas Cross, an early example of the inculturation of Christian art in India, Indian Church History review, Vol IV No 2 p64.

[46] Persy Brown, Indian Archetecture, Budhist and Hindu periods, 6th edition, Bombay, 1971, pp 73-77, cited by Eckerhard Eckehard Bickelmann, The saint Thomas Cross, an early example of the inculturation of Christian art in india, Indian Church History review, Vol IV No 2 p64-65.

[47] Eckehard Bickelmann, The Saint Thomas Cross, an early example of the inculturation of Christian art in India, Indian Church History review, Vol IV No 2 p64.

[48] A C Burnell, On some Pahlavi inscriptions in South India, Indian Antiquary, November 1874, p314.

[49] Richard Collins, Manichaens on the Malabar coast, Indian Antiquary, May 1875, pp153-155.

[50] Jacob Kollamparambil, Persian crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen,Christian orient, March 1994, pp24-35.

[51] Jacob Kollamparambil, Persian crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen Christian Orient, March 1994, citing W G Young, Patriarch, Shah and caliph, 1974 Rawalpindi, pp 41-44, 98-99.

[52] Jacob Kollamparampil,The Persian crosses of India are Christian, not Manichaean,Christian Orient,March 1994 p 28.

[53] Jacob Kollamparambil, Persian crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen Christian Orient p 29.

[54] Richard N Fyre, Bahraine under the Sassanians, in Daniel Potts, Ed. Dilmun: New Studies in the Archaeology and early History of Bahrain, Berlin, 1983, p 169, cited by P Malekkandathil, Saint Thomas Christians; A Historical analysis of their origin and development  upto 9th century AD , in Saint Thomas Christians, Nambudiris Jews and  Sangam literature, Ed Bosco Puthur, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2006p 42.

[55] Jacob Kollamparampil, The Persian Crosses of India are Christian, not Manicheaen, Christian Orient, March 1994, p28 citing Patrologia Orientalis, VII, p117.

[56] Pius  Malekkandathil, Saint Thomas Christians; A Historical analysis of their origin and development  upto 9th century AD , in Saint Thomas Christians, Nambudiris Jews and  Sangam literature, Ed Bosco Puthur, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2006 p42 citing Gerd Gropp, Christian maritime trade of Sassanian age in the Persian gulf, p 85 and E Schau, Vom Christentum in der Persis, pp 960 ff.

[57] Pius Malekkandathil, Saint Thomas Christians; A Historical analysis of their origin and development  upto 9th century AD , in Saint Thomas Christians, Nambudiris Jews and  Sangam literature, Ed Bosco Puthur, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2006, p;41 citing Gerd Gropp, Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian age in the Persian Gulf, p 85, E Schau, Von Christnetum in der Persia, in Sitzungsberichte Preubischen Akademie der Wissenschdften, Berlin, 1916, p 965.

[58] Pius Malekkandathil Saint Thomas Christians; A Historical analysis of their origin and development  upto 9th century AD , in Saint Thomas Christians, Nambudiris Jews and  Sangam literature, Ed Bosco Puthur, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2006p 41-42, citing O Braun, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum  Orientalium: Scrtptores Syri, Ii p 252; B E Colles, Persian Merchants and Missionaries, pp 20-21. Medleycote also quotes Assemani, a  letter of Jesuab of Adiabene Patriarch of the Nestorians, a.d.650-660( Assemani, Bibilotheca orientalis) in which  he mentions Kalah as the extreme eastern terminus of his jurisdiction in the direction of India and beyond India proper.

[59] Pius Malekkandathil, Saint Thomas Christians; A Historical analysis of their origin and development  upto 9th century AD , in Saint Thomas Christians, Nambudiris Jews and  Sangam literature, Ed Bosco Puthur, LRC Publications, Cochin, 2006, p 43.

[60] Jacob Kollamparambil, The Persian Crosses inn India are Christian, not Manichaen, in Christian Orient, March 1994, p 34-35, citing G Widengren, Mani and Manichaeism, New York, 1965, pp41-42 and K Rudolph, Gnosis, pp330-331.

[61] B T Anklesaria,The Pahlavi inscription on the Crosses in South India, Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, 1958, Ed. J C Tarapore, p98.

[62] George Nedungatt, Quest for Historic Thomas Apostle of India, pp386-387.

[63] Adolf E Medleycot, India and Apostle Thomas, pp69- 73.

[64] Antony Vallavanthara, India in 1500 AD Gorgias Press, pp214-215 and 259.

[65] Duarte Barbosa, A description of the coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of Sixteenth century, Hakluyt Society, London, 1865, pp160-161, 174-175.

[66] Three Saint Thomas Documents-Saint Thomas Tomb and relics at Mylappore 1517-43 AD translated by Rev Fr Carmel Iturriotz DC, Kerala Society Papers, Ed. TK Joseph, Series II 9, p 215.

[67] Joseph Vazhuthanapalli, The Archaeology of Mar Sliba, p17.

[68] Joseph Vazhuthanapalli, The Archaeology of Mar Sliba, p16.

[69] T K Joseph, Notes to Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar 1490-1504, Kerala Society Papers Series 5 pp 253-254.

[70] B T Anklesaria,The Pahlavi inscription on the Crosses in South India, Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, 1958, Ed. J C Tarapore.

[71] J J Modi, A Christian Cross with a pahlavi inscription recently discovered in the Travancore statre, Asiatic Papers, September 1924.

[72] Rev Fr Cosme Jose Costa, Apostolic Christianity in Goa and in the west coast, pp75-80.

[73] Joseph Vazhuthanappalli, Archaeology of mar Sliba, pp13-14.

[74] Cosme Jose Costa, Apostolic Chritianity in Goa and in the west coast, p88.

[75] C P T Winkworth, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi cross inscriptions of South India,  Kerala Society Papers, Series 3 p159.

[76] Fr Jacob Kollamparambil, The Persian Crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994,   quoting Mundadan, The arrival of Portuguese in India and the Thomas Christians under Mar Jacob, pp99-100.

[77] Fr Jacob Kollamparambil, The Persian Crosses in India are Christian, not Manichaen, Christian Orient, March 1994,  quoting C J Wicki, Documenta Indica, Vol III 796, G Schurhammer, Die Zeitgenossischen Quellenzur Geschichte Portugiesisch- Asiens, Rome, 1962, No 4530.

[78] Pius Malekkandathil, Jornada of Alexis Dom Menesis, A Portuguese account of the sixteenth century Malabar, LRC Publications, Kochi, 2003, pp215-216.

[79] B T Anklesaria, The Pahlavi inscription on the Crosses in Southern India, Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay,1958, Ed. J C Tarapore, vol 39,p64.

[80] B T Anklesaria, The Pahlavi inscription on the Crosses in Southern India, Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay,1958, Ed. J C Tarapore, vol 39,p80.

[81] B T Anklesaria, The Pahlavi inscription on the Crosses in Southern India, Journal of K R Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay,1958, Ed. J C Tarapore, vol 39p82.

[82] C P T Winkworth, A new interpretation of the Pahlavi cross inscriptions of South India,  Kerala Society Papers, Series 3 p159.

[83] C P T Winckworth,Revised Interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross Inscriptions of SouthIndia, Kerala Society Papers,Series 5, ED. T K Joseph, Kerala Society Papers, pp269-70.

[84] T K Joseph, Kottayam Cross Inscriptions,  Kerala Society papers series 5 ED T K Joseph, pp269-270.

[85] Joseph Vazhuthanappalli, Archaelogy of Mar Sliba, pp10-11, Kerala Society papers, Ed T K Joseph, 1929, p269.

[86] Gerd Gropp, Die Pahlavi inschrift auf dem Thomaskreus in madras” Archaologisches Mitteilungen aus Iran, NF 3, 1970, pp267-271 cited by G Nedungattu, p386

[87] Ph Gignoux, “The Pahlavi inscriptions on Mount Saint Thomas Cross, South India”, Solving Riddles and untying knots: Biblical Epigraphic and Semitic studiesin Honour of  J C Greenfield, Eisenbrauns, 1995,pp 411-422, cited by G Nedungattu, p386.

[88] Mar Joseph Powathil, Church as a tradition, in ‘Church in its most basic elements’ Ed Paul Pallath, Herder, Rome, 1995, pp 91-107.

Pin It

Comments are closed.