Christianity in Kerala

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Christianity is the third-most practiced religion in Kerala, accounting for 20% of the population according to the Indian census.[1] Although a minority, the Christian population of Kerala is proportionally much larger than that of India as a whole. A significant portion of the Indian Christian population resides in the state,.[2][3] The Christians of Kerala are divided into Syrian, Latin and New Christian groupings, which may be regarded as castes. The Syrians have two legends about their origin. The first and most frequently quoted is that they are the descendants of Nambudhiri Brahmins of Palayur in Thrissur, the highest ranking caste in Kerala, converted by St Thomas the Apostle after his arrival in India in AD 52. The Apostle is believed to have founded seven and a half churches for the use of the Christian converts and ordained presbyters. The second legend is that the Syrians are descended from families brought to Kerala by a merchant of Syria, Thomas of Cana, in the fourth or perhaps the sixth century, although this story does not exclude the possibility that a Christian community already existed in Kerala. Some of the descendants of this group maintained a separate identity and have been called as Knananites. However, the rest of the emigrated Syrian Christians and the local St Thomas Christians entered into matrimonial alliances and also organised themselves into a Church community. This relationship also brought in East Syrian Church rites or Chaldean rites into Church services. Malayalam became the medium of worship. Easo has recorded that the Christians in Kerala came to be called Syrian Christians as a consequence of this alliance. However the Syrian Christian community originated, it is certain that by the sixth century at the latest there was a flourishing Christian community in Kerala. Historians regard this as proven on the evidence of Cosmas Indicopleustes, the Egyptian monk whose wanderings are recorded in his Christian topography. There were Christians in Kerala for many centuries before the arrival of the first European on the Malabar Coast. Marco Polo initially brought news of them to Europe. He visited India at the end of the thirteenth century. The first emissary from Rome, John of Monte Corvino, sent by Pope Innocent III, is thought to have stayed in Kerala in 1291 and he was followed by various other priests and travellers from Europe. Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasrani) include the Syro-Malabar Catholic and Syro-Malankara Catholic, Malankara Orthodox, Jacobite, Marthoma and Syrian Anglicans of the Church of South India. Roman Catholic Latin Rite Christians owe their origin to the missionary activities involving western missionaries in India especially Kerala. Most of the people who were converted by the western missionaries belonged to the most poor and deprived sections of the Hindu Society. It is no surprise that the bulk of new converts belonged to the coastal community of Kerala. The bulk of Catholics in the rest of India belong to the Latin Rite.


The origins of Christianity in Kerala go back to the earliest period of the Church itself. In fact, there is a tradition among the Christian people of Kerala that St. Thomas the Apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, landed on the Kerala coast in 52 A.D. and preached the Gospel. He organized Christian communities in several places, established seven churches in Kerala, and died a martyr in Mylapore, Chennai, in 72 A.D. However, modern historians disagree with this story. The exact year of his arrival is disputed due to lack of credible historical evidence.[4][5][6] In 345 A.D., a Palestinian business man, Thomas Cana, along with 72 families, came and settled in Kerala, thereby augmenting the Christian community.[7] A second period of intense Latin Christian missionary activity began with the arrival of European missionaries due to the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama in 1498.


Roman Rite[edit]

East Syrian Rite[edit]

West Syrian Rite[edit]

Anglican Rite[edit]

Protestant Denominations[edit]

Christian pilgrimage sites[edit]


  1. ^ "Census of India". Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  2. ^ "Christianity in India". Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  3. ^ Compiled by Robert Eric Frykenberg (2005-07-01). "Timeline". Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  4. ^ Medlycott, A E. 1905 "India and the Apostle Thomas"; Gorgias Press LLC; ISBN, Fully reprinted in The Nazranies, Ed. George Menachery, Ollur,1998
  5. ^ Thomas Puthiakunnel, (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II.
  6. ^ "Kerala Syrian Christians, Apostle in India". Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  7. ^ `Christianity in India : A True Face`, Ch:11,`Christianity in Kerala`by Dr. John Vallamattam, Ed.&Pub.:CBCI Commission, New Delhi,1981, page104
  8. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 368-371
  9. ^ "Malankara Orthodox Church - Kottayam Seminary". Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  10. ^ "Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar". Retrieved 2013-12-16. 

Further reading[edit]

  • George K.M.,`Christianity in India Through the Centuries`,Authentic Books, Secunderabad,2007,2009.(ISBN 978-81-7362-786-6).
  • Benedict Vadakkekara,`Origin of Christianity in India`,Media House, Delhi,2007.ISBN 81-7495-258-6.
  • Agur C.M.,`Church History of Travancore`,Madras,1903 Reprint:Asian Educational Services, New Delhi,1990. (ISBN 81-206-0594-2).
  • Visvanathan Susan,`The Christians of Kerala`,Oxford University Press, Delhi1993,1999.(ISBN 0195647998)
  • George Menachery,`The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India`,SARAS,Ed.Prof. George Menachery, Ollur,Vol.I 1982, Vol.II 1973, Vol. III 2009.
  • George Menachery,`Indian Church History Classics`,SARAS,Ed.Prof. George Menachery, Ollur,Vol.I The Nazranies 1998.