Thomas of Cana

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Thomas of Cana is a figure in the history and traditions of the Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala, India. He is said to have led a migration of Syriac Christians from the Middle East to India sometime between the 4th and the 9th century; this may reflect a historical migration that strengthened the ties between the Indian church and the Church of the East. The Thomas of Cana story also factors into traditions of the divide of the community into Northist and Southist factions; the Southists or Knanaya sometimes claim descent from Thomas of Cana and his followers.

Thomas-of-Cana

History[edit]

Written accounts of Thomas of Cana date to the India's Portuguese period.[1] Different versions give different dates for the events; some place them in 345; others as late as the 9th century.[1][2] The meaning of the Cana epithet is unclear; it may refer to the town of Cana or the land of Canaan in the Bible,[3] or it may be a corruption of a Syriac term for merchant (Knāyil in Malayam).[4] However, scholar Richard M. Swiderski states that none of these etymologies are convincing.[3]

In most accounts, Thomas is said to have been a Syrian merchant, quite distinct from Thomas the Apostle, who was preceded by him in evangelizing in India. According to the traditions, Thomas of Cana led a group of 72 families, as well as clergymen, to the Malabar coast. There they met and supplemented the Saint Thomas Christians, who had been evangelized by Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. Copper plates referring to this story exist, but are of a substantially later date.[4]

Though some scholars doubt the veracity of the Thomas of Cana tradition, others suggest it may reflect a historical migration of East Syrian Christians to India during this period. This may have been the era in which the region's relationship with the Church of the East developed. Stephen Neill suggests that East Syrian Christians may have come to India specifically because there was already an established Christian community, to whom they imparted East Syrian traditions.[5]

Northists and Southists[edit]

See also: Knanaya

The arrival of Thomas of Cana figures into traditions concerning the division of the Saint Thomas Christians into "Northist" and "Southist" factions. In these versions, the Southists or Knanaya are the direct descendents of Thomas of Cana and his followers, while the Northists descend from the pre-existing local Christian body converted by Thomas the Apostle.[6] In some versions, Thomas of Cana had two wives or partners, one the ancestor to the endogamous Southists, and the other (generally described as a Kerala native) the ancestor to the Northists.[6] All these stories are apocryphal, though both Southist and Northist groups use variants to claim superiority for their faction.[1]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Baum & Winkler, p. 53.
  2. ^ Vadakkekara, p. 239.
  3. ^ a b Swiderski 1988b, pp. 55–56.
  4. ^ a b Neill, p. 42.
  5. ^ Neill, pp. 42–43.
  6. ^ a b Swiderski 1988a, pp. 76–80.

References[edit]