Tranquebar Mission

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Tranquebar Mission
SuccessorTamil Evangelical Lutheran Church
FounderBartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau
Founded atTranquebar, Danish India
HeadquartersTrichinopoly, India
Official language

The Tranquebar Mission (Danish: Trankebarmissionen; Tamil: தரங்கம்பாடி மிஷன்) was established in 1706 by two German missionaries from Halle, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau. Ziegenbalg and Plütschau responded to the appeal of King Frederick IV of Denmark to establish a mission for the natives living in the Danish East India Company colony of Tranquebar.[1] The mission was responsible for the printing and publication of the Bible in the Tamil language.[2] In 2006, the 300 years anniversary of the mission was celebrated by the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (TELC), with many international delegates in attendance. A monument to acknowledge 300 years of the mission was raised by the TELC on this occasion.[3][4]


In 1620, the village of Tranquebar was acquired for the Danish Crown, by the Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde, by signing an agreement with the Raghunatha Nayak of the Tanjore Nayak Kingdom on behalf of the King of Denmark.[5]

King Frederick IV of Denmark was very keen to spread Christianity among his non-European subjects and called from Royal missionaries. However, there was a lack of interest to his call among his Danish subjects. Hence, the king gave the task of finding the right people to his court chaplain Franz J Lütkens. After a search in German universities, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau were selected. After being ordained in Copenhagen, they sailed to Tranquebar with a royal charter on the ship Sophia Hedewig on 29 November 1705, arriving on 9 July 1706.[6][7]

On arrival in Tranquebar, Ziegenbalg established the Tranquebar Mission in 1706. They baptised their first convert after 10 months of establishing the mission. The mission faced opposition from the authorities of Danish settlement, in spite of the royal charter, as it was felt that by encouraging conversion, Ziegenbalg was encouraging dis-order and rebellion at Tranquebar. Under Ziegenbalg, the mission set up the very first Tamil press in India at Tranquebar, and set about the task of translating the Bible into Tamil. In 1716, a seminary for training native clergy was established by the mission. When Ziegenbalg died in 1719, he had finished translating the New Testament and chapters Genesis to Ruth of the Old Testament, and the mission had 2 church buildings, a seminary and a native congregation of 250 people.

Another notable missionary was Christian Friedrich Schwarz (born 1726), who served the Tranquebar Mission for 48 years.[1]

Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg[edit]

Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719)
Ziegenbalg Leaving Tranquebar (p.170, 1890), London Missionary Society[8]

Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg was the first Protestant missionary to land in India, sent as a Royal Missionary by King Frederick IV, from the Kingdom of Denmark. Ziegenbalg landed at Tranquebar, then part of Danish India colony of the Danish East India Company, on 9 July 1706. Ziegenbalg attended the local school, sat amongst the village children and learnt Tamil. He set up a Tamil seminary in 1707, and preached Christianity to the villagers. In 1711, he was able to convince the University at Halle at Halle to start scholarly study into the Tamil language.

In 1715, he translated the Bible into Tamil and helped set up India's first printing press at Tranquebar, with Tamil being the first Indian language to be printed. Ziegenbalg championed the cause of women's education and abolition of caste system, and gained the respect of the local people. Ziegenbalg established the very first school for girls in India at Tranquebar in 1707. In 1713, in a letter written to Johann Georg von Holstein the privy counsellor to King Frederick IV, Ziegenbalg mentions 47 students in the Tamil school, 20 pupils in the Portuguese school and 15 pupils in the Danish school, with the students of the Tamil and Portuguese schools being provided free tuition, boarding, lodging and food. Between 1717-1718, he helped establish the New Jerusalem Church at Tranquebar for the use of the native people, conducting services in Tamil. Ziegenbalg died on 23 February 1719, aged 37, and is buried in the New Jerusalem Church.[2][3][4][7][9][10]

New Jerusalem Church[edit]

The New Jerusalem Church [1] was established by the Tranquebar Mission, built in 1718 by the Royal Danish missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in the coastal town of Tranquebar, India which was at that time a Danish India Colony.[4] The church is located on King Street,[11] and church services are conducted every Sunday.[12] The church, along with other buildings of the Tranquebar Mission was damaged during the tsunami of 2004, and were renovated at a cost of INR 7 million, and re-consecrated in 2006.[4][13]

Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church[edit]

On 14 January 1919, the Tamil congregation of different German, Danish and Swedish Lutheran missions, joined together to form the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (TELC). In March 1921, the constitution of the TELC was amended to include the structure of episcopacy. In 1921, a Swedish missionary Rev. Dr. Ernst Heuman, was ordained as the first bishop of the TELC. The bishop of TELC holds the title Bishop of Tranquebar. In 1956, Dr. Rajah Bushanam became the first Indian to be ordained as the bishop of TELC.[14]

300 Years Celebration[edit]

To mark the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the Tranquebar Mission, the New Jerusalem Church at Tranquebar was re-consecrated by Rt. Rev. Margot Käßmann, Bishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany on 9 July 2006. The event was organised by the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (TELC), with many international delegates from USA, France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, etc. in attendance. The function was presided by Rt. Rev. T Aruldoss, Bishop of TELC, with Rt. Rev. Mark Hanson, President, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) giving thanks. The re-consecration was attended by nearly 10000 people.

To mark the occasion, an printing technology institute was inaugurated at the same place where Ziegenbalg started the first Tamil printing press. A souvenir detailing the services rendered by Ziegenbalg was also released. The local villagers of Tranquebar made a request for a memorial to be for Ziegenbalg on this occasion.[4][13]

India Post also released a special stamp to mark the occasion, with a portrait of Ziegenbalg and the New Jerusalem Church in the background. The stamp was released in Madras, on 10 December 2006 by the then Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran.[15][16][17][18]


  1. ^ a b Kiefer, James E. "Biological sketches of memorable Christians of the past: Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, Missionary to India". Anglican. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b Muthiah, S (2 July 2006). "The legacy that Ziegenbalg left" (Sunday Magazine). The Hindu. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b Saqaf, Syed Muthahar (6 July 2006). "Tercentenary of Tranquebar Mission" (Tamil Nadu). The Hindu. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e "New Jerusalem Church rededicated" (Tamil Nadu). The Hindu. 10 July 2006. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  5. ^ Moorthy, M (24 October 2009). "Danish flavour". Frontline. 26 (22). Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  6. ^ Anderson, Gerald H (1998). "Ziegenbalg, Bartholomäus (1682-1719): Pioneer German missionary in South India". Boston University: Department of Theology. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  7. ^ a b Fenger, Johannes Ferdinand (1863). History of the Tranquebar Mission worked out from the Original Papers (Francke, Emil ed.). Tranquebar, British India: Evangelical Lutheran Mission Press. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  8. ^ "Ziegenbalg Leaving Tranquebar". Chronicles of the London Missionary Society. 1890. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  9. ^ Shantz, Douglas H (6 March 2013). An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 520. ISBN 1421408805. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  10. ^ Jeyaraj, Daniel (2006). Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, the Father of Modern Protestant Mission: An Indian Assessment. Delhi, India: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK). pp. 151–154. ISBN 8172149204. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  11. ^ "New Jerusalem Church founded in 1718 AD". Trip Advisor. 24 July 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  12. ^ Jayanth, Joseph (2 November 2012). "1718 church in Tranquebar". Pot of Thots. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  13. ^ a b Imhoff, Frank (19 July 2006). "Tamil Lutherans Rededicate Tranquebar Mission Church in India". Worldwide Faith News. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  14. ^ Vethanayagamony, Peter (15 December 2009). "The Lutheran Churches of India". Lutheran Forum. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  15. ^ "Stamp on Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg released" (Chennai). The Hindu. 11 December 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  16. ^ Sinha, Aniruddha (2015). "A commemorative postage stamp on Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, the German Theologist & Scholar". iStamp Gallery. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  17. ^ Isaiah, Sudhir; Thirumalai, M S (1 June 2007). "Three Hundred Years of Evangelization in India – The First Missionary to India: Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg". Globeserve. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  18. ^ "Stamps 2006". India Post. 28 August 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015.