Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapore

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Shrine of Saint Thomas in Meliapore, 18th century print.

The Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapore, presently in Chennai, Tamil Nadu (or in Portuguese São Tomé de Meliapor, in Latin Sancti Thomae de Meliapor), was a suffragan Roman Rite Catholic diocese in the ecclesiastical province of the primatial See of Goa in India, under the Portuguese patronage. It was founded at 1606 and extincted at 1952.

It was located in Mylapore, and derives its name from the site of its cathedral in which the Apostle St. Thomas was reportedly interred on the site of his martyrdom and the Tamil word Mailapur (i.e. the town of peacocks), which the Greeks rendered as Maliarpha, the Portuguese as Meliapor, and the English as Mylapore.

Early history[edit]

According to local tradition amongst Saint Thomas Christians, the Apostle Thomas arrived in India, supposedly at Tamilakam, now the Indian state of Kerala, in 52 AD.[1] According to the tradition, Thomas later moved to the east coast of South India, fixing his see at the city of Mylapore, now Chennai, Tamil Nadu [1]

Having aroused the hostility of the local priests by making converts, Thomas fled to St. Thomas's Mount four miles (6 km) southwest of Mylapore. He was supposedly followed by his persecutors, who transfixed him with a lance as he prayed, kneeling on a stone, AD 72. His body was brought to Mylapore and buried inside the church he had built there. The present Santhome Church is on this spot but is clearly of a much later date. The Acts of Thomas and oral traditions (only recorded in writing centuries later) provide weak and unreliable evidence.[2]

The acts of Judas Thomas the apostle[3] written by Jewish poet Bardesan in the 3rd century mentions Calamina in Persia as the place where St. Thomas was martyred. Saint Thomas is said to have visited the (historical) kingdom of Gondophorus of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom at the Indo-Persian border with the capital at Taxila, where he was commissioned to build a palace for the King Gondophares. Thomas is said then to have visited the kingdom of Misdaeus (also called Mazdai). Gondophares and Mazdai were Greco-Persian Kings not related to Dravidian Tamils.

The acts then state that Thomas converted the wife of King Misdeus, Queen Tertia, and Princess Mygdonia wife of Charisius, Prince Juzanes and Cyphorus, who was ordained as Deacon. The infuriated King Misdaes ordered four soldiers to take Saint Thomas to a hill in his Persian kingdom and spear him. Thomas's remains were moved to Edessa, Mesopotamia. All these are Greco-Persian, not ancient Tamil names.[citation needed] Bardesan never mentioned Brahmins as the killers of Saint Thomas; this tradition is Portuguese.[citation needed] Syrian Christians appeared in Madras only when it became an important outpost of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century. Ancient Tamils of Chola Dynasty and Pandyan Kingdoms never knew Syrian Christians. Tharisapalli plates issued by King Aiyanadikal Thiruvadikal of the Ay kingdom in 825 AD was the first Tamil to record the existence of Persian immigrant Christians who had signed in Pahlavi, Kufic and Hebrew. These were Nestorian Christians known locally as Nasrani Mappillas, as they married local women. Nestorian Syrians came from the Iraqi cities Baghdad and Karbala in Arab ships in the Middle Ages.[citation needed]

However, there were Nestorians in China (Xian and Turfan), Manchuria and Mongolia already in the 6th century, so it is perfectly possible that they also arrived earlier to the Coromandel coast.

Marco Polo visited the Saint Thomas tomb at Kayalpatnam. The Portuguese initially identified Kalamina where Saint Thomas was martyred with (Kalyan, Bombay).

Mylapore became famous only after the Portuguese came to colonise India. The Portuguese with Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala organised an army. Portuguese descendents called Cochin Mestizos appeared when the Portuguese soldiers had numerous mistresses and slave girls in the 16th century. The Indian Mestizo army of Portuguese had three classes: Mestizo, Castizo and Toepass.[4]

Saint Thomas could have talked Greek and Hebrew and not Tamil. Nasrani Mappillas of Kerala did not have a Tamil Bible until the Portuguese started printing bibles in Lingua Malabar Tamul in the 16th century.

There were at least older Syriac Christian catechisms in Kerala - since the Portuguese actually had to burn several Syriac Christian books after the synod of Diamper in 1599 (including the Peshitta, the Syriac Christians Bible). Even today several old Syriac documents (not destroyed by the Portuguese) still survive in the Malabar coast - proving they are older than the Portuguese arrival.

Acts of Thomas[edit]

The Acts of Thomas[5][6] connects Thomas, the apostle's Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, "Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you. "But the Apostle still demurred, so the Lord overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king, Gondophares. The apostle's ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.[1]. The Acts of Thomas clearly states Saint Thomas was martyred in the Persian Gulf at Calamina where Greco-Persian names were common.

Critical historians treated this legend as an idle tale and denied the historicity of King Gundaphorus until modern archaeology established him as an important figure in North India in the latter half of the 1st century. Many coins of his reign have turned up in Afghanistan, the Punjab, and the Indus Valley. Remains of some of his buildings, influenced by Greek architecture, indicate that he was a great builder. According to the legend, Thomas was a skilled carpenter and was bidden to build a palace for the king. However, the Apostle decided to teach the king a lesson by devoting the royal grant to acts of charity and thereby laying up treasure for the heavenly abode. Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (154–223) reports that in his time there were Christian tribes in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it.[2] But at least by the year of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.[3]

The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadeva, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India. Aside from a small remnant of the Church of the East in Kurdistan, the only other church to maintain a distinctive identity is the Mar Thoma or "Church of Thomas" congregations along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India. According to the most ancient tradition of this church, Thomas evangelized this area and then crossed to the Coromandel Coast of southeast India, where, after carrying out a second mission, he died in Mylapore near Madras. Throughout the period under review, the church in India was under the jurisdiction of Edessa, which was then under the Mesopotamian patriarchate at Seleucia-Ctesiphon and later at Baghdad and Mosul. Historian Vincent A. Smith says, "It must be admitted that a personal visit of the Apostle Thomas to South India was easily feasible in the traditional belief that he came by way of Socotra, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed. I am now satisfied that the Christian church of South India is extremely ancient... ".[4]

Missionary/colonial jurisdiction[edit]

First Portuguese Missions[edit]

Shortly after the discovery of the Cape route, caravel ships of Portuguese Franciscans and Dominicans set out to evangelize the no longer sealed lands of the East, and traversed the coasts in search of suitable centres for their operations. A legend tells how, when a caravel with some Franciscan missionaries was cruising up the Coromandel Coast, towards nightfall their attention was attracted by a light on shore and they decided to land there. They did, without knowing for some time that they had landed at the ruins of Betumah. But when they attempted to approach the light, it preceded them inland, across the ruins of the Nestorian town, over an empty stretch of ground, past (new) Mylapur and into a forest, where the light vanished. Here the Franciscans established a mission and built a church (still extant) in honour of Our Lady of Light in 1516, whence the locality, no longer a forest, but a wealthy residential quarter, is still known as The Luz—after Nossa Senhora da Luz (Portuguese for Our Lady of Light). The Dominicans followed in their wake, and in 1520 Fre. Ambrosio, O.P., was consecrated bishop for the Dominican missions at Cranganore and Mylapur.

The oldest Portuguese church in the Coromandel coast however, in Paleacate (Pulicat - some 40 km north of Mylapore), called now Nossa Senhora da Glória (Our Lady of Glory), dates from 1515. Its story relates to Portuguese Franciscans on their way to Malacca. While trying to visit Paleacate again, the storm brought them to Mylapore, to build the Luz church in 1516.

The following year King John III of Portugal ordered a search to be instituted for the tomb of the Apostle St. Thomas. As long as the tomb, with the counterpart of the Ortona relics, was looked for, nothing was found; however when the search was given up, both were accidentally discovered. The royal commission found traces of the old Nestorian chapel, but nothing of the tomb. But while directing operations to build an oratory commemorative of the spot, and digging deeply in the sandy soil to lay its foundations, it found in 1522 a masonry tomb, containing what might have been expected to be found in the Apostle's tomb: some bones of snowy whiteness, the head of a lance, a pilgrim's staff and an earthen vase. The find brought ruined Betumah into popularity with the Portuguese, who, in 1523, settled there in large numbers and called the new European town São Tomé (after St. Thomas) and São Tomé de Meliapor, when they wanted to distinguish it from the West African island of São Tomé, though the town was somewhat distant from Mylapur.

The Portuguese Augustinians were the next missionaries to follow; they took charge of the oratory built over the grave of the Apostle, and built their priory and church adjoining it. In the meantime the Dominican missions in the surrounding country gained so much in importance, that in 1540 Fre. Bernardo da Cruz, O.P., was consecrated and sent out to tend them. There is nothing to show when the Fathers of the Society of Jesus settled at Saint Thomas, but by 1648 they had a college in the place and a church and residence at Mylapur, while St. Francis Xavier spent three months in 1545 at Saint Thomas praying at the grave of the Apostle for light in regard to his projected mission to Japan.

All of these missionaries, and those who came after them, had no definite spheres of work, but worked side by side and in dependence on the local ordinaries, when these were in due course appointed. By the end of the 16th century they had extended their operations to Bengal and Burma. In 1552 the Diocese of Cochin was erected, and made to include, among other places, Ceylon and the countries bordering the Bay of Bengal. Saint Thomas was thus constituted a parish of the Diocese of Cochin; and the Augustinian church adjoining the chapel over the grave of the Apostle was designated the parish church of Saint Thomas.

Creation of the diocese[edit]

At the instance of King Philip II of Portugal, on 9 January 1606, Pope Paul V separated the Kingdom of Tanjore and the territories to the north of the Cauvery River and bordering the Bay of Bengal, from the Diocese of Cochin and constituted them a distinct diocese with Saint Thomas of Mylapur as the episcopal city and the parish church of Saint Thomas as the cathedral. At the same time the Pope appointed Dom Sebastião de São Pedro, Augustinians (O.(E.)S.A.), who had been presented by the King of Portugal, to be the first bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, and granted Philip and his heirs and successors in perpetuity the right of patronage ("Padroado") and presentation to the See, and the benefices that might be created therein, by the mere facts of their creation and dotation. This right and obligation the Crown of Portugal (and later the State of Portugal) has exercised and discharged to the end, by making the bishops a princely allowance, paying a certain number of priests' salaries, with periodical increases, leave with free passages and pensions, on the lines of the Portuguese Civil Service Code, and contributing to the support of a still larger number of priests on a graduated scale.

Bishop Sebastião de São Pedro arrived at Saint Thomas in 1611, but in 1614 was promoted to the See of Cochin. In 1615 he was succeeded by Luís de Brito e Menezes, likewise an Augustinian, who was transferred in 1628 to the See of Cochin. His successor was Luís Paulo de Estrela, O.S.F., appointed in 1634, who died at Saint Thomas on 9 January 1637. During the next fifty-six years the See continued vacant: though no less than nine personages were selected by the Crown for the honour, they either declined, were promoted or died before their election was confirmed by the Holy See; in the interval the diocese was governed by administrators selected chiefly from the various religious orders and appointed by the archbishops or vicars capitular sede vacante of Goa. As it was only natural that the members of the religious orders as also secular priests of other nations desired to share in the work of preaching the Gospel to the pagans, in 1622 Gregory XV created the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide to distribute infidel regions among the religious orders and missionary societies of other nationalities as assistants to the local ordinaries, where there were any, and to supervise their operations. But occasionally the Congregation was misled, which was easy enough when geographical knowledge was neither as correct nor as extensive as at the present time and this occasioned trouble.

The foundations of the British Indian Empire were laid by Sir Francis Day in the sandy delta of a tiny river, some three and a half miles north of Saint Thomas, with the beginnings of Fort St. George. The British invited the Portuguese of pure and mixed descent to settle in the new township; and as the Portuguese were Catholics, they were ministered to by the clergy from Saint Thomas. In 1642, the Congregation of Propaganda sent out two French Capuchins to establish a mission in Burma. But when they, landing at Surat and travelling overland, reached Fort St. George, the British persuaded them not to go further, judging it prudent to have clergymen differing in nationality from, and independent of, the Portuguese ordinary at Saint Thomas to minister to the Catholics in their settlement. Accordingly, R. P. Ephraim', one of the two, wrote to the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide that there was a prospect of reaping a larger harvest at Fort St. George and the fast rising native town of Madras that was beside it, than in Burma; and in the name of Urban VIII an Apostolic prefecture was established within three and a half miles of the cathedral of Saint Thomas. Ever after there were continual bickerings between the local ordinaries and the French Capuchins, the former insisting on the Capuchins acknowledging their jurisdiction, a claim which the latter, relying on their papal Brief, refused to recognize. In 1642, the Diocese of Mylapur lost territory to establish the Apostolic Vicariate of Fort Saint George.

Both the Portuguese and the British had obtained their charters for their respective forts of Saint Thomas and St. George from the local Hindu chiefs. Between 1662 and 1687, Mylapore was occupied by the Dutch. In 1687, Portuguese rule was reinstated. But as the Muslims extended their power southwards, before laying siege to Fort St. George, they took Saint Thomas. This was done with the help of the Dutch who bombarded the place from the sea. The Muslim forces began the work of demolishing Saint Thomas' walls in January 1697. The Muslim governors then settled on the waste land, separating Saint Thomas from Mylapur, which was soon covered with the residences of Islamic settlers. These three townships exist as a European quarter, a Muslim quarter and a Hindu quarter. The name of Saint Thomas and that of Mylapur are often used interchangeably. Having reduced Saint Thomas and deprived it of its battlements, the Muslims did not further trouble the resident Portuguese, who regarded the place as still a Portuguese possession and managed its internal affairs with an elected council of which the ordinary of the diocese, for the time being, was the president.

The Jesuit Dom Gaspar Afonso Álvares was the fourth Bishop of Saint Thomas. His presentation was confirmed by the Holy See in 1691, and he was consecrated at Goa in 1693. In the meantime the Capuchins of the French Apostolic Prefecture of Fort St. George spread apace and took charge of the French settlement of Pondicherry. Not to offend the French, Dom Gaspar allowed them to minister to the Europeans and their descendants, but in order to assert his right, placed the Indian Christians in Pondicherry under the care of members of his own Society from France. This led to a number of complaints addressed to Rome about the interference of the Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur with the work of the Apostolic missionaries, causing Clement XI, by his letters "Gaudium in Domino" of 1704, to issue an injunction restraining the missionaries from invading the rights of the diocese. But the Congregation de Propaganda Fide issued a decree in 1706 in support of its own missionaries, which reversed what the Pope had ordained. Under these circumstances the bishop again appealed to the Pope, who, by the Brief "Non sine gravi" of 1711, annulled the Decree of the Congregation and reaffirmed the right of the diocesan Ordinary to make what arrangements he chose at Pondicherry, which was situated within the limits of his diocese. Cardinal Charles-Thomas Maillard De Tournon, who was on his way to China as legate of the Holy See, having touched at Pondicherry, hearing of the doings of the Capuchins, placed the French Apostolic Prefecture of Madras, the name by which Fort St. George and its surroundings were coming to be known, under interdict. The Capuchins submitted forthwith and the interdict was removed.

In the meantime Dom Gaspar had died in 1708. Owing to his advancing years, he had been given a coadjutor with the right of succession, Dom Francisco Laynes, S.J., of the Madura mission, in the Diocese of Cochin. Dom Laynes was consecrated at Lisbon on 19 March 1708, as Bishop in partibus of Sozopolis. He came to India the same year, but did not take possession of his See until 1710. Though Bishop Laynes was Portuguese, the Portuguese Augustinians of Bandel defied his authority as their diocesan Ordinary. He therefore placed Bandel under interdict on 14 July 1714; on the submission of the Augustinians the interdict was removed on 8 October 1714. Bishop Laynes died at Chandernagore in Bengal in 1715, and was succeeded by Manuel Sanches Golão, who was appointed in 1717 and reached India in 1719. Dom Manuel welcomed the Italian Barnabites as invaluable co-operators in the work of preaching the Gospel in Burma (now Myanmar), though he had regularly served mission stations there. These friendly relations with the Italian Barnabites were maintained, as they recognized the authority of the diocesans.

Bishop Golão was succeeded by José Pinheiro, S.J., who was consecrated in 1726. He sanctioned the arrangement whereby French Jesuits were to have spiritual charge of Chandernagore, in Bengal. During his time the Barnabite mission in Burma was created Apostolic Vicariate of Ava and Pegu in 1741, its territory being split off from Mylapore. Bishop Pinheiro died on 15 March 1744, and was succeeded by António da Encarnação, O.S.A., who was consecrated at Goa in 1747.

In 1746 the French marched on Madras and, making Saint Thomas their headquarters, attacked and took Fort St. George, which they held and improved until August 1749, when they restored it to Admiral Boscawen (British) under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Saint Thomas had been nominally a Portuguese possession, without the semblance of a military force to resist its occupation by a foreign power, as the French did when operating against Madras. To prevent a repeat of this invasion tactic, Admiral Boscawen annexed Mylapore in 1749 and built a redoubt to the south-east of it, incorporating it into Madras, thus ending the Portuguese rule over Mylapore. The British suspected that the capture of Fort St. George by the French was largely due to the information supplied to them by the French Capuchi. R. P. Rene, on whom the suspicion rested most heavily, was deported to France and the others were expelled from the fort and settled in Georgetown (Madras), where the cathedral of Madras now stands, four miles (6 km) from the Cathedral of Saint Thomas.

On the death of Bishop da Encarnação on 22 November 1752, Fre. Teodoro de Santa Maria, O.S.A., was presented for the See and confirmed by the Holy See. He belonged to the priory at Saint Thomas, but hesitated to receive episcopal consecration. Two Italian Barnabites destined for the Apostolic vicariate of Burma came with letters of commendation to the bishop-elect, who welcomed and speeded them to their destination. At last Fre. Teodoro, the bishop-elect, renounced the see into the hands of Fre. Bernardo de São Caetano, O.S.A., who was then consecrated bishop. Bishop Bernardo in turn consecrated one of the two Barnabites just mentioned, Dom Percotto, Bishop and Apostolic Vicar of Burma, in 1768. But Bishop Percotto did not reach the field of his labours, as on his voyage back to Burma the vessel foundered.

The Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur was ministered to at this period by the Portuguese Franciscans, Portuguese Dominicans, Portuguese Augustinians and Portuguese Jesuits; besides these, there were French Jesuits and Italian Barnabites working in the diocese in harmony with the ordinary, and French Capuchins defying their authority, at least occasionally. One drawback of this total manning of the diocese with the religious orders was the absolute neglect to form an indigenous clergy. For about this time the Marquess of Pombal suppressed the houses of the Society of Jesus in Portugal and thus cut off the supply of Portuguese Jesuits to the diocese, creating a shortage on human resources. The shortage became more acute in 1773, when Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. Nevertheless, the situation was not quite so hopeless as to call for drastic measures in regard to the diocese: it was not until 1834 that the houses of the other religious orders in the Portuguese dominions were suppressed, and as the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur was situated wholly outside of Portuguese territory, nothing prevented the Portuguese religious orders from thriving there. Nevertheless, as at home vocations became fewer, the houses in India gradually died out, the last to be represented in the diocese being the Portuguese Augustinians in Bengal - and the last member of the order dying in 1869.

On the extinction of a religious house in any place, the property and rights of the religious revert to the Church, as represented by the local Diocese. But Catholic Europe was so incensed against Portugal for the initiative taken by the Marquess of Pombal against the Society of Jesus, that without waiting to weigh the justice of their action in turn, reprisals became the order of the day in the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur: the Congregation de Propaganda Fide supported the missionaries of other nationalities against the Portuguese. On the suppression of the Society of Jesus by the Holy See, the Fathers of the Missions Étrangères of Paris were sent out to take charge of the society's missions in the dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapur and of Cochin, of which Msgr Champenois, Bishop in partibus of Dolichum, was appointed Apostolic Vicar. Bishop São Caetano resented this, as he was filling up the places of the Jesuits with Indian secular missionaries from Goa; but his protests were of little avail. In course of time, as the members of the other religious orders died out, these same Indian missionaries from Goa assumed charge of their churches under the order of their diocesan Ordinary, though more often than not there was a dispute between them and the Apostolic missionaries. The latter did not hesitate to misrepresent the Goan missionaries to be ignorant and immoral as a whole, though the diocesan seminary at Goa was conducted by the Jesuits until their suppression, and thereafter by members of the other religious orders until 1835. On the other hand, between 1652 and 1843, no less than seven of their fellow-countrymen were deemed worthy of episcopal consecration by the Crown of Portugal, the Holy See and the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide, not to speak of the Saint Joseph Vaz, who was Goan. By time, the majority of the priests working in the diocese were Indian Secular missionaries from Goa.

In 1773 Mylapore gained Indian territory from the suppressed Mission sui juris of Madura.

Bishop São Caetano died in 1780, and was succeeded by Fre. Manuel de Jesus Maria José, O.S.A., a native of Goa and the prior of the Augustinian convent there. He was consecrated in 1788, and died at Saint Thomas in 1800. He was succeeded by Fre. Joaquim de Meneses e Ataíde, O.S.A., who was consecrated and took charge of his See by procuration in 1805, but before he could come out he was transferred to the Diocese of Funchal on Madeira (a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean). As a result, Fre. José de Garça who on the death of Bishop Manuel de Jesus Maria José had been appointed administrator, continued as such until his death on 14 July 1817, when Fre. Clemente de Espírito Santo, O.S.F., was appointed administrator. During the latter's tenure of his office, Madras was visited by Dom Pedro de Alcântara, O.C., Bishop in partibus of Antipheles, Vicar Apostolic of the Grand Mogul and visitor Apostolic of the French Capuchin missions, who according to the mind of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide declared the Capuchins of Madras to be independent of the Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur not alone in temporal but also in spiritual matters. But the administrator declined to accept his decision, as being a reaffirmation of the Decree of the same Sacred Congregation, which had been annulled. Fre. Clemente resigned the administration of the diocese to Fre. Manuel de Avé Maria, O.S.A., in 1820.

Mylapore lost territories on April 18 of 1834 to establish the Apostolic Vicariate of Bengal and on July 8 of 1836 to establish the Apostolic Prefecture of Madura.

The British power was now paramount on the Coromandel Coast and English was universally spoken by the Indo-European population that formed the mainstay of the Catholic congregation of Madras, as all over India. But, the French Capuchins would not conform to the times, and continued to preach in Portuguese (which had degenerated in Madras to a patois) and Tamil, the language of the Indian Christians. As a result, many Indo-European families gave up practicing Catholicism and in time became Protestants. Finding their representations to the Capuchin prefect Apostolic unheeded, a band of young men represented the matter to the Holy See. In response, the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide raised the French Capuchin Apostolic prefecture into an Apostolic Vicariate and sent out Dr. O'Connor, 0.S.A. with Irish priests, in 1828, to take over the work of the Frenchmen.

Portuguese Civil War of 1826 & consequences[edit]

On the outbreak of the Peninsular wars, King Dom João VI of Portugal, with his elder son Dom Pedro, sought refuge in Brazil. A movement was set on foot to have his younger son, Dom Miguel, proclaimed king, a movement which had the support of the religious orders, but not of the bishops or of the secular clergy. However, João returned to Portugal and quelled the insurrection. In the meantime Brazil proclaimed its independence with Dom Pedro as its emperor; an arrangement in which Dom João acquiesced.

On the death of João VI, the loyalists in Portugal proclaimed Dom Pedro of Brazil King of Portugal; but, as Dom Pedro preferred staying in Brazil, he ceded his right to Dona Maria da Glória, his younger daughter, appointing his brother, Dom Miguel, as regent until she should grow up, when the regent was to marry her and thus heal the rupture between the loyalists and the adherents of Dom Miguel. The adherents of Dom Miguel, however, proclaimed him king. Dom Pedro came over to Portugal in 1826 to assert his daughter's rights, and finally defeated his brother in 1834. Dom Miguel was perpetually banished and those who sided with him were punished, amongst those to suffer being the religious orders, whose houses were suppressed and properties confiscated in 1834.

In consequence of this last measure mainly, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Portugal were broken off. The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide deemed the moment opportune to extend the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Madras to Saint Thomas of Mylapur and its missions southwards to the River Palar. Those south of the Palar were being assigned to the Vicar Apostolic of Pondicherry. Burma was declared an independent vicariate and, in the northern part of the diocese (Bengal and the adjoining countries), an independent vicariate Apostolic was created under Dr. St. Leger, with a staff of British priests. From a certain point of view this action was unfortunate, as it caused the loyalist Portuguese to regard these measures as retaliatory and not as prompted by a desire for the spiritual welfare of the regions concerned. And, indeed there was no substantial evidence to show that Portugal had shirked her responsibilities in regard to the diocese, or that the successive ordinaries of the diocese had been found wanting, beyond the mere accusation of those Apostolic missionaries who were sent into their territories and, failing to recognize their authority, had received scant courtesy. When called upon by the Vicar Apostolic of Madras to surrender his churches and submit to him, the diocesan administrator replied that he would gladly do so when instructed by the authority that placed him there. The Apostolic Vicar then called upon the priests and the subjects of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur to submit to him, but they all replied in much the same terms. The same thing happened in the parts of the diocese between the Rivers Palar and Cauvery, and in Bengal; whereupon the vicar Apostolic declared the administrator, priests and people of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur schismatics, and from the fact that a large number of the priests in the diocese were from Goa, defined their action as the "Goan schism". However the Holy See seems not to have taken much notice of the "schism" and diplomatic relations were resumed with Portugal in 1841. Then followed a series of acts unworthy of the Church, when both sides strove to (re)capture churches that they claimed, church was built against church, altar raised against altar, and violence and police-courts were a common resort.

On 14 March 1836, Dom António Tristão Vaz Teixeira was presented by the Crown of Portugal to the Holy See as Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, and left Lisbon for India a month later. As the Holy See had in the meantime refused to confirm the presentation, the Vicar Capitular of Goa appointed him administrator of the diocese in place of Fre. Avé Maria, who had died on 5 August 1836. Dom António assumed charge on 15 October following, and died on 3 September 1852. He was succeeded by Fr. Miguel Francisco Lobo, a Goan (as were all the administrators of the diocese up to 1886), who was appointed on 3 October 1852.

On the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pius VII the French Jesuits returned to the parts of the Diocese of Cochin, which their Portuguese brethren had evangelized; though opposed by the authorities of that diocese; and in 1846, the Congregation de Propaganda Fide erected their missions into a vicariate Apostolic. In 1850 the Salesians of Annecy (Savoy, France) were sent out to take charge of the country between the Rivers Godavery and Mahanuddy, which was at the same time created a vicariate Apostolic. In the same year, the country between the Chittagong and Kabudak River was created a vicariate Apostolic, committed to the care of the Fathers of the Holy Cross; at about the same time the Fathers of Missions Étrangères of Paris replaced the Italian Barnabites in Burma. Thus the Diocese of Mylapur was divided up between six vicariates: Madura, Pondicherry, Madras, Vizagapatam, Western Bengal, and Eastern Bengal and Burma.

In 1857 a concordat was entered into between the Holy See and Portugal, pending the execution of which both the vicars Apostolic and the authorities of the diocese were to enjoy pacific possession of the places they actually held. But the Crown of Portugal undertook manifestly too great a burden, to wit, to provide for the spiritual needs of significant portions of India, and consequently the concordat remained a dead letter. In 1854 the Royal Missionary College of Bomjardim at Sernache, Portugal, was founded for the training of secular priests for the Portuguese missions beyond the seas. Meanwhile, the missions of the diocese had been greatly weakened by secessions to the vicars Apostolic. The missions were situated in British territory and as beyond the clergy there were scarcely any Portuguese subjects to be found throughout the diocese, so there was no particular inducement or the people to cling to the diocese.

In Madras itself, the Irish vicars Apostolic and missionaries had been educated at Maynooth College, and almost all of them were doctors of divinity. They were socially and intellectually on an equality with the best British talent. Protestants as well as Catholics crowded to hear their sermons in churches and their lectures on scientific matters. When Dr. O'Connor first came out, he brought letters of introduction to the governor and was a guest at Government House. On the first occasion when he drove to St. Mary's of the Angels, the quasi-cathedral of his vicariate wearing a cocked hat and buckled shoes, long coat and knee-breeches, the old ladies protested that he could be no Catholic bishop but the emissary of the Government to make them all Protestants. These things lent prestige to the Catholic name. One of the first things the Irish missionaries did was to open a seminary (to which a college was attached) and ordain Indo-European priests, who proved of invaluable help to them. They also brought out the Irish Presentation nuns, whose schools had prestige in all Southern India. As a result, almost all the Catholic Indo-Europeans and Indians with pretensions to respectability flocked to the vicars Apostolic, until in the end it was deemed opprobrious to term one as belonging to the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur. Hence in the course of the negotiations preparatory to the fresh concordat of 1886, the Cardinal Secretary of State was in a position to show that out of 1,167,975 Catholics in British India, the Portuguese missions of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur could claim only some 30,000 subjects, with a proportionate number of churches, one seminary from which a priest was occasionally ordained, one high school at Saint Thomas, two middle schools at Tuticorin and Manapad and a number of elementary schools; while any single vicariate Apostolic had a better equipment. But of these 30,000 souls which were all that were left to the Portuguese of the once flourishing diocese, it has truly, though scarcely laudably, been said that "they loved the Portuguese more than their own immortal souls".

Late colonial period[edit]

Such was the state of affairs when in 1886 a fresh concordat was entered into between the Holy See and Portugal, which showed itself disposed to accommodate itself to the changed conditions of the times. The concordat was preceded by negotiations with England, to make sure that the British Government would not object to the continuance of the Portuguese royal patronage in its Eastern possessions. Accordingly, the Primacy of the East of the archbishops of Goa was reaffirmed, while in addition they were accorded the honorary title of Patriarch of the East Indies and the substantial privilege of presiding at the plenary councils of the East Indies, which were ordinarily to assemble at Goa, while the special relations existing between the Archdiocese of Goa and its suffragan dioceses were to be continued. But the limits of the original Portuguese dioceses were contracted: the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur being assigned two distinct pieces of territory on the Coromandel Coast, some 150 miles (240 km) apart from each other - the first is a triangle of an area of some 800 square miles (2,100 km2), in the northern angle of which Saint Thomas lies; the other is roughly the ancient Kingdom of Tanjore. In addition, both by the concordat and certain appendixes thereto, the diocese was given five churches in the Archdiocese of Madras (the old vicariates Apostolic having been converted into dioceses as a sequel to the concordat by the Constitution "Humanae salutis" of 1886, of Leo XIII), three churches in the Archdiocese of Calcutta (Western Bengal), five churches in the Diocese of Dacca (Eastern Bengal), and twenty-four churches in the Diocese of Trichinopoly (which originally belonged to the Diocese of Cochin), with their congregations.

The first bishop appointed to Saint Thomas of Mylapur on the conclusion of the new concordat was the princely Dom Henrique José Reed da Silva, who was at the time coadjutor to the Archbishop of Goa, and who took possession of his see in 1886. He was the first to sign himself for the sake of brevity, Bishop of Mylapur, a practice which his successors have adopted. Hence the diocese became better known in India as the Diocese of Mylapur. His was the arduous task of putting the broken shreds of the old historic diocese together. His first care was to reform the diocesan seminary, and in order to have an efficient body of European priests with their heart in their work, he brought out a number of young boys from Portugal and gave them a collegiate course in English, in the college to which he had raised the existing high-school, previous to their entering upon their ecclesiastical course of studies. His successors reaped the benefit of his policy. He opened a convent of European nuns at Saint Thomas, and another of Indian nuns in Mylapur, which have since thrown out branches into various parts of the diocese. He invited English-speaking priests to join his diocese and established the Catholic Register, a weekly newspaper. His courtly manners and noble bearing made him a favourite in society. Soon the people felt it an honour to point to him as their bishop. He pulled down the old cathedral, the chapel over the grave of St. Thomas and the old Augustinian priory, that had nothing antique to commend them, and built a magnificent cathedral in the centre of which, between the nave and chancel, lies the grave of St. Thomas. Despite the good he was accomplishing, he incurred the ill-will of certain parties connected with the churches situated in other dioceses, and when he found the accusations brought against him accepted without demur in Europe, he resigned and retired to Portugal, as titular Bishop of Trajanopolis.

He was succeeded by Dom António José de Sousa Barroso, who within a few months of his arrival at Saint Thomas was promoted to the See of Oporto. Bishop Barroso was succeeded by bishop Dom Teotónio Manuel Ribeiro Vieira de Castro, who was presented on 12 June 1899, and confirmed by Leo XIII ten days later. He was consecrated at Oporto on 15 August 1899, and reached Saint Thomas on 23 December. The tercentenary of the creation of the diocese occurred in January 1906, in which almost all of the archbishops and bishops of the vast tract that constituted the original Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur took part in person in addition to the delegate Apostolic and other prelates, numbering fifteen bishops in all. With the single exception of the Archdiocese of Madras, all of the dioceses into which the original Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur is divided were served by non-British clergy, save for the Indian and few Indo-European priests, where there are any. But even in the Archdiocese of Madras, served by the British Missionary Society of St. Joseph, the majority of the priests and the coadjutor bishop were from the European Continent. Dacca was served by the Fathers of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America.

Independence of India and extinction of the diocese[edit]

As India became independent at 1947, the Portuguese patronage rights became untenable in the Diocese of Mylapur, since all of its ecclesiastical territory was governed by independent India. The patronage rights was thus cancelled and the Diocese of Mylapur was extincted at 1952. Its territory was divided into two parts: one part became the Diocese of Tanjore and the other part, where the Cathedral and tomb of St Thomas is, was merged with the now-extinct Archdiocese of Madras to form the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madras and Mylapore.

In recent years, lacking respect for old heritage by the Tamil-Nadu government, led the Archdiocese of Madras and Mylapore to demolish the 1515 Paleacate church in 2007 and build a new one (was still in construction in 2011). This is a trend all over the area, with Portuguese and British patrimony being just demolished and replaced by new buildings - instead of proceeding with careful restoration. To name just a few lost/demolished ancient buildings already in the 20th century: Madre de Deus church (dates back to 16th century,demolished/replaced); Our Lady of Health (16th century, Small Mount - demolished, replaced); Our Lady of Resurrection (16th century,Small Mount, destroyed with dynamite); Our Lady of Assumption (dating to 1640 - demolished/replaced by new one, Portuguese Church Street, Chennai); Our Lady of Visitation (original church dates to 16th century, 18th century one demolished/replaced, on the way to the Small Mount); British Governor House/Portuguese Madeira ("Madra") Family House (Chennai - demolished). If things keep this way there will be no historical patrimony left in the future.

Episcopal ordinaries[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stephen Andrew Missick.Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church and the Christians of St. Thomas in India. Archived 27 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Journal of Assyrian Academic studies.
  2. ^ Stephen Neill. A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 ISBN 0-521-54885-3
  3. ^ The acts of Judas Thomas the apostle
  4. ^ Fort Cochin, Mestizo Castizo
  5. ^ A. E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.18–71; M. R. James, Apocryphal New Testament, pp.364–436; A. E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.1–17, 213–97; Eusebius, History, chapter 4:30; J. N. Farquhar, The Apostle Thomas in North India, chapter 4:30; V. A. Smith, Early History of India, p.235; L. W. Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas, p.49-59.
  6. ^ "Thomas The Apostole". Archived from the original on 8 February 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  7. ^ Catholic Hierarchy: "Diocese of São Tomé of Meliapore" retrieved November 10, 2015

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