Abraham of Angamaly

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Metropolitan and the Gate of All India
Diocese Angamaly
Installed 31 January 1565
Term ended 1597
Ordination 1565 by Pope Pius IV
Personal details
Died 1597
Buried Mar Hormiz Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Angamaly[1][2]

Abraham of Angamaly (Syriac: ܐܒܪܗܡ ܡܛܪܢ‎, died c. 1597) Mar Abraham was a Nestorian Bishop sent by Shemon VII Ishoyahb the East Syrian Patriarch who was the last in the long line of Mesopotamin Bishops who governed the Church of Saint Thomas Christians. In spite of the express approbation of the Pope, he was not welcomed by the Portuguese ecclesiastical authorities.[3][4]


The last two East Syrian bishops of Malabar were Joseph Sulaqa and Mar Abraham; both arrived in Malabar after the arrival of the Portuguese.[5][6]

There is no doubt that Joseph Sulaqa's appointment was canonical, for he, the brother of the first Chaldean patriarch Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa, was appointed by his successor Abdisho IV Maron and sent out to Malabar. Mar Joseph was sent to India with letters of introduction from the pope to the Portuguese authorities; he was besides accompanied by Bishop Ambrose, a Dominican and papal commissary to the first patriarch, by his socius Father Anthony, and by Mar Elias Hormaz, Archbishop of Diarbekir. They arrived at Goa about 1563, and were detained at Goa for eighteen months before being allowed to enter the diocese. Proceeding to Cochin they lost Bishop Ambrose; the others travelled through Malabar for two and a half years on foot, visiting every church and detached settlement.[5]

By 1567,Latin authorities asked him to make enquiries into the conduct and doctrine of the prelate suspected for propagating "Nestorian error"; in consequence of this the first provincial council was held and Joseph Sulaqa was sent to Portugal in 1568, thence to Rome, where he died shortly after his arrival.[5]

Mar Abraham in India[edit]

While Joseph Sulaqa was leaving India there arrived from Mesopotemia another bishop named Mar Abraham, sent by Shemon VII Ishoyahb the East Syrian Patriarch.He succeeded in entering Malabar undetected at the appearance of another Chaldean who proclaimed himself a bishop. The people were greatly delighted and received him with applause; he set about at once acting as bishop, holding episcopal functions, and conferring holy orders and quietly established himself in the diocese.[7] Later the Portuguese captured him and sent him to Portugal, but during the journey he escaped at Mozambique, found his way back to Mesopotamia, and went straight to Mar Abdisho IV Maron the Chaldean Patriarch, having realized from his Indian experience that unless he secured a nomination from him it would be difficult to establish himself in Malabar. He succeeded admirably in his devices, obtained nomination, consecration, and a letter to the pope from the patriarch. With this he proceeded to Rome, and while there at an audience with the pope he disclosed his position.[8] The pope ordered the Bishop of San Severino to give him orders from tonsure to the priesthood, and a Brief was sent to the Patriarch of Venice to consecrate Abraham the bishop. The facts were attested, both as to the lesser orders and the episcopal consecration, by the original letters which were found in the archives of the Church of Angamaly where he resided and where he had died.[5]

Metropolitan of Angamaly (1568-1597)[edit]

Abraham succeeded also in obtaining his nomination and creation as Archdiocese of Angamaly from the Pope Pius IV, with letters to the Archbishop of Goa, and to the Bishop of Cochin dated 27 February 1565. Such was the success of this daring man.[5]

On arrival at Goa he was detained in a convent, but escaped and entered Malabar. His arrival was a surprise and a joy to the people. He kept out of the reach of the Portuguese, living among the churches in the hilly parts of the country. As time passed on he was left in peaceful occupation. As is usual in such cases the old tendencies assumed once more their ascendency, and he returned to his teaching and practices, Complaints were made by Jesuits; Rome sent warnings to Abraham to allow Catholic doctrine to be preached and taught to his people. At one time he took the warning seriously to his heart. In 1583 Father Valignano, then Superior of the Jesuit Missions, devised a means of forcing a reform. He persuaded Mar Abraham to assemble a synod, and to convene the clergy and the chiefs of the laity. He also prepared a profession of faith which was to be made publicly by the bishop and all present. Moreover, urgent reforms were sanctioned and agreed to. A letter was sent by Pope Gregory XIII, 28 November 1578, laying down what Abraham had to do for the improvement of his diocese; after the above-mentioned synod Abraham sent a long letter to the pope in reply, specifying all that he had been able to do by the aid of the Fathers.This is called the first reconciliation of the Syrians to the Church. It was formal and public, but left no improvement on the general body, the liturgical books were not corrected nor was catholic teaching introduced in the Church.[5][9]

Rabban Hormizd Church, built by Mar Abraham[edit]

Mar Hormizd Syro-Malabar Church (Old Cathedral), built by Mar Abraham.
Front view of Mar Hormizd Syro-Malabar Church which houses the tomb of Mar Abraham

After having made a successful escape from the Portuguese detention in Goa, Mar Abraham returned to Angamaly in 1570. In the same year, Mar Abraham built his first Cathedral Church dedicated to Rabban Hormizd, a seventh century Abbot of the East Syrian Church, as its patron. In 1578, as a response to the requests made on the part of the Jesuit missionaries who had been working in Angamaly and in the other centres of the Christians of St. Thomas, the pope sent plenary indulgences to the Church of Rabban Hormizd which the faithful could obtain four times a year for 25 years from the year of the election of the Metropolitan Mar Abraham. The indulgences covered two feasts of the Patron Rabban Hormizd that fell on the fifteenth day after Easter (Monday) and on the first of September. On 15 August 1579, as requested by Mar Abraham, the Jesuits laid the foundation stone of a new Cathedral namely "Rabban Hormizd" in the same place that was chosen by the Metropolitan.[10] The Synod of Diamper of the year 1599, prohibited the Christians from commemorating the feast of Rabban Hormizd, since Rabban Hormizd was considered a Nestorian heretic by the Latin missionaries. Session 3, Canon 14 of the Synod severely condemned Rabban hormizd. According to the new regulations, the Synod commanded as planned by Archbishop Menezes that the Christians celebrate the feast of St. Hormizd, the Martyr (according to the Roman Martyrology published from Rome in 1583), a Persian Catholic saint who lived in the fifth century, suppressing the memory of Rabban Hormizd. The Feast was fixed on the 8th of August according to the Canon 10 of the Session 2 of the Synod of Diamper. [11][12][13]

A substitution from Rabban Hormizd to St. Hormizd the Martyr: Evidence for the latinization of the St. Thomas Christians[edit]

The concerted efforts of Archbishop Menezes and the Portuguese missionaries to substitute the patron of St.Hormizd church, namely Rabban Hormizd with St. Hormizd, the martyr, is the strongest living proof of the forced Latinization attempts of the sixteenth century. It is doubtful whether the Christians had immediately accepted this change of patronship. Dom Francis Ros, the first Latin bishop of the Christians of St. Thomas had made an attempt to substitute the Synod of Diamper with the Second Synod of Angamaly that he convoked in December 1603.[14] St. Hormizd, the Martyr of Persia,[15] is a historical person who lived in the fifth century in Persia.

Later years and death[edit]

In 1595, Mar Abraham fell dangerously ill.[16] Unfortunately, he survived the excellent sentiments he then had and recovered. After about two years, in 1597 he was a second time again dangerously ill; Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes wrote and exhorted him to reform his people, but for answer he had only frivolous excuses.[17] He would not even avail himself of the exhortations of the Fathers who surrounded his bed, nor did he receive the last sacraments. Thus he died in January 1597.[18] The viceroy made known his death to Archbishop Menezes, then absent on a visitation tour, by letter of 6 Feb., 1597.[5] The Archdeacon during the first part of the reign of Mar Abraham was George of Christ, who was on friendly terms with the Latin missionaries and was to be appointed the successor of Mar Abraham as Metropolitan of India. Thus he should have become, according to the plans of Mar Abraham, supported by the Jesuits, the first indigenous Chaldaean Metropolitan of the St Thomas Christians. However, the last letter of Mar Abraham, where he requests the Pope to confirm George’s ordination as Bishop of Palur and his successor, is dated January 13, 1584, while from another letter of the same Mar Abraham we learn that the consecration of George failed because of the latter’s death.[19]

The tomb of Mar Abraham[edit]

The tomb of Mar Abraham was discovered in September 2015, in the sanctuary of St. Hormizd Church in Angamaly on the occasion of the renovation of the church. This church has witnessed many of the revolutions of the Christians of St. Thomas in the past against the new Latin hierarchy imposed upon them after the Synod of Diamper. The Christians used to assemble around the tomb in order to discuss important matters and to take resolutions concerning their future proceedings. One of the resolutions at the tomb of Mar Abraham was made by all the Christians, immediately after his death in 1597. The second resolution was made in 1601, by about 200 Christians who withdrew their obedience to Dom Francis Ros, S.J, the first Latin bishop of Angamaly.[20][21]A committee was appointed by Major Archbishop H. E. George Cardinal Alencherry, at a meeting of Syro-Malabar Church Historians and Ecclesiastical Dignitaries held at Kochi to decide on the investigation, protection, and preservation of the tomb. The committee consisted of Fr. Kuriakose Mundadan, Vicar and Rector of the Angamaly Basilica, Fr. Ignatius Payyappilly, Fr. Peter Kannampuzha (Executive Director of LRC), Prof. George Menachery, and Dr. Jomon Thachil.

Notes and References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/tomb-of-states-last-persian-chaldean-bishop-discovered/article7670025.ece
  2. ^ http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/kochi/Discovery-of-Ancient-Tomb-Redefines-History-of-Angamaly/2015/09/21/article3038626.ece
  3. ^ http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/tomb-of-states-last-persian-chaldean-bishop-discovered/article7670025.ece
  4. ^ http://angamalybasilica.com/template.php?id=35&page=8&catid=72
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Encyclopaedia of sects & religious doctrines, Volume 4 By Charles George Herbermann page 1180,1181
  6. ^ For details on Mar Jacob, Mar Joseph, and Mar Abraham cf. A. M. Mundadan, "History of St. Thomas Christianity in India", in George Menachery, Ed., The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Vol. II, Trichur, 1973 pp.46-52, esp. the end notes.Also Joseph Thkkedath, History of Christianity in India,Vol.II, CHAI, Bangalore, 1982, Ch.3 pp.34-56.
  7. ^ Gouva, p. col. 2
  8. ^ Du Jarric, "Rer. Ind. Thesaur.", tom. III, lib. II, p. 69
  9. ^ see letter, pp. 97-99, in Giamil
  10. ^ Mechery Antony S.J. "The removal of Patrons and some Historical reflexions/പടിയിറങ്ങുന്ന പ്രതിഷ്ഠകളും ചില ചരിത്രവിചാരങ്ങളും." Sathyadeepam Weekly. 88 (March 25, 2015): 5.
  11. ^ Mechery S.J. "The removal of Patrons and some Historical reflexions." 5, 16.
  12. ^ Theodoret, “Historia Ecclesiastica: St. Hormisdas, a Persian martyr.” b. 5, c. 39.
  13. ^ http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=5856
  14. ^ Mechery Antony, S.J. "Marichaalum Marikkaatha Mar Abraham/Mar Abraham, an Immortal Soul." Sunday Shalome, vol. 16, No. 42, October 25, 2015, 2
  15. ^ http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/martyrs-christian
  16. ^ Du Jarric, tom. I, lib. II, p. 614
  17. ^ Gouva, p. 2
  18. ^ For details of the last days of Mar Abraham cf. Michael Geddes, "History of the Malabar Church &c.", London, 1694, repr. George Menachery, Ed.Indian Church History Classics, Vol.I, Ollur 1998 pp.51-112
  19. ^ Language of religion, language of the people: medieval Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,Ernst Bremer, Susanne Röhl Page 401
  20. ^ Mechery Antony, S.J. "Marichaalum Marikkaatha Mar Abraham/Mar Abraham, an Immortal Soul." Sunday Shalome, vol. 16, No. 42, October 25, 2015, 2
  21. ^ http://in.sundayshalom.com/?p=1814

See also[edit]