Mar Dionysius I

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Mar Dionysius I
Malankara Church
Installed 8 May 1765
Term ended 8 April 1808
Predecessor Mar Thoma V
Successor Mar Thoma VII
Personal details
Died 8 April 1808
Buried St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral, Puthencavu

Mar Dionysius I, also known as Mar Thoma VI (died 8 April 1808), was the Metropolitan of the Malankara Church from 1765 until his death. A member of the Pakalomattom family, he was a shrewd administrator who appealed to outside authorities to assert his position as the sole leader of the Malankara Church and to attempt to reunite all the Saint Thomas Christians.

Mar Thoma VI succeeded Mar Thoma V as Malankara Metropolitan in 1765, and unlike his predecessors, who were claimed by their opponents not to have been properly ordained as bishop, he received orders from Syriac Orthodox bishops in 1772, thus ending any controversy. Other events of his reign include the separation of the Thozhiyoor church (now the Malabar Independent Syrian Church), the arrival of English Protestant missionaries, and the first translation of the Bible from Syriac to Malayam.


The man who would be Mar Dionysius was the nephew of his predecessor as Malankara Metropolitan, Mar Thoma V, and a member of the Pakalomattom family. In 1757, as part of a play to assert his authority and autonomy in the Syriac Orthodox Church, Mar Thoma V consecrated his nephew as coadjutor bishop and named him his successor, in contradiction to the wishes of the Syriac Orthodox hierarchy. Upon Mar Thoma V's death in 1765, the younger Pakalomattom was ordained as Metropolitan on 8 May, taking the name Mar Thoma VI.[1][2]

As with his predecessors as Metropolitan going back to the first, Mar Thoma I, Mar Thoma VI's critics charged that his succession, and therefor his position, was invalid. To overcome this criticism, in 1772 Mar Thoma VI underwent a second ordination at the hands of the Syriac Orthodox bishop Mar Gregorios in the church in Niranam. He received all the Holy Orders, from the tonsure to the episcopal consecration, and thereafter took the name Mar Dionysius.[3] Syriac Orthodox and other critics of Mar Thoma VI saw this as his only ordination, while his supporters saw it as a "re-ordination", but either way, it ended the controversy over the validity of his position.[4]

This done, Dionysius focused on his second primary aim of securing his place as the sole head of the Malankara Church, a measure opposed by some in the Syriac Orthodox hierarchy. To this end, Dionysius appealed to both the Catholic Church and the British colonial government in India. Several times he contacted the Catholic hierarchy, both locally and in Rome, seeking to have his church, with him as its designated head, brought into full communion. This would have the double aim of solidifying his authority, and re-uniting all the Saint Thomas Christians, who had been split into Catholic and independent (Malankara) factions since the Coonan Cross Oath of 1653. His appeals were considered in Rome, where the Church was willing to grant him temporal but not spiritual authority over the Saint Thomas Christians. In the end, however, no satisfactory deal was ever made and the factions remained separate.[5]

In 1771, Mar Gregorios consecrated a second bishop, Kattumangatt, who took the name Mar Cyril (Koorilose). Dionysius saw Cyril as a threat to his authority, and appealed to the colonial authorities to suppress the rival bishop. Cyril left for Thozhiyur, outside of the colonial jurisdiction, and established what would become an independent church. This body is now known as the Malabar Independent Syrian Church.[6] Subsequently, however, Gregorios and the other Syrian bishops died and were not replaced, leaving no further internal challengers to Dionysius.[7]

Invasion by Mysore[edit]

Mysore was a land locked kingdom. Hyder Ali, ruler of this kingdom decided to invade Malabar to get access to the Arabian Sea. He entered Malabar in 1781 and crushed the Nair soldiers. After his death Tippu Sultan came to the throne. During that period Christians were persecuted.[8][9]

Bala Rama Varma was the ruler of Travancore at this time. He was one of the least popular sovereigns whose reign was marked by unrest and various internal and external problems to the state.[10] He became King at the young age of sixteen and came under the influence of a corrupt nobleman known as Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri from Calicut. One of the first acts of atrocities during his reign was the murder of Raja Kesavadas,[11] the existing Dewan of Travancore. Sankaran Nampoothiri was then appointed as Dewan (Prime minister) with two other ministers.[12] Using his influence, Mar Thoma VI was put in jail at Alleppy and was forced to conduct a service according to Catholic rites, but escaped during a rebellion in Travancore under Velu Thampi in 1799.[13][14]

Relations with the Church of England[edit]

Toward the end of Dionysius' reign, Claudius Buchanan (1766–1815) visited Kerala in 1806, and arranged for the translation of the Bible into Malayalam. Dionysius gave him the manuscript of the Bible written in the Syriac language. This manuscript was later deposited in the public library of the University of Cambridge.[15]

During the visit Buchanan suggested the Malankara Church seek a close relationship with the Church of England. Soon after his visit, Dionysius convened a meeting of church elders at Aarthattu, where he declared the Malankara Church would not accept Anglican doctrine, nor those of any other foreign church.[16]

Death and succession[edit]

Dionysius consecrated Pakalomattom Mathen Kathanar as his successor in 1796 at Chengannur church. Dionysius died on 8 April 1808 at Niranam, and he was interred St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral, Puthencavu, with Mathen conducting the funeral service. Mathen subsequently received his orders, taking the name Mar Thoma VII.

Preceded by
Mar Thoma V
Metropolitan of the Malankara Church
Succeeded by
Mar Thoma VII

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neill, p. 67.
  2. ^ Vadakkekara, p. 91.
  3. ^ Neill, pp. 67–68.
  4. ^ Vadakkekara, pp. 91–92.
  5. ^ Neill, pp. 68–69.
  6. ^ Vadakkekara, p. 92.
  7. ^ Neill, p. 69.
  8. ^ Sankunny Menon, P. (1878) A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times (Thiruvithancore Charitram), p. 199.
  9. ^ Mathew, Adv.P.C., Aarthattu pallipattum charitra rekhakalum, pp. 24–26.
  10. ^ Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya
  11. ^ History of Travancore by P. Shungunny Menon, p. 245.
  12. ^ History of Travancore by P. Shungunny Menon, p. 245
  13. ^ History of Travancore by P. Shungunny Menon, p. 246.
  14. ^ Puthenkavu Cathedral Smaranika, pp. 175, 183.
  15. ^ Buchanan, Rev. Claudius, Memoir of the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, p. 76.
  16. ^ Mathew, P.C. Aarthattu Padiola, Nazrani Christians of Kerala, p. 114.


Further reading[edit]

    1. Juhanon Marthoma Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Dr. (1952). Christianity in India and a Brief History of the Marthoma Syrian Church.. Pub: K.M. Cherian.
    2. Daniel, K. N. (1952). Canons of the Synod of Diamper, CSS. Tiruvalla.
    3. Zac Varghese Dr. & Mathew A. Kallumpram. (2003). Glimpses of Mar Thoma Church History. London, England. ISBN 8190085441
    4. Chacko, T. C. (1936). Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charithra Samgraham (Concise History of Marthoma Church), Pub: E.J. Institute, Kompady, Tiruvalla.
    5. Eapen, Prof. Dr. K.V. (2001). Malankara Marthoma Suryani Sabha Charitram (History of Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church). Pub: Kallettu, Muttambalam, Kottayam.
    6. Ittoop Writer, (1906). Malayalathulla Suryani Chistianikauleday Charitram (History of Syrain Christians in the land of Malayalam)
    7. Mathew, N. M. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume 1 (2006), Volume II (2007), Volume III (2008). Pub. E.J.Institute, Thiruvalla
    8. Mathew, Adv. P. C. (1994). Aarthattu pallipattum charitra rekhakalum (Aarathattu church history and records).
    9. Sankunny Menon, P. (1878). A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times (Thiruvithancore Charitram).
    10. Varghese Kassessa, K. C. (1972). Malabar Swathantra Suryani Sabha Charitram (History of Malabar Independent Syrian Church).
    11. Niranam Granthavari. (Record of History written in Malayalam during 1770–1830). Ed. Paul Manalil, Catholicate Aramana, Devalokam. Kottayam, Kerala.