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The Syro-Malabar Church is an Apostolic Church which traces its origin to the Apostolate of St. Thomas who, according to the tradition, landed at Cranganore in 52 AD and founded seven Christian communities at Palayur, Cranganore, Kokkamangalam, Kottakavu (Parur), Quilon, Niranam, and Chayal . He was martyred in 72 A.D. by a fanatic at Little Mount (near Madras) and his body was brought to Mylapore (near Madras) and was buried there. His tomb is venerated until this day .
It is one of the 22 sui iuris Oriental Churches in Catholic Communion with its own particular characteristics expressed in worship, spirituality, theology and disciplinary laws. The early Christian community in India was known as St. Thomas Christians. In the course of history this Church entered into life-relation with the Christian communities which came to be known as the East Syrian Church. This relationship made the Thomas Christians share the liturgical, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions with the East Syrian Church. At the same time St. Thomas Christians kept their distinctive character especially in Church administration and socio-cultural and ascetico-spiritual life .
As a Church that existed outside the Roman Empire, the Church of the St. Thomas Christians had little contact with the Rome or the other Churches within the Empire. At the same time it maintained communion with. the Church of Rome through the Church in the Persian Empire, which later became known as the East Syrian or Chaldean Church. It is believed that Christianity in the Persian Empire was introduced by the disciples of St. Thomas. It seems that the Christians in India had contact with these Christians of the Persian Empire from very early times. Given the commercial traffic across India in those days such contact could easily have been made.
In the middle of the 4th century, a group of Christians from these communities under the leadership of a merchant named Thomas of Kinai migrated to the southern parts of India known as Kerala now. The descendants of the latter group are called Southists and the descendants of the former group, Northists.
Both of them belong to the Syro-Malabar Church, but live as two separate communities, each with their own diocese and parishes. From at least the 8th century until the 16th century the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church were sent from the East Syrian Church having been appointed by the Patriarch of the East Syrian Church.
Because of the Portuguese colonization of parts of India in he early 16th century and of the consequent ecclesiastical arrangements, from 1600 onwards, European Bishops from the Latin Church were appointed by the Pope to govern the St. Thomas Christians. Their rule ended in 1896, in which year indigenous Bishops from among the St. Thomas Christians were appointed to the now-styled "Syro-Malabar Church". The Church was now raised to the dignity of a major archiepiscopal church. It currently has twenty five dioceses in India and a diocese in Chicago. It also runs different mission centres in different nations. The total number of Syro-Malabar Catholics is large and they live all over the world. This Church is blessed with many vocations to priesthood and the religious life, who witness to Christ all over the world.