Angamaly -683 572, Ernakulam Dist., South India. 0484-2452678, +91 9746463607

Church History

As per the local traditional belief Angamaly was considered to be the origin and main centre of St Thomas Christians and from there it flourished entire Malabar( Kerala) . There were Archdecons (means head of community) and bishops resided at Angamaly during the Sangam period itself.

The three ancient big Christian churches within a kilometere, located in a straight street, are unique and marvelous in the history of churches. It is recorded that the first church of Angamaly, dedicated to St. George (AD 450), was used both by the catholics and Jacobites till 1750. In this church there was a chapel, which was dedicated to St. George, where both the Catholics and the Jacobites conducted their services in cordial manner, emerges the ecumenism between these two communities. The second church was the church of Hormisdas, the Cathedral church, which was either built or renovated by Mar Abraham, exclusively used by the Catholics. It was in 1570s, that Mar Abraham started the construction work of this church of St.Hormisdas. Its earlier name Homusio was transformed to Horrmisdas by D. Alexis Menezes. St. Hormisdas or St. Hormis Abbot was a Chaldean saint of the 7th century. He was a monk in the monastry of Robban Bar-Etha. At Angamaly, the Eastern Church (Cathedral church) was dedicated to his name. But the name of St. Hormis Abbot was replaced by St. Hormis, in the Udaymperoor synod (1599),Xth decree, by attributing St Hormis Abbot as Nestorian. The third church was dedicated to St. Mary, under Jacobite community.

In 9th century, when the old Cragannore town (Kodungalloor) was attacked by Mohammedians, the Christian inhabitants left Kodugalloor and approached the Alangad King to inform their grievances. Tradition says that sometimes after the 9th century the Arabs set fire to Makodi and that the Christians fled to Angamaly which then became their Headquarter.

The King offered protection to them by developing a town and church exclusively for the colonial St Thomas Christians concentrated at Angamaly. This church in the name of St Mary was handed over to Jacobite community which formed after Coonen Cross oath (1653) by splitting the St Thomas Syrian Christian community in Malabar. It is believed that Angamaly was the main town or part of Makothavirpatnam. A strong argument is that, there was a community of St Thomas Christians and the Archdecons governed the civil matters of this community from 3rd century onwards, at Angamaly.

Even though Angamaly was the origin of St Thomas Christian community and the first seat of Bishop House, there is no authentic evidence available about its generation period. In an account of a foreign missionary Fr. M.Karniarro who visited Angamaly in 1557, there is a narration about the establishments of a University for priests ( Malpan training) and a Christian church at Angamaly. Fr. Karniarro recorded: ‘In the region of Angamale the Christians have their university; a Cassanar who is like a father among the Thomas Christians in whom they had great confidence on account of his great age and learning; it is fifty years since he began teaching sacred scriptures and he has many disciples from all parts of Malabar’ In 1563, when Mar Abraham was ordained as the bishop of Angamaly diocese, St. Hormis East church was the cathedral church where Mar Abraham resided.

In the known history of St Thomas Christians, the first regional synod was convened at Angamaly in 1583, in which Mar Abraham presided. In this synod various important decisions were taken regarding the corrections in the liturgical books of Syrians, establishment of Vypeecotta seminary etc.

The historic personality, Mar Abrham died in January, 1597 at Angamaly and his body was buried in the Cathedral church (St. Hormis or East church, Angamaly). Angamaly was the first Archdiocese in India and the jurisdiction of the Angamaly at that time, extended over the whole of India, and the metropolitans were designated as ‘of India’ or ‘all India’ ( metropolita w- tha’ rad-kollah hendo). After Mar Abrham’s demise, the superior of Archdiocese, Goa,Dom Alexis Menzes degraded Angamaly and brought it under the control of Goa Archdiocese by appointing Fr. Francis Ross as Bishop of Angamaly.

The disgraceful activities of Dom Alex Menzis, enraged the St Thomas Christians of Angamaly. They struggled to recapture the lost Archdiocese seat of Angamaly. The Archdecon Geevarghese also, with the support of native Christian community, protested against the biased movements of Dom Alex Menzis. In addition, there was a strong power of Nazarani soldiers under Archdecon. It is very interesting to review the past history of these soldiers, who were trained in different types of fights, centered at Angamally. There were more than fifty thousand trained Nazarani soldiers (belongs to ‘Amoci’ or ‘Chaver’ – were persons who swore to give their lives to protect a person) who were ready to serve the local rulers and also to take care of St Thomas Christians. Dom Alexis Menzis tried to convene a synod to establish his interests without obtaining permission from papal center, Rome. But he was not daring to organize this synod at Angamaly as it was the dominant center of St Thomas Christians and Nazrani soldiers. So he selected a safe place to conduct this ‘Angamaly Synod’ at Udayamperoor where he managed to get the support of king of Kochi and Portuguese soldiers.

Thus the synod was held at Udayamperoor in 1599, resulted a turning point in the history of St Thomas Christian community. Out of 18 priests from Angamaly, nobody was attended in this synod. After this synod, Dom Alexis Menzis destroyed a number of Syrian liturgical books and Archives situated at Angamaly. On 14th December, 1806, Dr. Buchanan visited Angamaly and in his letters an account about this fact, is as follows:

“Angamale was formerly the seat of the Archbishop of the Syrian churches in the Mountains of Malabar. In the town of Angamale there are three churches within a quarter of a mile from each other, in all of which service is still performed. The cathedral church is the largest, and contains the tombs of Bishops and Archbishops for many centuries. As I approached the town of Angamale in the evening, I heard the “sullen roar” of the great bell reverberating through the mountains. When the Romish Archbishop Menezes visited this place in 1599, the Christians strewed the way up the hill with the flowers as he advanced. And yet he came to burn the ancient libraries and Archives of Angamale. As the flame ascended, the old priests wept; but they were obliged to hide their tears, dreading the inquisition at Goa.”

Gouvea in Jornada(1603) also reports, that there was an archive attached to the Bishopric of Angamali where the most important ecclesiastical documents were preserved. In Portuguese Christian documents, it could be seen that frequent usage of the word ‘serra’, meaning mountain region, which indicates the location of Angamaly.

As mentioned, the Portuguese arrived in India during 16th century. The Portuguese ‘padroado’ was come into force in 4th August 1600 at Angamaly also. The Padroado is a system which means the royal protection of the King of Portugal over the churches in the territories occupied by the Portuguese. It had its origin with the popes themselves. In 1603, Mar Ross convened another local synod at Angamally. Its aim was to rectify the drawbacks of decisions taken in the invalid synod of Udayamperoor. In 1608, the Archdiocese seat at Angamaly was retrieved; but its title was changed to that of Cranganore (Kodungalloor). However, Mar Ross did not reside at Kodungalloor.

Mar Ross had recorded that Angamaly was the most ancient see of St Thomas Christians in India. Dr. Buchanan (1806) also had ascertained the same fact in his letters. Mar Stefan Britto and Mar Francis Garsia handled the administration after the demise of Mar Ross.

In 1773, the right of Syrian Christians to attend the funeral function of Mgr Florence was denied by the Carmelite missionaries. This made Syrian Christians very exasperate. Subsequently the representatives of 73 parishes came forward and gathered at Angamaly church to decide over what course of action they had to take. They expressed their anguish for the humiliation done by the missionaries.

In 1778, a meeting was convened at Angamaly and some important decisions were taken about the native Christians. In that meeting, it was decided to arrange a visit to Rome by Joseph Kariayattil Malpan accompanied by a team, including Paramakkel Thoma Kattanar. One of the main aims of the visit was to unite the split native Christians after Coonen cross oath. Kariayattil Malpan and his team reached at Rome by surviving the adventurous and hazardous sailing. At Rome, the Bishop position was conferred to Kariyattil malpan. Even though their mission was successful, the return journey to native place led into a tragedy. Mar Kariayattil was found dead at Goa under certain suspicious circumstances. However, Mar Kariayattil had bestowed the power of Governodar (Administrator) before his demise, to Paramakkal Thoma Kattanar. The content of this historic visit is the first travelogue in Malayalam, named as Varthamanapusthakam written by Paramakel Thoma Kattanar. Varthamanapusthakam is a source book for Malabar Christian traditions since it gives a first hand report on the traditions and historical realities of the apostolic church.

The merit of this book is doubled when one realizes that the journey Malpan Kariyattil and Thoma Paremmakkal had undertaken was to regain the lost unity of the community. The historic popularity of Angamaly as a first Archdiocese center and the center of prodigious events steered, pertaining to St. Thomas Christians, was found to be faded after the period of Governodor Paramakel Thoma Kattanar. Pope Leo XIII established Ernakulam as Vicarariate in 1896, and the cap of the Angamaly was thrown by bringing it under the control of Ernakulam as Vicarariate as main Forane. During the period of Pope Pius XI, Ernakulam was raised to the status of an Archdiocese in 1923 and was functioning as the center of the Syro-Malabar Church. A greater landmark in the St. Thomas Christian history was recorded in 1992, when the Syro –Malabar Church (Ernakulam) was declared as a Major Archiepiscopal church by Pope John Paul-II. Subsequently, the name of the Archdiocese was changed from Ernakulam to Ernakulam- Angamaly.