Tuesday, 18 November 2014

St. Mary's Church, world's oldest existing church in S.India.

St.Mary's O.S.Church, India .AD 53. credit:stati.panorama.com

Many westerners, even to day, have no idea whatsoever about the historical background of India's Christian communities that live across this ancient land. Invariably, most of them believe that Christianity was  introduced by the Portuguese first on the Malabar coast of Kerala in the 1600's and this religion had begun to spread gradually in 1700's onward in many parts during the British rule. Though minority in status, in terms of population, Christian communities'  contribution to education  across India has been monumental and they have been in existence in India since AD 53 after the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the prominent  disciples of Jesus Christ on the Malabar coast of India.

Thiruvithancode, (Thiruvithankodu), a small town in the Kanyakumari district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is about 20 km from Nagercoil, and 2 km from Thuckalay. This town is  famous for St Mary's Orthodox  Syrian  Church (Thiruvithamcode Arappally),  which is believed  to  have  been  established  by  St. Thomas  in  the  first century AD, along with  seven  other  churches (Ezharappallikal)  in Kerala.

The entrance  to  the  church  was  built  in  the  20th  Century  and  there  are three  main  parts  constructed  in the 17th century.

Tri-lingual name board. St.Mary's O.S.church, India credit:bp.blogspot.com
According  to Issac  Arul  Dhas  of  Scott  Christian college, Nagarcoil,TN (2010), though the Saint Thomas  tradition  of  Indian  Christianity  cannot be  verified  as  historical,  there was  a  tradition of  Thomas  traveling  to India  from  the west at least  in the 3rd century (Acts of Thomas), and there  is  independent  confirmation  of  the existence of a Christian church in India from the 6th century.

Hence, Kerala  and the bordering  areas in Tamil Nadu on the east along the state line have the distinction of being one of the oldest seats of Christian communities in the world. Subsequently, St.Thomas  moved across other parts  of India for the purpose of missionary work. Subsequently he attained  martyrdom in Madras (now Chennai) where his relics are enshrined.

The Indian natives had close relationship with the minority community and the local rulers were helpful to the evangelists for building church, etc. Later after the arrival of Portuguese who forced religion on the friendly Indian natives, the Christian preachers earned the ire of the local chiefs and rulers.

Issac Arul Dhas, `Kumari Mannil Christhavam`(Tamil), Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, 2010,ISBN 978-81-8465-204-8 , Page:7