Article of the month: April
Icon of Mar Thomas, the first indigenous metropolitan of Kerala
St. Thomas Christians constitute a unique community (currently around 7 million strong), whose native tongue is Malayalam, whose everyday culture and customs are typically Indian and whose language of worship and of high culture has been Syriac for many centuries. In fact, for this high-caste Indian Christian community Syriac had the same social function as Sanskrit had for the neighbouring Hindu high-caste society.
According to tradition, Christianity in Kerala was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle, who landed on the Malabar Coast, at Maliankara near Cranganore (Kodungallur), in 52 AD. Why precisely in 52 is difficult to say, but this date is firmly held in the present traditio communis of the St. Thomas Christians. For how long the date has been established is an interesting question in itself. The modern Malayalam ballad Thomas Ramban Pattu (The Song of the Lord Thomas), which gives absolutely precise data about the details of the Apostle’s activity, dates his arrival to 50 AD, in the month of Dhanu (December), and his death in Mylapore (Mailapuram) to 72 AD, on the 3rd day of the month of Karkadakam (July), corresponding to the traditional memorial day of the Apostle in the Syrian Churches. However, this apparently reflects a later tradition. Recently we found an earlier tradition in a palm-leaf manuscript belonging to the collection of the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop's House in Ernakulam, which, among eighteen Malayalam apocrypha, also contains the Malayalam version of the Acts of Thomas. The seventeenth-century redactor's note to this apocryphon dates the death of Saint Thomas to December 21 and says that on that very day the Apostle's memorial day (Dukhrana) was universally celebrated in the Malankara Church.
On his arrival – so tradition holds – the Apostle converted several Brahmin families, from whom a good part of the present-day Nazranies descend, and founded seven churches: Maliankara (Kodungallur or Cranganore), Palayur, Kottakavu (North Parur), Kokamangalam (Pallipuram), Niranam, Chayal and Kollam (Quilon). There is a beautiful story vividly recounted among the local Christians and invoked in many books about the foundation of the Palayur church, not far from Cranganore where Saint Thomas is believed to have landed, and close to Guruvayur, the famous centre of Krishna worship. According to this tradition, the Apostle arrived there and found several Brahmins bathing in a tank and throwing up handfuls of water as an offering to their sun-god. He asked them whether they were able to throw the water up so that it could stay suspended in the air without falling back down, as a proof that their god had accepted it. The Brahmins replied this was impossible. The Apostle performed a miracle and the water remained in the air, proving that Christ had accepted the offering. This convinced the Brahmins, who accepted baptism from the Apostle in the same tank. Their temple was transformed into a Christian church, while those who stuck to their Hindu faith fled from the place. They cursed the land and called it Chapakatt (now Chavakkad) – "the Cursed Forest".
The tradition of Christ's Apostle doing missionary work in India is the principal formative element of the identity of St. Thomas community. At a certain stage of its history, this community entered into intense contacts with the Syrian Christian world. Tradition also tells us that this happened in 345 AD, when Thomas of Kana, a rich Syrian merchant from Persia, also landed in Cranganore, accompanied by seventy families. Their descendants, the endogamous Knanaya community, boast of having preserved pure Syrian blood. Thomas of Kana and the bishops who accompanied him established a permanent contact with the Syrian Church. So, if we are to believe tradition, ever since Thomas of Kana the Malabar Church, consisting of an Indian and a Syrian component, has ecclesiastically and culturally belonged to the Syrian Christian world.
Published: April 21, 2018
At its fullest extent, the Roman Empire stretched from around modern-day Aswan, Egypt at its southernmost point to Great Britain in the north but the influence of the Roman Empire went far beyond even the borders of its provinces as a result of commerce and population movements. Contrary to popular belief which holds that the Sahara Desert was an impossible obstacle to trade prior to the Middle Ages, the Romans had a robust and dynamic network of connections to Sudanic and Sub-Saharan Africa. Slaves, gold, foodstuffs, and spices were transported from complex urban settlements on the Niger river, onwards to oasis cities in the Sahara, before finally reaching Rome’s bustling ports on the coast of North Africa. Going in the opposite direction, gemstones, textiles, and coins reached cities along the fertile banks of the Middle Niger.
Published: April 20, 2018
After the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem following the First Crusade, pilgrims flooded to the Holy Land, but the situation was far from stable; many coast cities were under the kontrol of Arab emirs and the hinterland was full of bedouins. the secular authorities were unable to guarantee the safety of pilgrims who ventured out upon the dangerous roads from Jerusalem to other pilgrimage sites such as Jericho and Nazareth. In 1115 Hugues de Payens, a Burgundian knight, and Sir Godfrey de St. Adhemar, a Flemish knight, decided to join forces and form a band of sworn brothers dedicated to protecting pilgrims. They soon recruited seven other knights.
Published: April 15, 2018
This paper is another attempt to elucidate how the Graeco-Romans had extended trade links to the coast of East Africa and probably to the interior of East Africa. This undertaking is probably the first of its kind to collate a variety of archaeological evidence recently recovered from the coast and islands of Tanzania with existing Graeco-Roman documents.
Published: April 7, 2018
Rhapta was an ancient port and also the capital of the ancient territory of Azania, then the coast of East Africa. Rhapta and Azania were reported in the Roman documents of the first three centuries AD. The documents include that of Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and that of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geography. Whereas scholars have doubted pre-Roman documents of the Greeks and Egyptians on their knowledge of East Africa, scholars have not doubted the Roman documents. From the time of Emperor Augustus Cesar the Romans had a firm control of the Indian Ocean all the way to India and beyond.
Published: April 7, 2018
It is still common for people today to believe that most noblemen and knights in "the Middle Ages" were illiterate. Even authors of otherwise quite credible historical fiction make this assumption about their knightly and even noble characters. In reality, the noblemen of Outremer were not only literate, many of them were highly sophisticated scholars and jurists.