Apostle Of India

Saint Thomas – The Apostle of Jesus Christ

Saint Thomas was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Thomas in Hebrew means “The Twin”. So he was also known as “Didymus” which meant ‘The Twin’ in Greek.St.Thomas is also called Judas Thomas or Jude Thomas.

st thomas

The Synoptic Gospels and Acts list this “twin” (Te’oma means twin in Aramaic, as does Didymus in Greek) among the apostles (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15).
St. Thomas is not only the patron saint of India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Pakistan, architects, builders, carpenters, stone-masons, surveyors, geometricians, theologians, blind people and people in doubt.

St.Thomas in the Gospel of John

St. Thomas appears in a few passages in the Gospel of John. In John 11:16, when Lazarus has just died, the disciples are resisting Jesus’ decision to return to Judea, where the Jews had previously tried to stone Jesus. Jesus is determined, and Thomas says bravely: “Let us also go, that we might die with him”.

Here is the sincere versus of a bold man who was determined to follow Jesus. That same commitment brought him from Judea to various places in India and to be a martyr for the millions of Indian sub-continent.

st thomas
“My Lord and my God!” St. John 20:24-29

In Thomas’ best known appearance in the New Testament, John 20:24-29, he doubts the resurrection of Jesus and demands to touch Jesus’ wounds before being convinced. This story is the origin of the term Doubting Thomas. After seeing Jesus alive (the Bible never states whether Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds), Thomas professed his faith in Jesus, exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”; on this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.

He also speaks at The Last Supper in John 14:5. Jesus assures his disciples that they know where he is going, but Thomas protests that they don’t know at all. Jesus replies to this and to Philip’s requests with a detailed exposition of his relationship to God the Father. When Jesus revealed that he is going to leave them, St. Thomas came out with his doubt “Lord, we do not know where Thou art going; how are we know the way there?” and Jesus answered lovingly for the whole mankind: “I am the way; I am the truth and Life; nobody can come to the Father except through me. Generations to come will be indebted to the doubting St. Thomas for this illuminating glance into the eternal life.

Arrival of St.Thomas in India

According to local traditions found amongst Saint Thomas Christians, Apostle Thomas arrived in the Kerala state of India (Kodungallur) in 52 AD. It is interesting to note that Malikayal’ speaks of St. Thoma’s arrival by sea to the port of ‘Maliankara’ (Kodungallur). The commercial history of the times lends support to this assumption. He must have either sailed from Kalyan in north India or from the island of ‘Socotra’. He established the following 7 churches and a Christian community in Malayattor as it is narrated in “St. Thomas parvam” by ‘Rabban.
It is the hoary and unquestioned tradition in Malabar, which is corroborated by the customs of the place and by the ethnological research, that the Apostle was signally successful in the conversion of the high cast ‘Nambuthiri Brahmins’. Four of the leading Brahmin families are believed to been raised to the privilege of the priesthood. They are:

a) Palamattam (Pakalomattam)
b) Sankarapuri
c) Kalli &
d) Kalliankavu.

Some of them still exist in ‘Koravilangad’ a place near Kottayam in Kerala. The head of the Malabar Church – the Archdeacon – had to be selected from Pakalomattam. There is a strong belief throughout Malabar that St. Thomas founded 7 Churches or group of Christians in the following places and the imprints and tradition proves it true.

Early Migration of Christians from Palayur to Travancore

In the history of Kerala, having put a stamp that will not fade, Brahmin families like Kalli, Kalikavu, Pagalomattom, and Shankarapuri where among the families who received Baptism in Palayoor. The families of Shankarapuri and Pagalomattom were given Priestly Status by St. Thomas.

In the 2nd Century AD all the four Family migrated from Palayoor via Angamali, Kadathuruthi to Ettmanoor. The Devasom of Ettmanoor did not allow them to stay there and sent them to a place 5 Km. away which was the Forest of the Goddess Kali. In those days the Forest of goddess Kali was believed to be full of Witches and Devils and people, were scared to stay in such places. The people who came from Palayoor stayed there without any fear not knowing about these facts. To prove this there are documents. The entire house names, house numbers, survey numbers are there in the Government Records. Survey 460/5, 460/6, 519/8 belonged to these Families. During those days there was no place for worship or Burial and the families worshipped at home and used their own property to bury the dead. Where these 4 families stayed they established a Chapel. There still exists 5 Graves near the famous Forest of Kali (Kalikavu) Grotto. It is believed that these are the graves of 5 important members of these families. This cemetery was just next to the Shakutirikal Family. Right now it is in the procession of Claratu Bhavan Seminary.

The Koravelangattu Church:

It is believed that the above said 4 families and the Kadapoor family, which came from Palayoor, joined together and established the Koravelangattu Church. The Kalli and the Pagalomattom Families stayed on the Northern side of the church and the Shankarapuri, Kalikavu and the Kadapoor families stayed on the Southern side of the Church. So it came to be that Shankarapuri Family got the house name Thekkedethu meaning Southern Side, and Pagalomattom Family got the house name Vadakaedethu meaning Northern Side. There were a lot of priests in these families for many generations.

In South India

Apostle St. Thomas reached ‘Muziri in AD 51-52 from the northern part of Indian peninsula visiting many inland-countries and sharing the Gospel in many places as you see the imprints. Perhaps, one reason of selecting the southern coast was flourishing Jewish settlements in along the coast in Kodungallur, Cochin, madras etc., which date back to the Jewish Diaspora or even back to King Solomon’s trading centres. Another reason was the flourishing Roman trade links.

“The Apostle St. Thomas landed at Maliankara (i.e Cranganore) with Habban, the merchant. He (St. Thomas) worked great miracles and in eight months established in that town, the Church of Jesus Christ. Then he went to Mailepuram (Mylapore – Madras) where he preached the Gospel of the Lord for four months and a half and embarked for China. He remained in China for four and a half months and returned to Mailepuram. After he had been there for a month a so, the son – in- law of the King of ‘Tiruvanchikulam’ come to him and besought him to return to Malabar. They embarked on a ship and come to Maliankara (Kodungallore), where, in less than six months, the Apostle converted the King and his family, 40 Jews and 400 heathens.


A 17th Centuary drawing of St.Thomas going with Abbanes found in Denmark

It is interesting to note that Malikayal’ speaks of St. Thomas arrival by sea. The commercial history of the times lends support to this assumption. He must have either sailed from Kalyan in north India or from the island of ‘Socotra’. St. Francis Xavier, who landed at Socotra on his way to India about AD 1545, declared that the natives of these islands render special honours to the apostle St. Thomas, claiming they to be the descendents of Christians begotten to Jesus Christ through that Apostle in these countries.

Ka. Naa Subrahmanyam quotes D’Orsay, who consolidating all the available records states that, after forming, on the west coast, several congregations out of Jews and Dravidi people, “Apostle St. Thomas reached Meliapore (Mylapore-Madras). The fame of his miracles had preceded him. The Raja (King Mahadevan) received baptism and a part of his subjects embraced the Gospel. This excited the hatred and jealousy of the Brahmins (The super class people & Priests)and Apostle St. Thomas was pierced with a lance.”

T.N Gopal in the Vivekananda Prakashan commenting on this record, states “the legend also has it that he suffered a cruel dreath at the hands of the irate Brahmins. In so far as it points to the hostility that St. Thomas should have provoked among the guardians of Hinduism, the legend has validity.

He was preaching to the people Church surmounted by a cross and ordained priests. One of the first that he ordained was the Son – in – law of the King. King was named Andrew and the Son – in – law, Peter. Accompanied by Peter, the Apostle went to Quilon (Kollam) where he planted a cross and baptized 2400 heathens. From Quilon, he went to the mountain place, Chayal’ remained there a whole year as he had done at Quilon and baptized 2,800 heathens and planted a cross. At the request of the two chiefs of ‘Triepalesuaram’ he returned to that village. But seeing that the people had desecrated the cross he had erected there, he cursed the village (which at the present – day is a heap of ruins) Nevertheless, he remained there for two months. He again erected the cross and instructed the people so that they might not return to heathenism and ordained priest St. Thomas, one of the chiefs who had always remained strong in his faith. During this two months that he remained at ‘Triepalesuaram’, he confirmed in their faith all the Christians and converted 200 pagans. Not far from there, to the south, he built the Church of ‘Niranam’ and ordained priests, his first disciple St. Thomas Maliyakel who has a native of the place. He then repaired to ‘Kokkamangalam’, where he dwelt one year and converted 1500 heathens erected a cross and taught the people how to honour God. He visited again Kottakavu – Paraur, remaining there nearly a year and converted 2,200 people.

There he went by the southern road to Maliankara and was pleased to see the flourishing state of that Christian community. He stayed there only two weeks and started for the north, proceeding to ‘Palayur’ where in one month he baptized 1,280 pagans, and according to his habit, erected a great cross. Towards the end of the year, 59 (AD 59) he returned to Maliepuram (Mylapore).

He came back to Malabar and the Angels protected him during the journey. He remained two months in ‘Maleattur’ and converted 220 pagons. He stayed a whole year at ‘Niranam’ and was satisfied with the faith of the people there and with the exemplary life they led, and gave Confirmation to all those that had not yet received sacrament. He proceeded to ‘Chayal’ taking with him his disciple, St. Thomas Rabban Malikayal. During the year he stayed there, he built a Church and ordained priests and conferred the holy sacrament of Confirmation on all who had not yet received it. After that he took leave of the Christians and told them that they would never see him again.

And he started for the country of Tamils. St. Thomas Rabban and Peter, the son-in-law of the King, accompanied him for seven miles and a half and took leave of him.

Proof of his Arrival

Historians today believe that St. Thomas planted the seed of the gospel on Indian soil. This is the general trend of their thinking: During Apostolic times there were well frequented trade routes, by land and / or water, connecting North-West India (today Pakistan), the West Coast and the East Coast, with North Africa and West Asia. Thus Alexandria, Aden, Socotra, Ormuz, Ctesiphon, Caesarea, Taxila, Broach, Kodungallur (Muziris) and even Rome were inter-linked.
The witnesses of different authors belonging to different places, Churches, cultures, centuries and races ( and often speaking different languages) supporting the Apostle’s Indian mission provide an almost unassailable bulwark of evidence, along with the South Indian tradition that is woven into a myriad details of folklore, placenames, family traditions, social customs, monuments, copper plates, ancient songs, liturgical texts etc..

The following are some of the early references to the Indian sojourn of St. Thomas in foreign sources: (All these testimonies are of a date prior to the commencement of the Malayalam or Kollam era, i.e. A. D. 825. Many of these belong to centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325.)

One of the earliest works to refer to St. Thomas as the Apostle who evangelized the India of today is the Syriac work entitled ‘The Doctrine of the Apostles’, which according to critics, date from the second century A.D .Here are the Passages:

1. ‘The Doctrine of the Apostles’

‘After death of the Apostles, there were Guides and Rulers in the Churches; and whatever the Apostles communicated to them, and they had received from them, they taught to the multitudes. They, again, at their deaths also committed and delivered to their disciples after them everything which they had received from the Apostles; also what James had written from Jerusalem and Simon from the City of Rome, and John from Ephesus and Mark from the great Alexandria, and Andrew from Phrygia and Luke from Macedonia and Judas St. Thomas from India, that the epistles of an Apostle might be received and read in the Churches in every place, like those Triumphs of their Acts which Luke wrote, are read, that by this the Apostles might he known…’

‘India and all its own countries and those bordering on it, even to the farthest sea, received the Apostles’ Hand of Priesthood from Judas St. Thomas, who was Guide and Ruler in the Church which he built there and ministered there.’

2. The Acts of Judas St. Thomas, Century: 2nd/3rd (c. 180-230), Church represented: Syrian

One of the source books for the life and mission of St. Thomas the Apostle is the work called: ‘The Acts of St. Thomas’ which dates probably from early 3rd Century.

It is understood to be an apocryphal work; but serious scholars seem to favour the historical foundation for the main statements made in the work, as for example, the travel of the Apostle to the Indus Valley, reference to names which sound similar to historical potentates of Northern India, e.g., Gondophares
It is known that apocryphal, legendary writings take their origin around certain historical events, which in the course of the development of the work get mixed-up and even lost to some extent amid the highly exaggerated, even fantastic details, stories and narrative embellishments. Even if we set aside these details, we may still consider the main outlines of the work. We may for instance, consider the following extracts from these Acts:

(a) ‘When the Apostles had been for a time in Jerusalem, they divided the countries among them in order that each one might preach in the region which fell to him; and India fell to the lot of Judas St. Thomas.’ What may be considered here is not so much the fact of the lots being cast as the fact of India being mentioned.

(b) The Acts say that St. Thomas was not willing to accept the same decision and said: ‘I am a Hebrew; how can I teach the Indians?’ It is perhaps quite unlikely that an Apostle would have refused to go on his mission as soon as it became known to him. For our purpose that is not what we should worry about. What is to be noted is rather the fact that ‘Indians’ are mentioned in the narrative. We may say the same with regard to what follows in the Acts narrative. The Apostle says stubbornly: ‘Whithersoever Thou wilt, O Lord, send me: only to India I will not go…’

3. St. Jerome (342- 420)

“He (Christ) dwelt in all places: with St. Thomas in India, Peter at Rome, with Paul in      Illyricum.”

4. St. Gaudentius ( Bishop of Brescia, before 427)

“John at Sebastena, St. Thomas among the Indians, Andrew and Luke at the city of Patras are found to have closed their careers.”

5. St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431)

“Parthia receives Mathew, India St. Thomas, Libya Thaddeus, and Phrygia Philip”.

6. St. Gregory of Tours (d. 594)

More about St.Gregory’s testimony see ch. IV. St. Thomas the Apostle, according to the narrative of his martyrdom is stated to have suffered in India. His holy remains (corpus), after a long interval of time, were removed to the city of Edessa in Syria and there interred. In that part of India where they first rested, stand a monastery and a church of striking dimensions, elaborately adorned and designed. This Theodore, who had been to the place, narrated to us.

7. St. Isidore of Seville in Spain (d. c. 630)

“This St. Thomas preached the Gospel of Christ to the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians, the Hyrcanians and the Bactrians, and to the Indians of the Oriental region and penetrating the innermost regions and sealing his preaching by his passion he died transfixed with a lance at Calamina…a city of India, and there was buried with honour”.

8. St. Bede the Venerable (c. 673-735)

“Peter receives Rome, Andrew Achaia; James Spain; St. Thomas India; John Asia….

In addition to these there are many breviaries, martyrologies, other liturgical books and calendars of the Syrian, Alexandrian/ Greek, Latin and other Churches belonging to a period before the commencement of the Quilon era, which bears ample testimony to St. Thomas’ Indian Apostolate.

India at that Time

In the viewpoint of broader understanding the land INDIA can be introduced as follows:

“It is certainly not as small as the present political INDIA. As per the ancient historians and travelers, India is the farthest part of the inhibited world towards the east.

Political and Commercial context

From the time of invasion of Alexander the Great in 326 BC crossing the Indus river, India became more open to the countries of the west. He conquered King Poros (the kning of present Punjab) historically and broke the great barrier, the empire of Persia which had separated people of western countries including Greece from India and opened a channel for direct communicatuion. Eminenet scholars of those times; Ptolemy, Aristobolus etc’. and others gives reference to it.

After the death of Alexander, the great Indian king Chandraguptha Mourya liberated Punjab from greek domination by a friendly alliance with the Seleukos Nicator. Owing to this better atmosphere, many Greek merchants and others were attracted to Indian subcontinent. They and their successors exchanged ambassadors and many other western kingdoms followed it such as Egyptian Ptolomies. Many of them like ‘Megasthenes’ wrote books and defined boundaries of Indian subcontinent in it.

Communication between the western world and India became less frequent preceded to the Christian era due to the rise of new Parathian Empire. It was for a short period and Roman empire rised and started developing trade and commerce with the precious goods of east. Again Parathian Empire raised in between and a toll was levied for trade to Rome. This forced Romans to find a sea route to the east – especially to India. This created a problem with the Arabs as they were loosing the importance. After a lot of conflicts and problems, the incidents favoured Roman ambition to set sail for India. Hence about 0005 AD., Strabo could write : I found that about 120 ships sail from ‘Mycos-Hormos’ to India.’

The Indian Kings like ‘Pandyan’ of Madurai have opened embassies in Rome and the trade was immense as the western world was a good market for Indian goods. India was in a flourishing stage during that period.

This should be the reason St. Thomas selected India as his mission field which was well known to Palastinians and there was all means of communication which was prevailing at that time.

The historic proofs of St. Thomas mission in India are many. Taking into account traditional evidence available in India and abroad. It may may be said that the Apostle was approximately 17 years in India. Viz.. about 4 years in Sindh, 6 years years at most in Malabar, and 7 years at Mailepuram or Mailapore. Crosses carved on stone, some of which are attributed to St. Thomas by unbroken tradition, have not been lost to posterity.
Government of India bringing out two stamps in commemoration of the Indian apostolate of St. Thomas, one in 1964 and another in 1973, and the Holy See proclaiming St. Thomas The Apostle of India and in Cardinal Tisserant bringing his bones to India and Kerala in the year 1963.

Historians today believe that St. Thomas planted the seed of the gospel on Indian soil. This is the general trend of their thinking: During Apostolic times there were well frequented trade routes, by land and / or water, connecting North-West India (today Pakistan), the West Coast and the East Coast, with North Africa and West Asia.

Thus Alexandria, Aden, Socotra, Ormuz, Ctesiphon, Caesarea, Taxila, Broach, Kodungallur (Muziris) and even Rome were inter-linked. The witnesses of different authors belonging to different places, Churches, cultures, centuries and races ( and often speaking different languages) supporting the Apostle’s Indian mission provide an almost unassailable bulwark of evidence, along with the South Indian tradition that is woven into a myriad details of folklore, place names, family traditions, social customs, monuments, copper plates, ancient songs, liturgical texts etc..

King Gondophares

The apocrypha book “Acts of St. Thomas’ mentions about his connection with the Indian King. Till the middle of the 19th century even the existence of such a king was legendary. How ever, a large number of coins were discovered in Kabul, Kandahar, and in the western and southern Punjab, bear the name ‘Gondophares’.

Ruins of Taxila, Pakistan, where the apostle St. Thomas is said to have begun his missionary work in India. A yearly festival commemorating the coming of St. Thomas attracts up to 60,000 people.

To go in detail,

A 2nd century AD work in Syriac, many poems by Ephraem (3rd/4th century), many folksongs in South India, a historical narrative committed to writing some five hundred years ago in Kerala, timehonoured traditions prevalent in many parts of India speak of the arrival, travels, and activities of a visitor from around Alexandria in India in the First Century A D. The crediblity of this ‘St. Thomas legend,’ as described in Kerala-Mylapore tradition, in the Song of St. Thomas Rambhan, in the Margam Kali songs etc., and in the Acts of Judas St. Thomas has been vehemently questioned and denied by the vast majority of western scholars during the major part of the 19th century. It has been said and with quite some truth that this vehemence was at least partially due to the fact that many westerners refused to believe that their own present religion, though originally from the East, had arrived in another country, that too a ‘pagan’ and ‘idolatrous’ country like India many centuries before it had come to their own motherlands in Europe. Whatever the truth of this one thing is certain: these western scholars left no stone unturned in their attemps to disprove the Indian ‘legend’ about the travels of the Alexandrian visitor St. Thomas.

Among the strongest arguments used were

1] that there is no king of the name Gondaphares (as mentioned in the 2nd C. Acts) in Indian history, none of his coins had ever been discovered, no geneology of Indian kings mentions such a name etc. and

2] it is not possible to associate the specific places, routes etc. mentioned in the Acts, traditions, songs, and narratives with first century contacts with the west. These are the only two objections we are dealing with here and analysing in the light of numismatics developments in the subcontinent.

A most dramatic discovery in the field of numismatics in India effected a magical change in the understanding of this whole story.

This was as a result of the excavations made both to the east and west of the river Indus. Long before any coins or inscriptions of Gondaphares had been discovered, the name of the king was familiar to the western world in connexion with the visit of St. Thomas in India. In the several texts of these apocryphal books the king’s name appears variously as Gudnaphar, Gundafor, Gundaphorus, and Goundaphorus. His brother Gad’s name also is mentioned there. Yet those names were totally unknown to history until large numbers of coins of this King were discovered. On his coins it appears , in Karoshti, as Guduphara or, occasionally, Godapharna; in Greek, as Undopheros, Undopherros or Gondopherros, which apparently represent local pronunciations of the Persian Vindapharna ‘The Winner of Glory’.


The coins from Taxila with the seal and inscription of King Gudophorus as
“Maharaja – rajarajasamahata -dramia -devavrata Gundapharase”

The Greek rulers of the Punjab were ultimately overcome by the Saka tribes of central Asia…They established principalities at Mathura, Taxila, and elsewhere. We are here concerned with one of these Persian Princes, known to the Greeks as Gondopharnes, who was in 50 A.D. succeeded by Pacores. His kingdom comprised Taxila, Sistan, Sind, Southern and Western Punjab, the NWFP, Southern Afghanistan, and probably part of the Parthian dominions west of Sistan. Hence he could be considered both as an Indian king and as a Parthian.

Dr. Fleet. One of the scholars concludes:

‘There is an actual basis for the tradition in historical reality’ and St. Thomas did visit the courts of two Kings reighning there, of whom one was Gundupphara – the Gondophares of the Takht – i – Bhai inscriptions and the coins – who was evidently the ruler of ‘an extensive territory which included as a part of it much more of India than simply a portion of the Peshawar District’