The ancient Christians of the Malabar Coast of India are known as the Saint Thomas Christians. They are also known locally as ‘The Nasranis’. They were ecclesiastically connected to the Church of the East, also known as the East Syrian Church which at its peak extended from Mesopotamia to China through Arabia, India and Central Asia.. The Eastern Church was separated from the rest of the Christendom from time of the Synod of Ephesus. This was mainly due to political reasons but doctrinal differences like ‘Nestorianism’ was also accused on the Eastern Church. The so called ‘Nestorianism’ seems to be a misunderstanding due to the expression of the faith using certain ambiguous terms in the Greek language. Dr Adrian Fortescue writes ‘we saw that Greek words used in the Nestorian controversy are sometimes ambiguous and add to the confusion by the fact that we are not always sure what the people who use them mean .’1
With the works of Babai, the Great of 6th century2and the visit of Patriarch Ishoyahb II (628-643 AD) to Antioch in the 7th century3 , the doctrinal differences became reconciled, but due to geographical and political reasons, the Church of the East continued to be alienated from the rest of the Christendom.
Interference with the Christianity of the West
With the Crusades in the medieval period, the Churches in the East caught attention of the Religio political interests of the European Christianity. Missionaries from the Europe were sent to Babylon and the rest of the East. Their tactic was to begin a friendly relationship with the native Churches and then subjugate them. This resulted in divisions and revolts. Eventually, in Babylon, the Church of the East( The East Syrian Church) was divided into the Chaldean and Assyrian Churches whereas in Malabar, India, the Church of Saint Thomas Christians divided into several fragments due to the interference of multiple colonial forces.
The ancient Church at Muttuchira in South India portrays certain landmark monuments describing the early friendly phase and the later subjugation phase of these relationship- the Muttuchira inscriptions and the Muttuchira Sliva.
Muttuchira is a village in the Kottayam District located in the South Indian State of Kerala. Muttuchira was called Nayappalli in ancient records4 . According to local tradition, the Christian settlement of Muttuchira was established in the sixth century.5 Antonio Gouvea, the Portuguese traveller who accompanied Alexis De Menezes, the Archbishop of Goa, documented Menezes’ visit of Muttuchira in AD 1599. Gouvea used the term Nayapili to denote Muttuchira.6 In the British Museum Sloanne MS 9907, probably written in around 1676 AD, mentions Muttuchira Church as “the Church of ‘Spiritu Sancto’ (Latin word for Holy Spirit) with the following villages and bazars annexed: Coddi heli, Param poram, Perium paddy, Tanara chera, Cheri Omellur, May mure, Nin dure , Herle nelha cara”7 .
These places have been identified as Kulavely, Parampram, Thiruvanpady, Thamarachira, Cheriomelloor, Memury, Neendoor, and Eravimamngalakkara8 .
Johannes Facundus Raulin9 in 1740s in his book ‘Historia Ecclesia Malabaricae’ uses the term Muttieri. Anquetil Du Perron, a French Scholar and Orientalist in January 1758, mentions about the Catholic church of Holy Ghost at Muttiera and its oratory of Saint Sebastian had been burnt by the Raja of Travancore10 . Local tradition mentions that the Church was attacked by the parchave or Padshaw. Paulinus De Bartholomew, an Austrian Missionary and an orientalist who was in Kerala during 1774-1789 period also mentions about the Holy Ghost Church of Muttiera and the oratory of Saint Sebastian.11
Ruha D’Qudisha Forane Church
The Churches of Muttuchira
Muttuchira village has several churches. The main church of Muttuchira, the Ruha D’Qudisha Forane Church compound has two church buildings face to face with the Open air Rock Cross in the middle. The Church on the western side of the open air Cross is the main church now. It was built in AD 1854-58 (Kollam Era 1930-1033)12when Rev Fr Kurian Parampil was the vicar.(1859-85).13
The Church on the eastern side is the old church which was also called Ruha D’ Qudisha church but later, in AD 1925, it was renamed as Church of Saint Francis of Assissi. It was from this church, the Pahlavi inscribed Granite Cross was discovered in AD 1923 during renovation. This Church was probably built in AD 1528 by Mar Denha and Mar Jacob Abuna (Mar Avu) based on the Muttuchira Lithic inscriptions.
Another Church located on north side of the road is called ‘karottu church’- Church of Saint Sebastian, also called ‘prasu palli’ with a small open air Rock Cross in front. A little away on the eastern side of all these Churches, there is an ancient open air Rock cross and a Chapel of Saint Anthony. There was an ancient Church in the same location dedicated to Mar Sliva ( Holy Cross).
There is a Chapel of Saint Teresa on the western side of the main church complex near the road.
Muttuchira Church is historically important. Archdeacon Jacob of Muttuchira was a native of Muttuchira and was based in this church until his death. He was buried in the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi. He was appointed as Archdeacon by Mar Simon, the Chaldean Bishop who arrived in Malabar in 1576 AD14 during the time of Mar Abraham, as a rival. Mar Simon was sent to Rome but Archdeacon Jacob had followers until his death in 1596.15
Bishop Chandy Parambil (Palliveettil Chandy Metran) celebrated his first Pontifical Mass at Muttuchira Church in AD 1663.16
Saint Alphonsa of India spent her early years in Muttuchira parish17 . Saint Alphonsa of India was brought up in her mother’s house, the Muricken family of Muttuchira.
Archdeacon Jacob of Muttuchira
In 1576 AD, Mar Simon, a Bishop from Babylon arrived in Kerala18 as a rival to Mar Abraham, the Chaldean Catholic Bishop who was in Kerala already19 .Mar Simon was based at Kaduthuruthy and caused a schism among the Thomas Christians. As Mar Abraham had already made certain latinisations, many Christians followed Mar Simon. Two Franciscan Missionaries who arrived from Malacca and Macao in 1583 AD, tactically collaborated with Mar Simon and sent him to Rome20 . It has been documented that Mar Simon, accompanied by a Franciscan missionary arrived in Rome in December 158421 . He was sent to Lisbon and kept in a Franciscan Friary and died in 1599AD22 . Before he left to Rome, Mar Simon appointed Cathanar Jacob of Muttuchira as his Archdeacon. Cathanar Jacob was of Nadackal family23 . It was this Cathanar Jacob who built the old Church of Ruha D’ Qudisha which was renamed as the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi and the Church of Saint Sebastian in Muttuchira.
Paul J Madathil, a local journalist during the period 1925 AD gives a different version, based on the local tradition that Fr Jacob, who was an administrator of a diocese in France or Portugal built these churches. It has to be noted that even when Mar Simon was in custody in Portugal, he was in constant touch with Cathanar Jacob through letters in which Mar Simon styled himself as the Metropolitan of India24 . Archdeacon Jacob maintained his authority even when Mar Simon was in Lisbon. He refused to accept the Gregorian Calendar, taught his followers to recite the Chaldean Divine Office, consecrated altars, chalices etc25 . Thus, Cathanar Jacob was an Archdeacon/administrator of Mar Simon who was in Lisbon and received regular letters and instructions from Lisbon. This might be the reason why people later assumed that he was an Archdeacon/administrator of a Bishop/diocese in Portugal.
Archdeacon Jacob refused to accept Mar Abraham and continued his activities to uphold the Chaldean way of life. Archbishop Menezes wrote to him that Mar Simon has been convicted in Rome and not in his orders now, asking Archdeacon Jacob to submit to the Papal authority and even offered large promises and favours.26Archdeacon Jacob died in AD 1596.27
Paul J Madathil, based on the local traditions, comments that Cathanaar Jacob built the Saint Sebastian’s Church- the Prasu Church of Muttuchira and rebuilt the old Church of Ruha D’ Qudisha (the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi). Besides, he also built Churches at Kothanalloor, Elanji, and another local Church. Paul J Madathil also confirms the local tradition that Cathanar Jacob was buried in the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi. This information has been confirmed by Mr Karottu C George, a local historian and a Headmaster at Muttuchira in 1925 AD.28
Muttuchira Lithic inscriptions
Muttuchira lithic inscriptions are early Malayalam inscriptions- Vattezhuthu- Nanam Monum- on a granite tablet found in Muttuchira. The ‘Muttuchira inscriptions’ are inscriptions narrating about the installation of the free standing Cross and the Pahlavi inscribed bas relief cross-The ‘Muttuchira Sliva’. The inscriptions are on a rectangular granite slab in two sections divided by a vertical line in between. According to Mr T K Joseph29 , this inscription must be of AD1581 or later. This tablet has been the subject of extensive research by many scholars. This granite slab was found on the western wall of the ground floor room of the two storey building attached to the northern side of the old Church of the Holy Ghost. The upper story was used as the Priest’s Home and the ground floor was used as the sacristy.30
Muttuchira Lithic Inscriptions
T K Joseph
Mr T K Joseph was an eminent historian and was the Secretary of the Kerala Society that was formed modelled on the Royal Asiatic Society.
Mr T K Joseph examined the inscription on 25 September 1929.31 The left half of the inscription reads-maaran echo michiyha perannittu 1528 math ee nelathu chuddamana tiliva niruthi, thampurante kalpanayal mar thana mar avu kee varukeethu pirathiyum kooda. Ithinte chezham porathukal desathu poyi thante marumagan mathai pathiriyum kooda.
The right half reads- Michiyha pirannittu 1580 matham kanni njyar 13 nu mar thilivayude perunnaalku ee mar thiliva edutha marathil pothinju niruthi, mar chemayon methranum pathiri yakobum. kaalam ithu 18 am nu perunnalkku ee uthira kurishu vachu. 1581 matham meenam njayar 19 am nu thukka velli azhcha naal ikaringal thiliva niruthi.
The translation of the left half :
By the command of the Thamburan (King of Kaduthuruthy ? Or is it the Lord Almighty ?) in AD 1528 Mar Thana (Mar Denha) and Mar Avu alongwith Giwargis Padre, installed this Holy Cross in this place. After this, Giwargis padre went to Portugal alongwith his nephew Mathai padre. (In AD 1580, kanni 13 sunday, on the day of the feast of Holy Cross, this mar Sliba was erected covered in wood (?), by Bishop Mar Simon and Jacob Padre. Same year, on the day of 18th on the day of the feast, this bleeding Cross was installed. AD 1581 meenam month on the 29th friday good friday, this granite Cross was installed.)
Translation of the right half :
On September 13(a syrian date), 1580 AD on the feast of the Holy Cross, this Holy Cross was installed, covered with wood and set up by Bishop Mar Simon and Father Jacob. The same year, on the feast of the 18th (Dec 18th) this bleeding Cross (resembling the bleeding Cross of Mailapore) was installed. This granite Cross was set up on Good Friday, 29th March 1581.
Mr A S Ramanatha Ayyar, the Superintendent of Archaeology, Tranvancore State
Line 1: Maaron Eecho Mishi
Line 2: yha perannitte 152
Line 3: 8 maathe ee nelathu shudda
Line 4: m ana thiliva iru
Line 5: thi thampurante kalp
Line 6: anayal Maar Thana Mara
Line 7: yuu keevarkeethu miruthi
Line 8: yum kooda ithin
Line 9: nte chelam porthakaal
Line10: thesathu poo(y) thante
Line 11: marumakan mathaai paa
Line 12: thiriyum kooda
Second section :
Line 1: Michiyha perannittu 1
Line 2: 580 mathe kanni njayir
Line 3: 13 thiyati maru tilivaade
Line 4: perunnaalkke ee maar thili
Line 5: va eduthu manthil(marthil) po
Line 6: tinje niruthi maru chema
Line 7: on mettharanum pati
Line 8: ri Yakkobum + kanni
Line 9: te 18 thiyati perunnaalke ee
Line 10: thara kuriche vechchu + 15
Line11: 81 mathe mina njayar 2
Line 12: 9 thiyati tukkavelli alch
Line 13: cha naal ee kkaringal tiliva
Line 14: niruthi
This is almost as read by Mr T K Joseph.
The translation of first half:
In AD 1528, a Holy Cross was installed on this land by Mar Thana, Mar Avoo and Geevarghese miruthi (? pathiri) with the order of the Lord. After this, along with his nephew Mathai pathiri, he went to Portugal.
Second half :
AD 1580 in the month Kanni 13 th Sunday, on the day of the feast of Holy Cross, this Holy Cross was erected covered with (wood ? sand?).by Bishop Mar Simon and padre Yakkob.
On kanni 18th on the day of the feast, installed this thara cross ? Uthira kurisu- bleeding Cross.
In 1581 in the month meenam 29th on the day of Good Friday, installed this granite Cross.
This granite slab inscriptions talk about events that happened in AD 1528 along with 1580 and 1581. We can understand that in AD 1528, a cross was installed on the ground by two Bishops Mar Denha and Probably Mar (Jacob) Abuna32 along with Geevarghese, with the order of the Lord ? King ? God ? ( All the celebrations of the Thomas Christians begin with the phrase- ‘With the order of the Lord Isho Mishiha’- example- Pukdanakon- Pukdane da Mishiha in the Holy Qurbana, similar phrases are seen in the order of marriage also). This could be similar, with the order of our Lord, this Cross was placed in this land by Mar Denha and Mar Aboona, along with Geevarghese, who left for Portugal with his nephew Mathai pathiri. This could mean that they blessed the land in preparation to build a church there. They might have received permission from the local King.
The term pathiri used here is very interesting, as at such an early period of contact with the Portuguese, did the Saint Thomas Christians use the term Padre instead of the traditional term Cathanaar ? Was this Geevargese a foreign padre ? If he was a foreign padre, then his name would have been George rather than Geevarghese, a rather syriac name. Or, what we are reading as pathiri could be something else. The travel to Portugal means the Saint Thomas Christian community was in good friendship with the Portuguese Missionaries.
The second half is about events in AD 1580-81 period. In Line 1-6, it says, on Kanni 13 Sunday, on the day of the feast of the Holy Cross, this Holy Cross was erected and covered with wood ? sand- (marathil-manthil). Or is it something else that we read as marathil/ manthil ? Is it talking about placing the Pahlavi inscribed Cross on a wooden frame ? or it may mean that the Pahlavi cross was covered with the new wooden ‘raredos’ (rathaal) which was taken down in AD 1923 when the Sliva was rediscovered.
Line 6-8 talks about presence of Bishop Mar Simon and Yakkob. We know that Mar Simon in AD 1581 was the Chaldean Bishop who arrived in AD 1576 as a rival to Mar Abraham. His Archdeacon was Cathanar Jacob, who was a native of Muttuchira. We have to assume that this part of the inscription is talking about Mar Simon and Archdeacon Jacob of Muttuchira.
Lines 8-14 :On Kanniite 18- could be a Syriac month for December 18- on the day of the feast of Holy Cross, installed this thara kurichu. (There are a few interpretations for this ee thara kurishu. Initially it was considered thara- metal, or pithala- brass or chithra- ornamental. The researchers initially thought it was mentioning about the bell metal cross of Muttuchira. But later, Mr T K Joseph came up with the reading uthira kurishu meaning ruthira kurishu- bleeding cross.). It has to be noted that, here, instead of Tiliva (Sliva) as used before, the inscribers are using the word ‘kurish’ which came from Portuguese language. The inscribers have used both ‘Sliva’ and ‘kurish’ here.
This slab is a very important monument in the Nasrani history. It narrates the installation the crosses in Muttuchira, both the free standing granite cross and the uthira kurishu- replica of bleeding cross- the Saint Thomas Cross. This is agreeing with the witnesses of early Portuguese writers and other sources that the Mar Thoma Sliva was the only religious symbol adorned in the altars of our Churches before the arrival of the Portuguese Missionaries. It shows a number of points to show a close collaboration with the foreign missionaries- usage of the word cross instead of Sliva, usage of the word padre instead of cathanaar, and the event of two Priests travelling to Portugal. These denote the friendly phase of the relation of Saint Thomas Christians with the Western Missionaries.
An ancient Pahlavi inscribed granite Cross was discovered at Muttuchira Church in AD 1923. This was a granite tablet with a ‘bas relief’ Cross and resembles the ‘miraculous Cross of Mailapore’ in the design, with a round arch and the steps and a floral arrangement in the bottom like a lotus and a descending dove on the top but unlike the Mailapore Cross, it has no pillars or dolphins on the sides. It is about 2 feet 8 inches in length with 2 feet wide and about 5 inches in thickness. There found on the outer edge, inscriptions in two lines that had been mutilated and a few letters are visible on the left side for about 24 inches in length. The outer line of inscription has been confirmed as Pahlavi as in all the rest of the Pahlavi inscribed crosses of South India- the ‘Mar Thoma Sliva’. The inner line of inscriptions are illegible.33
They could be ornamentations rather than inscriptions.
The inscriptions on Muttuchira Sliva
The Muttuchira Sliva bears Pahlavi inscriptions around the round arch edge on a narrow belt. But the belt of the tablet on which the inscriptions were made was badly mutilated but only a a length of 24 inches from the left upright limb escaped the damage.34 There is another smaller belt runs inside this outer belt with some illegible inscriptions. Mr B T Anklesaria identified this inscription also as Pahlavi and deciphered the inner inscription as ‘Lord Messiah the supreme…’ while the outer inscription as similar to the rest of the Pahlavi inscribed Crosses of South India35 . Professor F C Burkitt of the Cambridge University comments that the outer inscription that remains reads as “The Syrian who cut this”. Professor Burkitt also comments that the inner inscription could be Syriac but due to the mutilation of the stone and reading from a photograph, he could not confirm anything36 .
Systematic mutilation of the inscriptions ?
On the rediscovery of this ‘sliva’ in 1923 AD, Paul Madathil wrote that at the time the wooden ‘raredos’ (rathaal)was pulled down, only not more than one span of the inscription was damaged.37
H Hosten commented about this as follows. “If only one span was damaged, it would follow that the rest of the damage was carried out systematically with a view to do away with the inscription and the decoration at the foot. It will be an evil day for Malabar Archaeology and history when such methods can be considered proper, whatever the intension may be or the cause to be benefitted. The cause to be benefitted might be the theory of Nestorianism….38 “.
Discovery of the Sliva
The accidental discovery of this Cross was reported by eminent personalities of the time like Mr A S Ramanatha Iyyer, Superintendent of Archaeology, State of Travancore39 , Mr T K Joseph40 an eminent historian, Mr Paul Madathil41, a local journalist, Rev Fr Jacob Murickan, a former Vicar of the Ruha D’ Qudisha Forane Church at Muttuchira, Rev Fr. Joseph Pediyekkal42 who was the vicar of the Church in Athirampuzha and former Vicar of Muttuchira Church 1912-1915, Mr V C George43 , a local historian, Mr Karottu C George of Muttuchira-Malayalam novelist and a Headmaster at Muttuchira., Mr George P Murickel44 , a local historian and journalist.
Mr Paul Madathil who had written an article in the local vernacular news paper, reported a detailed account of the discovery. The Cross was found in the old Church which was dedicated to Ruha D’ Qudisha, being renovated and rededicated to Saint Francis of Assissi in AD 1925 period. This old church is still present dedicated to Saint Francis of Assissi in front of the main Church opposite to the open air rock cross situated east to west with the altar on the east end.
The old Church stood east west with the ‘madbaha’ (altar) on the east. It had three ‘madbahas’, a central main altar and two side altars. The Pahlavi inscribed cross was found built into the wall of the northern altar at a height of about 7 feet from the floor, when the wooden ‘raredos’ (rathaal) was taken down as part of renovation. The ‘raredos’ was built over a wooden frame covering the Pahlavi inscribed cross. This may be what the Muttuchira Lithic inscription of AD 1580 describes as ‘marathil pothinju’ meaning covered with wood.
Rev Fr. Joseph Peediyekkal, a former vicar of Muttuchira Church (1912-1915), reported that “The Persian Cross is said to have been covered over by a wooden framework. It was on this framework, an altar was erected and thus the cross lay buried for many years under the altar wall, till it was recently discovered on the occasion of the rebuilding of the Church”45.
Mr A S Ramanatha Iyyer, the then Superintendent of Archaeology of the State of Travancore visited the Church on learning about this discovery, reported in Travancore Archaeological Series that ” I was told that this church was originally called the Church of the Holy Ghost (Syriac Ruha D’ Qudisha) and that it was proposed to rechristen it on completion (of renovation) as the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi. The tablet Cross (Pahlavi inscribed bas relief cross on granite) appears to have been brought hither from centuries ago from another old church which had probably existed elsewhere nearby and it was found in the foundation of the altar of this chapel, when the flooring was raked up during the repairs ”46
It seems that Mr Ramanatha Iyyer gives a little bit different version of the finding. He has visited the site and did investigations. He seems to be a Tamil speaking man, as he has deciphered the ‘vattezhuthu’ inscriptions in Tamil and also use Tamil pronunciation for Muttuchira- ‘Muttusira’. There could be an element of language barrier behind this slightly different version stating that the cross was found on the foundation when he floor was raked up. Two tombs were found when the floor was raked up which has been reported by Mr George P Murickel and also Rev Fr Pediyekkal. Neither Mr. Murickel nor Mr.V C George give an exact description of the discovery.
It seems that Paul Madathil’s version could be right as he was a native and might have been present when the discovery was made or definitely confirmed with witnesses, as he reported that there were many witnesses.
The Muttuchira Lithic inscriptions describes about setting up of this church and the cross in AD 1528 and 1581.Therefore, this church in the name of Ruha D’ Qudisha which became the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi was founded in AD 1528. It also talks about setting up of the ‘uthira kurishu’- bleeding Cross- the Mar Thoma Sliva in AD 1581 and also of another granite Cross- Karingal tiliva- most probably an open air rock cross.
This means, after about 53 years of the building of the church, they found the ancient Pahlavi inscribed Cross and installed it on the side altar. Where did that come from ?
The origin of the Pahlavi Inscribed Cross- the Mar Thoma Sliva
Mr Ramanatha Iyyer reports that this Cross was brought to this church from another ancient church nearby. This could have been a local tradition of that time. So, there was another much older church nearby.
There are several possibilities :
1 The Church of the Ruha D’ Qudisha which was renamed as Church of Saint Francis of Assissi was the first ever church of Muttuchira.
The local tradition says they had an ancient church founded in 6 th century AD. Setting up of a Cross on the ground by two Bishops as described in the Muttuchira Lithic inscriptions could be the blessing of the ground for a new Church. That means their ancient Church was not in this property. The local tradition states that the ancient Church was a little east of this property at a place ‘Kurisummoodu’ means ‘near the cross’ where there is still an ancient open air cross. The Chapel of Saint Anthony is also in this place.
If this was a brand new church that was built in 1528 AD, the Cross could have been brand new or brought from elsewhere. Could be from a nearby place or from far away places like Kodungalloor as the Kottayam valiya palli crosses. Here, there is no local traditions to support this theory.
2 The construction in AD 1528- 1581 was a renovation/ demolition and reconstruction of an old church. Then this Cross could have been from the old church.
3 There was an ancient church at Muttuchira and for some reasons, they built a new church nearby and brought the old cross here. This is what Mr Iyyer reports in his article in Travancore Archaeological series vol 7 part 2.47Mr George P Murickel reports that ‘it is supposed that the cross was taken to the church from a certain part of Muttuchira itself where now stands the chapel of Saint Anthony.48
Now, it is clear that there was another ancient Church at Muttuchira where now stands the Chapel of Saint Anthony ! Rev Fr Jacob Muricken , the Vicar of Muttuchira Church at the time enlists a number of Churches and chapels around Muttuchira Church49 . He confirms that there was a chapel on the eastern side of the main Church at Muttuchira and the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi which stands in front of the main Church, dedicated to Saint Anthony but the old name was Holy Cross.
Therefore, there was an ancient Church dedicated to Holy Cross- Mar Sliva at Muttuchira which was demolished and renamed as the Chapel of Saint Anthony. Mr George P Murickel also reports that the ‘pahlavi inscribed cross’ was taken from this chapel of Saint Anthony.
Now, the picture is clear. The most ancient Church at Muttuchira was a Mar Sliva Church where the Pahlavi inscribed Cross- Mar Sliva was placed. In AD 1528, a new Church was built at the eastern side of the present Church complex dedicated to Ruha D’ Qudisha and the Pahlavi inscribed Cross was installed in the altar in AD 1581. Later at some time, the church was renovated and a new wooden altar- ‘raredos’ (raathaal) was built over the Pahlavi inscribed cross. This could be what the Muttuchira Lithic inscription describes as ‘marathil pothinju’ in AD 1581. The local faithful renovated the old Ruha D’ Qudisha Church and renamed it as Church of Saint Francis of Assissi in AD 1925.During this renovation, the Pahlavi inscribed Cross was accidentally found. By this time, the present day Ruha D Kudisha church was already built and the Pahlavi inscribed cross was placed on the inside of the facade of the Church50 . Now, this Cross has been placed on the side altar of the main Church at Muttuchira.
It is quite interesting to note that there was an ancient Church dedicated to Mar Sliva at Muttuchira with an ancient Sliva. As recorded by early Portuguese writers, this Sliva might have been kept in the ‘madbaha’ as we have seen recorded in Kodungalloor, Mailapore, Kumarimuttam, Alengad and Kollam.
The Madbaha adorned with only the Mar Thoma Sliva- the ancient tradition of Malabar.
Before the arrival of the European Missionaries, in the Churches of Saint Thomas Christians, the ‘madbaha’ was adored with only a plain cross. These plain Crosses were all in the model of the Pahlavi inscribed granite Crosse of Mailappore- the Saint Thomas Crosses. This has been witnessed by many authors, mostly the early Portuguese writers.
1.Duarte Barbosa. 1514 AD
Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguese traveller who came with Cabral in AD 1498. He continued exploring the South India and wrote a book narrating the description of Malabar and the coromandel coast of South India in AD 1517. Barbosa describes the tradition of Crosses in the ‘madbaha’ of the Churches of Saint Thomas Christians. Barbosa confirms that these Crosses were plain Crosses. Barbosa narrates clearly about Crosses in the Churches at Quilon and Kumary muttam near Cape Comorin.
2 Antonio Gouvea 1599AD
Antonio Gouvea accompanied Archbishop Alexis De Menezes during his visits to the Churches of Saint Thomas Christians. He clearly documented that all of the Churches of Saint Thomas Christians were adored with plain crosses like that of miracle of S. Thomae.51
The accounts of Gouvea clearly witnesses two points about the ecclesiastical milieu at the time period before the infamous synod of Diamper- Saint Thomas Christians used Mar Thoma Sliva- Saint Thomas Crosses only in their ‘madbaha’ when the Portuguese arrived and the native Christians called these Crosses as ‘Saint Thomas Crosses’.
Gouvea uses the term ‘Cruz de Sam Thomae’ meaning Crosses of Saint Thomas. According to Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil, the Portuguese documents with the term ‘Sam Thome’ is usually used to denote Saint Thomas the Apostle and ‘S Thomae’ is used to denote City of Saint Thomas means Mailapore. Therefore, Gouvea really meant it as Crosses of Saint Thomas52 . It does not mean that these Crosses were erected by Saint Thomas the Apostle but could mean these are the Crosses of the Christians of Saint Thomas. Gouvea also mentions about the traditional belief of the local Christians that the Cross at Cranganore in front of which Archbishop Alexis De Menezes celebrated a solemn mass was placed there by Saint Thomas the Apostle himself.53
As we know that the custom of venerating the Cross was started in the later period only, this oral tradition could be a retrojection of later developments to the Apostolic times.
3 Joseph, the Indian Cathanar 1503 AD
Joseph, the Indian Priest who visited Rome and Venice in AD 1502 gave a narration to the signoria of Venice about the religio cultural, political and even geography of South India. Joseph’s narrations were published in different European languages. These accounts are probably the first native witness recorded in the history about the Saint Thomas Christians and South India.
Joseph narrated that the Saint Thomas Christians had only plain crosses in their churches, no statues. They also had a Cross on the courtyard of the churches54 . Joseph was mentioning about the tradition of Crosses only in the madbaha (altar) and also about the standing Crosses of the Churches of Kerala.
Mr Paul Madathil reported that there were two tombs in the old church-the Saint Francis Church. They were found when the floor was dug up. They were below the basements of the north and south walls of the altar, symmetrically placed, at a depth of 4 feet from the basement. Mr Paul commented that these tombs could be older than the walls and may not be directly under the wall.55 Rev Fr Peediyekkal commented that those tombs were of Father Jacob ( Archdeacon Jacob) and his mother.56
Inscriptions at Muttuchira-List of H Hosten
Rev Henry Hosten reports of 9 lithic inscriptions found from Muttuchira Church.
1 Inscription of events of AD 1828
2 Inscription of events of AD 1580-81 Both these are on a single stone that we have already discussed.
3 Granite slab inscribed in AD 1593 says on sunday 7th dhanu 769 KE, the soul of Fra Chacko was taken, Amen. ( TKJ 20/09/1926)
4 Inscribed in AD 1628 Kollam Era 803
5 unknown of Kollam Era ?804
6 AD 1630 Kollam Era 806
7 AD 1642-43 Kollam Era 818
8 AD 1660 Kollam Era 835
9 unknown Kollam Era ?*48
There are many others also, many are seen built into the wall of the Church of saint Francis of Assissi as supports for the beams57 .
Inscriptions of Muttuchira- List of A S Ramanatha Ayyar.
Inscription on the pedestal of the open air rock cross in front of the main Church.
Line 1: Mishiyha perannitte 1623 lu kaalam sesare
Line 2: thu kollam …thu kanni jnayar karinkal
Line 3: kurishu iruthi kalluve….ithu maathu than ….kanakku pe…)
Translation- After the birth of Mishiha, 1623 period- ?sesare this is Kollam Era ……in the month Kanni sunday, this granite was erected. Stone ?….in the account of mathu…. 58
Some other inscriptions.
Rest of the inscriptions are funerary inscription but many letters and words are illegible. Examples of readings of the fragments which are legible are59 ,
1 kallar veli mathuven kuriyathinte alam mayi thampurante managunathaale eduthukku-
Cross No 1: The Pahlavi inscribed granite bas relief Cross- The Muttuchira Sliva.
Cross No 2: The open air Rock Cross in front of the main Church- The Ruha D’ Qhudisha Forane Church at Muttuchira. It has an inscription in the pedestal beginning with KE 799 (AD 1623-24)60
Cross No 3: The miniature bas relief cross on the base of the base of the Cross No 2 in the design of Muttuchira Sliva.
Cross No 4: Brass Cross. This was a silver coated brass cross used in processions. There was no inscriptions but had decorations on the surface. This cross was melted off in 1919 AD.61
Cross No 5: Wooden Cross apparently present on the ‘raredos’ of the old Church (presently Saint Francis Church in front of the Main Church) behind which, the Muttuchira Sliva was found in AD 1925. This Cross has been destroyed.
Cross No 6: Open air Cross found in Muttuchira Angadi near the Saint Anthony’s Chapel
Cross No 7: Open air Cross near Saint Sebastian’s Church.
Old name- Church of Ruha D’ Qudisha. New name- Church of Saint Francis of Assissi. Probably built in 1528 AD according to the Muttuchira inscriptions.
Church No 2:
The main Church of Muttuchira today, the Ruha D’ Qudisha Forane Church, Muttuchira where the Muttuchira Sliva has been recently installed. This was built probably in 1859-1885.62
Church No 3:
Saint Sebastian’s Church- also called ‘Prasu Church’ with a small open air Cross in front.
Chapel a- Old name Mar Sliva, new name Saint Anthony’s. There is a masonry open air Cross- Cross No 6.
Chapel b Saint Teresa’s or Flower of Jesus.
Muttuchira Church is an ancient Church in Malabar. The very first Church of the Christian settlement in Muttuchira was Mar Sliva Church at Muttuchira situated somewhere near the Kurisummoodu where the Muttuchira Sliva was adored in the altar. The Muttuchira Sliva was taken from this Church and placed in the newly built Ruha D’ Qudisha old Church- the Church of Saint Francis of Assissi in the esatern side of the present Church complex probably in 1580AD. Later, during renovations, the Muttuchira Sliva was neglected and a new raredos (rathaal) was built over it. In 1923 AD, during the renovations, the Sliva was accidentally rediscovered, but the then authorities tried to mutilate the inscription for fear of accusations of Nestorianism. It was again neglected and replaced in the new Ruha D’ Qudisha Church in a very unimportant place- back side of the wall of the facade in a corner, probably because of the interests of the Archaeological Department of the then Government of Travancore. Now, this invaluable monument of Saint Thomas Christians has been placed in a side altar of the main Church. Thus, the Muttuchira Sliva, the Pahlavi inscribed Cross is an invaluable monument of the Christian community that was the symbol of veneration of the ancient Christian settlement of Muttuchira.
Muttuchira inscription is another landmark monument which is an evidence of the initial friendly and collaborative relations of the Church of Saint Thomas Christians and the Western Missionaries. It also narrates installation of the Mar Thoma Sliva in the altar and the open air Rock Cross.
Covering the Muttuchira Sliva with a new ‘raredos’ (rathaal) is an evidence of subjugation by the missionaries to take away our age old traditions and to wipe out our ancient Syriac Christian heritage and force the community to conform with the Roman rite.
It is glad to see that the neglected Muttuchira Sliva has been placed in a much honourable place, on the side altar recently. The Christian community has a duty to protect and preserve their ancient monuments. There is scope for setting up a Museum for portraying these very important monuments and to do further investigations to study about the inscribed tablets built into the wall of the Church of Saint Francis Assissi and the others still unearthed.
Thanks to Mr Mathew Mailapparampil for opinions and certain language corrections.
Thanks to Mr Sandeep Thomas and Mr Mebin John for opinions, a few pictures and help for field study.
Thanks to Mr R Shivalingam, my colleague for helping with translation of a few documents from Tamil language.
The title picture of Muttuchira Sliva has been taken from Travancore Archaeological Series vol 7 Part II 1930.
The black and white picture of Muttuchira Lithic inscription has been taken from Kerala Society Papers, 1928.