Christianity Reaches Kerala

Christianity arrived in Kerala by the sixth decade after the death of Christ. St Thomas, the Apostle, traveled by a trading ship to Kerala in 52 AD and started spreading the religion.

St Thomas is reported to have set up seven churches at Kodungalloor (where he had landed), Kottakavu (Paravur), Palayoor, Kokkamangalam, Malayattoor, Niranam, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam. Of these, Malayattoor has not only become a pilgim center but also a tourist spot.

Malayattoor - Christian pilgrimage center

Pilgrims trudge one kilometer up a rocky pathway (see pic) to the peak of the Malayattoor hill, chanting ponnin kurisu muthappa, ponmala kayaraam [saint of the golden cross, we will climb this golden hill]. Stone Cross in an old church Atop the hill, there are remnants of an old church, a golden cross and other relics of St Thomas (who, according to legend, communed with God at that spot).

St Thomas Christians blended the ecclesiastical world of East Syrian Church with the socio-cultural environment prevailing in their own land. Families like Sankarapuri, Pakalomattom and Maliekal in today's Kerala claim to be descended from ancestors baptized by the Apostle.

There were an estimated two-million Christians, and 1500 churches, under a single Metropolitan when Vasco da Gama landed in Kerala during 1498 AD. The Portuguese da Gama was a Roman Catholic and considered the local Christian community as heretics.

He moved strongly against the Syrian Church. According to Joas de Castro, the Portugese Viceroy of Goa in 1548, the sword of the Portugese was wielded "mainly against the centuries-old Christians of Kerala". In 1547, a European Diocese was established at Goa by the Western Church.

The Europeanization process led to divisions in the Church and the Christian community split into many groups. There are Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Jacobite Syrian Orthodox, Marthoma (Anglican Church with Eastern Liturgy), Church of the East and Latin Catholic groups in today's Kerala.

Kerala has the largest concentraion of Christians in India. 11 of the 23 dioceses in India are in Kerala (which is just one among the 20 states). The community has contributed in a major way to the educational and economic progress of the state. Christian educational institutions are among the best in Kerala and Christian industrialists, businesspersons and bureaucrats help Kerala's economic development.