Saint Thomas Christians

Saint Thomas Christians
This article addresses the Saint Thomas Christians and the various churches and denominations that form the Nasrani people.

The Saint Thomas Christians are an ancient body of Christians from Kerala, India, who trace their origins to the evangelical activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] They are also known as "Nasranis" because they are followers of "Jesus of Nazareth". The term "Nasrani" is still used by St. Thomas Christians in Kerala.

They are also called Syrian Christians because of their use of Syriac in liturgy. Their original liturgical language was Aramaic (see also Aramaic of Jesus) which was later changed to Syriac. They are also known as Malabar / Malankara Mar Thoma Nasranis, because these Christians are from Kerala that was also known as Malabar or Malankara. Their language is Malayalam, the language of Kerala.

For the first fifteen centuries, they had their own leaders to whom they were obedient and who were well respected by both the people and the rulers of the country. In AD 190, Pantaenus from Alexandria visited these Christians.[8] He found that they were using the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew language. Around AD 522, an Egyptian Monk, Cosmas Indicopleustes visited the Malabar Coast. He mentions Christians in Malabar (Kerala), in his book Christian Topography.[9][10][11] This shows that till the 6th century these Christians had been in close contact with Alexandria.

The Tamil epic of Manimekkalai written between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD of the Sangam Literature era mentions the Saint Thomas Christian (Nasrani) people by the name Essanis referring to one of the early Jewish-Christian sects within the Nasranis called Essenes.[12] In AD 883, Alfred the Great (849–899), King of Wessex, England reportedly sent gifts to Mar Thoma Christians of India through Sighelm, bishop of Sherborne.[13] Around AD 1292, Marco Polo (1254–1324) on his return journey from China visited Kerala, mentions that, "The people are idolaters, though there are some Christians and Jews among them".[14][15]

It is believed that in AD 345, Christians from Edessa arrived in Kerala under the leadership of Thomas of Cana,[16] and in 825, another group joined them. They had their own bishops visiting them from Persia. Though the Saint Thomas Christians welcomed them, these bishops had not made any effort to subjugate them. Saint Thomas Christians remained as an independent group, and they got their bishops from Church of the East until the 16th century.

Saint Thomas Christians were greatly affected by the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498. The Portuguese attempted to bring the community under the auspices of Latin Rite Catholicism, resulting in permanent rifts in the community.[17][18][19]


Churches within Saint Thomas Christian tradition

Their traditions go back to the 1st century Christian thought, and the seven churches established by Thomas the Apostle during his mission in Malabar.[20][21][22] These are at Kodungalloor (Muziris), Paravur, Palayoor, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam.

Nazrani people

The Nasranis are an ethnic people, and a single community. [1] As a community with common cultural heritage and cultural tradition, they refer to themselves as Nasranis.[1] However, as a religious group, they refer to themselves as Mar Thoma Khristianis or in English as Saint Thomas Christians, based on their religious tradition of Syriac Christianity.[1]

However, from a religious angle, the Saint Thomas Christians of today belong to various denominations as a result of a series of developments including Portuguese persecution[23] (a landmark split leading to a public Oath known as Coonen Cross Oath), doctrines and missionary zeal influence (split of Marthoma Church and St. Thomas Evangelical Church (1961) ), Patriarch/Catholicos issue ( division of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church & Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church (1912) ).

St. Thomas Christian families who claim their descent from ancestors who were baptized by Apostle Thomas are found all over Kerala.[24] St. Thomas Christians were classified into the social status system according to their professions with special privileges for trade granted by the benevolent kings who ruled the area. After the 8th century when Hindu Kingdoms came to sway, Christians were expected to strictly abide by stringent rules pertaining to caste and religion. This became a matter of survival. This is why St. Thomas Christians had such a strong sense of caste and tradition, being the oldest order of Christianity in India. The Archdeacon was the head of the Church, and Palliyogams (Parish Councils) were in charge of temporal affairs. They had a liturgy-centered life with days of fasting and abstinence. Their devotion to the Mar Thoma tradition was absolute. Their churches were modelled after Jewish synagogues.[24] “The church is neat and they keep it sweetly. There are mats but no seats. Instead of images, they have some useful writing from the holy book.”[25]

In short, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala have blended well with the ecclesiastical world of the Eastern Churches and with the changing socio-cultural environment of their homeland.[24] Thus, the Malabar Church was Hindu or Indian in culture, Christian in religion, and Judeo-Syriac-Oriental in terms of origin and worship.[24]


Relationship of the Nasrani groups

According to the 1st century annals of Pliny the Elder and the author of Periplus of the Erythraean sea, Muziris in Kerala could be reached in 40 days' time from the Egyptian coast purely depending on the South West Monsoon winds.[26] The Sangam works Puranaooru and Akananooru have many lines which speak of the Roman vessels and the Roman gold that used to come to the Kerala ports of the great Chera kings in search of pepper and other spices, which had enormous demand in the West.[27]

The lure of spices attracted traders from the Middle East and Europe to the many trading ports of Keralaputera (Kerala) — Tyndis, (Ponnani ), Muziris, near Kodungallur, Nelcynda (Niranam), Bacare, Belitha, and Comari (Kanyakumari) long before the time of Christ.[27][28] Thomas the Apostle in one of these ships, arrived at Muziris in 52, from E’zion-ge’ber on the Red Sea.[29]

Jews were living in Kerala from the time of Solomon.[30] Later large number of them arrived in 586 BC and 72 AD. The drawings and its captions on the wall of the only remaining Jewish Synagogue in Kerala, at Mattancherry, Kochi near Ernakulam endorse these facts.

During his stay in Kerala, the apostle baptized the Jews and some of the wise men[31] who adored the Infant Jesus.[32] The Apostle also preached in other parts of India. He was martyred in 72 at Little Mount, a little distant from St. Thomas Mount, and was buried at San Thome, near the modern city of Chennai.[33]

The Apostle established seven churches in Malabar at Kodungalloor (Muziris), Paravur, Palayoor, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam. The visit of the Apostle Thomas to these places and to Mylapore on the East coast of India can be read in the Ramban Songs of Thomas Ramban, set into 'moc', 1500.[33]

Several ancient writers mention India as the scene of Thomas’ labours. Ephrem the Syrian (300–378) in a hymn about the relics of Thomas at Edessa depicts Satan exclaiming, “The Apostle whom I killed in India comes to meet me in Edessa. Gregory Nazianzen,(329–389), in a homily says; “What! were not the Apostles foreigners? Granting that Judea was the country of Peter, what had Saul to do with the Gentiles, Luke with Achaia, Andrew with Epirus, Thomas with India, Mark with Italy?.” Ambrose (340–397) writes “When the Lord Jesus said to the Apostles, go and teach all nations, even the kingdoms that had been shut off by the barbaric mountains lay open to them as India to Thomas, as Persia to Mathew.”

There are other passages in ancient liturgies and martyrologies which refer to the work of Thomas in India. These passages indicate that the tradition that Thomas died in India was widespread among the early churches.[34]

Rough chronology

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The Mar Thoma (Catholic) Church, Kodungaloor, Kerala, India. Believed to be one of the seven churches built by St. Thomas.
The St. Thomas (Catholic) Church Palayoor, Kerala. Believed to be one of the seven churches said to be built by Thomas.
The St Thomas (Catholic) Church, Kottakkavu, North Paravur, Kerala. Believed to be one of the seven churches said to be built by Thomas.
The St. Mary's (Orthodox) Church, Niranam, Kerala. Believed to be one of the seven churches said to be built by Thomas.
The St. Thomas (Catholic) Church Kokkamangalam, Kerala. Believed to be one of the seven churches said to be built by Thomas.
Thiruvithamcode Arappally or St. Mary's Orthodox Church, was said to be founded by Thomas in 63. It is known as Arapalli, short form of Arachan Palli (King’s Church).

Following is a rough chronology of events associated with St. Thomas Christianity.[35]

First century

  • 30 The Crucifixion.
  • 40 Apostle Thomas in the service of King Gondophares in Takshasila in Pakistan.
  • 52 Apostle Thomas, landed at Muziris near Paravur, an ancient port city of Malabar (Present-day Kerala).
  • 52–72 The Apostle founded 7 churches: Palayoor, Kodungaloor, Paravur, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), and Kollam. Five of the churches are preserved even now (see pictures). The church at Kollam is believed to have been submerged in sea, possibly following tidal waves, while the actual location of the church at Chayal has not been identified conclusively. The church at Palayoor is also, identified wrongly, as historians conclude, that the original town Palayoor is present day Arthat.
  • 72 Apostle Thomas attained martyrdom at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai and is buried on the site of San Thome Cathedral.[36]

II century

  • 190 Pantaenus, the founder of the famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, visited India[37] and the Nasranies. He found that the local people were using the Gospel according to the Hebrews, often attributed to Saint Matthew. He took this Hebrew text back to his library at the School in Alexandria.[38]

IV century

  • 325 Archbishop John, of Persia and Great India, at the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea.
  • 345 First migration from Persia – Thomas of Cana landed at Cranganore with 72 families.
  • 340–360 By the Thazhekad Sasanam written in Pali the language the canonical language of Buddhists, the Nasranies granted special rights and privileges.[39]
  • 345[40]Kuravilangad Church (Now Martha Mariam Catholic church) built by the first settlers who came from Kodungalloor.
  • Arrival of Mar Joseph of Edessa.

VI century

VIII century

  • 774 Emperor Veera Raghava gives copperplate to Iravikorthan.

IX century

  • 824 Beginning of Kollavarsham (Malayalam Era).First Tharissapalli sasanam (Copper plate) by Stanu Ravi Gupta Perumaal to Nazranies.
  • 824 from Persia. Mar Sabor and Mar Afroth at Quilon.[41]
  • 849 Deed given by King Ayann Adikal Thiruvadikal of Venad, to Easow-data-veeran (Tharisapalli plates) that grants 72 royal privileges of the Nazranies in which the Nasranis signed in three languages Hebrew Pahlavi and Kufic.[42]

XI century

  • 1123 Arakuzha church founded, Now the church is known as St Mary's Forane Church.

XIII century

  • 1225 North Pudukkad church founded.
  • 1293 Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler, visited the tomb of St. Thomas (at Mylapore).

XIV century

  • 1305 St. Hormis church, Angamaly founded.
  • 1325 Enammavu church founded.
  • 1328 St. George church, Edappally founded.

XV century

  • 1490 Two Nestorian bishops John and Thomas in Kerala.
  • 1494 June 7 Treaty of Tordesillas. Division of the world and mission lands between Spain and Portugal.
  • 1498 May 20 Vasco de Gama lands at Kappad near Kozhikode.
  • 1499 Cabral’s fleet carried a vicar, eight secular priests, and eight Franciscans to Kozhikode,[43]
  • 1499. In Calicut, the friars reputedly converted a Brahman and some leading Nayars.[44]

XVI century

  • 1502 November 7 Vasco de Gama's second visit to Cochin.
  • 1503 Dominican Priests at Kochi.
  • 1503 Mar Yabella, Mar Denaha and Mar Yakoob from Persia in Kerala.
  • 1503 September 27 Work commenced on Cochin Fort and the Santa Cruz church .
  • 1514 Portuguese Padroado begun.
  • 1514 Jewish migration from Kodungalloor to Kochi.
  • 1514 June 12 Portuguese Funchal rule over Christians in India.
  • 1524 December 24 Vasco de Gama buried at St. Francis Church, Fort Cochin.
  • 1534 November 3 Goa Catholic Diocese erected. The Parishes of Kannur, Cochin, Quilon, Colombo and Sao Tome (Madras) belonged to it.
  • 1540 The Franciscan Fr.Vincent De Lagos starts the Cranganore Seminary.
  • 1542 May 6 St. Francis Xavier, Apostolic Nuncio in the East, reaches Goa.
  • 1544–45 St. Francis Xavier in Travancore.
  • 1548 Dominican Monastery founded in Cochin.
  • 1549 Mar Abuna Jacob, A Chaldean Bishop, stayed at St. Antonio Monastery, Cochin.
  • 1550 First Jesuit House in Kochi.
  • 1552 December 3 Death of St. Francis Xavier.
  • 1555 Mattancherry Palace was built by Portuguese for the King of Cochin.
  • 1557 Pope Paul IV erects the Diocese of Cochin. Canonization process of Francis Xavier begun at Cochin.
  • 1565 Archdiocese of Angamaly erected.
  • 1567 Jews constructed a temple at Mattancherry[45]
  • 1568 Synagogue of White Jews built in Cochin.
  • 1577 Vaippicotta Seminary of the Jesuits started.
  • 1579 Augustinians reached Cochin.
  • 1583 Synod at Angamaly by Bishop Mar Abraham.
  • 1597 Bishop Mar Abraham, the last foreign Archbishop, died and was laid to rest at St. Hormis church, Angamaly.
  • 1599 December 20 Fr. Francis Roz was declared bishop of Angamaly.
  • 1599 June 20–26 Archbishop Alexis Menezes convenes the Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor).

XVII century

  • 1600 August 4 Padroado rule imposed on Nazranies.
  • 1601 Francis Roz was appointed as the first Latin bishop of the St. Thomas Christians.
  • 1609 December 3 Erection of the Diocese of Cranganore. The Archdiocese of Angamaly suppressed.
  • 1610 December 22 The Metropolitan of Goa limits the Pastoral Jurisdiction of Nazranies to Malabar.
  • 1624 Dominican Seminary at Kaduthuruthy.
  • 1626 February 5 Edappally Ashram started for the Religious Community of St. Thomas Christians
  • 1652 August 23 Mar Ahatallah in Madras, not allowed to enter Kerala.
  • 1653 January 3 Coonan Cross Oath at Mattancherry, Cochin.
  • 1653 May 22 Malankara Mooppen (Elder)Thomas Kathanar, ordained as Mar Thoma I at Alangad by the laying of hands by 12 priests.
  • 1653–1670 Mar Thoma I.
  • 1657 Apostolic Commissary Joseph of St. Mary OCD (Sebastiani), a Carmelite, in Malabar.
  • 1659 December 3 The Vicariate of Malabar is erected by Pope Alexander VII.
  • 1659 December 24 Joseph Sebastini bishop and appointed the Vicar Apostolic of Malabar.
  • 1663 January 6 The Dutch conquer Cochin and destroy Catholic churches and institutions in Cochin, except the Cathedral and the church of St. Francis Assisi.
  • 1665 Mar Gregorius Abdul Jaleel, believed to be from Antioch confirms the consecration of Marthoma I.
  • 1670–1686 Mar Thoma II.Portuguese start campaigning to bring Nasranis again under Catholicism.
  • 1682 Seminary for Syrians at Verapoly.
  • 1685 Eldho Mor Baselios of Syrian Orthodox Church arrives at Kothamangalam from Persia.
  • 1686 Hortus Malabaricus in 12 volumes printed in 17 years. Mathoma III ordained by Mar Ivanios Hirudyathulla (from Antioch).
  • 1686–1688 Mar Thoma III.
  • 1688–1728 Mar Thoma IV.

XVIII century

  • 1709 March 13 Vicariate of Malabar is suppressed and the Vicariate of Verapoly is erected by Pope Clement XI.
  • 1718–1723 Ollur St. Anthony's Forane Church was established.
  • 1728–1765 Mar Thoma V.
  • 1765–1808 Mar Thoma VI (Dionysius I)
  • 1772 First Malayalam book Sampskhepa Vedartham (Rome) by Clement Pianius.
  • 1773 Pope Clement XIV suppresses the Jesuit Order, except in Russia and Prussia.
  • 1782 December 16 Kariyattil Joseph elected Archbp. of Cranganore; Consecr. Lisbon 1783; Died Goa on the way back to Malabar,9th Sept. 1786.
  • 1785 Varthamanappusthakam, the first written travelogue in India by Paremakkal Thomma Kathanar.
  • 1795 October 20 Conquest of Cochin by the British.

XIX century

  • 1808–1809 Mar Thoma VII.
  • 1809–1816 Mar Thoma VIII.
  • 1816 Mar Thoma IX.
  • 1815 March – The first educational institution in Kerala, Syrian Seminary, opens at Kottayam with Abraham Malpan, (Syriac), Konattu Varghese Malpan (Syriac) and Kunjan Assan (Sanskrit) as teachers.[46]
  • 1816 for 9 months. Mar Thoma X – Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious I (Dionysious II).
  • 1816–1817 Mar Philoxenos II, Kidangan, of Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyoor Sabha) as Malankara Metropolitan.[47]
  • 1817–1825 Mar Thoma XI- Punnathra Mar Dionysious (Dionysious III).
  • 1818 C.M.S missionaries in Kerala.
  • 1825–1852 Mar Thoma XII – Cheppad Philipose Mar Dionysius (Dionysius IV).
  • 1838 April 24 Dioceses of Cochin and Crnaganore are annexed to the Vicariate of Verapoly.
  • 1838 The Queen of Portugal suppressed all religious Orders in Portugal and in her mission lands.
  • 1840 April 10 Kerala Catholics came under the archdiocese of Verapoly.
  • 1852–1877 Mar Thoma XIII -Mathews Mar Athanasius Metropolitan.
  • 1861 May 20 Bishop Rocos sent by the Patriarch of Chaldea reaches Kerala.
  • 1864–1909. Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious II (Dionysious V) Malankara Metropolitan, Jacobite Church.
  • 1867 May 7 Property donated by Syrians to the King of Portugal to start a Seminary at Aluva. It was administered by the Diocese of Cochin.
  • 1867 The Portuguese Missionaries start a seminary at Mangalapuzha for Syrian students.
  • 1874 Bishop Mar Elias Mellus sent by the Patriarch of Chaldea reaches Kerala – Mellus Schism.
  • 1875 June-HH Patriarch of Antioch Peter III arrives in Kerala.
  • 1876 June 28–30 HH Patriarch of Antioch Peter III convenes the Mulanthuruthy Synod. A section of Saint Thomas Christians came under his jurisdiction[48]
  • 1877–1893 Mar Thoma XIV – Thomas Mar Athanasius Metropolitan, Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.
  • 1886 The Archdiocese of Cranganore is suppressed.
  • 1887 May 19 The St. Thomas Christians are totally segregated from the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Verapoly and from the Padroado.
  • 1893–1910 Mar Thoma XV – Titus I Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.

XX century

1909–1934 St. Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril (Dionysius VI), Malankara Metropolitan, Jacobite Church.

  • 1910–1944 Mar Thoma XVI – Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.
  • 1911–1917 H.G. Paulose Mor Koorilose Kochuparambil. Malankara Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church.)
  • 1912, September 15 Patriarch HH Abdul Messiah, Patriarch of Antiochea estabilshed the Catholicate of the East at Niranam St. Mary’s Church.[49]
  • 1912–1914 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Paulose I, Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Catholicos
  • 1917–1953 St. Paulose Mor Athanasius (Valiya Thirumeni, Malankara Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church.)
  • 1923 December 21 Establishment of the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy with Ernakulam as the Metropolitan See, Archbishop Mar Augustine Kandathil as the Metropolitan and Head of the Church, and Trichur, Changanacherry and Kottayam as Sufragan Sees.
  • 1925–1928 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Geevarghese I, Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Catholicos.
  • 1927 March 19 Fr.Varghese Payapilly Palakkappilly founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Destitute.
  • 1929 October 5 Death of Varghese Palakkappilly.
  • 1929–1934 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Geevarghese II, Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Catholicos.
  • 1930 September 20 Mar Ivanios with Mar Theophilus left Malankara Orthodox Church, joined the Catholic Church and formed the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.[50]
  • 1932 June 11 The establishment of the Syro-Malankara Hierarchy by Pope Pius XI. Mar Ivanios becomes Archbishop of Trivandrum, and Mar Theophilus Bishop of Tiruvalla.
  • 1934 Malankara Syrian Church accepts new constitution.
  • 1934–1964 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Geevarghese II, Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Catholicose of the East & Malankara Metropolitan).
  • 1944–1947 Mar Thoma XVII – Abraham Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.
  • 1947–1976 Mar Thoma XVIII – Juhanon Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.
  • 1947 November 2 Bishop Gheevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala declared first native Indian saint along with Catholicos Baselios Eldho.
  • 1950 July 18 The Portuguese Padroado over the Diocese of Cochin (from 1557 February 4 till 1950 July 18) suppressed and the Diocese of Cochin handed over to native clergy.
  • 1952 December 28–31 Jubilee Celebration of St. Thomas and St. Francis Xavier at Ernakulam.
  • 1961 January 26 St. Thomas Evangelical Church was inaugurated (Separated from the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar)
  • 1964–1975 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Augen I, Malankara Orthodox Catholicose of the East & Malankara Metropolitan).
  • 1972 Fraction split in Malankara Syrian Church as 'Jacobite fraction' (in favour of full submission to the Antiochian Patriarch) and 'Orthodox fraction' (in favour of autocephaly).
  • 1972 December 27, The 19th Centenary of the Martydom of St. Thomas the Apostle is celebrated at Ernakulam under the auspices of Orthodox, Catholic, Jacobite, Marthoma and C.S.I. Churches.
  • 1973 July 3 The Governor of Kerala and the Cardinal release the St. Thomas Stamp and the T.En.II for sale.
  • 1975–1991 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews I, Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Catholicose of the East & Malankara Metropolitan).
  • 1975–1996 Aboon Mor Baselios Paulose II, Malankara Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) Catholicoi and Malankara Metropolitan
  • 1976-1999Mar Thoma XIX – Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.
  • 1986 February 1–10 Visit of Pope John Paul II to India.
  • 1986 February 8 Fr. Chavara Kuriakose Elias and Sr. Alphonsa are proclaimed blessed by Pope John Paul II.

XXI century

  • 2002 Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I appointed as Metropolitan Trustee of Jacobite Syrian Church and Catholicose under Patriarch of Antioch.
  • 2005 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Mar Thoma Didymos I, enthroned as Catholicose of the East & Malankara Metropolitan.
  • 2005 February 10 Pope John Paul II elevated the Archdiocese of Trivandrum to a Major Archdiocese, elevating the Archbishop to Major Archbishop (called Catholicos by Syro-Malankara Catholics)
  • 2007 Mar Thoma XXI – Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan enthroned as Malankara Marthoma Metropolitan.
  • 2007 December 25 Different fractions were merged in St. Thomas Evangelical Church(Church and Fellowship fraction)
  • 2009 September 6 Varghese Palakkappilly declared Servant of God.
  • 2010 November 1 H.H. Moran Mor Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, enthroned as Catholicose of the East & Malankara Metropolitan.

Early history

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Doctrine of the Apostles states that, “India and all its countries . . . received the Apostle’s hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas….” From an early period the Church of St. Thomas Christians came in to a life long relationship with the Church of Persia[citation needed], which was also established by Thomas the apostle according to early Christian writings. The Primate or Metropolitan of Persia consecrated bishops for the Indian Church, which brought it indirectly under the control of Seleucia.[51]

The Church of the East traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, said to be founded by Thomas the Apostle. Other founding figures are Saint Mari and Saint Addai as evidenced in the Doctrine of Addai and the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari. This is the original Christian church in what was once Parthia: eastern Iraq and Iran. The See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon developing within the Persian Empire, at the east of the Christian world, rapidly took a different course from other Eastern Christians.

The First Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day İznik in Turkey), convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325, was the first Ecumenical council of the Christian Church, and most significantly resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. It is documented that Mar John, the Bishop of Great India attended the council. The prelate signs himself as “John the Persian presiding over the Churches in the whole of Persia and Great India.” [citation needed]

Some centuries following, the Persian Church suffered severe persecutions. The persecuted Christians and even Bishops, at least on two occasions, sought an asylum in Malabar.[citation needed]

The Rock crosses of Kerala found at St.Thomas Mount and throughout Malabar coast has inscriptions in Pahlavi and Syriac. It is dated from to 7th century.[citation needed]

In 825, the arrival of two bishops are documented , Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh[citation needed]. Le Quien says that “these bishops were Chaldaeans and had come to Quilon soon after its foundation. They were men illustrious for their sanctity, and their memory was held sacred in the Malabar Church. They constructed many churches and, during their lifetime, the Christian religion flourished especially in the kingdom of Diamper[citation needed].

The beginning of Kolla Varsham resulted in the origin of Christianity in Kerala as an individual religion outside vedic Vaishnavism[citation needed]

Medieval period

Prior to the Portuguese arrival in India in 1498, the Church of the East's See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon provided "Prelates" to the Saint Thomas Christians in India.[citation needed] This practise continued even after the arrival of the Portuguese till the Synod of Diamper (held in Udayamperoor) in 1599.[citation needed]

Open Air Rock Cross also called Nazraney Sthambams in front of the Martha Mariam Catholic Church at Kuravilangadu, Kerala

There are many accounts of missionary activities before the arrival of Portuguese in and around Malabar. John of Monte Corvino was a Franciscan sent to China to become prelate of Peking about the year 1307. He traveled from Persia and moved down by sea to India in 1291, to the South India region or “Country of St. Thomas”.[51] There he preached for thirteen months and baptized about one hundred persons. From there Monte Corvino wrote home, in December 1291 (or 1292). That is one of the earliest noteworthy accounts of the Coromandel coast furnished by any Western European. Traveling by sea from Mailapur, he reached China in 1294, appearing in the capital “Cambaliech” (now Beijing)[52]

Odoric of Pordenone arrived in India in 1321. He visited Malabar, touching at Pandarani (20 m. north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Kulam or Quilon, proceeding thence, apparently, to Ceylon and to the shrine of St. Thomas at Mailapur, South India. He writes he had found the place where Thomas was buried.[53]

Father Jordanus, a Dominican, followed in 1321–22. He reported to Rome, apparently from somewhere on the west coast of India, that he had given Christian burial to four martyred monks.[51] Jordanus, between 1324 and 1328 (if not earlier), probably visited Kulam and selected it as the best centre for his future work; it would also appear that he revisited Europe about 1328, passing through Persia, and perhaps touching at the great Crimean port of Soidaia or Sudak. He was appointed a bishop in 1328 and nominated by Pope John XXII in his bull Venerabili Fratri Jordano to the see of Columbum or Kulam (Quilon) on 21 August 1329. This diocese was the first in the whole of the Indies, with juristriction over modern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Sri Lanka.[54]

Either before going out to Malabar as bishop, or during a later visit to the west, Jordanus probably wrote his Mirabilia, which from internal evidence can only be fixed within the period 1329–1338; in this work he furnished the best account of Indian regions, products, climate, manners, customs, fauna and flori given by any European in the Middle Ages – superior even to Marco Polo's. In his triple division of the Indies, India Major comprises the shorelands from Malabar to Cochin China; while India Minor stretches from Sindh (or perhaps from Baluchistan) to Malabar; and India Tertia (evidently dominated by African conceptions in his mind) includes a vast undefined coast-region west of Baluchistan, reaching into the neighborhood of, but not including, Ethiopia and Prester John's domain.[54]

In 1347, Giovanni de' Marignolli visited the shrine of St Thomas in South India, and then proceeded to what he calls the kingdom of Saba, and identifies with the Sheba of Scripture, but which seems from various particulars to have been Java. Taking ship again for Malabar on his way to Europe, he encountered great storms.[55]

Another prominent Indian traveler was Joseph, priest over Cranganore. He journeyed to Babylon in 1490 and then sailed to Europe and visited Portugal, Rome, and Venice before returning to India. He helped to write a book about his travels titled The Travels of Joseph the Indian which was widely disseminated across Europe.[51]

When the Portuguese arrived on the Malabar Coast, the Christian communities that they found there had had longstanding traditional links with the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphonin Mesopotamia.[citation needed]

During the subsequent period, in 1552, a split occurred within the Assyrian Church of the East forming the Chaldean Church, the latter entered into communion with Rome. After the split each church had its own patriarch; the Chaldean Church was headed by the Patriarch Mar Yohannan Sulaqa (1553–1555). Both claim to be the rightful heir to the East Syrian tradition. It is very difficult to see the precise influence of this schism on the Church of Malabar as there was always overtones to Rome in earlier centuries. Apparently, both parties sent bishops to India.[citation needed]

The last East Syrian Metropolitan before the schism, Mar Jacob (1504–1552), died in 1552. Catholicos Simeon VII Denkha sent a prelate to India, in the person of Mar Abraham, who was later to be the last Syrian Metropolitan of Malabar, after having gone over to the Chaldaean side. It is not known when he arrived in Malabar, but he must have been there already by 1556. Approximately at the same time, Chaldaean Patriarch Abdisho IV (1555–1567), the successor of Yohannan Sulaqa (murdered in 1555), sent the brother of John, Mar Joseph, to Malabar as a Chaldaean bishop; although consecrated in 1555 or 1556, Mar Joseph could not reach India before the end of 1556, nor Malabar before 1558. He was accompanied by another Chaldaean bishop, Mar Eliah.[citation needed]

Colonialism and St Thomas Christians


The Portuguese erected a Latin diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558) in the hope of bringing the Thomas Christians under their jurisdiction. In a Goan Synod held in 1585 it was decided to introduce the Latin liturgy and practices among the Thomas Christians.[citation needed]

Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa from 1595 until his death in 1617 decided to bring the Kerala Christians to obedience after the death of Bishop Mar Abraham (the last Syrian Metropolitan of Malabar, laid to rest at St. Hormis church, Angamaly), an obedience that they conceived as complete conformity to the Roman or ‘Latin’ customs. This meant separating the Nasranis not only from the Catholicosate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, but also from the Chaldaean Patriarchate of Babylon, and subjecting them directly to the Latin Archbishopric of Goa.[citation needed]

The Portuguese refused to accept the legitimate authority of the Indian hierarchy and its relation with the East Syrians, and in 1599 at the Synod of Diamper (held in Udayamperur), the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa imposed a large number of Latinizations. The Portuguese succeeded in appointing a Latin bishop to govern the Thomas Christians, and the local Christians’ customs were officially anathematised as heretical and their manuscripts were condemned to be either corrected or burnt. The Portuguese padroado (’patronage’) was extended over them. From 1599 up to 1896 these Christians were under the Latin Bishops who were appointed either by the Portuguese Padroado or by the Roman Congregation of Propaganda Fide. Every attempt to resist the latinization process was branded heretical by them. Under the indigenous leader, archdeacon, the Thomas Christians resisted, but the result was disastrous.[citation needed]

The oppressive rule of the Portuguese padroado provoked a violent reaction on the part of the indigenous Christian community. The first solemn protest took place in 1653, known as the Koonan Kurishu Satyam (Coonan Cross Oath). Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas, a part of the Thomas Christians publicly took an oath in Matancherry, Cochin, that they would not obey the Portuguese bishops and the Jesuit missionaries. In the same year, in Alangad, Archdeacon Thomas was ordained, by the laying on of hands of twelve priests, as the first known indigenous Metropolitan of Kerala, under the name Mar Thoma I.

After the Coonan Cross Oath, between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Catholics claimed eighty-four churches, and the Archdeacon Mar Thoma I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro Malabar Catholic Church have descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites & Orthodox), Thozhiyur (1772), Mar Thoma (Reformed Syrians) (1874), Syro Malankra Catholic Church have originated.[56] In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch arrived in India.[57][58] This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma faction claiming spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introduced the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast.

The arrival of Mar Gregorios in 1665 marked the beginning of the association with the West Syrian Church.Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregorios became known as Jacobites. Those who continued with East Syrian theological and liturgical tradition and stayed faithful to the Synod of Diamper are known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in communion with the Catholic Church. They got their own Syro-Malabar Hierarchy on 21 December 1923 with the Metropolitan Mar Augustine Kandathil as the Head of their Church.[59]

St. Thomas Christians by this process got divided into East Syrians and West Syrians.

Further divisions

St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam,where mortal remains Blessed Chavara are kept. St. Thomas cross is seen in the picture on the top of church.

In 1772 the West Syrians under the leadership of Kattumangattu Abraham Mar Koorilose, Metropolitan of Malankara, formed the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyur Sabha).[57]

In 1876, those who did not accept the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch remained with Thomas Mar Athanasious and chose the name Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church. They removed a number practices introduced at The Synod of Diamper to the liturgy, practices and observances. In 1961, there was a split in this group with the formation of St. Thomas Evangelical Church.

In 1874 a section of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from Thrissur came in to communion with Patriarch of the Church of the East in Qochanis as a result of schism followed after the arrival of Bishop Rocos ( 1861 ) Mar Elias Melus ( 1874) sent by the Patriarch of Chaldean. They follow the East Syrian tradition and are known as Chaldean Syrian Church.[citation needed]

However, in 1912 due to attempts by the Antiochean Patriarch to gain temporal powers over the Malankara Church, there was another split in the West Syrian community when a section declared itself an autocephalous church and announced the re-establishment of the ancient Catholicosate of the East in India. This was not accepted by those who remained loyal to the Patriarch. The two sides were reconciled in 1958 but again differences developed in 1975. Today the West Syrian community is divided into Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion, autocephalous), Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion, under Antioch).[citation needed]

In 1930 a section of the Malankara Orthodox Church under the leadership of Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilus came into communion with the Catholic Church, retaining all of the Church’s rites, Liturgy, and autonomy. They are known as Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.[50]

St. Thomas Christian Groups
East Syriac West Syriac (Antiochian)
Chaldean Syrian Church Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyoor Church) Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church) Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church (Syriac Orthodox Church) Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (Mar Thoma Church) Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

Nasrani religious jurisdictions

(in alphabetical order by Communion)


On a rough reckoning, about 70% to 75%[citation needed] of the Christians in Kerala belong to the St. Thomas Christianity spread across different denominations, including the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Marthoma Syrian Church, the Chaldean Syrian Church and the Malabar Independent Syrian Church.

India's official census data[60] places the total Christian population in Kerala at 6.06 million in the year 2001. Accordingly, the population of St Thomas Christians in Kerala (who form 70%–75% of the total Christian population in the State as suggested above) may be in the region of 4.2 to 4.5 million. Since 1950's a sizeable population of St Thomas Christians have settled in Malabar region of Kerala following the Malabar Migration[citation needed]. A large number are working or settled outside the State in cities like Mumbai, as well as outside India in West Asia, Europe, North America and Australia.

See also

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Portal icon Syriac Christianity portal


  1. ^ a b c d Menachery G (1973) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, Ed. George Menachery, B.N.K. Press, vol. 2, ISBN 81-87132-06-X, Lib. Cong. Cat. Card. No. 73-905568; B.N.K. Press – (has some 70 lengthy articles by different experts on the origins, development, history, culture... of these Christians, with some 300 odd photographs).
  2. ^ Leslie Brown, (1956) The Indian Christians of St. Thomas. An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1956, 1982 (repr.)
  3. ^ Thomas Puthiakunnel, (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II., Trichur.
  4. ^ Medlycott, A E. 1905 "India and the Apostle Thomas"; Gorgias Press LLC; ISBN 1-59333-180-0
  5. ^ N.M.Mathew. St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages. CSS Tiruvalla. (2003). ISBN 81-7821-008-8.
  6. ^ Origin of Christianity in India - A Historiographical Critique by Dr. Benedict Vadakkekara. (2007). ISBN 8174952586.
  7. ^ NSC Network (2007) St. Thomas, India mission- Early reference and testimonies
  8. ^ Church History by Eusebius. Book V Chapter X.
  9. ^ McCrindle, J.W. (Trans. & Editor) The Christian Topography of Cosmos, an Egyptian Monk. The Hakluyt Society, First series No. XCVIII. 1897. pp 91–128, Book 3.
  10. ^ Travancore Manual, page 248.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Manimekalai, by Merchant Prince Shattan, Gatha 27
  13. ^ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Part II, AD 750–919
  14. ^ Marco Polo. The Book of Travels Translated by Ronald Latham. 1958. Page 287.
  15. ^ N.M.Mathew. St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages. CSS Tiruvalla. 2003. p. 78-79
  16. ^ Hough. ‘’Christianity in India’’. Vol I. Page 93, 94
  17. ^ Frykenberg, p. 111.
  18. ^ "Christians of Saint Thomas". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  19. ^ Frykenberg, pp. 134–136.
  20. ^ Stephen Neill. A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 ISBN 0-521-54885-3
  21. ^ Biography of St. Thomas the Apostle
  22. ^ Stephen Andrew Missick. Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church and the Christians of St. Thomas in India. Journal of Assyrian Academic studies.
  23. ^ Claudius Buchanan, 1811., Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Mundalan, A. M; 1984; Podipara, Placid J. 1970; Leslie Brown, 1956
  24. ^ a b c d Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Leslie Brown, 1956; Vellian Jacob 2001; Poomangalam C.A 1998; Weil, S. 1982
  25. ^ Herberts, Some Years Travels into Asia and Afrique. 1636. Page 304. See also N.M. Mathew, St, Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages, 2003. p. 91.
  26. ^ Sarayu Doshi. ‘’India and Egypt’’. Bombay. 1993. p. 45.
  27. ^ a b Miller, J. Innes; (1960),Periplus Maris Erythraei The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
  28. ^ N.M.Mathew. ‘’St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages’’. CSS Tiruvalla. 2003. p. 54.
  29. ^ N.M.Mathew. St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages. CSS Tiruvalla. 2003. p. 58-59
  30. ^ P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, University of Calicut, 2005. ISBN 817748091 [1]
  31. ^ Bible St. Matthew 2:1
  32. ^ Bowler, Gerry. (2000). ‘’The World Encyclopedia of Christmas’’. Page 139.
  33. ^ a b Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; Leslie Brown, 1956
  34. ^ Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; Mackenzie G.T 1905 ; Aiya Nagam 1905 ; Medlycott Dr. 1905 ;
  35. ^ Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; The Nazranies
  36. ^ Neill, Stephen (2004). A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. Cambridge University Press. pp. 29. 
  37. ^ Church History by Eusebius. Book V Chapter X.
  38. ^ Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.10.3
  39. ^ [2]
  40. ^ As written on the slab on its wall.
  41. ^
  42. ^ Tharisapalli plates
  43. ^ M. Miillbauer, Geschichteder katholiscchen Missinen in Ostindien (Freiburg i.B.,1852) p.42. Donal F Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe Voliume I. The University of Chicago Press. 1965. p. 231.
  44. ^ L. Lemmens, Geschichte der Franziskanerermissionen (Miinster, 1929), p. 95-96. Donal F Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe Voliume I. The University of Chicago Press. 1965. p. 231.
  45. ^ [3]
  46. ^ Mathew, N.M. History of Mar Thoma Church, (Malayalam) Vol I, Page 241.
  47. ^ Rev.K.C.Varghese Kassessa. 1972. History of Malabar Independent Syrian church.(Mal). Page 62.
  48. ^ Mulanthuruthy Padiola
  49. ^ Cheriyan, Dr. C.V. ‘’Orthodox Christianity in India.’’ page 322
  50. ^ a b Cheriyan, Dr. C.V. ‘’Orthodox Christianity in India.’’ page 354.
  51. ^ a b c d NSC Network (2007),Defining a Kerala Syrian Christian Placid ( 1950) , Mundanadan (1970), S G Pothen (1970)
  52. ^ The Mongols and the West, Jackson, Peter (2005)
  53. ^ Odoric of Pordenone (Nendeen, Liechenstein, 1967), Henry Yule, trans. Cathy and the Way Thither vol. II.
  54. ^ a b Sir Henry Yule's Jordanus, a version of the Mirabilia with a commentary (Hakluyt Society, 1863) and the same editor's Cathay, giving a version of the Epistles, with a commentary, &c. (Hakluyt Society, 1866) pp. 184–185, 192–196, 225–230
  55. ^ J. G. Meinert, in Abhandl. der k. bohm. Gesellsch. der Wissenschaften, vol. vii.
  56. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia- “St. Thomas Christians” The Carmelite Period,Dr. Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”
  57. ^ a b Claudius Buchanan 1811 ., Menachery G; 1973, 1982, 1998; Podipara, Placid J. 1970; Leslie Brown, 1956; Tisserant, E. 1957; Michael Geddes, 1694;
  58. ^ Dr. Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India”
  59. ^ Fr. George Thalian: `The Great Archbishop Mar Augustine Kandathil, D. D.: the Outline of a Vocation', Mar Louis Memorial Press, 1961. (Postscript) (PDF)
  60. ^ [4]

External material

References and bibliography

  • Menachery G (1973) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, Ed. George Menachery, B.N.K. Press, vol. 2, ISBN 81-87132-06-X, Lib. Cong. Cat. Card. No. 73-905568 ; B.N.K. Press --(has some 70 lengthy articles by different experts on the origins, development, history, culture... of these Christians, with some 300-odd photographs).
  • Mundadan, A. Mathias. (1984) History of Christianity in India, vol.1, Bangalore, India: Church History Association of India.
  • Leslie Brown, (1956) The Indian Christians of St. Thomas. An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1956, 1982 (repr.)
  • Podipara, Placid J. (1970) The Thomas Christians. London: Darton, Longman and Tidd, 1970. (is a readable and exhaustive study of the St. Thomas Christians.)
  • Menachery G (ed); (1998) "The Indian Church History Classics", Vol.I, The Nazranies, Ollur, 1998. [ISBN 81-87133-05-8].
  • Medlycott, A E. (1905) India and the Apostle Thomas; Gorgias Press LLC; ISBN 1-59333-180-0
  • Menachery, George (2005) Glimpses of Nazraney Heritage", Ollur, [ISBN 81-87133-08-2].
  • David de Beth Hillel (1832) Travels; Madras publication;
  • Menachery G (ed) (1982) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, B.N.K. Press, vol. 1;
  • Lord, James Henry (1977) The Jews in India and the Far East; Greenwood Press Reprint; ISBN 0-8371-2615-0).
  • Acts of St. Thomas (Syriac) MA. Bevan, London, 1897
  • Poomangalam C.A (1998) The Antiquities of the Knanaya Syrian Christians; Kottayam, Kerala.
  • Tisserant, E. (1957) Eastern Christianity in India: A History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Trans. and ed. by E. R. Hambye. Westminster, MD: Newman Press.
  • James Hough (1893) The History of Christianity in India.
  • Michael Geddes, (1694) A Short History of the Church of Malabar together with the Synod of Diamper, London.
  • K.V. Krishna Iyer (1971) "Kerala’s Relations with the Outside World", pp. 70, 71 in The Cochin Synagogue Quatercentenary Celebrations Commemoration Volume, Kerala History Association, Cochin.
  • Periplus Maris Erythraei The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, (trans). Wilfred Schoff (1912), reprinted South Asia Books 1995 ISBN 81-215-0699-9
  • Miller, J. Innes. (1969). The Spice Trade of The Roman Empire: 29 B.C. to A.D. 641. Oxford University Press. Special edition for Sandpiper Books. 1998. ISBN 0-19-814264-1.
  • Menachery G (ed) (2010) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, Ollur, vol. 3;
  • Thomas Puthiakunnel, (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II., Trichur.
  • Koder S. "History of the Jews of Kerala". The St.Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Ed. G. Menachery,1973.
  • Vellian Jacob (2001) "Knanite community: History and culture"; Syrian church series; vol.XVII; Jyothi Book House, Kottayam
  • Weil,S. (1982) "Symmetry between Christians and Jews in India: The Cananite Christians and Cochin Jews in Kerala". In Contributions to Indian Sociology, 16.
  • Claudius Buchanan, (1811) Christian Researches in Asia (With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages). 2nd ed. Boston: Armstron, Cornhill
  • Bjorn Landstrom (1964) The Quest for India, Doubleday English Edition, Stockholm.
  • Menachery G (1987) (Chs. I & II) Kodungallur City of St. Thomas, Mar Thoma Shrine Azhikode. Reprinted 2000 as "Kodungallur Cradle of Christianity in India".
  • T.K Velu Pillai, (1940) The Travancore State Manual; 4 volumes; Trivandrum

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