Dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapore

Dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapore
Shrine of Saint Thomas in Meliapore, 18th century print.

The Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapore, or in Portuguese São Tomé de Meliapore, in Latin Sancti Thomae de Meliapor), was a suffragan diocese to the primatial See of Goa in the East Indies. It was located in Mylapore, and derives its name from the site of its cathedral in which the Apostle St. Thomas was reportedly interred on the site of his martyrdom and the Tamil word Mailapur (i.e. the town of peacocks), which the Greeks rendered as Maliarpha, the Portuguese as Meliapor, and the English as Mylapore.


Early history

According to local traditions found amongst Saint Thomas Christians, Apostle Thomas arrived in India (Kodungallur in Kerala) in 52 AD. [1] and later moved to the east coast of South India fixing his see at Mylapore,[1] which was then a flourishing city. The number of converts St. Thomas made having aroused the hostility of the local priests, he reportedly fled from their anger to the summit of what is now known as St. Thomas's Mount situated in a direct line four miles (6 km) to the southwest of Mylapur but was followed by his persecutors, who transfixed him with a lance as he prayed kneeling on a stone, A.D. 72. His body was brought to Mylapore and buried inside the church built by himself. The present Santhome Church is on this spot. Most of the sources of information on the arrival of Christianity in India are from the Acts of Thomas and a few more oral traditions recorded on documents in later centuries even though none of these could be established in a concrete manner.[2]

Acts of Thomas

The Acts of Thomas[3][4] connects Thomas, the apostle's Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you. ”But the Apostle still demurred, so the Lord overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king, Gondophares. The apostle's ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.[1]

Critical historians treated this legend as an idle tale and denied the historicity of King Gundaphorus until modern archeology established him as an important figure in North India in the latter half of the 1st century. Many coins of his reign have turned up in Afghanistan, the Punjab, and the Indus Valley. Remains of some of his buildings, influenced by Greek architecture, indicate that he was a great builder. Interestingly enough, according to the legend, Thomas was a skilled carpenter and was bidden to build a palace for the king. However, the Apostle decided to teach the king a lesson by devoting the royal grant to acts of charity and thereby laying up treasure for the heavenly abode. Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (154–223) reports that in his time there were Christian tribes in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it.[2] But at least by the year of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.[3]

The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadeva, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India. It is most significant that, aside from a small remnant of the Church of the East in Kurdistan, the only other church to maintain a distinctive identity is the Mar Thoma or “Church of Thomas” congregations along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India. According to the most ancient tradition of this church, Thomas evangelized this area and then crossed to the Coromandel Coast of southeast India, where, after carrying out a second mission, he died in Mylapore near Madras. Throughout the period under review, the church in India was under the jurisdiction of Edessa, which was then under the Mesopotamian patriarchate at Seleucia-Ctesiphon and later at Baghdad and Mosul. Historian Vincent A. Smith says, “It must be admitted that a personal visit of the Apostle Thomas to South India was easily feasible in the traditional belief that he came by way of Socotra, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed. I am now satisfied that the Christian church of South India is extremely ancient... ”.[4]

Although there was a lively trade between the Near East and India via Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf, the most direct route to India in the 1st century was via Alexandria and the Red Sea, taking advantage of the Monsoon winds, which could carry ships directly to and from the Malabar coast. The discovery of large hoards of Roman coins of 1st-century Caesars and the remains of Roman trading posts testify to the frequency of that trade. In addition, thriving Jewish colonies were to be found at the various trading centers, thereby furnishing obvious bases for the apostolic witness.

Piecing together the various traditions, one may conclude that Thomas left northwest India when invasion threatened and traveled by vessel to the Malabar coast, possibly visiting southeast Arabia and Socotra enroute and landing at the former flourishing port of Muziris on an island near Cochin (c. AD. 5152). From there he is said to have preached the gospel throughout the Malabar coast, though the various churches he founded were located mainly on the Periyar River and its tributaries and along the coast, where there were Jewish colonies. He reputedly preached to all classes of people and had about seventeen thousand converts, including members of the four principal castes. Later, stone crosses were erected at the places where churches were founded, and they became pilgrimage centres. In accordance with apostolic custom, Thomas ordained teachers and leaders or elders, who were reported to be the earliest ministry of the Malabar church.

Nestorian period

India's maritime trade began to revive in the ninth century. The Nestorian Christian merchants from Persia, finding that there were Christians in India, brought out their own priests and subsequently bishops to minister to them, whom the Indian Christians for want of instruction did not know to be in heresy. A new Nestorian town began to rise on the sand dune that covered old Mylapur, the most prominent feature of which was a chapel over the site of the Apostle's tomb. Hence the Persian and Arabian traders called the town Betumah, i.e. house, church or town of Thomas.

Local people called it Tirumailapur (i.e. Holy Mylapur). It is this chapel that the ambassadors of king Alfred the Great of England are supposed to have visited (A.D. 883), and which John of Monte Corvino (1200), Marco Polo (1220), Blessed Oderic di Perdone (1318) and Conti (1400) certainly visited this area. Later Betumah declined, and about 1500 was only a heap of ruins.

First Portuguese Missions

Shortly after the discovery of the Cape route to India, caravel ships of Portuguese Franciscans and Dominicans set out to evangelize the no longer sealed lands of the East, and traversed their surf-beaten coasts in search of suitable centres for their operations. A legend tells how, when a caravel with some Franciscan missionaries engaged in such a search was cruising up the Coromandel Coast, one day towards nightfall their attention was attracted by a light on shore and they decided to land there. They did, without knowing for some time that they had landed at the ruins of Betumah. But when they attempted to approach the light, it preceded them inland, across the ruins of the Nestorian town, over an empty stretch of ground, past (new) Mylapur and into a forest, where the light vanished. Here the Franciscans established a mission and built a church (still extant) in honour of Our Lady of Light in 1516, whence the locality, no longer a forest, but a wealthy residential quarter, is still known as The Luz -- after Nossa Senhora da Luz (Portuguese for Our Lady of Light). The Dominicans followed in their wake, and in 1520 Fre. Ambrosio, O.P., was consecrated bishop for the Dominican missions at Cranganore and Mylapur.

The following year King John III of Portugal ordered a search to be instituted for the tomb of the Apostle St. Thomas. As long as the tomb, with the counterpart of the Ortona relics, was looked for, nothing was found; however when the search was given up, both were accidentally discovered. The royal commission found traces of the old Nestorian chapel, but nothing of the tomb. But while directing operations to build an oratory commemorative of the spot, and digging deeply in the sandy soil to lay its foundations, it found in 1522 a masonry tomb, containing what might have been expected to be found in the Apostle's tomb: some bones of snowy whiteness, the head of a lance, a pilgrim's staff and an earthen vase. The find brought ruined Betumah into popularity with the Portuguese, who settled here in large numbers and called the new European town São Tomé (after St. Thomas) and São Tomé de Meliapor, when they wanted to distinguish it from São Tomé the West African island, though the town was somewhat distant from Mylapur.

The Portuguese Augustinians were the next missionaries to follow; they took charge of the oratory built over the grave of the Apostle, and built their priory and church adjoining it. In the meantime the Dominican missions in the surrounding country gained so much in importance, that in 1540 Fre. Bernardo da Cruz, O.P., was consecrated and sent out to tend them. There is nothing to show when the Fathers of the Society of Jesus settled at Saint Thomas, but by 1648 they had a college in the place and a church and residence at Mylapur, while St. Francis Xavier spent three months in 1545 at Saint Thomas praying at the grave of the Apostle for light in regard to his projected mission to Japan.

All of these missionaries, and those who came after them, had no definite spheres of work, but worked side by side and in dependence on the local ordinaries, when these were in due course appointed. By the end of the sixteenth century they had extended their operations to Bengal and Burma. In 1552 the Diocese of Cochin was erected, and made to include, among other places, Ceylon and the countries bordering the Bay of Bengal. Saint Thomas was thus constituted a parish of the Diocese of Cochin; and the Augustinian church adjoining the chapel over the grave of the Apostle was designated the parish church of Saint Thomas.

Creation of the diocese

At the instance of King Philip II of Portugal, on 9 January 1606 Pope Paul V separated the Kingdom of Tanjore and the territories to the north of the Cauvery River and bordering the Bay of Bengal, from the Diocese of Cochin and constituted them a distinct diocese with Saint Thomas of Mylapur as the episcopal city and the parish church of Saint Thomas as the cathedral. At the same time the pope appointed Dom Sebastião de São Pedro, O.S.A., who had been presented by the King of Portugal, to be the first bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, and granted Philip and his heirs and successors in perpetuity the right of patronage ("Padroado") and presentation to the see, and the benefices that might be created therein, by the mere facts of their creation and dotation. This right and obligation the Crown of Portugal has exercised and discharged to the end, by making the bishops a princely allowance, paying a certain number of priests' salaries, with periodical increases, leave with free passages and pensions, on the lines of the Portuguese Civil Service Code, and contributing to the support of a still larger number of priests on a graduated scale.

Bishop Sebastião de São Pedro arrived at Saint Thomas in 1611, but in 1614 was promoted to the See of Cochin. In 1615 he was succeeded by Luiz de Brito e Menezes, likewise an Augustinian, who was transferred in 1628 to the See of Cochin. His successor was Luiz Paulo Paulo de Estrela, O.S.F., appointed in 1634, who died at Saint Thomas on 9 January 1637. During the next fifty-six years the see continued vacant: though no less than nine personages were selected by the Crown for the honour, they either declined, were promoted or died before their election was confirmed by the Holy See; in the interval the diocese was governed by administrators selected chiefly from the various religious orders and appointed by the archbishops or vicars capitular sede vacante of Goa. As it was only natural that the members of the religious orders as also secular priests of other nations desired to share in the work of preaching the Gospel to the heathen, in 1622 Gregory XV created the Sacred Congregation de propaganda fide to distribute infidel regions among the religious orders and missionary societies of other nationalities as assistants to the local ordinaries, where there were any, and to supervise their operations. But occasionally the Congregation was misled, which was easy enough when geographical knowledge was neither as correct nor as extensive as at the present time and this occasioned trouble.

The foundations of the British Indian Empire were laid by Sir Francis Day in the sandy delta of a tiny river, some three and a half miles north of Saint Thomas, with the beginnings of Fort St. George. The British invited the Portuguese of pure and mixed descent to settle in the new township; and as the Portuguese were Catholics, they were ministered to by the clergy from Saint Thomas. In 1642, the Congregation of Propaganda sent out two French Capuchins to establish a mission in Burma. But when they, landing at Surat and travelling overland, reached Fort St. George, the British persuaded them not to go further, judging it prudent to have clergymen differing in nationality from, and independent of, the Portuguese ordinary at Saint Thomas to minister to the Catholics in their settlement. Accordingly, R. P. Ephraim', one of the two, wrote to the Sacred Congregation de propaganda fide that there was a prospect of reaping a larger harvest at Fort St. George and the fast rising native town of Madras that was beside it, than in Burma; and in the name of Urban VIII a prefecture Apostolic was established within three and a half miles of the cathedral of Saint Thomas. Ever after there were continual bickerings between the local ordinaries and the French Capuchins, the former insisting on the Capuchins acknowledging their jurisdiction, a claim which the latter, relying on their papal Brief, refused to recognize.

Both the Portuguese and the British had obtained their charters for their respective forts of Saint Thomas and St. George from the local Hindu chiefs. But as the Muslims extended their power southwards, before laying siege to Fort St. George, they took Saint Thomas. This was done with the help of the Dutch who bombarded the place from the sea. The Muslim forces began the work of demolishing saint Thomas' walls in January, 1697. The Muslim governors then settled on the waste land, separating Saint Thomas from Mylapur, which was soon covered with the residences of Islamic settlers. These three townships exist as a European quarter, a Muslim quarter and a Hindu quarter. The name of Saint Thomas and that of Mylapur are often used interchangeably. Having reduced Saint Thomas and deprived it of its battlements, the Muslims did not further trouble the resident Portuguese, who regarded the place as still a Portuguese possession and managed its affairs with an elected council of which the ordinary of the place, for the time being, was the president.

The Jesuit Dom Gaspar Afonso Álvares was the fourth Bishop of Saint Thomas. His presentation was confirmed by the Holy See in 1691, and he was consecrated at Goa in 1693. In the meantime the Capuchins of the French Prefecture Apostolic of Fort St. George spread apace and took charge of the French settlement of Pondicherry. Not to offend the French, Dom Gaspar allowed them to minister to the Europeans and their descendants, but in order to assert his right, placed the Indian Christians in Pondicherry under the care of members of his own Society from France. This led to a number of complaints addressed to Rome about the interference of the Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur with the work of the missionaries Apostolic, causing Clement XI, by his letters "Gaudium in Domino" of 1704, to issue an injunction restraining the missionaries from invading the rights of the diocesan. But the Congregation de propaganda fide issued a Decree in 1706 in support of its own missionaries, which reversed what the Pope had ordained. Under these circumstances the bishop again appealed to the pope, who, by the Brief "Non sine gravi" of 1711, annulled the Decree of the Congregation and reaffirmed the right of the diocesan to make what arrangements he chose at Pondicherry, which was situated within the limits of his diocese. Cardinal Charles-Thomas Maillard De Tournon, who was on his way to China as legate of the Holy See, having touched at Pondicherry, hearing of the doings of the Capuchins, placed the French Prefecture Apostolic of Madras, the name by which Fort St. George and its surroundings were coming to be known, under interdict. The Capuchins submitted forthwith and the interdict was removed.

In the meantime Dom Gaspar had died in 1708. Owing to his advancing years, he had been given a coadjutor with the right of succession, Dom Francisco Laynes, S.J., of the Madura mission, in the Diocese of Cochin. Dom Laynes was consecrated at Lisbon on 19 March 1708, as Bishop in partibus of Sozopolis. He came to India the same year, but did not take possession of his see until 1710. Though Bishop Laynes was Portuguese, the Portuguese Augustinians of Bandel defied his authority as their diocesan. He therefore placed Bandel under interdict on 14 July 1714; on the submission of the Augustinians the interdict was removed on 8 October 1714. Bishop Laynes died at Chandernagore in Bengal in 1715, and was succeeded by Manuel Sanches Golão, who was appointed in 1717 and reached India in 1719. Dom Manuel welcomed the Italian Barnabites as invaluable co-operators in the work of preaching the Gospel in Burma (now Myanmar), though he had regularly served mission stations there. These friendly relations with the Italian Barnabites were maintained, as they recognized the authority of the diocesans. Bishop Golão was succeeded by José Pinheiro, S.J., who was consecrated in 1726. He sanctioned the arrangement whereby French Jesuits were to have spiritual charge of Chandernagore, in Bengal. During his time the Barnabite mission in Burma was created a vicariate Apostolic. Bishop Pinheiro died on 15 March 1744, and was succeeded by António da Incarnacao, O.S.A., who was consecrated at Goa in 1747.

In 1746 the French marched on Madras and, making Saint Thomas their head-quarters, attacked and took Fort St. George, which they held and improved till August, 1749, when they restored it to Admiral Boseawen under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Saint Thomas had been nominally a Portuguese possession from 1697, without the semblance of a military force to resist its occupation by a foreign power, as the French did when operating against Madras. To prevent a repeat of this invasion tactic Admiral Boscawen annexed the place and built a redoubt to the south-east of it, incorporating it into Madras. The British suspected that the capture of Fort St. George by the French was largely due to the information supplied to them by the French Capuchi. R. P. Rene, on whom the suspicion rested most heavily, was deported to France and the others were expelled from the fort and settled in Georgetown (Madras), where the cathedral of Madras now stands, four miles (6 km) from the cathedral of Saint Thomas.

On the death of Bishop da Incarnacão on 22 November 1752, Fre. Teodoro de Santa Maria, O.S.A., was presented for the see and confirmed by the Holy See. He belonged to the priory at Saint Thomas, but hesitated to receive episcopal consecration. Two Italian Barnabites destined for the vicariate Apostolic in Burma came with letters of commendation to the bishop-elect, who welcomed and speeded them to their destination. At last Fre. Teodoro, the bishop-elect, renounced the see into the hands of Fre. Bernardo de São Caetano, O.S.A., who was then consecrated bishop. Bishop Bernardo in turn consecrated one of the two Barnabites just mentioned, Dom Percotto, Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Burma, in 1768. But Bishop Percotto did not reach the field of his labours, as on his voyage back to Burma the vessel foundered.

The Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur was ministered to at this period by the Portuguese Franciscans, Portuguese Dominicans, Portuguese Augustinians, and Portuguese Jesuits; besides these, there were French Jesuits and Italian Barnabites working in the diocese in harmony with the ordinary, and French Capuchins defying their authority, at least occasionally. One drawback of this total manning of the diocese with the religious orders was the absolute neglect to form an indigenous clergy to meet the emergency that presently arose. For about this time the Marquess of Pombal suppressed the houses of the Society of Jesus in Portugal and thus cut off the supply of Portuguese Jesuits to the diocese. The emergency became still more acute in 1773, when Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. Withal, the situation was not quite so hopeless as to call for drastic measures in regard to the diocese from without: it was not till 1834 that the houses of the other religious orders in the Portuguese dominions were suppressed, and as the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur was situated wholly outside of Portuguese territory, nothing prevented the Portuguese religious orders from thriving there. Nevertheless, as at home vocations became fewer, the houses in India gradually died out, the last to be represented in the diocese being the Portuguese Augustinians in Bengal, the last member of the order dying in 1869.

On the extinction of a religious house in any place, the property and rights of the religious revert to the Church, as represented by the local diocesans. But Catholic Europe was so incensed against Portugal for the initiative taken by the Marquess of Pombal against the Society of Jesus, that without waiting to weigh the justice of their action in turn, reprisals became the order of the day in the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, the Congregation de propaganda fide supporting the missionaries of other nationalities against the Portuguese. On the suppression of the Society of Jesus by the Holy See, the Fathers of the Missions étrangères of Paris were sent out to take charge of the Society's missions in the Dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapur and of Cochin, of which Msgr Champenois, Bishop in partibus of Dolichum, was appointed vicar Apostolic. Bishop São Caetano resented this, as he was filling up the places of the Jesuits with Indian secular missionaries from Goa; but his protests were of little avail. In course of time, as the members of the other religious orders died out, these same Indian missioners from Goa assumed charge of their churches under the order of their diocesans, though more often than not there was a dispute between them and the missionaries Apostolic. The latter did not hesitate to misrepresent the Goan missionaries to be ignorant and immoral as a whole though the diocesan seminary at Goa was conducted by the Jesuits until their suppression, and thereafter by members of the other religious orders till 1835. On the other hand, between 1652 and 1843, no less than seven of their fellow-countrymen were deemed worthy of episcopal consecration by the Crown of Portugal, the Holy See and the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, not to speak of the Venerable Joseph Vaz, who was of their race. Howbeit, since then the majority of the priests working in the diocese were Indian Secular missionaries from Goa.

Bishop São Caetano died in 1780, and was succeeded by Fre. Manuel de Jesus Maria José, O.S.A., a native of Goa and the prior of the Augustinian convent there. He was consecrated in 1788, and died at Saint Thomas in 1800. He was succeeded by Fre. Joaquim de Menezes e Ataíde, O.S.A., who was consecrated and took charge of his see by procuration in 1805, but before he could come out he was transferred to the Diocese of Funchal on Madeira. As a result, Fre. José de Garça who on the death of Bishop Jesus Maria José had been appointed administrator, continued as such till his death on 14 July 1817, when Fre. Clemente de Espírito Santo, O.S.F., was appointed administrator. During the latter's tenure of his office, Madras was visited by Dom Pedro de Alcântara, O.C., Bishop in partibus of Antipheles, 'Vicar Apostolic of the Grand Mogul' [sic] and visitor Apostolic of the French Capuchin missions, who "according to the mind of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide declared the Capuchins of Madras to be independent of the Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur not alone in temporal but also in spiritual matters". But the administrator declined to accept his decision, as being a reaffirmation of the Decree of the same Sacred Congregation, which had been annulled. Fre. Clemente resigned the administration of the diocese to Fre. Manuel de Avé Maria, O.S.A., in 1820.

The British power was now paramount on the Coromandel Coast and English was universally spoken by the Indo-European population that formed the mainstay of the Catholic congregation of Madras, as all over India. Withal, the French Capuchins would not conform to the times, but continued to preach in Portuguese (which had degenerated in Madras to a patois) and Tamil, the language of the Indian Christians. As a result, many Indo-European families gave up practicing Catholicism and in time became Protestants. Finding their representations to the Capuchin prefect Apostolic unheeded, a band of young men represented the matter to the Holy See. In response the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide raised the French Capuchin prefecture into a vicariate Apostolic and sent out Dr. O'Connor, 0 S A with Irish priests, in 1828 to take over the work of the Frenchmen.

Portuguese Civil War of 1826 & consequences

On the outbreak of the Peninsular wars, King João VI of Portugal, with his elder son Dom Pedro, sought refuge in Brazil. Presently a movement was set on foot to have his younger son, Dom Miguel, proclaimed king, a movement which had the support of the religious orders, but not of the bishops or of the secular clergy. However, João returned to Portugal and quelled the insurrection. In the meantime Brazil proclaimed its independence with Dom Pedro as its emperor an arrangement in which João acquiesced.

On the death of João VI the loyalists in Portugal proclaimed Dom Pedro of Brazil King of Portugal; but, as Dom Pedro preferred staying in Brazil, he ceded his right to Dona Maria da Glória, his younger daughter, appointing his brother, Dom Miguel, as regent till she should grow up, when the regent was to marry her and thus heal the rupture between the loyalists and the adherents of Dom Miguel. The adherents of Dom Miguel, however, proclaimed him king. Dom Pedro came over to Portugal in 1826 to assert his daughter's rights, and finally defeated his brother in 1834. Dom Miguel was perpetually banished and those who sided with him were punished, amongst those to suffer being the religious orders, whose houses were suppressed and properties confiscated.

In consequence of this last measure mainly, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Portugal were broken off. The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide deemed the moment opportune to extend the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Madras to Saint Thomas of Mylapur and its missions southwards to the River Palar (those south of the Palar being assigned to the Vicar Apostolic of Pondicherry), to declare Burma to be an independent vicariate and to create in the northern part of the diocese (Bengal and the adjoining countries) an independent vicariate Apostolic under Dr. St. Leger, with a staff of British priests. From a certain point of view this action was unfortunate, as it caused the loyalist Portuguese to regard these measures as retaliatory and not as prompted by a desire for the spiritual welfare of the regions concerned. And, indeed there was nothing up to this to show that Portugal had shirked her responsibilities in regard to the diocese, or that the successive ordinaries of the diocese had been found wanting, beyond the mere accusation of those missionaries Apostolic who were sent into their territories and, failing to recognize their authority, had received scant courtesy. Howbeit, when called upon by the Vicar Apostolic of Madras to surrender his churches and submit to him, the administrator replied that he would gladly do so when instructed by the authority that placed him there. The vicar Apostolic then called upon the priests and the subjects of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur to submit to him, but they all replied in much the same terms. The same thing happened in the parts of the diocese between the Rivers Palar and Cauvery, and in Bengal; whereupon the vicar Apostolic declared the administrator, priests and people of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur schismatics, and from the fact that a large number of the priests in the diocese were from Goa, defined their action as the "Goan schism". However the Holy See seems not to have taken much notice of the "schism" and diplomatic relations were resumed with Portugal in 1841. Then followed a series of acts unworthy of the Church, when both sides strove to (re)capture churches that they claimed, church was built against church, altar raised against altar, and violence and police-courts were a common resort.

On 14 March 1836, Dom António Tristão Vaz Teixeira was presented by the Crown of Portugal to the Holy See as Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, and left Lisbon for India a month later. As the Holy See had in the meantime refused to confirm the presentation, the Vicar Capitular of Goa appointed him administrator of the diocese in place of Fre. Avé Maria, who had died on 5 August 1836. Dom António assumed charge on 15 October following, and died on 3 September 1852. He was succeeded by Padre Miguel Francisco Lobo, an Indian from Goa (as were all the administrators of the diocese up to 1886), who was appointed on 3 October 1852.

On the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pius VII the French Jesuits returned to the parts of the Diocese of Cochin, which their Portuguese brethren had evangelized; though opposed by the authorities of that diocese; and in 1846, the Congregation de Propaganda Fide erected their missions into a vicariate Apostolic. In 1850 the Salesians of Annecy (Savoy, France) were sent out to take charge of the country between the Rivers Godavery and Mahanuddy, which was at the same time created a vicariate Apostolic. In the same year, the country between the Chittagong and Kabudak River was created a vicariate Apostolic, committed to the care of the Fathers of the Holy Cross; at about the same time the Fathers of Missions etrangeres of Paris replaced the Italian Barnabites in Burma. Thus the Diocese of Mylapur was divided up between six vicariates: Madura, Pondicherry, Madras, Vizagapatam, Western Bengal, and Eastern Bengal and Burma.

In 1857 a concordat was entered into between the Holy See and Portugal, pending the execution of which both the vicars Apostolic and the authorities of the diocese were to enjoy pacific possession of the places they actually held. But the Crown of Portugal undertook manifestly too great a burden, to wit, to provide for the spiritual needs of the whole of India, and consequently the concordat remained a dead letter. In 1854 the Royal Missionary College of Bomjardim at Sernache, Portugal was founded for the training of secular priests for the Portuguese missions beyond the seas. Meanwhile the missions of the diocese had been greatly weakened by secessions to the vicars Apostolic. The missions were situated in British territory and as beyond the clergy there were scarcely any Portuguese subjects to be found throughout the diocese there was no particular inducement or the people to cling to the see.

In Madras itself, the Irish vicars Apostolic and missionaries had been educated at Maynooth College, and almost all of them were doctors of divinity. They were socially and intellectually on an equality with the best British talent. Protestants as well as Catholics crowded to hear their sermons in churches and their lectures on scientific matters. When Dr. O'Connor first came out, he brought letters of introduction to the governor and was a guest at Government House. On the first occasion when he drove to St. Mary's of the Angels, the quasi-cathedral of his vicariate wearing a cocked hat and buckled shoes, long coat and knee-breeches, the old ladies protested that he could be no Catholic bishop but the emissary of the Government to make them all Protestants. These things lent prestige to the Catholic name. One of the first things the Irish missionaries did was to open a seminary (to which a college was attached) and ordain Indo-European priests, who proved of invaluable help to them. They also brought out the Irish Presentation nuns, whose schools are yet the best in all Southern India. As a result, almost all the Catholic Indo-Europeans and Indians with pretensions to respectability flocked to the vicars Apostolic, till in the end it was deemed opprobrious to term one as belonging to the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur. Hence in the course of the negotiations preparatory to the fresh concordat of 1886, the Cardinal Secretary of State was in a position to show that out of 1,167,975 Catholics in British India, the Portuguese missions of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur could claim only some 30,000 subjects, with a proportionate number of churches, one seminary from which a priest was occasionally ordained, one high school at Saint Thomas, two middle schools at Tuticorin and Manapad and a number of elementary schools; while any single vicariate Apostolic had a better equipment. But of these 30,000 souls which were all that were left to the Portuguese of the once flourishing diocese, it has truly, though scarcely laudably, been said that "they loved the Portuguese more than their own immortal souls ".

Late colonial period

Such was the state of affairs when in 1886 a fresh concordat was entered into between the Holy See and Portugal, which showed itself disposed to accommodate itself to the changed conditions of the times. The concordat was preceded by negotiations with England, to make sure that the British Government would not object to the continuance of the Portuguese royal patronage in its Eastern possessions. Accordingly, the Primacy of the East of the archbishops of Goa was reaffirmed, while in addition they were accorded the honorary title of Patriarch of the East Indies and the substantial privilege of presiding at the plenary councils of the East Indies, which were ordinarily to assemble at Goa, while the special relations existing between the Archdiocese of Goa and its suffragan dioceses were to be continued. But the limits of the original Portuguese dioceses were contracted, the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur being assigned two distinct pieces of territory on the Coromandel Coast, some 150 miles (240 km) apart- the first is a triangle of an area of some 800 square miles (2,100 km2), in the northern angle of which Saint Thomas lies; the other is roughly the ancient Kingdom of Tanjore. In addition, both by the concordat and certain appendixes thereto, the diocese was given five churches in the Archdiocese of Madras -- the old vicariates Apostolic having been converted into dioceses as a sequel to the concordat by the Constitution "Humanae salutis" of 1886, of Leo XIII -- three churches in the Archdiocese of Calcutta (Western Bengal), five churches in the Diocese of Dacca (Eastern Bengal), and twenty-four churches in the Diocese of Trichinopoly (which originally belonged to the Diocese of Cochin), with their congregations.

The first bishop appointed to Saint Thomas of Mylapur on the conclusion of the new concordat was the princely Dom Henrique José Reed da Silva, who was at the time coadjutor to the Archbishop of Goa, and who took possession of his see in 1886. He was the first to sign himself for the sake of brevity, Bishop of Mylapur, a practice which his successors have adopted. Hence the diocese became better known in India as the Diocese of Mylapur. His was the arduous task of putting the broken shreds of the old historic diocese together and rendering it once again the thing of beauty it was. His first care was to reform the diocesan seminary, and in order to have an efficient body of European priests with their heart in their work, he brought out a number of young boys from Portugal and gave them a collegiate course in English, in the college to which he had raised the existing high-school, previous to their entering upon their ecclesiastical course of studies. His successors reaped the benefit of his policy. He opened a convent of European nuns at Saint Thomas, and another of Indian nuns in Mylapur, which have since thrown out branches into various parts of the diocese. He invited English-speaking priests to join his diocese (a call to which the present writer responded) and established the "Catholic Register", a weekly newspaper. His courtly manners and noble bearing made him a favourite in society. Soon the people felt it an honour to point to him as their bishop. He pulled down the old cathedral, the chapel over the grave of St. Thomas and the old Augustinian priory, that had nothing antique to commend them, and built a magnificent cathedral in the centre of which, between the nave and chancel, lies the grave of St. Thomas. Despite the good he was accomplishing, he incurred the ill-will of certain parties connected with the churches situated in other dioceses, and when he found the accusations brought against him accepted without demur in Europe, he resigned and retired to Portugal, as titular Bishop of Trajanopolis.

He was succeeded by Dom António José de Sousa Barroso, who within a few months of his arrival at Saint Thomas was promoted to the See of Oporto. Bishop Barroso was succeeded by bishop Dom Teotónio Manuel Ribeiro Vieira de Castro, who was presented on 12 June 1899, and confirmed by Leo XIII ten days later. He was consecrated at Oporto on 15 August 1899, and reached Saint Thomas on 23 December. The tercentenary of the creation of the diocese occurred in January, 1906, in which almost all of the archbishops and bishops of the vast tract that constituted the original Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur took part in person in addition to the delegate Apostolic and other prelates, numbering fifteen bishops in all. With the single exception of the Archdiocese of Madras, all of the dioceses into which the original Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur is divided were served by non-British clergy, save for the Indian and few Indo-European priests, where there are any. But even in the Archdiocese of Madras, served by the British Missionary Society of St. Joseph, the majority of the priests and the coadjutor bishop were from the Continent. Dacca was served by the Fathers of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America.


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ Stephen Neill. A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 ISBN 0-521-54885-3
  3. ^ A.E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.18–71 M.R. James, Apocryphal New Testament, pp.364–436 A.E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.1–17, 213–97 Eusebius, History, chapter 4:30 J.N. Farquhar, The Apostle Thomas in North India, chapter 4:30 V.A. Smith, Early History of India, p.235 L.W. Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas, p.49-59
  4. ^ "Thomas The Apostole". Stthoma.com. http://www.stthoma.com/. Retrieved 2010-04-25. 

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