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Thomas the Apostle
Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
"The Incredulity of St Thomas" by Caravaggio
Born 1st century AD, Galilee
Died AD 72 [1], Mylapore,India
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Assyrian Church of the East
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Respected and honored in Protestant Churches
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast July 3 (Roman Catholic Church)
26 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox Church)
Thomas Sunday (the 1st Sunday after Easter, October 6, and June 30 Synaxis of the Apostles) (Eastern Orthodox Churches)
December 21 (on local calendars and among Traditional Roman Catholics)
Attributes The Twin, placing his finger in the side of Christ, spear (means of martyrdom), square (his profession, a builder)
Patronage Architects, India, and others.[2]

Thomas the Apostle, also called Doubting Thomas or Didymus (meaning "Twin"), was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is best known for disbelieving Jesus' resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus in John 20:28. He was perhaps the only Apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. He also crossed the largest area, which includes the Persian Empire and India.[3]

Thomas in the Gospel of John[]

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

He also speaks at The Last Supper.[Jn. 14:5] Jesus assures his disciples that they know where he is going but Thomas protests that they don't know at all. Jesus replies to this and to Philip's requests with a detailed exposition of his relationship to God the Father.

File:Christ and Saint Thomas.jpg

Andrea del Verrocchio's sculpture showing the incredulity of St. Thomas.

In Thomas' best known appearance in the New Testament, [Jn. 20:24-29] he doubts the Death and resurrection of Jesus and demands to touch Jesus' wounds before being convinced. Caravaggio's painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (illustration above), depicts this scene. This story is the origin of the term Doubting Thomas. After seeing Jesus alive (the Bible never states whether Thomas actually touched Christ's wounds), Thomas professed his faith in Jesus, exclaiming "My Lord and my God!" On this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.[4]

Name and identity[]

There is disagreement and uncertainty as to the identity of Saint Thomas. One recent theory is presented in the book The Jesus Family Tomb. The authors, Simcha Jacobovici and Pellegrino, identify him with two of those who were interred in the Talpiot Tomb, "Yehuda son of Yeshua."

Twin and its renditions[]

  • The Greek Didymus: in the Gospel of John.[11:16] [20:24] Thomas is more specifically identified as "Thomas, also called the Twin (Didymus)".
  • The Aramaic Tau'ma: the name "Thomas" itself comes from the Aramaic word for twin: T'oma (תאומא). Thus the name convention Didymus Thomas thrice repeated in the Gospel of John is in fact a tautology that could potentially be interpreted as omitting the Twin's actual name.

Other names[]

The Nag Hammadi "sayings" Gospel of Thomas begins: "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded." Syrian tradition also states that the apostle's full name was Judas Thomas, or Jude Thomas. Some have seen in the Acts of Thomas (written in east Syria in the early 3rd century, or perhaps as early as the first half of the 2nd century) an identification of Saint Thomas with the apostle Judas brother of James, better known in English as Jude. However, the first sentence of the Acts follows the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles in distinguishing the apostle Thomas and the apostle Judas son of James. Few texts identify Thomas' other twin, though in the Book of Thomas the Contender, part of the Nag Hammadi library, it is said to be Jesus himself: "Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself…"[5][6]

File:St. Thomas.JPG

St. Thomas depicted in stone, St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church, Hyde Park, Chicago.

Veneration as a saint[]

Thomas is revered as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion.

In the Roman Catholic Church, his traditional feast day is December 21. In 1970, in order that it would no longer interfere with the major ferial days of Advent, his feast was moved to July 3, the day on which his relics were translated from Mylapore, a place along the coast of the Marina Beach, Chennai in India to the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia. Roman Catholics who follow the traditional calendar, as well as Anglicans who worship according to one of the classical Books of Common Prayer (e.g. 1662 English or 1928 American), continue to celebrate his feast day on December 21.[7][8]

For the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Coptic Orthodox Church he is remembered each year on Saint Thomas Sunday, which falls on the Sunday after Easter. In addition, the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches celebrate his feast day on October 6 (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, October 6 currently falls on October 19 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). He is also commemorated in common with all of the other apostles on June 30 (July 13), in a feast called the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. He is also associated with the "Arabian" (or "Arapet") Icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God), which is commemorated on September 6 (September 19).

Later history[]

Thomas and the Assumption of Mary[]


St. Thomas receiving the Virgin Mary's girdle from heaven.

According to The Passing of Mary, a text attributed to Joseph of Arimathaea, Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The other apostles were miraculously transported to Jerusalem to witness her death. Thomas was left in India, but after her burial he was transported to her tomb, where he witnessed her bodily assumption into heaven, from which she dropped her girdle. In an inversion of the story of Thomas' doubts, the other apostles are skeptical of Thomas' story until they see the empty tomb and the girdle.[9] Thomas' receipt of the girdle is commonly depicted in medieval and pre-Tridentine Renaissance art.

Thomas and Syria[]

"Judas, who is also called Thomas" (Eusebius, H.E. 13.12) has a role in the legend of king Abgar of Edessa (Urfa), for having sent Thaddaeus to preach in Edessa after the Ascension (Eusebius, Historia ecclesiae 1.13; III.1; Ephrem the Syrian also recounts this legend.) In the 4th century the martyrium erected over his burial place brought pilgrims to Edessa. In the 380s, Egeria described her visit in a letter she sent to her community of nuns at home (Itineraria Egeriae):

"we arrived at Edessa in the Name of Christ our God, and, on our arrival, we straightway repaired to the church and memorial of saint Thomas. There, according to custom, prayers were made and the other things that were customary in the holy places were done; we read also some things concerning saint Thomas himself. The church there is very great, very beautiful and of new construction, well worthy to be the house of God, and as there was much that I desired to see, it was necessary for me to make a three days' stay there."

Historical references about Thomas[]

Many early Christian writings, which belong to centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325, exist about Thomas' mission.[3]

  • The Acts of Thomas, sometimes called by its full nameThe Acts of Judas Thomas: 2nd/3rd century (c. 180-230) [10] Gist of the testimony: The Apostles cast lots as to where they should go, and to Thomas, twin brother of Jesus, fell India. Thomas was taken to king Gondophares as an architect and carpenter by Habban. The journey to India is described in detail. After a long residence in the court he ordained leaders for the Church, and left in a chariot for the kingdom of Mazdei. There, after performing many miracles, he dies a martyr. [11] These are generally rejected by various Christian religions as either apocryphal or heretical. The two centuries that lapsed between the life of the apostle and recording this work, casts doubt on their authenticity.
  • Clement of Alexandria: 3rd century (d.c. 235); Church represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical Note : Greek Theologian, b. Athens, 150.[3] Clement makes a passing reference to St. Thomas’ Apostolate in Parthia. This agrees with the testimony which Eusebius records about Pantaenus' visit to India.[3]
    Thomas by roslin

    A 13th-century Armenian illumination, by Toros Roslin.

  • Doctrine of the Apostles: 3rd century; Church represented: Syrian [12] “After the death of the Apostles there were Guides and Rulers in the Churches…..They again at their deaths also committed and delivered to their disciples after them everything which they had received from the Apostles;…(also what) Judas Thomas (had written) from India”.
“India and all its own countries, and those bordering on it, even to the farther sea, received the Apostle’s hand of Priesthood from Judas Thomas, who was Guide and Ruler in the Church which he built and ministered there”. In what follows “the whole Persia of the Assyrians and Medes, and of the countries round about Babylon…. even to the borders of the Indians and even to the country of Gog and Magog” are said to have received the Apostles’ Hand of Priesthood from Aggaeus the disciple of Addaeus [13]
  • Origen Century : 3rd century (185-254?), quoted in Eusebius; Church represented: Alexandrian/ Greek Biographical. Christian Philosopher, b-Egypt, Origen taught with great acclaim in Alexandria and then in Caesarea.[14] He is the first known writer to record the casting of lots by the Apostles. Origen original work has been lost; but his statement about Parthia falling to Thomas has been preserved by Eusebius. “Origen, in the third chapter of his Commentary on Genesis, says that, according to tradition, Thomas’s allotted field of labour was Parthia”.[15]
  • Eusebius of Caesarea: 4th century (died 340); Church Represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical [16] Quoting Origen, Eusebius says: “When the holy Apostles and disciples of our Saviour were scattered over all the world, Thomas, so the tradition has it, obtained as his portion Parthia….” [17]
  • Ephrem: 4th century; Church Represented: Syrian Biographical [18] Many devotional hymns composed by St. Ephraem, bear witness to the Edessan Church's strong conviction concerning St. Thomas's Indian Apostolate. There the devil speaks of St. Thomas as “the Apostle I slew in India”. Also “The merchant brought the bones” to Edessa.
In another hymn apostrophising St. Thomas we read of “The bones the merchant hath brought”. “In his several journeyings to India, And thence on his return, All riches, which there he found, Dirt in his eyes he did repute when to thy sacred bones compared”. In yet another hymn Ephrem speaks of the mission of Thomas “The earth darkened with sacrifices’ fumes to illuminate”. “A land of people dark fell to thy lot”, “a tainted land Thomas has purified”; “India’s dark night” was “flooded with light” by Thomas.[19]
  • Gregory of Nazianzus: 4th century(died 389); Church Represented: Alexandrian. Biographical Note: Gregory of Nazianzus was born AD 330, consecrated a bishop by his friend St. Basil in 372 his father, the Bishop of Nazianzus induced him to share his charge. In 379 the people of Constantinople called him to be their bishop. By the Orthodox Church he is emphatically called “the Theologian’.[20] “What? were not the Apostles strangers amidst the many nations and countries over which they spread themselves? … Peter indeed may have belonged to Judea; but what had Paul in common with the gentiles, Luke with Achaia, Andrew with Epirus, John with Ephesus, Thomas with India, Mark with Italy?” [21]
  • Ambrose of Milan: 4th century (died 397); Church Represented: Western. Biographical Note: St. Ambrose was thoroughly acquainted with the Greek and Latin Classics, and had a good deal of information on India and Indians. He speaks of the Gymnosophists of India, the Indian Ocean, the river Ganges etc., a number of times.[22] “This admitted of the Apostles being sent without delay according to the saying of our Lord Jesus… Even those Kingdoms which were shut out by rugged mountains became accessible to them, as India to Thomas, Persia to Matthew..” [23]
  • St. Jerome (342- 420). St. Jerome's testimony : “He (Christ) dwelt in all places: with Thomas in India, Peter at Rome, with Paul in Illyricum.” [3]
  • St. Gaudentius (Bishop of Brescia, before 427). St. Gaudentius' testimony: “John at Sebastena, Thomas among the Indians, Andrew and Luke at the city of Patras are found to have closed their careers.” [3]
  • St. Paulinus of Nola (died 431). St. Paulinus' testimony :“Parthia receives Mathew, India Thomas, Libya Thaddeus, and Phrygia Philip”.[3]
  • St. Gregory of Tours (died 594) St. Gregory's testimony: “Thomas the Apostle, according to the narrative of his martyrdom is stated to have suffered in India. His holy remains (corpus), after a long interval of time, were removed to the city of Edessa in Syria and there interred. In that part of India where they first rested, stand a monastery and a church of striking dimensions, elaborately adorned and designed. This Theodore, who had been to the place, narrated to us.’ [3]
  • St. Isidore of Seville in Spain (d. c. 630). St. Isidore's testimony: “This Thomas preached the Gospel of Christ to the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians, the Hyrcanians and the Bactrians, and to the Indians of the Oriental region and penetrating the innermost regions and sealing his preaching by his passion he died transfixed with a lance at Calamina (present Mylapore),a city of India, and there was buried with honour”.[3]
  • St. Bede the Venerable (c. 673-735).St. Bede's testimony : “Peter receives Rome, Andrew Achaia; James Spain; Thomas India; John Asia" [3]

Thomas and India[]

Part of a series on
in India
India christianity

Saint Thomas Christians
Malankara Church
Holy Apostolic Throne of St. Thomas
Ancient Crosses of India
Coonan Cross Oath
Synod of Diamper


St. Thomas the Apostle
Mar Sapor and Prodh
Thomas of Cana
St. Alphonsa
Blessed Kuriakose Chavara
Fr. Varghese Palakkappillil
Blessed Kunjachan
Blessed Euphrasia
Blessed Mariam Thressia
Blessed Mother Teresa
St. Francis Xavier
St. Gonsalo Garcia
Marthoma Metrans
St. Gregorios of Parumala
Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvares


Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Latin Catholic Church
Indian Orthodox Church
Jacobite Syrian Church
Malabar Independent Church
Mar Thoma Church
St. Thomas Evangelical Church
Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church
Church of North India
Church of South India

The indigenous church of Kerala, India has a tradition that St. Thomas sailed there to spread the Christian faith. He landed at the ancient port of Muziris (which became extinct in 1341 AD) near Kodungalloor. He then went to Palayoor (near preset-day Guruvayoor), which was a priestly community at that time. He left Palayoor in AD 52 for the southern part of what is now Kerala State, where he established the Ezharappallikal, or "Seven and Half Churches". These churches are at Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (Paravoor), Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamcode Arappally (Travancore) - the half church. (See also Saint Thomas of Mylapur).[24][25]

"It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India's painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Edessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India." - Hymns of St. Ephraem, edited by Lamy (Ephr. Hymni et Sermones, IV).

Eusebius of Caesarea[26] quotes Origen (died mid-3rd century) as having stated that Thomas was the apostle to the Parthians, but Thomas is better known as the missionary to India through the Acts of Thomas, perhaps written as late as ca 200. In Edessa, where his remains were venerated, the poet Ephrem the Syrian (died 373) wrote a hymn in which the Devil cries,

...Into what land shall I fly from the just?
I stirred up Death the Apostles to slay, that by their death I might escape their blows.
But harder still am I now stricken: the Apostle I slew in India has overtaken me in Edessa; here and there he is all himself.
There went I, and there was he: here and there to my grief I find him. —quoted in Medlycott 1905, ch. ii.

St. Ephraem, the great doctor of the Syrian Church, writes in the forty-second of his "Carmina Nisibina" that the Apostle was put to death in India, and that his remains were subsequently buried in Edessa, brought there by an unnamed merchant.[27]

A Syrian ecclesiastical calendar of an early date confirms the above and gives the merchant a name. The entry reads: "3 July, St. Thomas who was pierced with a lance in India. His body is at Urhai [the ancient name of Edessa] having been brought there by the merchant Khabin. A great festival." It is only natural to expect that we should receive from Edessa first-hand evidence of the removal of the relics to that city; and we are not disappointed, for St. Ephraem, the great doctor of the Syrian Church, has left us ample details in his writings.[27]

A long public tradition in the church at Edessa honoring Thomas as the Apostle of India resulted in several surviving hymns that are attributed to Ephrem, copied in codices of the 8th and 9th centuries. References in the hymns preserve the tradition that Thomas' bones were brought from India to Edessa by a merchant, and that the relics worked miracles both in India and at Edessa. A pontiff assigned his feast day and a king and a queen erected his shrine. The Thomas traditions became embodied in Syriac liturgy, thus they were universally credited by the Christian community there. There is also a legend that Thomas had met the Biblical Magi on his way to India.

An early third-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas[28] connects 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.[28]

Critical historians treated this legend as an idle tale and denied the historicity of King Gundaphorus until modern archaeology established him as an important figure in North India in the latter half of the first 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 (A.D. 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.[28] But at least by the time of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (A.D. 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.[28]

The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadwa, one of the rulers of a first-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 suffered martyrdom 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... ”.[28]

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 first 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 first-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. A.D. 51-52). 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.

Thomas next proceeded overland to the Coromandel coast and ministered in what is now the Madras area, where a local king and many people were converted. One tradition related that he went from there to China via Malacca and, after spending some time there, returned to the Madras area (Breviary of the Mar Thoma Church in Malabar). Apparently his renewed ministry outraged the Brahmins, who were fearful lest Christianity undermined their social structure, based on the caste system. So according to the Syriac version of the Acts of Thomas, Masdai, the local king at Mylapore, after questioning the apostle condemned him to death about the year A.D. 72. Anxious to avoid popular excitement, “for many had believed in our Lord, including some of the nobles,”the king ordered Thomas conducted to a nearby mountain, where, after being allowed to pray, he was then stoned and stabbed to death with a lance wielded by an angry Brahmin. A number of Christians were also persecuted at the same time; when they refused to apostatize, their property was confiscated, so some sixty-four families eventually fled to Malabar and joined that Christian community.[28]

Return of the relics[]

In 232 the relics of the Apostle Thomas are said to have been returned by an Indian king and brought back from India to the city of Edessa, Mesopotamia, on which occasion his Syriac Acts were written. The Indian king is named as "Mazdai" in Syriac sources, "Misdeos" and "Misdeus" in Greek and Latin sources respectively, which has been connected to the "Bazdeo" on the Kushan coinage of Vasudeva I, the transition between "M" and "B" being a current one in Classical sources for Indian names.[29] The martyrologist Rabban Sliba dedicated a special day to both the Indian king, his family, and St Thomas:

"Coronatio Thomae apostoli et Misdeus rex Indiae, Johannes eus filius huisque mater Tertia" ("Coronation of Thomas the Apostole, and Misdeus king of India, together with his son Johannes (thought to be a latinization of Vizan) and his mother Tertia") Rabban Sliba[29]

After a short stay in the Greek island of Chios, on September 6, 1258, the relics were transported to the West, and now rest in Ortona, Italy.


Coin of Gondophares IV Sases (mid-first century CE).
Obv: King on horseback, corrupted Greek legend. Gondophares monogram
Rev: Zeus, making a benediction sign (Buddhist mudra). Kharoshthi inscription MAHARAJASA MAHATASA TRATARASA DEVAVRADASA GUDAPHARASA SASASA "Great king of kings, divine and saviour, Gondophares Sases", Buddhist trisula symbol.

Southern India had maritime trade with the West since ancient times. Egyptian trade with India and Roman trade with India flourished in the first century AD. In AD 47, the Hippalus wind was discovered and this led to direct voyage from Aden to the South Western coast in 40 days. Muziris (Kodungallur) and Nelcyndis or Nelkanda (near Kollam) in South India, are mentioned as flourishing ports, in the writings of Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79). Pliny has given an accurate description of the route to India, the country of Cerebothra (the Cheras). Pliny has referred to the flourishing trade in spices, pearls, diamonds and silk between Rome and Southern India in the early centuries of the Christian era. Though the Cheras controlled Kodungallur port, Southern India belonged to the Pandyan Kingdom, that had sent embassies to the court of Augustus Caesar.

According to Indian Christian mythology, St. Thomas landed in Kodungallur in AD 52, in the company of a Jewish merchant Abbanes (Hebban). There were Jewish colonies in Kodungallur since ancient times and Jews continue to reside in Kerala till today, tracing their ancient history.

At the beginning of the 3rd century, the body of Thomas appeared in Edessa, Mesopotamia, where, according to the tradition, they had been brought by a merchant coming from India (in that same period appeared the Acts of Thomas). They were kept in a shrine just outside the city, but, in august 394, they were transferred in the city, inside the church dedicated to the saint. In 441, the Magister militum per Orientem Anatolius donated to the church a silver coffin to host the relics. In 1144 the city was conquered by the Zengids and the shrine destroyed.[30]

In AD 522, Cosmas Indicopleustes (called the Alexandrian) visited the Malabar Coast. He is the first traveller who mentions Syrian Christians in Malabar, in his book Christian Topography. He mentions that in the town of "Kalliana" (Quilon or Kollam), there is a bishop consecrated in Persia. Metropolitan Mar Aprem writes, "Most church historians, who doubt the tradition of the doubting Thomas in India, will admit there was a church in India in the middle of the sixth century when Cosmas Indicopleustes visited India."[31]

There is a copper plate grant given to Iravi Korttan, a Christian of Kodungallur (Cranganore), by King Vira Raghava. The date is estimated to be around AD 744. In AD 822, two Nestorian Persian Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz came to Malabar, to occupy their seats in Kollam and Kodungallur, to look after the local Syrian Christians (also known as St. Thomas Christians).


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

Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller and author of Description of the World, popularly known as Il Milione, is reputed to have visited South India in 1288 and 1292. The first date has been rejected as he was in China at the time, but the second date is accepted by many historians. He is believed to have stopped in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Quilon (Kollam) on the western Malabar coast of India, where he met Syrian Christians and recorded their legends of St. Thomas and his miraculous tomb on the eastern Coromandel coast of the country. Il Milione, the book he dictated on his return to Europe, was on its publication condemned as a collection of impious and improbable traveller's tales but it became very popular reading in medieval Europe and inspired Spanish and Portuguese sailors to seek out the fabulous, and possibly Christian, India described in it.

Near Chennai (formerly Madras) in India stands a small hillock called St. Thomas Mount, where the Apostle is said to have been killed in A.D. 72 (exact year not established). Also to be found in Chennai is the Dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapore to which his mortal remains were transferred.

Tomb of the Apostle[]

The Indian tradition, in which elements of the traditions of Malabar, Coromandel and the Persian Church intermingled firmly held that Thomas the Apostle died near the ancient town of Mylapore. His mortal remains were buried in the town and his burial place was situated in the right hand chapel of the Church or house known after his name. The Portuguese excavated it in 1523. A number of scholars who are said to have made an examination of the records stated that the Portuguese excavations were “ unreliable”.[32]

Beginning with the Acts of Thomas (c.200), in almost every century there are statements about the existence of his tomb in India. The location of the tomb, as given in seventh century, is (Calamina or Qalimaya) and Myluph or Meilan (12th-14th centuries). From the end of 14th century onwards there are references to the tomb of the Apostle in Mylapore.[32]

Even before the Portuguese opened the tomb in Mylapore in the XVIth century, it was believed to have been the tomb of Saint Thomas and was visited by both Christian and non Christian pilgrims and travelers. Three of the five complete MS copies of Mar Solomon of Basora's (1222) “Book of the Bees” speak of Mahluph (Mylapore) ” a city in the land of the Indians” where “others say” St. Thomas was buried.[33]

The accounts of Marco Polo (1295), Oderick (Italian Franciscan, 1324,1325), Am’r son of Matthew (Christian Arab writer, 1340), Marignoli (Papal legate in China, 1394), Nicholas de Conti (Italian merchant, 1425-1430) who visited Mylapore, mentions it as the burial place of the Apostle.[33]

St. Thomas Christians[]

File:Nasrani Evolution.jpg

Relationship of the Nasrani(Saint Thomas Christians) groups

Thomasine Christianity is found in the southern Indian state of Kerala. These churches of Malabar trace their roots back to St. Thomas the Apostle who arrived along the Malabar Coast in the year AD 52. In the Syriac tradition, St. Thomas is referred to as Mar Thoma Sleeha which translate roughly as Lord/Saint Thomas the Apostle.

St Thomas Christians had a unique identity till the arrival of Portuguese in India, who converted St. Thomas Christians to the Catholic Church. As a result of this foreign intervention into the culture there are several present day St. Thomas churches, primarily in the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Traditions.

The largest church in terms of membership is the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, a major archepiscopal church in communion with the Bishop of Rome with a membership approaching four million adherents. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian church, an autocephlous Church within the Oriental Orthodox family, headed by the Catholicos of East and Malankara Metropolitan (HH Moran Mar Baselios Didymos I) has over 3.5 million followers.

In 1930, a bishop with a group of Orthodox reunited with the Catholic Church, while retaining all their Traditions and Liturgical Rites - they are the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, which today number 500,000.

A related, although minor, church in Malankara is the Mar Thoma Church. The church claims membership of 900,000.

Several Popes have asserted the origin of south Indian Christianity from the Apostle Thomas. Pope John Paul V in 1606 erected the diocoese of San Thomas of Mylapore.

Pope Leo XIII while establishing the hierarchy of the Latin Catholic church in India in 1886, referred to India as having first received the light of the gospel from Apostle Thomas.

During the apostolic visit to India in 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Mylapore tomb and he is said to have cited the words of Apostle Thomas to his companions.

While raising the Syro-Malabar church as a major archepiscopal church in 1990, Pope John Paul II wrote that this church "as the constant tradition holds, owed its origin to the preaching of Apostle St Thomas."

In 2002, the 1,950th anniversary of St Thomas' arrival in Kerala was celebrated by the Sryo-Malabar church in which the papal delegate had participated.

Saint Thomas Cross[]

When Portuguese came to Malabar, they found that the Christians of Saint Thomas use ancient flowery crosses with inscription in their churches which they call us Saint Thomas Cross.[34] Antonio Gouvea in the Sixteenth century work, " Jornada" states that the old churches of Saint Thomas Christians were full of crosses of the type discovered from S.Thome (Mylapore).[34] He also states that veneration of the cross is an old custom in Malabar. "Jornada" is the oldest known written document which calls these cross as St. Thomas Cross.[34] The original word used is “ Cruz de Sam Thome “ meaning Cross of St. Thomas.[34] Gouvea writes about the veneration of the Cross at Cranganore mentioning it as "Cross of Christians. These crosses are known as Saint Thomas Cross or Persian Cross. They dating from 6th century are found in a number of churches in Kerala, Mylapore and Goa.[35]

Thomas other accounts[]

To the Portuguese and Spanish conquerors and clerics, the Americas were simply "The Indies" for most of the sixteenth century.The improbable suggestion that St. Thomas preached in America [36] is based upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Acts of Apostles [37]

Various Eastern Churches claim that St. Thomas personally brought Christianity to China and Japan in AD 64 and 70 respectively.[38]

Writings Attributed to Thomas[]


Russian Orthodox icon of St. Thomas the Apostle, with scroll, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).

"Let none read the gospel according to Thomas, for it is the work, not of one of the twelve apostles, but of one of Mani's three wicked disciples."
Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathechesis V (4th century)

In the first two centuries of the Christian era, a number of writings were circulated, which claimed the authority of Thomas, some of them said, perhaps too loosely, to be espousing a Gnostic doctrine, as Cyril was suggesting. It is unclear now why Thomas was seen as an authority for doctrine, although this belief is documented in Gnostic groups as early as the Pistis Sophia (ca AD 250 - 300) which states that the "three witnesses" committing to writing "all of his words" are Thomas, along with Philip and Matthew. In that Gnostic work, Mary Magdalene (one of the disciples) says:

"Now at this time, my Lord, hear, so that I speak openly, for thou hast said to us 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear:' Concerning the word which thou didst say to Philip: 'Thou and Thomas and Matthew are the three to whom it has been given… to write every word of the Kingdom of the Light, and to bear witness to them'; hear now that I give the interpretation of these words. It is this which thy light-power once prophesied through Moses: 'Through two and three witnesses everything will be established. The three witnesses are Philip and Thomas and Matthew" (Pistis Sophia 1:43)

An early, non-Gnostic tradition may lie behind this statement, which also emphasizes the primacy of the Gospel of Matthew in its Aramaic form, over the other canonical three.

Besides the Acts of Thomas there was a widely circulated Infancy Gospel of Thomas probably written in the later 2nd century, and probably also in Syria, which relates the miraculous events and prodigies of Jesus' boyhood. This is the document which tells for the first time the familiar legend of the twelve sparrows which Jesus, at the age of five, fashioned from clay on the Sabbath day, which took wing and flew away. The earliest manuscript of this work is a sixth century one in Syriac. This gospel was first referred to by Irenaeus; Ron Cameron notes: "In his citation, Irenaeus first quotes a non-canonical story that circulated about the childhood of Jesus and then goes directly on to quote a passage from the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:49). Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas records both of these stories, in relative close proximity to one another, it is possible that the apocryphal writing cited by Irenaeus is, in fact, what is now known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Because of the complexities of the manuscript tradition, however, there is no certainty as to when the stories of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas began to be written down."

The best known in modern times of these documents is the "sayings" document that is being called the Gospel of Thomas, a noncanonical work which some scholars believe may actually predate the writing of the Biblical gospels themselves.[39] The opening line claims it is the work of "Didymos Judas Thomas" - who has been identified with Thomas. This work was discovered in a Coptic translation in 1945 at the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi, near the site of the monastery of Chenoboskion. Once the Coptic text was published, scholars recognized that an earlier Greek translation had been published from fragments of papyrus found at Oxyrhynchus in the 1890s.

See also[]

Further reading[]

  • Glenn W. Most: Doubting Thomas. Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press, 2005 (a study in the reception of Thomas’ story in literature and art).


  1. St. Thomas the Apostle
  2. "Biography of St. Thomas the Apostle". St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 "Early references about the Apostolate of Saint Thomas in India, Records about the Indian tradition, Saint Thomas Christians & Statements by Indian Statesmen". Nasrani Syrian Christians Network. 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  4. Faith and Character of Apostle Thomas by Dr. Mathew Vellanickal and many other articles in St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia
  5. Turner, John D. The Book of Thomas(NHC II,7 138,7-138,12). Retrieved on September 10, 2006
  6. "L'évangile de Thomas" (in French). 
  7. Liturgical Calendar: December
  8. Propers for St. Thomas the Apostle
  9. The Passing of Mary
  10. Dr. Wright (Ed.), Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, London, 1871 (Syriac Text in Vol.1, English translation in Vol. II); Rev. Paul Bedjan, Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum, Vol. III, Leipsic-Paris, 1892.A. E. Medlycott, India and the Apostle Thomas, London 1905, Appendix, pp. 221 -225.
  11. Acts of Thomas
  12. Cardinal Mai, Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, Rome, 1838. W. Cureton, Ancient Syriac Documents, London, 1864: Latin Translation by A. Assemani; Vindobonae, 1856; Didascalia in Coptic, Ethiopic, and Arabic. Also see Medlycott, p. 33 ff.
  13. (Cureton, pp. 32, 33, 34). 20th Century Discussions : Medlycott, pp 33-37 alias Menachery, STCEI, II, 20-21, Farquhar, p. 26 ff.
  14. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 3.1; Patrologia Graeca, Migne Edn., 20.215; Patrologia Latina, Migne, 21.478.
  15. Farquhar, p. 30. 20th Century Discussions : Perumalil, pp. 50,51.E. R. Hambye, “Saint Thomas and India”, The Clergy Monthly 16 (1952). Comes, S. J., “Did St. Thomas Really come to India?”, in Menachery (Ed).) STCEI, II. Farquhar, pp. 30,31,
  16. Patrologia Graeca (Migne), 19-24., 20.215.
  17. J.C. Panjikaran, Christianity in Malabar w.s.r.t. The St. Thomas Christians of the Syro-Malabar Rite, Orientalia Christiana, VI, 2 (23), Roma I, April 1926, p.99 esp. for reference to Pantaenus’ Indian visit.
  18. Bickell, S. Ephraemi Syri, Caramina Nisibena, Lipsiae, 1866; Monsignor Lamy, S. Ephraemi Syri Hymni et Sermones, (Quarto 4 vols.); Breviary acc. to the Rite of the Church of Antioch of the Syrians, Mosul, 1886-96. Also See Medlycott, pp. 21-32. Alias Menachery (Ed.) STCEI, II, p. 18 ff.
  19. 20th Century Discussions : Medlycott, pp.21-32 alias Menachery (Ed.), STCEI, II, p. 18 ff.
  20. Homil. XXXII,xi, Contra Arianos et de seipso. Migne, P.G. 36-228.
  21. 20th Century Discussions : Medlycott, pp, 42,43; Perumalil pp. 43,44.
  22. Migne, P-L 140 1143. (Also see 17. 1131, 17.1133, for his Indian knowledge.)
  23. 20th Century Discussions : Medlycott, pp. 43, 44. Perumalil, pp. 44.45,Perumalil and Menachery (STCEI I, II), Migne Edns.; Wm. A. Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers:etc. History of Christianity-Source Materials by M. K. George, CLS, Madras, 1982 and the Handbook of Source Materials by Wm. G. Young.D. Ferroli, The Jesuits in Malabar, Vol. I. Bangalore, 1939, esp. notes and documents p. 71 ff.; W.S. Hunt, The Anglican Church in Travancore and Cochin, Kottayam, 1920, esp. p. 27, p.33 pp. 46-50; G.T. Mackenzie, i.c.s., “History of Christianity in Travancore”, in The Travancore State Manual, Vol-II, Edited by Nagam Aiya, Trivandrum 1906 pp. 135-233; Menachery, STCEI, I, II.
  24. T.K. Joseph (1955). Six St. Thomases Of South India. University of California. p. 27. 
  26. Historia Ecclesiastica', III.1.
  27. 27.0 27.1 MEDLYCOTT, India and the Apostle St. Thomas (London, 1905).
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 28.5 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
  29. 29.0 29.1 Mario Bussagli, "L'Art du Gandhara", p255
  30. J.B. Segal, Edessa 'the Blessed City, Gorgias Press LLC, 2005, ISBN 1593330596, pp. 174-176, 250.
  31. Mar Aprem, The Chaldean Syrian Church of the East, (Date and place of publication not available.)
  32. 32.0 32.1 "Kerala Syrian Christian, Apostle in India, The tomb of the Apostle, Persian Church, Syond of Diamper – Coonan Cross Oath, Subsequent divisions and the Nasrani People". Nasrani Syrian Christians Network. 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  33. 33.0 33.1 "‘The Thomas Christians’ by Placid Podipara". Nasrani Syrian Christians Network. 2009-07-07. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 "Analogical review on Saint Thomas Cross- The symbol of Nasranis-Interpretation of the Inscriptions". Nasrani Syrian Christians Network. 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  35. Ancient Stone Crosses of Kerala- Saint Thomas Cross, Nazraney Sthambams and other Persian Crosses, NSC Network.
  36. (American Eccles. Rev., 1899, pp.1-18)
  37. (i, 8; cf. Berchet "Fonte italiane per la storia della scoperta del Nuovo Mondo", II, 236, and I, 44).
  38. "Christian Tomb Stones in China Dated 84 AD". 
  39. ""The Tao of Thomas", by Joseph Lumpkin". 

External links[]

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