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St. Thomas Tradition and Arthat Church

            According to the ancient and living tradition, in 52 A.D St.Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ reached Muzris(Believed to be the present Kodungallur), an important sea port in Kerala in the south west coast of India, in a trading ship. As his first mission he reached Arthat to meet the Jews there at ‘Juda Kunnu’. He preached there the Gospel of Christ. Many Jews and native high castes were converted to the Christian faith and it believed that the Jewish Synagogue at Arthat was converted to a Christian Church. Thus the first Christian Church at Malankara was established. (‘Malankara’ was a term used to denote Malabar both meant hilly area. ) He organized there Christian communities and places of worship and appointed ministers to look after their spiritual needs and guide them. (As mentioned in The Bible, this was the common practice of the Apostles)


The present Arthat St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church is believed to be the pioneer Christian Community founded by St.Thomas in the first century A.D(c 52 A.D). The prominence given to this church by the early historians, circumstantial evidences, and the later historical records bear witness to this tradition.


But  Palayur or  Paloor is listed as the place where St. Thomas established a Christian Congregation. Here a word od clarification is needed. Paloor was a region comprised of the neighbouring localities around Arthat- Chattukulangara Thalappalli. In due course it became the name of a small place very closer Arthat. But the geological and historical facts show the possibility that the present Palayur was  under the sea during those days and the present Arthat is the first high land from the sea level in the Paloor region, which was known as Jewish Hill or ‘Juda Kunnu’. The facts about the present Palayur is not suitable to connect it with the St. Thomas mission. But some vested groups deliberately connect the present Palayur with the St. Thomas mission from the second half of 19th century onwards. It is either by lack of historical mind or a deliberate and organized attempt to propagate anachronism. However, now they also began to realize the fact and trying to connect Arthat with St. Thomas Mission.


Some facts about Arthat and Palayur


1. The Church at Arthat is dedicated to St. Mary, The Mother of God, while that of present Palayur, to St. Kuriakose, a Saint who lived around fourth century A.D, and was introduced to Malankara only in the fifth century. It is impossible to build up a church in first century by St. Thomas, in memory of a fourth century saint in anticipation. But it is more reasonable to believe, the Church at Arthat which was dedicated to St. Mary, as a permanent monument of St. Thomas mission.


2. The present Palayur village is on the sea level, and during the formative years of Christian era, was believed to be, under the sea. The nearness to the sea, the sandy soil, and the presence of oceanic fossils also bear witness to this fact. But Arthat is the first high land from the sea level in the Paloor region, which was known as Jewish Hill or ‘Juda Kunnu’.


3. The sentiment towards Arthat still exists in the minds of believers irrespective of denomination; and there are seven churches of different denominations at the small village of Arthat itself. It is known as the Jerusalem of Malankara. There is no such sentiment towards the present Palayur. In turn the people of Palayur have a strong sentiment towards Arthat and they even built a church there and now began to claim there St. Thomas connection.


4. There are several random references in many historical books about the St. Thomas connection of Arthat Church. (For e.g. ‘Sakthan Thampuran’ by Puthezhathu Raman Menon, III Edition P. 291)


5. When Tippu Sulthan turned against the prominent ancient Churches of Malabar, he burnt the ancient Church at Arthat. This shows that Arthat was the prominent Church of this region even in eighteenth century i.e at the time of Tippu's invasion.


6. Francis Buchanan (1800 A.D), and Claudius Buchanan (1806 A.D), two Anglican Delegates who visited Kerala to enquire the position of the St. Thomas Christians in nineteenth century had visited many important Churches of Kerala including that of Arthat. But it is to be noted that they never visited or even mentioned the Church at the present Palayur. However there is a reference about the Chavakkad cross church, which was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Arthat Church. This shows that even in the 19th century there was no such claim associated with the present Palayur. 



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