Timeline of Mar Thoma Nasranis: 52 AD until early 16th Century
Mathew Mailaparampil
Counting starts after Christ
Counting starts after Christ


1st Century

52 AD: Arrival of Saint Thomas

After the death and Resurrection of Isho Mishiha (Jesus Christ), His apostles proceed to various lands to spread the faith. Mar Thoma Sleeha (Saint Thomas the Apostle) arrives in the Malabar coast of India and establishes Christian communities. Malabar is the region on the south-west coast of India that encompasses the area, both inside the modern Kerala State and its adjoining regions. Malabar is known to the outside world for its pepper and other spices. Ports of Malabar, during the first century are a hub on the Sea Silk route - connecting Malabar with both the West (including Greco-Roman) and the Far East.

It is believed that St Thomas was in search of Aramaic speakers (Jews, Persians, and other middle-Eastern communities) who settled along the spice routes. Aramaic was the lingua-franca of trade in the early centuries. Traders lived in the empires of Parthia and Persia had monopoly in spices, diamonds, and other valuable materials from south India. Since the spoken language of these traders and Saint Thomas was Aramaic, it is believed that Saint Thomas won many adherants to his master's Gospel.

72 AD: Martyrdom of Saint Thomas

St. Thomas is martyred in Mylapore, near Chennai on the southeast coast of India. The tomb of the Apostle becomes a centre of pilgrimage.

The Christian community founded by St. Thomas the Apostle is locally known in Malabar as the Mar Thoma Nasrani. An equivalent, though not exact, translation of this Syriac phrase to English is Saint Thomas Christian.

The commercial, cultural and linguistic relation between ancient Persia and India, along with the St. Thomas connection of the Churches of Persia and India paved the way for close partnership in hierarchy and liturgy. The spice cultivating Christians of Malabar and the spice trading Christians from Persia developed a very strong bond with each other. The rapport between these two groups encouraged more Christian traders from Persia to come to India and with them came many priests and bishops too. This helped the Church in Malabar to remain in good relation with the Persian Church.

The Christian community in Malabar eventually developed a model of self-governance under a native leader, who was known as the Archdeacon. The Archdeacon was the religious, social, communal and political leader of the St. Thomas Christians. All the Archdeacons we know of were also priests. In later centuries, the community is described as a 'Christian Republic'. The bishops for the most part exercised the power of order only.

The native Churches of the Persian Empire and the East follow the East-Syrian liturgical rite. They are collectively referred to as the East Syrian Church. The names like Persian Church, Church of the East are also used for this Church.

The East-Syrian rite developed mostly outside the influence of the Greek culture of the Roman Empire. In the Persian Empire, Christianity was first preached among the Jewish communities of Mesopotamia (the area in and around modern Iraq). The liturgical language, East-Syriac (Aramaic), and thought categories, of the East-Syrian rite originate from this connection to the Jews of Mesopotamia. The Jews lived among Assyrians and Persian (Iranian) cultures. Therefore, the East-Syrian rite is the product of fusion between Judeo-Christianity and the pagan cultures of the Assyrians and Persians. However, the predominant element of this fusion was Judeo-Christianity.

The East Syrian Church, also known as the Catholic (Universal) Church of the East gradually grew into a multi-ethnic Church stretching from ancient Mesopotamia to China, passing through Arabia, India, Tibet and Central Asia.


2nd Century

195 AD: Report of Pantaleunus

Pantaleunus reports that he found Christians in India with Hebrew Bible (Gospel of Matthew).

3rd Century

230 AD: Documentation about the priesthood for India

According to ancient Syriac documents written during this period, India receives priesthood directly from the hands of the Apostle Thomas.

295 - 300 AD: Journey of Mar David of Basra

Journey of Mar David of Basra (Bishop of Maishan, southern part of modern Iraq), according to the Chronicle of Seert. Mar David left his seat to evangelise India. This is one of the early recorded instances of Persian bishops arriving in India.


4th Century

315 AD: Mar Papa Bar Aggai

Mar Papa bar Aggai, the bishop of the capital city of the Persian Empire, Seleucia-Ctesiphon (near Baghdad, modern Iraq) sets himself up as the head of the hierarchy of bishops in the Persian Empire. He took the title of Catholicos (head of the Catholic (universal) Church). However, other bishops in the Empire refuse to accept such an authority and he was deposed, though later he returned to serve as bishop.

325 AD: Council of Nicea

Council of Nicea - Persia and India are represented by Mar Yohannan (John). The council recognises the already established privilege of the Church in Persia to ordain its Metropolitans and Bishops without informing any of the established Patriarchates, all located in the Roman Empire.

306-373 AD: Mar Aphrem (St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Mar Aphrem (St. Ephrem the Syrian) writes in length about the Apostle Thomas' visit and death in India. The remains of the Apostle martyred in India are brought to Edessa, Mesopotamia (the city of Sianliurfa in modern Turkey) by a merchant.

355 AD: Bishop Theophilus

Bishop Theophilus, a native of Maldives, visits Malabar and reports about the Christian community.

5th Century

410 AD: The first general Synod of the East-Syrian Church

The first general Synod of the East-Syrian Church is held in Seleucia-Ctesiphon (in Babylon, near modern Baghdad in Iraq), the capital city of the Persian Empire. This event is also known as the Synod of Mar Isaac, after Mar Ishaq (Isaac), the Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Mar Isaac eventually becomes the Catholicos (Also called Catholicos-Patriarch or simply Patriarch) and the Supreme Pontiff of the East-Syrian Church. The Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon gains this position partly by virtue of it being the capital of the Persian Empire. The Persian Emperor, a patron of this Synod, thought he could keep a closer watch on the Christian community if its Head was present in his Capital city. Importantly, a decree to have a uniform liturgy throughout the East-Syrian Church is accepted. Though the anaphora of the Apostles (Addai and Mari) has been in use since the early centuries, the pre-anaphora and other parts of the liturgy developed gradually and the modern form of the East-Syrian liturgy has not changed since at least the 7th Century.

The Church of Persia proper (Fars, in modern Iran), which is linked to India, resists the authority of the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (Babylon) over it until the 8th Century. The Church of Persia proper, like India, claims its origins from St. Thomas the Apostle. The Church in Seleucia claims its origins from St. Mari, a disciple of St. Thomas. Thus Persia claims that the See of St. Thomas cannot be under the See of St. Mari.

425 AD: Daniel, the Indian

Daniel, an Indian priest helps Mar Komai in translating the Greek epistles to Syriac.

Metropolitan Mana of Rew-Ardashihr in Fars (Bushahr in Modern Iran) sends copies of his Syriac and Persian translations of Greek works for use by the Indian clergy. The East-Syrian Church used Christian literature translated to various local languages though the Liturgy was in East-Syriac. A Persian translation of the Liturgy may have been used.

6th Century:

540-552 AD: Translation of the Anaphoras

Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Ava translates the Anaphoras of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius from Greek to East-Syriac. This was done during a visit by the Catholicos to the Roman Empire. These two Anaphoras are used during certain periods or days of the Liturgical calendar.

Cosmas Indicopleustes

Cosmas Indicopleustes, an Alexandrian Greek traveller and East-Syrian monk, writes about the presence of East-Syrian Christians in Malabar and nearby regions. He also mentions about a Bishop consecrated in Persia residing in Kalliana. Kalliana could be either Kollam (Quilon in Kerala) or Kalyan (Mumbai). The various Mar Thoma Sleeva (St. Thomas crosses) carved during this period and afterwards in South India testify to the presence of East-Syrian Christian communities in this region. Some Roman historians speak of the presence of a Monastery of Saint Thomas in India.

The zealous missionaries of the East-Syrian Church spread the faith to the deserts of Arabia, North Africa, Central Asia, and further deep into India, Tibet, China, and probably even Japan.

7th Century

The Catholicos-Patriarch Isho'Yahb III (649-659)

The Catholicos-Patriarch Isho'Yahb III (649-659) complaints about shortcomings by Metropolitan Shemon (Simon) of Fars [Beth Parsaye] in his handling of Indian bishoprics.

The Patriarch raises India [Beth Hindaye] to a Metropolitan Province.

8th Century:

The Catholicos-Patriarchs Sliba-z'kha (714-728), Mar Timothy I

The Catholicos Patriarch Sliba-z'kha (714-728) also consecrates Metropolitans for India. The disagreements between the Church of Babylon and the Church of Persia proper (Fars) are resolved. Fars gets to appoint Metropolitans and Bishops for areas under its jurisdiction. The Church of India is, for a second time, raised to a Metropolitan Province by Mar Timothy I (780-823), the Catholicos-Patriarch. Hence, India is placed directly under the Catholicos-Patriarch of Babylon. However, the trade links with the Christian community of Fars continues.

The Catholicos-Patriarch asks the Church of Malabar to get his confirmation of their selection of Metropolitan before informing the local rulers. Prior to that, Metropolitans were consecrated by placing the letter of the Patriarch on their head. This points to the possibility of native Bishops in Malabar.

The Patriarch Timothy I mentions the possibilities of intermarriages between Persian Christians and Indian Christians. The Patriarch also grants more independence to exterior mission regions and his reforms laid the foundation for future successes in expanding the Church in Central Asia and China.

Missionaries and pilgrims from India travel to distant lands. One such East-Syrian monastery nurtured by Christian pilgrims from India has been discovered in the island of Sir Bani Yas, in modern Gulf state of UAE.

9th Century:

824-825 AD Mar Sabor and Mar Afroth in Quilon (Kollam):

Arrival of the Church Builders - Mar Sabor and Mar Afroth in Quilon (Kollam), on the Malabar Coast. The duo is locally known as Kantheesangal (from the Syriac word for Saints - Khadishe). These bishops are accompanied from Persia by Christian immigrants and traders, probably fleeing persecution. The immigrants mix with the native Christians. The Malayalam Era (Calendar) begins with their arrival.

824-825 AD: Kollam era or Malayalam Calendar starts

Kollam Era is said to have been started after the city has been built. In the copper-plate grants given to Maruwan Sabriso, it is written that the grant has been given to him as a reward of the services he has done to the Kingdom. It is also mentioned that Maruwan Sabriso has built the city.

849 AD: Copper plate grants

The local ruler of Kollam gives the Christian community, 72 grants and privileges engraved on copper plates. These plates are known as the Tarisa Palli Chepped. Tarsa is an old Persian name for Christians in the Persian Empire and it translates to 'God-Fearer'. Palli is the local word for Church. These saintly bishops are credited with building several churches and some churches are still locally known as the Kantheesangal churches - Akaparambu, Udayamperoor (Diamper), Kothanalloor and Kayamkulam. These copper plates are considered to be the "Magna Carta of Saint Thomas Christians", perhaps first of its kind in the world, much earlier than prior to Magna Carta issued by King John of England in 1215 AD.

853-858 AD: India exempted from attending Patriarchal Synods

Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Theodosius exempts India and other distant Metropolitan provinces from attending the Patriarchal synods convened every four years. Instead these provinces are required to send a report with convenient contributions every six years.

883 AD: King Alfred's mission:

King Alfred of England sends an embassy to the tomb of St. Thomas in India.

10th Century:

905 AD: Bishop Adanaka (Denha)

988 AD: Metropolitan Mar Yohannan

11th Century:

Thazhekkad Sasanam

Edicts written on rock near Kodungalloor (Cranganore), north of Cochin on the Malabar Coast. The edict mentions privileges and rights of the Nasrani community.

Severe persecution against Christians

Severe persecution against Christians in Persia, Levent, Central Asia and China begins to show its affects. The Metropolitan sees of Fars (in Iran) and India are supressed. Malabar eventually regains its status while the Christian community in Fars slowly dies.

1056 AD: Mar Thomas

12th Century:

13th Century:

1293 AD: Visit of Marco Polo

Marco Polo, a Venetian traveller, visits the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore and Malabar. He speaks about the presence of Christians in Malabar. Around the same time John of Monte Corvino, a Francisan missionary, also visits the region.

1222 AD: Mar Johannan

1231 AD: Mar Joseph

1285 AD: Mar David

14th Century

1301 AD: Metropolitan and Gate of All India, Mar Jacob

Metropolitan and Gate of All India, Mar Jacob, resident at Kodungalloor (in Malabar), has the titles of Metropolitan and Director of the Holy See of Saint Thomas the Apostle, Director of All the Church of Christian India. The East-Syrian Patriarch in Babylon during this period is Mar Yahb'Allaha III, an ethnic Turkic-Mongol from China.

1321 AD: Jordanus Catalini

Jordanus Catalini, a Dominican, visits Malabar and he is the author of the book titled 'Mirabilia'.

1322 AD: Odoric of Pordenone

Odoric of Pordenone, a Franciscan, travels through various towns on the Malabar coast and to the tomb of St. Thomas in Myalapore.

1340 AD: Amr son of Matthew

Amr son of Matthew, an East-Syrian writer talks about the tomb of St. Thomas in India. He gathers the information from travellers and pilgrims.

1341 AD: Natural Disaster in Malabar

Floods (maybe Tsunami) caused major geographical changes in and around the harbour of Muziris on the Malabar Coast. The town of Muziris disappeared and the coastline also changed.

1349 AD: John De Marignolli

John De Marignolli, visits Malabar and writes about the Christians of St. Thomas.

15th Century:

1407 AD: Mar Jaballaha

1425-30 AD: Visit of Nicolo De Conti

Nicolo De Conti, an Italian traveller, visits the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore and speaks about the presence of East-Syrian Christians in small numbers scattered all over India.

1490 AD: A three-man delegation from Malabar meet the East-Syrian Patriarch

A three-man delegation from Malabar meet the East-Syrian Patriarch Mar Simeon IV (Simon) in Gazarta d'Bet Zabdai (now Cizre in Turkey) requesting for Bishops. One of the delegates is the famous "Joseph the Indian" who is ordained priest by the Patriarch along with the other surviving delegate, George. Joseph seems to be a very important person of the St. Thomas Christian community. The Patriarch lets the delegation choose suitable monks from the monastery of Mar Augen (St. Eugene). The delegates choose 2 monks, both named Joseph. The Patriarch ordains the chosen monks as Bishops Mar Thoma (Thomas) and Mar Yohannan (John) and sends them to Malabar with the delegates. The new bishops are received with pomp and honour in Malabar. Joseph the Indian becomes the rector of the main parish in Kodungalloor (Cranganore).

1492 AD: Return of Mar Thomas to Babylon

Mar Thomas along with Joseph the Indian, returns to Babylon with gifts from Malabar. Mar John stays on. He died in 1517 and is buried in the Udayamperoor (Diamper) church, near Cochin.

*Some events in the pre-1500 history of St. Thomas Christians are not presented in the above timeline for want of proper references. The arrival in Malabar of Knai Thomman, a merchant probably of Armenian descent, is one such instance. We can be certain that he lived before the 16th Century but we are not able to place him in any particular time period. Certain references put his arrival during or before the 8th century, while some others point to his arrival after the 11th century. Also, we are not certain of his ethnicity or from where he arrived in Malabar.

16th Century:

1500-1503 AD: Visit of Joseph the Indian to Europe

Joseph the Indian, travels to Portugal on a Portuguese ship with his brother Mathias, also a priest. Mathias dies in Portugal. Joseph proceeds to Rome and meets the Pope Alexander VI. He is interviewed in Europe and the conversations are written down. It is during this travel that he gets the name "Joseph the Indian". Joseph then proceeds to meet the Catholicos-Patriarch of the East-Syrian Church in Babylon. This time he meets Mar Elias, the successor of Mar Simeon IV.

1503 AD: Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Elias consecrates three more bishops for India

Mar Elias consecrates three more bishops for India - Mar Denha, Mar Jacob and Archbishop Mar Jahballaha. They are sent to Malabar along with Mar Thomas who had returned from Malabar. Some records say it is Joseph the Indian who prompted the Catholicos Patriarch Mar Elias to send Mar Thomas along with the new bishops.

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