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Saint Thomas. Huh?

12 Years Ago


Hello all,

 

For years now I have heard stories about

Thomas the Apostle, also called Judas Thomas, Doubting Thomas, or Didymus, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is perhaps best known for disbelieving Jesus' Resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus. By tradition it is held that he went to India to preach the gospel there. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates his feast on 3 July. In the traditional Catholic calendar, his feast day was December 21 (the day with the shortest daylight hours). It was moved in order to accomodate the commemoration of St. Peter Canisius, who died on December 21.


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 in John 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.

In Thomas' best known appearance in the New Testament, John 20:24-29, he doubts the 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.[1]

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."

[edit] Twin and its Renditions

  • The Greek Didymus: in three of these passages (John 11:16; 20:24; and 21:2), 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 omits the Twin's actual name.
  • 'Didymus' or 'Didymos' is also the Greek name of the constellation Gemini, which some scholars believe to be associated with the Thomas, character in the Bible.

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."

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 son 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…"[2]

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

 

[edit] Veneration as a saint

Thomas is revered as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. For the Eastern Orthodox, 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 July 30 (August 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).

The Roman Catholic and Anglican calendars honour him on July 3, the day on which his relics are believed to have been translated from Mylapore, a place along the coast of the Marina Beach, Chennai in India to the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia.

 

[edit] Later History

Just as Saints Peter and Paul are said to have brought the fledgling Christianity to Greece and Rome, Saint Mark brought it to Egypt, Saint John to Syria and Asia Minor, Thomas is often said to have taken it eastwards as far as India. Saint Thomas is said to have been the first Catholicos of the East.

 

[edit] Thomas and the Assumption of Mary

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

Main article: Dormition of the Theotokos

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.[3] Thomas' receipt of the girdle is commonly depicted in medieval and pre-Tridentine Renaissance art.

 

[edit] 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."

 

[edit] Historical References to St. Thomas

Many early Christian writings, which belong to centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325, exist about St.Thomas mission.[4]

  • The Acts of Judas Thomas: 2nd/3rd century (c. 180-230) [5] 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. [6]
  • Clement of Alexandria: 3rd century (d.c. 235); Church represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical Note : Greek Theologian, b. Athens, 150. [4] Clement makes a passing reference to St. Thomas’ Apostolate in Parthia. This agrees with the testimony which Eusebius records about Pantaenus visit to India.[4]
    A 13th-century Armenian illumination, by Toros Roslin.
    A 13th-century Armenian illumination, by Toros Roslin.
  • Doctrine of the Apostles: 3rd Century; Church represented: Syrian [7] “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 [8]
  • 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. [9] 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”.[10]
  • Eusebius of Caesarea: 4th century (d. 340); Church Represented: Alexandrian/Greek Biographical [11] 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….” [12]
  • Ephrem: 4th century; Church Represented: Syrian Biographical [13] 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. [14]
  • Gregory of Nazianzus: 4th century(d. 389); Church Represented: Alexandrian. Biographical Note: Gregory of Nazianzus was born A.D. 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’.[15] “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?” [16]
  • Ambrose of Milan: 4th century (d. 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. [17] “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 Mathew..” [18]
  • 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.” [4]
  • 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.” [4]
  • St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431). St. Paulinus' testimony :“Parthia receives Mathew, India Thomas, Libya Thaddeus, and Phrygia Philip”.[4]
  • St. Gregory of Tours (d. 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.’ [4]
  • 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,a city of India, and there was buried with honour”. [4]
  • St. Bede the Venerable (c. 673-735).St. Bede's testimony : “Peter receives Rome, Andrew Achaia; James Spain; Thomas India; John Asia" [4]

"What India gives us about Christianity in its midst is indeed nothing but pure fables." -Dr. A. Mingana in The Early Spread of Christianity in India.[19]

Ancient writers used the designation "India" for all countries south and east of the Roman Empire's frontiers. India included Ethiopia, Arabia Felix, Edessa in Syria (in the Latin version of the Syriac Diatessaron), Arachosia and Gandhara (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and many countries up to the China Sea.[20] In the Acts of Thomas, the original key text to identify St. Thomas with India (which all other India references follow), historians agree that the term India refers to Parthia (Persia) and Gandhara. [21] The city of Andrapolis named in the Acts, where Judas Thomas and Abbanes landed in India, has been identified as Sandaruk (one of the ancient Alexandrias) in Baluchistan.[22]

Eusebius of Caesarea (Historia Ecclesiastica, III.1) 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, written 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.

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.

The indigenous church of Kerala State, India has a tradition that St. Thomas sailed there to spread the Christian faith. He is said to have landed at a small village, at that time a port, named Palayoor, near Guruvayoor, which was a priestly community at that time. He left Palayoor in AD 52 for southern 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 Thiruvithamkode (Travancore) - the half church. (See also Saint Thomas of Mylapur).[citation needed]

It has been argued that as an Apostle of the 'Circumcision' his first converts would have been Jews who were settled there, and that the possibility of him converting Hindus into Christianity is unlikely, though phenotypes and overall Dravidian culture among the community suggest otherwise. Some Saint Thomas Christians believe that orthodox Brahmins like Namboodiris were converted by Saint Thomas into Christianity based upon attempts by the St Thomas Christians to enter the caste system of India, though Brahmin conversion is disputed by historians who suggest that this was claimed later by Christian communities to obtain special caste status among the Hindu community, as St Thomas was believed to have arrived in Kerala at 52 AD, whereas Nambudiris arrived in Kerala in the 7th century. These Saint Thomas Christians also grew through integration of Jewish Christian immigrants of the 4th century AD led by Thomas of Cana and later by Mar Sapro in the 8th century AD. As Judeo-Christian communities are said not to have integrated with other faith communities, especially those of the hyper orthodox Namboodhiri Brahmins of Malabar, it has been argued that this tradition is unlikely.[citation needed]

[edit] Visit to Gondophares

The Acts of Thomas describes in chapter 17 Thomas' visit to king Gondophares in northern India; chapters 2 and 3 depict him as embarking on a sea voyage to India, thus connecting Thomas to the west coast of India. Though the Acts are usually considered to be moral entertainments of a legendary nature, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is a surviving roughly contemporary guide to the routes commonly being used for navigating the Arabian Sea. At the times the Acts were being composed, and until the discovery of his coins in the region of Kabul and the Punjab, there was no reason to suppose that a king named "Gondophares" had ever really existed.[citation needed] The reign of Gondophares, established by a votive inscription of his 26th regnal year that was unknown until 1872, commenced in AD 21, so he was in fact reigning as late as AD 47. "It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the writer of the Acts must have had information based on contemporary history. For at no later date could a forger or legendary writer have known the name." (Medlycott 1905).

[edit] 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.[23] 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[24]

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.

[edit] Indian Legacy

Main article: Christianity in India
According to tradition, the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares was proselitized by St Thomas, who continued on to southern India.
According to tradition, the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares was proselitized by St Thomas, who continued on to southern India.

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 (23-79 AD). 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 tradition, 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.

As recorded in the Travancore Manual, around 345 AD, Thomas of Cana ( also known as Kona Thomas, Knaye Thoma, Thomas Cananeus or Cannaneo, Thomas the Canaanite, and Thomas of Jerusalem) merchant and missionary, visited the Malabar coast. He brought to Kodungallur a group of four hundred Christians from Bagdad, Nineveh and Jerusalem. Cheraman Perumal, the King, gave him grants of privileges. [25]

Thomas of Cana and his companion Bishop Joseph of Edessa had sought refuge in India because of persecution of Christians by the Persian king Shapur II. The colony of Syrian Christians they established at Kodungallur (Cranganore) in Kerala is the first recorded Christian community established in South India.[26] Thomas of Cana named the community Mahadevarapatnam after the nearby Hindu deity at Tiruvanchikulam, and for this reason some historians identify him as an eclectic Manichaean rather than a Nestorian Christian.[27]

Thomas of Cana is the historical founder of the Christian church in India (note, there was never a "Church of India" or "Church of Muziris" (as Kodungallur was called by the Greeks and Romans) in ancient times, as there were Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Fars, etc.). This church was linked to the Church of Seleusia-Ctesiphon on Tigris in Mesopotamia in 450 AD,[28] which in turn was linked to the Church of Edessa in Syria, the church at the center of the St. Thomas cult. These Nestorian churches were officially known as the Church of the East and St. Thomas was called the Apostle of the East, the patron apostle of all churches east and south of the Roman Empire's frontiers. The designation Apostle of India was to come much later and is a Roman Catholic invention.[citation needed] Prof. Leonardo Olschki writes,"The Nestorians of India ... venerated St. Thomas as the patron of Asiatic Christianity -- mark, not of Indian Christianity."[29]

The 4th century merchant Thomas of Cana was popularly known as Thomas of Jerusalem, and in that he was the founder of the Christian church in India, a number of historians have concluded that he was identified with the the 1st century apostle Thomas by India's Syrian Christians sometime after his death and became their Apostle Thomas in India.[30] [31] [32] [33]

In 522 AD, 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."[34]

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 744 AD. In 822 AD 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.
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.

Marco Polo is the first author in history to identify St. Thomas with South India and a seashore tomb in an unnamed town on the Coromandel coast.[35] All previous accounts of St. Thomas had followed the Acts of Thomas and had the apostle buried in the unnamed desert country of the Zoroastrian king Mazdai (in Persian), Misdaeus (in Greek), in a royal tomb on a mountain containing the sepulchers of ancient Persian kings (from which the relics were stolen and returned to Mesopotamia).[36] Marco Polo also states in Il Milione that St. Thomas was a Muslim saint from Nubia and that he had been killed by accident by a native pagan hunting peacocks. Therefore, the Muslim St. Thomas ("Thuma" or "Thawwama" in Arabic, meaning "born twin" as does "Thoma" and "Thama" in Syriac and "Didymus" in Greek) was the victim of a hunting accident and not a martyr. This story by Marco Polo only adds to the tangled mass of fables concerning St. Thomas, his travels, and his doubtful end.[37]

Marco Polo's popular story revolutionized the St. Thomas legend in Europe, and the unidentified town on the Coromandel coast, believed to contain his relics in a seashore tomb, was soon identified by the Portuguese with the ancient pilgrimage town of Mailapur (Mylapore), which had a busy international port and a great Shiva temple built on a high point on the sea beach.[38] However, it can be positively stated that Marco Polo did not visit the Coromandel coast of India at any time in his travels to and from China, and both dates for his visits to India, 1288 and 1292, are in serious doubt.[39] And Friar Odoric of Pordenone, who visited Mylapore in 1322, did not find any St. Thomas church or tomb in the town but describes a Hindu temple filled with idols on the sea beach.[40]

Marco Polo's testimony for St. Thomas in South India is important to note in detail because it has been used by St. Thomas in South India protagonists, from the 16th century Portuguese in Mylapore to Bishops Medleycott and Arulappa in their fictionalized St. Thomas histories, to Christian historiographers working today on dictionaries and film scripts, as positive proof that St. Thomas lived and died in Mylapore (Madras/Chennai), in Tamil Nadu, South India. But Marco Polo's St. Thomas story in Il Milione has no historical veracity at all and has been discredited. It is only a pious tale picked up in the bazaars of Ceylon and Quilon -- if, indeed, Marco Polo ever visited these places at all. This is now in doubt, even as Dante doubted it in the 13th century. A British scholar has recently argued that Marco Polo never went to China, never went further east than Constantinople, and that his book Il Milione was just an imaginative collection of tales he claimed as his personal travel record, but which he had really picked up from Muslim and Syrian Christian merchants who had come to Constantinople to trade. [41]

While exploring the Malabar coast of Kerala, South India after Vasco da Gama's arrival in Calicut in 1498, the Portuguese encountered Christians in South Western India, who traced their foundations to St. Thomas. However, the Catholic Portuguese did not accept the legitimacy of local Malabar traditions, and they began to impose Roman Catholic practices upon the Saint Thomas Christians. The Udayamperoor Synod (Synod of Diamper) in 1599, was an attempt by the Portuguese, to Latinize the local Christian rites. In 1653, the Syrian Christians split from the Latin Church controlled by the Pope of Rome. The Orthodox faction remained fully within the various Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian traditions. During the British rule in India, Protestantism flourished among the Christians.

On the isolated island of Socotra south of Yemen in the Arabian Sea, a community of Christians had been attested as early as ca. 354 by Philostorgius, the Arian Church historian, in his narrative of the mission of Bishop Theophilus to the Homeritae (Medleycott), and was confirmed by medieval Arab sources. They survived to be documented in 1542 by Saint Francis Xavier, whom they informed that their ancestors had been evangelized by Thomas (Medlycott 1905, ch. ii). Francis Xavier was careful to station four Jesuits to guide the faithful in Socotra into orthodoxy (letter, April 15, 1549). Socotra had been briefly garrisoned by Albuquerque, but after the Mahra sultans from the Horn of Africa conquered Socotra in 1511 almost all traces of the Thomas Christian community in Socotra had been utterly effaced.

Though the mortal remains of Thomas, were removed to Edessa in the 3rd century from India, and from Edessa to Italy, an attempt was made by the Portuguese in the 16th century, to trace the original tomb of Thomas. Finally they settled on Mylapore near Madras (Chennai), as the site where Thomas was martyred.

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

[edit] Pope Benedict XVI's controversial statements

On September 27th 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave out a speech in the Vatican in which he recalled an ancient tradition claiming that Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia, then went on to Western India, from where Christianity also reached Southern India.[42].