|Thomas the Apostle|
|Born||1st century AD, Galilee|
|Died||21 December 72 ,
Mylapore, Chola Empire
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church
Assyrian Church of the East
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Respected and honored in Protestant Churches
|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.|
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 . He was perhaps the only Apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. He is also believed to have crossed the largest area, which includes the Persian Empire and the Indian subcontinent.
Thomas appears in a few passages in the Gospel of John. In , 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 Thomas' best known appearance in the New Testament,
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."
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…"
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.
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).
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. Thomas' receipt of the girdle is commonly depicted in medieval and pre-Tridentine Renaissance art.
"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):
Many early Christian writings, which belong to centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325, exist about Thomas' mission.
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The indigenous church of Kerala 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 present-day Guruvayoor), which was a Hindu 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 Thiruvithamcore Arappally (Travancore) - the half church. 
"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 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,
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.
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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... ”.
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.
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. The martyrologist Rabban Sliba dedicated a special day to both the Indian king, his family, and St Thomas:
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 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.
According to tradition, at the beginning of the 3rd century, the body of Thomas appeared in Edessa, Mesopotamia, where 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.
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."
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).
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) where he documented the tomb of Adam, 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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). 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. The original word used is “ Cruz de Sam Thome “ meaning Cross of St. Thomas. 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.
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:
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. 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.
Redirecting to Thomas the Apostle