There are six tombs for St. Thomas in South India. Two are in San Thome Cathedral at Mylapore, a third on an island south-west of Cochin, a fourth in a Syrian church at Tiruvancode in Travancore, a fifth in a Shiva temple at Malayattur in Travancore, and a sixth at Kalayamuthur west of Madurai near the Palani Hills. There are also six tombs for St. Thomas abroad: one in Brazil, a second in Germany, a third in Japan, a fourth in Malacca, a fifth in Tibet, and a sixth in China.
But this is not the end of the matter of tombs. Bardesanes’s Acts of Thomas has St. Thomas buried in a royal tomb on a mountain in King Mazdai’s desert country and the Ethiopian version of the same Acts has the tomb located in Qantaria, which some say is ancient Gandhara in Afghanistan. The Alexandrian doctors say the tomb is in Parthia that is Persia, but Antipope Hippolytus of Portus says it is in Calamina, a city much discussed and never found, and which, today, remains as elusive a place as the Elioforum of the Passio Thomae. Still others say the tomb is in Betumah, which the Syrians identify with Mylapore but the Arabs say is east of Cape Comorin and Colonel Gerini, in Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia, says is east of Singapore. This is still not the end of the tombs for St. Thomas, but we will stop with the Codex Fuldensis, ca. 541-546 CE, of the Latin version of Tatian’s Syriac Diatessaron, ca. 160-175 CE, which says, “Thomas — In India — Civitate Iothabis”.
Now Iothabis is Iotha, which is a spelling mistake for Iorha, which is Latin for Urhai the Syriac name for Edessa, which, finally, is modern Sanliurfa — commonly Urfa — in Turkey. Edessa as the burial place of St. Thomas can be considered seriously. It is here and in Persia that he proselytized the Syrians, and it is here that the Syrian Christians, known to Europeans as Nestorians, would flourish and spread eastwards after the sixth century even up to Kubli Khan’s court in China. The Latin version of the Diatessaron places Edessa in India because “India” was the term that ancient geographers used to designate the lands east and south of the Roman Empire’s frontiers.
Marco Polo is the first storyteller to place the tomb of St. Thomas in South India and a village on the Coromandel Coast. He does not name the village nor did he visit it, yet most of his interpreters will identify the village with Mylapore. T.K. Joseph, author of Six St. Thomases of South India, accepts Marco Polo’s story but believes that the identification of the tomb in Mylapore as a Christian tomb is a case of wrong identification, of the Syrian Christians identifying the tomb of a Muslim Thomas with their Christian Thomas. In fact, the Mylapore tomb is a Portuguese fake, and the early Syrian Christians were probably worshipping in the great Shiva temple itself or at a yogi’s samadhi connected with it.
Be this as it may, when asked to explain how the South Indian tradition of St. Thomas arose, T.K. Joseph replies, “There are many such problems to be solved. For instance, how was St. Thomas located in Brazil, Germany, Tibet, Malacca, Japan, China, etc.? How have his footprints, knee marks, fingermarks, mummies, three skeletons, more than half-a-dozen tombs, etc., been found in Asia?… How were the seven dates (AD 50, 51, etc.) for his landing first in South India, and the ten or eleven dates for his death (as non-martyr or martyr) fabricated in South India after 1500 AD? How was he made to land first in Malliankara, or Cranganore, or Mylapore, diversely? How was the Rampan Song about him composed ‘in 1601 AD’ as quite reliable, and then tampered with in 1952? How has elephantiasis in Cochin been connected with St. Thomas?
“How, again, has Jesus Christ been found sojourning in North India and the South of England? How has his sepulchre been found in Kashmir?
“Again, how did the Ceylon tradition arise that on ‘Adam’s Peak’ there, ‘is the sepulchre of Adam, our first parent’, as Marco Polo recorded? How has another tomb of the same Adam been located in Arabia?… How has Ceylon found in it the Buddha’s, Adam’s and St. Thomas’s footprints? How were ‘Indians’ found in America by the first Europeans who reached it?”
This rhetoric is all very well insofar as it goes, but it does not go far enough and T.K. Joseph admits the lacuna when he uses phrases like “fabricated in South India after 1500 AD” and “tampered with in 1952” in his discourse. Unfortunately for history, and especially the study of Indian history, he is unwilling to openly indict the Portuguese and the popes and the Roman Catholic Church of today, though he could do so with effect as he had access to information and documents that we cannot hope to obtain.
T.K. Joseph’s weakness — like that of other honest Christian scholars — is inhibition and a limited perspective. He treats the problem of St. Thomas as an internal matter of the Christian community rather than a problem of Indian history. He refuses to consider the Hindu side of the story or to admit that temples were destroyed in Mylapore in the sixteenth century by Franciscan monks and Jesuit priests. He rejects the Malabar and Mylapore legends of St. Thomas as inventions, but seems to be unaware that Marco Polo’s “tall tale” is just that — a tall tale of St. Thomas picked up in a Ceylonese port bazaar and retold with additions to an eager Italian public. His acceptance of the geographical designation “India” in the Acts of Thomas, as the field of the apostle’s work, is unreasonable, as the internal cultural evidence of the Acts points to West Asia and not North-West India. He admits that he is forced to accept the testimony of the Acts as it is the only ancient document that says St. Thomas came to India — and he believes that St. Thomas did come to North-West India and may have been first buried near ancient Taxila.
T.K. Joseph — and other Christian scholars who depend on the Acts of Thomas to fulfil their St. Thomas desires — seem to be unaware of Thomas Paine’s famous dictum concerning another collection of acts and gospels — the Bible. Paine said, “It has often been said that anything may be proved from the Bible; but before anything can be admitted as proved by the Bible, the Bible itself must be proved to be true; for if the Bible be not true, or the truth of it doubtful, it ceases to have authority, and cannot be admitted as proof of anything.”
The Rev. Dr. G. Milne Rae, author of The Syrian Church in India, was even more unsparing than T.K. Joseph in his criticism of the St. Thomas fable. He did not allow that St. Thomas came further east than Afghanistan, and told the Syrian Christians that they reasoned fallaciously about their identity and “wove a fictitious story of their origin”. The two “facts” that they worked from, he said, were (1) the ancient beliefs of their church that St. Thomas was the apostle of the Indians, and (2) that they were Christians of St. Thomas. The ratiocination of these points went like this: St. Thomas was the apostle of the Indians; we are Indians; therefore he is our apostle. If this is not proof enough, there is his tomb in Mylapore, and we have been called “St. Thomas” Christians from the first century.
On the first point, the ancient beliefs of the Syrian Church, however dear to Syrian Christians, cannot be admitted as evidence until they are proved to be historically true. This has not yet happened, though men of genius and integrity have worked at the problem for centuries. The second point, which is simply repeated twice or thrice in the reasoning, also cannot be admitted as evidence because there is no record — indeed, no tradition — of any group calling themselves “St. Thomas” Christians prior to the fourteenth century.
Bishop Giovanni dei Marignolli, the Franciscan papal legate who built a Roman Catholic church in Quilon, in 1348, is the first person to use the appellation “St. Thomas” Christians. He did this to distinguish Syrian converts from low-caste Hindu converts in his congregation. This allowed the former Nestorians to retain their caste status as Roman Catholics. The appellation “St. Thomas” Christian is thus of Roman Catholic origin and indicates a social division within the Roman Catholic Church.
This observation does not exclude the probability that the Syrian Christians, within a few generations of their arrival in India from Persia in the fourth century, identified their community patriarch Thomas the Merchant with their spiritual patriarch Thomas the Apostle — especially as both were also called Thomas of Jerusalem. Thomas had evangelised their forefathers in Syria and Persia and was their apostle, but this did not make him India’s apostle any more than Moses was India’s prophet, though he was the spiritual patriarch of another immigrant community in Malabar.
Moreover, there is no evidence that there ever was a Church of India, as such an early Thomas-founded church would have been called, though there was admittedly a Church of Persia founded by St. Thomas. Nor is there any record that Malabar ever had its own ecclesiastical hierarchy; hierarchs were always brought into India from Persia or Mesopotamia or, as today, from Antioch.
This circumstance is very unusual, for if the Syrian Church was not an immigrant church as its name and the importation of bishops implies, and St. Thomas was as closely and indissolubly associated with India as legend says, then there should be a Church of India — or some concrete record of it — with an indigenous hierarchy and an apostolic succession of bishops from St. Thomas. Yet there is nothing, absolutely nothing to show that St. Thomas established a church in India — notwithstanding the reams of reasonings and professions of faith that “St. Thomas” Christians produce today.
We have only the many and various legends and even they continue to change with the changing political needs of the Church. T.K. Joseph, the “St. Thomas” Christian who began his investigation into the St. Thomas legend when he suspected the authority of Malabar’s “authoritative” St. Thomas Song, writes, “St. Thomas Christians seem to be ready to welcome any number of additions to their [Marco Polo] recorded St. Thomas traditions of 1288 to the present day if the fundamental concept of St. Thomas’s preaching and death in their South India itself is left intact. They do not mind if he is a non-martyr or a martyr, and do not seem to care if they or their ancestors are accused of sins committed for his sake, or if the Saint himself is described in their records as having … sinned. They will perhaps readily accept his Ceylon log of wood, his three skeletons, his two Mylapore tombs, his footprints on rocks, his dates 52, 68 AD, etc., his [non-existent] contemporary Biography of 72-73 AD, his waist cord presented to him by St. Mary on her ‘Assumption’ to heaven, his coming to South India along with King Gaspar of Jaffna, his settling the Goddess Kali in the Cranganore temple, his withdrawing his dead hand from Chinese intruders to his tomb in Mylapore, and other such things of the kind.”
This short list of St. Thomas curiosities contains an error and an important omission. The error is that Catholics will not tolerate a non-martyred apostle in their pantheon of saints — they have even martyred St. John, who was never martyred — and the omission is that T.K. Joseph has neglected to mention that Catholics like to believe that St. Thomas was killed by a Hindu king and his attending Brahmin priest.
The “martyred” St. Thomas has existed since the Acts of Thomas, ca. 210 CE, in which he is executed by King Mazdai for social crimes and sorcery. The Portuguese added the Brahmin assassin after 1517 and he has remained the first choice of the Roman Catholic Church since, for without him the Hindu community cannot be successfully maligned and the continuing cover-up of the destruction of temples in Mylapore cannot be successfully maintained by the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese and its anti-Hindu secular sponsors in government.
67. Christians love reasonings of this nature because they cannot be disproved by the uninformed man in the street. They are usually based on a false premise and employ an intoxicating circular logic, where the last statement is made to prove the first statement and so on until the listener, usually a polite Hindu, is “convinced” or “defeated”.
68. There are at least six different root legends — from Alexandria, Edessa, Europe, Venice (Marco Polo), Malabar and Mylapore — that Catholic propagandists draw on to make up their own masala stories of St. Thomas.
69. This is another temple which St. Thomas is said to have demolished, though it continues to prosper today as the fierce and famous Bhagawati of Kodungallur.