Mission of Mar Simon and Mar Gabriel-An Attempt to reinforce East Syrianism

In the year 1700 of our lord there came to Malabar, Mar Simon, (1700) a Chaldean Bishop. He consecrated Bishop Angelus (Catholic). At midnight, without the others knowing it, Mar Simon was taken to Pondicherry and locked up in a room. Mar Gabriel another Chaldean bishop came in 1705.He had more than 25(He Claimed the no as 44) Churches, of both Jacobites and Catholic bishops under him.[1] He died in Kerala in 1731 and was buried in Cheriapally in Kottayam., which is now under the control of the Indian Orthodox Syrian Church.
A detail from Mar Simeon’s letter to Malabar christians (1701).
After requesting that you be in spiritual peace and asking about your condition I let it know to your graceful love that I came from Mar Eliah, Patriarch of the East; let his glorious see be fortified! Amen. First I went to Jerusalem and from there I went to the great Rome and to Spain and to the land of Portugal; from there I came to the land of India, to the city of Anjuna and asked about you and he told me: “Those people are not here, the people whom you seek, but go to the city of Surat, there you will find them.” I went to Surat and did not see anybody from among you, but I saw a Jew and a book [letter] of yours was with him. I took it from him, kissed it and read,rejoiced very much and asked him: “Where would be these Christians?” – and he told me: “In the land of Kochi.”[6]
• The letter is a testimony to the desperate efforts of the East Syrian patriarchs to maintain their jurisdiction in Malabar.MAP MS Syr 7, f. 512r: A

Historical Context-An Attempt to reinforce East Syrianism.

Mar Simon's letter to Malabar Christians

It should be also observed here before entering into other issues of the Thomas Christians who were under the Marthoma bishops, their East Syrian Church identity. Between 1705 and 1731 a bishop named Mar Gabriel from the East Syrian Patriarch Mar Elia had arrived into Kerala to reclaim his Flocks with which from the time of 1599 that Patriarch had lost all relation. Seeing the changed political condition of South India took place this arrival of Mar Gabriel. At this arrival a number of churches and considerable body of Thomas Christians, both from the non-Romo and Romo Thomas Christians accepted him.He died at Kottayam and was buried at Cheriapally, which later on came under the Jacobites where his anniversary feast used to be celebrated every year till the end of the 19th cent. This went shows that during the 18th and 19th centuries, till the Orthodox were fully identified with the West Syrian Church, they were also remaining identified ecclesiastically with the East Syrian Christianity. The Eastern Syrian they were following their liturgical language and this practice prevalent till 1876 . It is a fact with the arrival of Mar Gabriel it was not possible full reintroduction and reinforcement of East Syrian Christianity among the Thomas Christians. Because the Thomas Christians were remaining in a divided state: one under the Roman Catholics and the other under Marthoma bishops. Mar Thoma bishops IVth and Vth were not ready to receive Mar Gabriel, but they clashed with him both theological and administratively. As the Mar Gabriel since died without a Successor his hopes upon the future of his church’s continuation remained unrealized. Thus with this event the connection of the Indian church with the East Syrian church came to an end forever. Although the Indian Church continued basically in the East Syrian Church traditions along with the West Syrian ones, which were newly introduced, hold of the East Syrian ones, gradually began to be declined.
Mar Gabriel was entombed at Kottayam Cheriya palli
Mar Gabriel was a time serving man. When he started for Malabar, he submitted his confession of Faith to Pope, with a request that he be confirmed as the Bishop of Malabar. A Carmelite friar of Verapoly obtained from him an agreement that he would live a retired life. It is said this agreement is still preserved in the archives of Verapoly.(Source unclear).Mar Thoma IV treated him as an intruder. He wrote to the Dutch Governor at Cochin, complaining against Mar Gabriels and soliciting the dutch help to oust him from diocese. There is evidence that there were Cathanaars from Chamapakulam also ordained by Mar Gabriel. Paulinose reports that there was a senior cathanaar from Champakulam and a Gheevarghese kathanaar of Pallipuram were among those ordained by Mar Gabriel.[2]Those who know the traditions of St Thomas Christians understand that without a desakkuri, an ordination is not accepted by the community and as these priests were accepted by the community, we have to assume that the community at Champakulam gave desakkuri for those cathanaars to be ordained by Mar Gabriel.
He is buried at Kottayam Cheriya palli. Till the second arrival of Jacobite Patriach in Kottayam his feast was celebrated in Small church –cheriya palli (which Jacobite might have got back) by all. It is the Jacobite Patriarch who abolished the practice. His tomb was afterwards destroyed, and the materials were utilized in the construction of a staircase in their parochial building.
In the year of our Lord 1709, there came a Metropolitan, by name Gabriel, the Ninivite, whom Mar Elias Catholicos sent to me. But he held such a faith as that Christ had two natures and persons; and therefore we did not believe him, except a certain priest called Mathew Beticutel and a few Roman Catholics. We, however, have not wisdom that we may answer him. Therefore, we report it to thee, our Lord.[3]
Jacobus Canter Visscher in his sixteenth letter gives an interersting account of Thomas Christians and a vivid picture of their bishops including Mar Gabriel whom he had encountered: [3]
Mar Gabriel, a white man, and sent hither from Bagdad, is aged and venerable in appearance, and dresses nearly in the same fashion as the Jewish priests of old,wearing a cap fashioned like a turban, and a long white beard. He is courteous and God fearing, and not at all addicted to extravagant pomp. Around his neck he wears a golden crucifix. He lives with the uttermost sobriety, abstaining from all animal food. [3][4][5]
TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER ADDRESSED TO THE Jacobus Canter Visscher of Dutch East India Company BY MaR gabriel.[4]
A letter by Bishop Mar Gabriel, written in the Syriac language. to Jacobus Canter Visscher of Dutch East India Company give us somewhat remarkable account of the origin and spread of Christianity in Malabar.The title runs as follows :—
“ The antiquity of the Syrian Christians, and Historical events relating to them." ·

“Fifty-two years after the birth of the Messiah, the holy Apostle Thomas arrived at Mailapoor on the coast of Coromandel, preaching the Gospel and founding Churches there. Passing from thence to Malabar, the holy man landed on the island of Maliankare, (situated between Cranganore and Paroe), preached and taught, and built churches in that island, and likewise at Cottacay, Repolym, Gokkomangalam,Pernetta, and Tixoeusngottu and having finished his work in these parts and ordained two priests, returned to the land of the Pandies (As the natives of Coromandel are called)to teach the people there. But whilst he was thus occupied, the Apostle was pierced by the Heathens with spears, and thus ended his life. In the course of a few years all the priests in Hindustan and Malabar, died; and many years afterwards. A Tovenaar called Mamukawasser, an enemy to the Christian faith, arrived at Mailapoor, performing many miracles to hinder its progress. And many of the principal Christians giving heed to him, forsook Christianity and followed this false teacher Mamulmwasser. In those days certain persons came from Hindowy or Hindostan, who were not disposed to abandon the people of Malabar, and who allied themselves with the believers, that is, the Christians who had remained constant, in number about 160 families or tribes. These men taught for many years in Malabar, but there were few among them who had knowledge, because they were destitute of pastors; and therefore most of them ended in becoming heathens, and had all things in common with the other Heathens. This caused a second apostasy; so that out of the 160 families, 96 adopted the heathen superstitious, 64 only adhering to the true faith.[4]
New in those days there appeared e vision to an Archpriest,at Oerghai, in consequence where of certain merchants were sent from Jerusalem by command of the Catholicos authorities in the East, to see whether there were here any Nszarenes or Christians. These persons have arrived here with ships, joined all the Christians from Maliankere, as far as Tierowengotta, treated them as brothers and strengthened them in the faith and having taken leave of the 64 families, set sail and returned to Jerusalem, and related to the Catholics in that place their adventures in Malabar. After this, several priests, students, end Christian women and children came hither from Bagdad, Nineveh, and Jerusalem ,by order of the Catholicos Archpriest at Oerghai, arriving in the year of the Messiah 745 in company with the merchant Thomas: and having made acquaintance with the 64 families, they became united and lived in concord one with another. At this time the famous Emperor Cheram Peroumal was reigning over the whole of Malabar To him the new comers went, and when they informed him of the cause of their arrival, the King was well pleased, and gave them pieces of ground in the territory of Cragnanoor to build Churches and shops upon, that they might pursue their trades, at the same time he granted the Christians royal marks of honor, and permission to carry on their trade throughout the whole .[4]Country so long- as the sun and moon should shine, as may be seen to this day in their documents written upon copper plates. In consequence of this, the Christians possess in, the territory of Cragnanoor East, West, North and South, several churches besides 472 shops and dwelling houses built around them and they Lived in peace and unity for several years. In this period, by order of the Catholic Patriarch of the East, many great teachers arrived in Malabar, from Bagdad, Nineveh, Jerusalem and several other places, who assumed authority over the Christians of the country.

This state of things lasted until a separation took place among the Christians of cranganoor in the year of our Lord 823, and then Mar Saboor, Mar Broth, and Sabor Isso, came to Quilon as teachers. They went to visit the King Sjak Rawiosti, with presents, and built Churches and shops at Quilon. In these and similar ways, the chief pastors- came, teaching and instructing the people of Malabar. In the year 1500, when the Portuguese first appeared in Malabar, where they afterword obtained a footing. there came, by order of the Catholic Patriarch, four teachers, by name Mar Mardina, Mar Jacob, Mar Thome., and Jene Allay,who governed the Christians and built many churches. After the death of these four teachers, another, called Mar Abraham came to Malabar, about the year 1550, whereupon the Portuguese 'passed a decree that henceforth no Catholicos teachers should come thither, and placed guards everywhere to seize and put to death all who should attempt it. Mar Abraham was captured, but escaped through God’s mercy, and continued to teach for many years, and built several churches; after which, he Went the Way of all flesh. After that time the road was closed to the Syrian priests, and the Christians experienced a want of pastors; which the Portuguese perceiving, a Vieegerent und Bishop called Aiexiu , came to the city of Cochin in the name of and with authority from the Pope of Rome. This Bishop took a great deal of trouble to bring the Syrian Christians into subjection, and seeing no chance of effecting his object, the Portuguese gave to the King of Cochin 30,000 ducats, and with the help of His Highness persecuted the Christians who dwelt in his dominions, for three whole years The Christians then, unable to endure the persecution longer, submitted to the Bishop, and thus became reconciled with the Portuguese. 
Maritime trade routes during the 9th century
Shortly afterwards the Syrian manners and customs underwent a change: the priests were forbidden to marry and for about 55 years the Syrians followed the same customs as the Portuguese. In the meantime a priest called Mar Matti came to Mailapore sent by the Catholic Patriarch. The Portuguese apprehended him and brought him into the city, and afterwarcg drugged him to the harbor and cast him into the water. On hearing this, the Christians of Malabar assembled in the church of Mar Tancheri, took counsel together, bound themselves by oath, and thus threw off the Portuguese yoke from their necks; having first written and signed a letter declaring that from that time forward and for ever, they would have nothing more to do, for good or evil, with the Portuguese. And in the days of this persecution, the upright, God· fearing, justice-loving, and peaceable Dutch were sent to Malabar by the inspiration of Almighty God and by order of the East India Company, under the command of the noble Lord Admiral Ryklolp van Goens, and like as the heathen were driven out of the land of Isso Biranon Kinan[Canaan] so have they driven the heathen Portuguese out of Cochin and other cities and fortresses of Malabar and through Divine Providence the Syrian Christians have been from that time forward protected and defended from them, and their pastors have in visited this country without let or hindrance. In the beginning of the year 1700, the Bishop Mar Symons, sent by the Catholic-Patriarch of the East, arrived in Indie, being appointed to Malabar .This men gave notice of his intended arrival by letters to the Syrian Christians, which happening to fall into the hands of the Carmelites and Jesuits, they accordingly placed sentinels everywhere, captured the Bishop, and led him prisoner to Pondicherry where they kept him in irons. After him, in the year 1705, the chief teacher, Mar Gabriel, came to this land; and since that time most of the Syrians have adopted the Church customs of the Portuguese, subjecting themselves to several ceremonies, end condemning the marriage of the Priests; and that out of the 64- churches, twenty have remained on the side of the Carmelitea, and 44 on that of the Syrian: but as we enjoy the favor of the Lord Commandant, we hope that all this will be restored to the old footing, and this is what we now humbly pray of his Excellency and his Council, trusting that they will not turn away their face from us. And therefore we pray God to give them in good health and all welfare, and to give them blessing and prosperity. [4]


 [1]  Indian Christians of St Thomas, Leslie Brown, P116 cited in Nasrani padanamgal, Indian orthodox sabha charithram, Joseph Cheeran, Sophia Print House Kottayam p 142.

[2] Lingering of Light in the dark land, being researches into the past history and the present condition of the Syrian Church of Malabar, Thomas Whitehouse, p211,A double regime in the Malabar Church, Thomas Pallippurathukunnel p 143 cited in Changanacherry Athiroopatha Innale Innu vol II.

[3] A History of Christianity in India: 1707-1858  By Stephen Neill Page 103,104.

[4] Letters from Malabar, tr.: to which is added An account of Travancore, and fra Bartolomeo's travels in that country. By H. Drury- Jacobus Canter Visscher  Letter XVI.

[5] Asiatic journal and monthly miscellany, Volume 9, By East India Company.

[6] History of Kerala Christianity on the Basis of Newly Found Documents: Methodological Challenges and Possible Answers(Talk at the IIS Centre for Contemporary Studies, on 24 July 2008)-István Perczel University of Tübingen Central European University.


  1. Gabriel doesn't says anywhere in the letter to Vishcer about the churches that he is holding.

    If you read the last part of the letter, you will understand 20 churches stood with Rome(carmelites) and 44 churches with the other faction. (Marthoma 1). Gabriel specifically prays that the 20 should be also restored to the old footing.