Wednesday, December 2, 2009


The Christians of India strongly believe that Christianity was introduced into India by St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. It is believed that after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles met in Jerusalem and prayerfully cast lots to ascertain to which part of the world each of them should go to preach the Gospel. India was allotted to St. Thomas. Jesus appeared to him in a vision and strengthened him to undertake the challenging mission.
Several legends are popular regarding the missionary journeys of St. Thomas. It is said that GUNDAPHER (GONDOPHARES), the king of India and Parthia wanted to build a dream palace near his capital, Taxila. He sent his envoy, a Jewish merchant named HABBAN to Jerusalem, to bring a descendant of the great architects who built the beautiful temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. Jesus appeared to Habban as a master architect and promised to send his disciple, Thomas, a skilled architect and builder along with him to India to construct the king’s palace. Jesus met Thomas, enlightened him and sent him with Habban.
St. Thomas and Habban sailed to India and reached the palace of King Gundapher in Taxila. The king was impressed by the wisdom and skill of St. Thomas and gladly entrusted him with the task of building the palace. The king paid him a huge sum of money to meet the expenses of the construction but St. Thomas spent the money among the poor. Later the courtiers informed the king that Thomas has not built anything but has spent the money among the poor. They reported that he was preaching and performing miracles and converting a large number of people to a new religion. The king became furious and summoned Thomas to the court and imprisoned him. He was planning to kill Thomas for wasting the king’s money and neglecting the construction.
Unexpectedly, the beloved younger brother of the king, GAD, fell ill and died. The king was filled with grief and cried aloud. He was informed that St. Thomas had miraculously raised many from the dead during his missionary travels. The king sought the intercession of St. Thomas, who prayed fervently and laid his hands on the dead body of Gad. Miraculously, Gad came back to life and testified that he had seen in heaven the beautiful palace that Thomas had built for the king by spending the king’s money for the poor and needy. The king and his brother prostrated themselves before the saint and begged his pardon. They embraced Christianity along with many members of the royal family. St. Thomas was now free to preach and he could build a strong Christian community around Taxila in the Parthian empire. But in a few years, the Parthian empire was defeated and destroyed by the Kushans. St. Thomas left Taxila and sailed to the west to reach the island of Socotra (now part of Yemen) and converted the islanders to Christianity. Later, he sailed back to India and in 52 AD, landed at the famous south-Indian port of Muziris (Maliankara near Kodungalloor), the capital of the Chera kingdom in the present state of Kerala. He travelled wide and organized seven strong Christian communities which are centres of pilgrimage even today. They are: 1.Palayoor near Guruvayoor, 2. Kodungalloor (Cranganore), 3.Kottakavu (Paravur), 4.Kokkamangalam, 5.Niranam, 6.Kollam (Quilon) and 7. Nilakkal (Chayal).
From Kerala he moved to the eastern coast of India to preach the Gospel and died as a martyr in Mylapore (Calamina) near Madras in the present state of Tamil Nadu. He was pierced with a spear by his enemies. The place of his martyrdom is now known as St. Thomas Mount. The Basilica of St. Thomas at Mylapore is a lasting memorial to his missionary zeal, martyrdom and sanctity.
St. Thomas had told his fellow disciples, “Let us all go with the Teacher so that we may die with Him” {John 11: 16}. It was said when Jesus started His journey to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead, at a time when the Jews were planning to kill Jesus.
The Church commemorates the martyrdom of St. Thomas, ‘The Apostle of India', on the 3rd of July.

By: Dr. Babu Philip, Professor, Cochin University of Science & Technology, Fine Arts Avenue, Kochi-682016, Kerala, India.

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