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How did Christianity Come to India?

Would you doubt my word if I say that Doubting Thomas, one of the Apostles of Christ visited India and established Christianity? Don’t. For its true.

Among Christ’s 12 apostles, Thomas Didaemus or Doubting Thomas, along with Peter and Paul were pre-eminent. Thomas Didaemus was called Doubting Thomas because he doubted Christ’s word that on the third day after his crucifixion, Christ would rise again.

There are many schools of thought as to how Christianity spread in India. Some claim it is through St. Thomas who came to India in 52 A.D. Others claim that a Syrian merchant, Thomas of Cana, came to Travancore in Kerala and established a Christian colony there.

Church in the backwaters of Kerala, India

Thomas Didaemus is believed to have visited India in two phases. His first mission took him to the Parthian empire in the Indo-Scythian border province of Kandahar (now in Afghanistan). Christians believed that king Gundapar who ruled in India, allowed Thomas to preach the gospel in his kingdom.

For 10 centuries, the existence of such a king was doubted. However, a large number of coins discovered in Kabul, Kandahar, and in the Punjab, bear the name of Gondophores. Research indicates that Gondophores probably ruled Peshawar between 20 and 45 A.D. However, there is no further evidence whether the first Christians were converted here or not.

In his second visit to India, Thomas landed at Musiris (Cranganore) in Kerala in 52 A.D. He made his first converts of Jews and Hindus in Cranganore, Palayur and Quilon among other places.

At Palayur, he organized the new coverts and appointed priests from among the leading families. Alongside he organised the erection of the first church in India at Palayur, now in Trichur district. He is also credited with establishing six other churches in India.

St. Thomas then moved on to the east coast of India making conversions and crossed over to China. Returning to India he shifted base to Madras (now Chennai). But the people here did not appreciate the new religion and he was persecuted and killed in a cave in what is now called the St Thomas’ Mount in 72 A.D.

Armenian Christians discovered his grave in the sixth century and a church built on the site, a village now called Mylapore, in Chennai. Traders called this village ‘Betumah’ or ‘Town of Thomas’. Marco Polo in his travels was supposed to have visited this church.

In 1523, Portuguese settlers built a Church over his grave and called it San Thome after the apostle. This is now the nucleus of the present San Thome Basilica.

In 1606, the Diocese of San Thome was established at the personal request of King Philip II of Portugal to Pope Paul V. In 1898, Dom Henriques Reed de Silva, the first Bishop of Mylapore, built a new neo-Gothic cathedral over the old site. is a small bone of his hand, together with a portion of bloodstained earth and head of the lance, which struck him down.

However, the remains of St. Thomas were later shifted to Edessa in Iraq and later to the Greek island of Chios. From Chios they were shifted to Ortona in Italy where they remain to this day.