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The Coonan Cross Oath (Koonan Kurishu Satyam), taken on 3 January 1653, was a public avowal by members of the Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala, India that they would not submit to Portuguese dominance in ecclesiastical and secular life. The swearing of the oath was a major event in the history of the Saint Thomas Christian community and marked a major turning point in its relations with the Portuguese colonial forces. The oath resulted in the breaking up of 54 years of Portuguese Padroado (Patronage) Jurisdiction over the Malankara Syrian Church, started with the synod of Diamper in 1599 A.D. convoked by the Portuguese Archbishop Dom Alexio De Menezes.
The Saint Thomas Christians remain in communion with the Church of Antioch until their encounter with the Portuguese in 1599. With the establishment of Portuguese power in parts of India, clergy of that empire, in particular members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), attempted to Latinise the Indian Christians.
The Portuguese started a Latin Rite diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558), and sought to bring the St.Thomas Christians under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese padroado and into the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. A series of synods, including the 1585 Synod of Goa, were held, which introduced Latinized elements to the local liturgy. In 1599 Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, led the Synod of Diamper, which finally brought the Saint Thomas Christians fully under the authority of the Latin Archdiocese of Goa.
The acts of Archbishop Menezes were undoubtedly high-handed, arbitrary and arrogant. The independence of the ancient Church of Malankara was crudely crushed. But in the long history of the Church, the Padroado (Patronage) yoke of the Portuguese Crown was only momentary; for, the feelings of resentment and the desire to regain independence among the St. Thomas Christians which were very real, could not be contained for long. The pent-up sentiments were given vent in 1653. They had all along continued their efforts to get a Metropolitan from the Eastern Church for their rescue. The Portuguese, who were masters of the sea in those days, many a time intercepted their letters of appeal for Syrian prelates and there were occasions when attempts of the Middle Eastern clergy to come to Malankara were physically thwarted. This fact is explicit in Cardinal Tisserant's own words. The Portuguese civil authorities all over the region especially at Basra and Surat were advised to be "on their guard against the arrival of a bishop sent by the Catholicos of Seleucia; for in spite of the watch set up by the Portuguese at Ormuz and Goa, such an event always remained a possibility". However, Metropolitan Mar Ahatalla from West Syria is said to have landed at Surat in 1652 and thence came to Mylapore, where he was arrested by the Jesuits on 3 August 1652. While at Mylapore, Mar Ahatalla met two Syrian Christian deacons, viz: Chengannur ltty and Kuravilangad Kizhakkedath Kurien from Malankara, who were on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Thomas and sent a letter through them to the Church of Malankara saying: "Behold, I Ignatius, Patriarch of All India and China, send to you a letter through the clerics who came here from your place. When you have read this letter diligently send me two priests and forty men. If however, you wish to sent them from your place, send them cautiously, quickly and soon, so that seeing your people they would release me without hindrance. I came to the city of Mylapore thinking that many people come here, and that priests would get me to your place of the Indias. In the year 1652 of our Lord, in the month of August, on Monday, I arrived in Mylapore in the monastery of the Jesuits. In the same monastery I stay, and they help me very much; may their reward increase here and there. Peace be with them, with you, and with us now and always. Amen. I, Ignatius, Patriarch of All India and China".
As feared, the Metropolitan was taken on board a Portuguese ship at Madras bound for Goa and en route, it touched Cochin. The Syrian Christians heard of the arrival of the ship at Cochin. The Archdeacon with a large number of Priests and several thousands of st Thomas Christians assembled at Mattancherry Cochin. The efforts of St Thomas Christians to visit the Patriarch, when the fleet arrived in Cochin multiplied, but did not produce much fruit. Several letters were sent to all the civil and religious authorities in Cochin, for at least an opportunity to visit Ahtalla, to examine his credentials and to verify his identity, promising that if he was found an imposter, they would be the first to press for his punishment. Due to the staunch and intransigent opposition of the Archbishop Garcia and the Jesuit fathers it did not happen. The Archbishop even refused to meet the Christians, who wanted to discuss the matter with him.
Later when the ship carrying Mar Ahtalla reached Goa, he was handed over to the inquisition, and he was kept in close custody in the Jesuit house there. He was sent to Portugal on the ship "Nosa Senhora da Graca" from Goa and reached Lisbon on 14 July 1653. The Portugal King decided to send him to Rome. Accordingly while he was on his way to Rome, he died at Paris on 26 March 1654 and is buried at the Jerusalem Chapel of the Cordeliena Church. St. Vincent De Paul who met Mar Ahtalla at Paris mentions of him in the following words "There remains in this city a good old man of eighty years, a foreigner, who was lodging with the late monsignor Archbishop of Myra. They say he is the Patriarch of Antioch. Be that it may, he is alone and has no mark of prelacy".
The treatment of Mar Ahatalla, however, shocked the Christian community, and their wounded feelings effervesced into a mass upsurge which heralded the breaking off from the Padroado yoke of the Portuguese Crown and the "Paulists".
Seeing that the Archbishop thus turned a deaf ear to their insistent pleas, the crowd became extremely exasperated. To their mind the Archbishop Francis Garica's conduct of the whole affair bespoke of his defiance of the Holy Roman See and his contempt for his flock. A false rumour also was spread at this time that Mar Ahtalla was drowned by the Portuguese. Hence on 3 January 1653, Archdeacon Thomas and representatives from the community assembled at a Chapel of Our Lady of Life Church at Mattancherry to swear what would be known as the "Coonan Cross Oath". The following oath was read aloud in front of a granite cross with lighted candles, the Archdeacon and the leading priests touching the Bible and the people holding ropes tied to the cross repeated it loudly:
- "By the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that henceforth we would no longer obey Archbishop Garcia or any other "Paulists" (Priests from the St. Paul Seminary Goa, who belong to the Society of Jesus), nor would again admit them into Malankara or their churches".
The number of people who took part in the Sathyam (Oath) being large, all could not touch the granite Cross at the same time. Therefore, they held on to ropes tied to the Cross in all directions. According to tradition, out of a population of 200,000 St. Thomas Christians, only 400 remained loyal to the Archbishop Garcia.
Further they met at Edapally St George Church on 5 February 1653, on the last day of the Moonnu Noyambu (Three day fast) Feast of Jona , the most solemn day of the feast , and declared that through a letter, Patriarch Ahatalla has conferred upon Archdeacon Thomas, the Governorship of the Malankara Syrian Church and all the powers of Jurisdiction over the Church. Four councillors were assigned to the Governor. They were Chandy Parambil of Kuravilangad, George Vengoor of Akaparambu, Chandy Kadavil of Kaduthuruthy and Ittithomman Anjilimoottil of Kallicherry, belonging to the Southist Community.
Then according to the second letter of Mar Ahtalla, believed to be fabricated by Ittithomman Anjilimoottil Kathanar, on 22 May 1653, at St Mary's Church Alangad, during the solemn celebration of the feast of the Ascension, the people and priests assembled there acclaimed Archdeacon Thomas as their Bishop, and twelve priests proceeded with the rite of episcopal ordination according to the old Chaldean Pontifical. The event in 1653 broke the 54-year-old yoke of Padroado (patronage) rule of the Portuguese Crown over the Malankara Syrian Church.(Padruado supremacy of Portuguese Crown imposed at the Udayamperur Synod in 1599).
Various interpretations of the events
Each faction of Malankara church interprets the event variously. The taking of the Coonan Cross Oath (Koonan Kurishu Satyam) was the proclamation of the independence of Malankara Church, with Mar Thoma I as its head. Historically the Saint Thomas Christians were part of the Church of the East, centered in Persia, but the collapse of the church hierarchy throughout Asia opened the door to Portuguese overtures. Till then they were in direct communion with the Chaldean Patriarchate and he sent Mar Joseph Sulaqa and Mar Elias in AD 1554 and with Mar Abraham (died 1599).
With the establishment of Portuguese power in parts of India, clergy of that empire, in particular members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), attempted to Latinise the Indian Christians. The Portuguese started a Latin Rite diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558), and sought to bring the Thomas Christians fully under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese padroado and into the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. A series of synods, including the 1585 Synod of Goa, were held, which introduced Latinized elements to the local liturgy. In 1599 Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, led the Synod of Diamper, which finally brought the Saint Thomas Christians fully under the authority of the Latin Archdiocese of Goa and replaced traditional East Syrian liturgy with Latinized liturgy. Widespread discontent with these measures led the Saint Thomas Christian community to rally behind Archdeacon Thoma to resist the Portuguese padroado. In 1641, tensions came to a head with the ascendancy of two new protagonists on either side of the contention: Francis Garcia, the new Archbishop of Kodungalloor, and Archdeacon Thoma, the head of the Saint Thomas Christian hierarchy. In 1652 a bishop named Ahatallah, who claimed to be the rightful "Patriarch of the Whole of India and of China", arrived in India. He was arrested by the Portuguese and was never heard from again in India, starting rumors that he had died or been murdered. This event combined with Francis Garcia's general dismissiveness towards the complaints of the Saint Thomas Christians, led directly to the swearing of the Coonan Cross Oath. On 3 January 1653 Archdeacon Thoma and representatives from the Saint Thomas Christian community met at the Church in Mattancherry to swear what would be known as the Coonan Cross Oath. Those who were not able to touch the cross, tied ropes to the cross, held the rope in their hands and made the oath. Because of the weight it is said that the cross bent a little and so it is known as "Oath of the Bent Cross".
After the Coonan Cross Oath the Portuguese missionaries attempted reconciliation with Saint Thomas Christians but they were not successful. Later Pope Alexander VII sent an Italian priest Joseph Maria Sebastiani at the head of a Carmelite delegation who succeeded in convincing the majority of Saint Thomas Christians, including three of the four councillors Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar (A cousin of Archdeacon Thomas who was consecrated as a bishop by 12 priests in 1653), Vengoor Geevarghese Kathanar and Kadavil Chandy Kathanar that the consecration of Archdeacon as metropolitan was not legitimate. Later Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar was consecrated as the bishop for the Syrian Catholics with the historic title 'The Metropolitan and the Gate of all India' which denotes a Quasi Patriarchal status with all India jurisdiction. This led to the first permanent split in the Saint Thomas Christian community. Thereafter, the faction affiliated with the Catholic Church under Parambil Mar Chandy was designated the Pazhayakuttukar, or "Old Party", while the branch affiliated with Mar Thoma was called the Puthankuttukar, or "New Party". These appellations have been somewhat controversial, as both groups considered themselves the true heirs to the Saint Thomas tradition, and saw the other as heretical.
In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox (West Syrian) Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India, at the invitation of Thoma. This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma party claiming the spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introduced the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast. The arrival of Mar Gregorios in 1665 marked the beginning of a West Syrian association of the Thomas Christians of Puthankuttukar. Those who followed the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregorios became known as Jacobites and eventually entered into communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church, introduced by Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel of Jerusalem. And thus those who continued following West Syrian liturgical tradition are known as the malankara orthodox in communion with the Antiochean Orthodox church. Between 1661 and 1662, 84 of the 116 Saint Thomas Christian churches joined this East Syrian Catholic Church, and those who started following East Syrian liturgical tradition are known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in communion with the Catholic Church. They received their own Syro-Malabar Hierarchy on 21 December 1923, with the Metropolitan Mar Augustine Kandathil as the head of their Church. The Saint Thomas Christians by this process became divided into East Syrians and West Syrians. The split into Jacobite (Malankara Orthodox) and Syro-Malabar factions would become permanent. Over the next centuries, the Jacobite faction would experience further splits and schisms.
- Neutral version
The situation is best explained by Stephen Neill (an Anglican Protestant missionary, from Scotland) in his book A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707.
- "On [sic] January 1653, priests and people assembled in the church of Our Lady at Mattancherry, and standing in front of a cross and lighted candles swore upon the holy Gospel that they would no longer obey Garcia, and that they would have nothing further to do with the Jesuits they would recognize the Archdeacon as the governor of their Church. This is the famous oath of the ‘Coonan Cross` (the open-air Cross which stands outside the church at Mattancherry). The Saint Thomas Christians did not at any point suggest that they wished to separate themselves from the Pope. They could no longer tolerate the arrogance of Garcia. And their detestation of the Jesuits, to whose overbearing attitude and lack of sympathy they attributed all their troubles, breathes through all the documents of the time. But let the Pope send them a true bishop not a Jesuit, and they will be pleased to receive and obey him."
- Malankara Jacobite version (Part of Oriental Orthodox Syrian Church of Antioch following west Syrian tradition):
In response to the continuous appeal of the Thoma Arkadiyakon (archdeacon), who was then given the Church leadership, the Mar Ignatius Ahattula arrived from the Patriarchate of Antioch in 1653. The tradition is that the Portuguese arrested him, tied him up and cast him in the Ocean. Consequently, the Saint Thomas Christians got agitated and as a result, a large gathering of about 25,000 assembled at Mattancherry and took the Oath at 'Koonan Cross' which happens to be known as the historical 'Koonan Kurisu Sathayam' in 1653 and declared that their future generations will ever be loyal to the throne of Antioch and would never adhere to the Franks (i.e. Portuguese) nor accept the faith of the Pope.
- Malankara Marthoma (Oriental Independent apostolic church of Malankara following West Syrian tradition):
- By the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that henceforth we would not adhere to the Franks, nor accept the faith of the Pope of Rome, nor any foreign rule.
(Malankara Orthodox Church also adheres to the same version of Jacobite Orthodox and Marthoma Syrian Church (Not the current Marthoma church).
- Syro-Malabar (Eastern Catholic Church following East Syrian tradition) & Syro-Malankara version (Eastern Catholic Church following West Syrian tradition):
A protest took place in 1653 with the Coonan Cross Oath. Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thoma, the Saint Thomas Christians publicly took an oath that they would not obey the Jesuit Archbishop Garcia or any other prelate from the "Paulists" (Jesuit Priests from St Paul Seminary Goa). The oath was not against the Pope or the Catholic Church but against the "Paulists".
- Throne of St. Thomas
- Marthoma Metrans
- Jacobite Syrian Church
- Goa Inquisition
- Syrian Malabar Nasrani
- Synod of Diamper
- Malankara Church
- "Koonan Oath 00001" (PDF). Retrieved 20 May 2007.
- Gouvea, Antonio de (1606). Jornada. Coimbra.
- I. Gillman and H. -J. Klimkeit, Christians in Asia Before 1500, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p.177.
- Kollamparambil, Dr Jacob (1981). The St. Thomas Christian Revolution 1653. Catholic Bishop's House Kottayam. pp. foot note 38.
- Death register Cordeliena Church Paris
- Thekkedath, Joseph (1982). History of Christianity in India. Theological Publications in India for the Church History Association of India. p. 213.
- Joseph Thekkedathu, pas cite pp96–100
- Rev Dr Placid Podipara, The Hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church, in the collected works of Rev Dr Placid Podipara CMI, Vol I p 719
- Vadakkekara, p. 84; 86.
- Frykenberg, p. 361.
- Fernando, p. 79.
- Chaput, pp. 7–8.
- Vadakkekara, p. 84 and note.
- A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 By Stephen Neill page 326-327
- David Daniel "The Orthodox Church of India" http://www.orthodoxherald.com/2010/01/05/the-koonen-cross-oath/
- Baum, Wilhelm Baum; Dietmar W. Winkler (2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-29770-2. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
- Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from the Beginnings to the Present. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
- Neill, Stephen (2004). A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-54885-3. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
- Jacobite Syrian Church
- Niranam Diocese of Jacobite Syrian Church
- History of the Orthodox Church
- History of the Syro-Malabar Church