Ancient Indian Christians

A stone cross in Kerala from the 600s bearing a Middle Persian inscription

No evidence exists for an apostolic mission to Kerala [S India]. However, considerable evidence shows that diplomatic relations, as well as a flourishing maritime trade, existed between the Roman Empire and the west coast of India. Thanks to knowledge of the monsoon winds, ships could cross the Indian Ocean between Egypt and Cranganore, called Muziris by the Romans, in less than two months. Pliny the Elder referred to Muziris as ‘primium emporium Indiae’ – the first port of India – and Strabo (63 BCE – 21 CE) reported that, every year, 120 ships linked the two continents together. The discovery of 2300 Roman coins from the period from 123 BCE to 117 CE testifies to the significance of this trading relationship.

The first historical witness to an autonomous Christian community in Kerala may be Pantaenus, who, according to Eusebius and Jerome, was sent by his bishop between 180 and 190 from Alexandria to India, where he encountered Christians. A century later Bishop David of Basra, mentioned above, traveled to India around 295/300, establishing the first official contact between the Thomas Christians of South India and the Church of the East. Then, around 345, one Bishop Joseph of Edessa – who, at the council of Nicaea, had signed as ‘bishop of all the churches of Persia and of greater India’ – visited Kerala.

Baumer, The Church of the East, p.26

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

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