Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Kottayam

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Kottayam is an eparchy of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India for Knanaya Catholics. The Knanaya are descendants of Syrian Christians of Jewish origin who reportedly migrated to the Malabar coast during the fourth century under the leadership of Thomas of Cana. During the 17th century, they split into Catholic and Malankara Church factions.

Metropolitan Archdiocese of Kottayam
Church altar, with red carpet and flowers
Christ the King Knanaya Catholic Cathedral, Kottayam
Country India
Ecclesiastical province Kottayam
Metropolitan Kottayam
Sui iuris church Syro-Malabar Knanaya Catholic Church
Established 1923
Cathedral Christ the King Cathedral
Current leadership
Pope Francis
Metropolitan Archbishop Mathew Moolakkattu
Suffragans None
Auxiliary Bishops Jose Pandarassery


Knanaya historyEdit

The Knanaya (Hebrew: קנניה, Malayalam: ക്നാനായ, Syriac: ܛܢܢܐ, Arabic: قينان), also known as Q'nanaya, Q'nai, Kanai, or Thekkumbagar, are endogamous Jews who settled in Kerala. Their origins are uncertain, but many scholars believe them to be descended from Yemeni Jews who were a significant component of the Cochin Jewish population until the 16th century. Others believe that they are the descendants of Syrian Christians of Jewish origin who migrated to the Malabar coast during the fourth century under the leadership of Thomas of Cana to rejuvenate the Christian church established by Thomas the Apostle. The Knananaya trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They believe themselves to be descended from the southern Kingdom of Judah (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin), which did not intermarry. Thomas of Cana and his people were the descendants of those two tribes. After the Bar Kokhba revolt (about 132-135), the Jewish populations of Judea were dead, enslaved or in flight. Many Jews fled abroad, Jewish colonies were founded on the Malabar Coast.[1] The only pre-16th-century records of the Knanaya community are Knaithomman Chepped (Knaithomman Copper) plates.

Twenty years after the First Council of Nicaea, wealthy merchant Thomas of Cana brought a colony of 400 Syrian Christians (from 72 families, belonging to seven clans) from southern Mesopotamia to the Malabar Coast in 345 and reestablished the church founded by Thomas the Apostle.[1] According to tradition, the Knanaya migration was a missionary one.

The descendants of Thomas of Cana who lived on the south side of Kodungallur are known as Southists, and the native Christians on the city's north side (descendants of those converted by Thomas the Apostle) are known as Northists. According to another tradition, the Knananaya settled on the south side of the Periyar and the native Christians lived on the north side of the river. The Knananaya may also be known as Southists because they are descended from the southern kingdom of Judah. They did not intermarry with native Christians, maintaining their Jewish traditions, and remain an endogamous community.[1]

There are similarities between the Knanaya Christians and the Cochin Jews, with both groups granted 72 privileges by the ruling Cheraman Perumals. Copper plates in the Paradesi Synagogue were given to Joseph Rabban, a first-century Kodungallur merchant, and Thomas of Cana reportedly received similar copper plates during the fourth century. Both groups are endogamous. The Knananaya believe that their customs are a continuation of Jewish practices, such as the bride standing on the groom's right, burial of the dead facing Jerusalem, the priest's black velvet cap and the "kiss of peace" during the Eucharist. During Easter, the Knananaya eat unleavened bread and drink "wine" made from coconut milk and plums (reminiscent of the Passover matzot and red wine). The Knanaya marriage ceremony includes a bridal canopy, similar to the Jewish one, and ceremonial bathing on the eve of the wedding may parallel the Jewish mikveh. These customs are practiced by the Knanaya, distinguishing them from the native Christians. Similarities also exist in the groups' ancient songs, with references to the 72 privileges found in songs of both communities. The songs of both groups are divided into five categories: historical, bridal, biblical, invocational and miscellaneous. In songs shared by both groups, three kings fought bravely and fell when Kodungallur was burned in 1524, and the descendants of Cheraman Perumal, Joseph Rabban and Thomas of Cana fought valiantly to save their town. Similarly, songs of both groups describe the Old Testament Joseph as an ideal son, an ideal father and an ideal ruler. These similarities suggest that the Malabar Jews and Knanaya Christians (of Jewish origin) shared similar legends, Biblical stories, and traditions from a common origin between 345 and 1524.[1]

When the Portuguese arrived in Kerala, the Knanaya, Nasranis and Cochin Jews were persecuted for their beliefs. An imperial order was issued to confiscate and auction the properties of those who celebrated Passover and Sukkot. Circumcision and reading and writing in Hebrew and Aramaic were prohibited. Ancient Knanaya artifacts and texts were confiscated and burned by the Portuguese to destroy the people's Jewish identity, and Knanaya caught defying the imperial order were occasionally executed. The oppressive Portuguese rule was sometimes resisted, but these movements were futile since the Portuguese executed the protesters.

The arrival of Thomas of Cana and his followers helped the disintegrating Saint Thomas Christians spiritually and socially. They brought Syrian (Church of Antioch) traditions and teachings to Malabar which are practiced by millions today. Although the Knanaya remained part of the Syriac Catholic Church, they maintained their ethnic heritage. The Syrian Church prospered until the 15th-century arrival of the Portuguese, who tried to replace the Syrian rites with Latin ones. In 1599, the Portuguese Archbishop Menesis of Goa held a synod at Udayamparoor and changed the Syrian teachings which had existed since the arrival of the Knanaya. Archbishop Menesis and his successors were able to convert some Syrians with their power and money. However, a group led by Knanaya priest Anjilimmoottil Ittythomman Kathanar (Rev. Itty Thomas) resisted the Portuguese during the mid-17th century. About 25,000 Syrian Christians assembled in Mattancherry (near Cochin) in January 1653 and pledged that they would not accept the Latin teachings after they heard that Patriarch Ahathallah had been drowned by the Portuguese. After the pledge, known as the bent cross (coonan kurisu), the Syrian church split in two. One group, led by Mar Thomas Arkadion of Pakalomattom and Ittythomman Kathanar, continued to follow the Syrian faith and the other group accepted the Roman faith. The Knanaya split into two groups: the Knanaya Jacobites and the Knanaya Catholics.

The Knanaya Vicariate Apostolic of Kottayam was created for Knanaya Catholics in 1911. It was elevated to an eparchy by Pope Pius X in his 1923 bull, Universi Christiani. The eparchy of Kottayam was elevated to the rank of a metropolitan see, without a suffragan eparchy, in 2005.[2]

Bishops and archbishopsEdit


The archeparchy's ministry focuses on education, jobs, health, social services and the media.


  1. ^ a b c d "History". Knanaya Community. Archived from the original on 29 October 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  2. ^ "Decree of elevating the Eparchy of Kottayam to the Metropolitan See". Retrieved 2015-12-18. 

External linksEdit