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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 Nestorian 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 Kanahi people are endogamous Jews who settled in Kerala. Their origins are uncertain, but many scholars believe them to be descended from Yemeni Jews who arrived in the fourth century and were a significant component of the Cochin Jewish population until the 16th century. Others believe that they are the descendants of Nestorian Christians with Jewish origins who migrated to the Malabar coast between 431–544 AD under the leadership of Thomas of Cana after the Nestorian schism. The Knanaya trace their ancestry back as the descendants from the southern Kingdom of Judah (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin), which did not intermarry. Hence they were also known as Tekkumbhagar. However, recorded texts suggests they were called as Tekkumbhagar much later by the Portuguese to just distinguish the small community from the collective rest of St. Thomas Christians per spread area. Another variation of history for the name is from pre-16th-century records of the Knanaya community known as Knaithomman Chepped (Knaithomman Copper) plates, in it says the descendants of Thomas of Cana arrived at Kodungallur and stayed in the southern side for Mizrah, these plates are the only surviving evidence for their history before the sixteenth century.[1]

It is also recorded that the Jewish presence in Kerala was growing after the Bar Kokhba revolt (about 132-135) at that time Jewish populations of Judea were dead, enslaved or in flight. Many of the Persian and Arabian Jews fled abroad, Jewish colonies were founded on the Malabar Coast and at other well known trading posts.[2]

Twenty years or so 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: Bagi, Belkuth, Hadai, Kujalig, Koja, Mugmuth, and Thegmuth) from southern Mesopotamia to the Malabar Coast in 345 and strengthened the church founded by Thomas the Apostle.[1] According to Syrian writings, the Knanaya migration was a mission from visions of Episcopa Joseph of Uraha with the blessings of Kustathius, Patriarch of Antioch.[3]

The tradition says descendants of Thomas of Cana lived on the south side for religious purposes, and built a city with the locals, Mahadevarpattanam, as a reminiscent of Jerusalem which means "City of the great god". Some historians consider them as the Southists. The native eighteen families from Paakkanaar lineage who were converted as Knananites Christians and given for regular works by the then ruler Cheraman Perumal stayed on the city's north side and were known as Northists. According to another tradition, the Jewish Knananites settled on the south side of the Periyar and the native converted Knananites lived on the north side of the river. However, the first authentic letter that mentions Knanaya community by J. M. Campori in the 1600s fails to mention this Southist-Northist division. There is also no mention in the history of Saint Thomas Christians of this divisional existence in then Christian community. The most accepted version is that Knananaya is known as Southists because they are descended from the southern kingdom of Judah. They did not intermarry with native Christians or with the converted Knananites, maintaining their Kanahi-Christian identity with Jewish traditions, and remained as an endogamous community.[1] However, this practice is increasingly unpopular and in the modern ages considered as ill forms of casteism sustained from wrong orientation, as a result Knananite factions of Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church agree of inter-church marriage.[4]

There are similarities between the Knanaya Christians and the Cochin Jews, with both groups granted 72 privileges by the ruling Cheraman Perumal's. Copper plates in the Paradesi Synagogue were given to Joseph Rabban, a first-century Jewish 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, the venthanmudy, etc. 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 St. Thomas 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 characters in a good extend. The similarities are considered to be the common link between Malabar Jews and Knanaya Christians (of Jewish origin) formed in legends, biblical stories, and traditions.[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. Tradition says Knanaya artifacts and texts were confiscated and burned by the Portuguese for being heretical and Knananites 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 are said to be a rejuvenating support for Saint Thomas Christians spiritually. They added the richness to the Syrian (Church of Antioch) traditions and teachings in Malabar. 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 ways which had existed during 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. The Knananites joined after they heard that Patriarch Ahathallah had been drowned by the Portuguese with about 25,000 Syrian Christians assembled in Mattancherry (near Cochin) in January 1653 and pledged with others that they would not accept the Latin teachings. After the pledge, known as the Coonan Cross Oath (Koonan Kurishu Satyam), the Syrian church split in two. One group, led by 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 (Southists) and the Knanaya Catholics (Northists).

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.[5]

Bishops and archbishopsEdit


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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "History". Knanaya Community. Archived from the original on 29 October 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Prem Doss Swami Doss (1989). The Shingly Hebrews. Sachethana. 
  3. ^ L. K. Ananthakrishna Iyer. Anthropology of the Syrian Christians. Ernakulam: Cochin Government Press, 1926.
  4. ^ Association of Interchurch Families, England (16 Feb 2001). "Agreement on Interchurch Marriages between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church January 25, 1994". SOR. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
  5. ^ "Decree of elevating the Eparchy of Kottayam to the Metropolitan See". Retrieved 2015-12-18. 

External linksEdit