Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Ancient Crosses of India

Beautifully hand cut stone crosses are the treasure of ancient churches in India. These Crosses are found mainly in Southern Indian State of Kerala. They are also found in state of Goa and Tamil Nadu.
Two types of the stone crosses are broadly classified as Saint Thomas Cross[1] and Nasrani Sthambams.
The Saint Thomas Cross are smaller in size and are found inside the Kerala churches at Kadamattom, Muttuchira, Kothanalloor, Kottayam and Alengad. Outside Kerala, they are at St. Thomas Mount, Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu, Pilar Seminary Museum, Goa, Anuradhapura [ 2 nos ] in Sri Lanka and Taxila at Pakistan.[2]
The large crosses known as Nasrani Sthambams are found at the frontage of many churches in Kerala. There are also other[clarification needed] flowery ancient Persian Crosses found in Kerala Churches.
These crosses represent resurrection through its various symbolism.[3] Kerala has many churches of antiquity. It is recorded that before the arrival of Portuguese there were more than 150 ancient churches in Kerala.[4]


Saint Thomas Cross

Antonio Gouvea in the Sixteenth century work, " Jornada" states that the old churches of Saint Thomas Christians were full of crosses of the type discovered from S.Thome ( Mylapore).[5] He also states that veneration of the cross is an old custom in Malabar. "Jornada" is the oldest known written document which calls the cross as St. Thomas Cross. The original word used is “ Cruz de Sam Thome “ meaning Cross of St. Thomas. Interestingly, Gouvea writes about the veneration of the Cross at Cranganore mentioning it as "Cross of Christians"[5]

Location of the Saint Thomas Crosses

The Saint Thomas Cross
The crosses are at the following locations,[2]
  • St. Thomas Mount, Tamil Nadu: The Cross is at Our Lady of Expectations Church under the Latin Catholic diocese of Chingelpet (Madras-Mylapore). This Cross is considered as the oldest cross in India.
  • Kottayam, Kerala. This Cross is at Kottayam Valiapally (St.Mary's Knananya Church). One cross is considered of late origin ( Ca 10th century).
  • Alangad, Kerala. This Cross is at St. Mary's Church under the diocese of Ernakulam- Angamaly of the Syro Malabar Church.
  • Agasaim, Goa. The Cross is now kept at Pilar Seminary Museum. This Cross is dated of 6th Century.
  • Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The cross is kept at Anuradhapura museum. It was found during excavations in 1912 Anuradhapura [ 2 nos ]. This Cross is considered as the oldest Cross.
  • Taxila, Pakistan. The cross is kept at Anglican cathedral at Lahore.

Interpretation of the Inscriptions

Open Air Rock Cross also called Nasrani Sthambams in front of the 2nd Century built Marth Mariam Catholic Church at Kuravilangadu, Kerala
Dr. Burnell, archeologist with the government of India, in 1873, translated the inscriptions as follows:
"In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering of this one;
He who is the true christ, and God above and Guide ever pure."[6]
Prof. F.C. Burkitt and C.P.T. Winckworth, the then reader of Assyriology in the University of Cambridge studied the inscriptions and produced a translation. This has been discussed at the International Congress of Orientalists held at Oxford in 1925.
The interpretation is as follows:
"My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras son of Chaharbukht the Syrian, who cut this (or, who caused this to be cut)." [7]
On the large cross, there is this additional sentence in Estrangelo Syriac. (Galatians 6:14)
”May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The inscription at Kadamattom church when translated is,
”I, the beautiful bird of Nineveh has come to this land. Written by me Shapper, who was saved by the Holy Messiah from misery.”

Symbolism of The St. Thomas Cross

Unlike crosses in other traditions, the St. Thomas Cross does not carry the effigy of the Christ. In addition to this unique quality, each of its elements carry symbolic meanings. Generally the Cross symbolizes life rather than death and suffering.[8]

Nasrani Sthambams

The other type is a giant open air stone cross. These are called Nasrani Sthambams.[9]
The plinth of these crosses represents lotus petals and lotus flowers and has a square base. It also has a variety of iconographic motifs, including elephants, peacocks and various other animals, depictions of the Holy Family and of the Crucifixion, to name a few. The stone cross in front of St.Mary's Forane Church, Puthenchira is more than 12 meters high.
These crosses are found in Puthenchira, Parappukkara, Veliyanad, Kalpparambu, Angamaly, Kanjoor, Malayattoor, Udayamperur, Kuravilangad, Uzhavoor, Chungam, Kaduthuruthy, Muthalakodam, Muttuchira, Kudamaloor, Niranam, Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, Chengannur, Thumpamon, Chathannur and many other places.[9]

Other Persian Crosses

The Saint Thomas Kottakkavu Church at North Paravur under the diocese of Ernakulam-Ankamaly of the Syro Malabar Church and the St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Niranam under the Niranam diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has ancient flowery Persian Cross.[3]