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Tomb of last Persian rite bishop in India found

Thiruvananthapuram (UCAN): The recent discovery of the tomb of Chaldean Metropolitan Mar Abraham, the last Persian rite bishop to serve the Christian community in southern India, could help the country’s different Churches work more closely together.

“Bishop Abraham, who governed a unified Church, is a landmark find in Church history,” George Cardinal Alencherry, who heads the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, said. 

The cardinal expressed his hope that the tomb would help the various Christian communities to work more closely together.

The tomb of 16th century bishop was discovered about three metres below ground on September 19 during renovation work being carried out on St. Hormis Church in Angamaly, in Kerala, which was built in 1585.

Documents record the burial of the bishop inside what is now a Latin rite church, “But we could not locate the exact place of his burial,” explained Father Kuriakose Mundadan, the church’s historian and rector.

“It is a very significant find,” he said, noting that Mar Abraham served the St. Thomas Christians from 1568 to 1597—a turning point in the history of the global Church, when Portuguese missionaries began to arrive in Asia.

Christians in Kerala still trace their faith back to St. Thomas the Apostle. But, at the time they adopted local Hindu customs and rituals, which the Portuguese saw as pagan ways. 

They attempted to force them to follow what they thought was true Christianity, resulting in much wrangling in the local Church.

Mar Abraham died in 1597 without relinquishing his office and leadership. Soon after, Portuguese Archbishop Alexio De Menezes appointed Jesuit Father Francis Ross as the bishop. Two years later in 1599, Bishop Ross convened the Synod of Diamper, which attempted to cleanse the Kerala Christians of their pagan ways.

Decisions made by the synod, which condemned most cultural practices of the Christian community, led to a major split in the Church in 1665.

With further splits based on turf wars and money, the old St. Thomas Christians are now divided into eight different Churches.

Cardinal Alencherry said that the tomb of Mar Abraham represents the common heritage of the Christian community in India.

He said it could help encourage more cooperation among Churches in Kerala today, adding that he would listen to the opinions of other Churches about preserving the tomb.

The Congregation for the Oriental Churches describes the Persian rite as a separate and distinct East Syrian rite with a unique liturgy.


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