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Medieval - History Part II

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Indian Church History

Pre Portuguese Latin Mission

Giovanni (John) De Monte Corvino

Franciscan Friar John de Monte Corvino, the first Archbishop of Khanbaliq (Peking) in China, spent about 13 months in India during a visit to central Asia. Those days, missioners considered India as part of this far flung archdiocese.

Corvino is believed to have visited India even before he was appointed the archbishop of Khanbaliq. He visited Persia and Armenia before 1289. He also briefed Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292) the situations in Persia, Georgia, India and China.

In 1289, Corvino started a mission armed with as many as 26 papal letters addressed to various kings and rulers. The letters made him a sort of ambassador of the pope and the Catholic Church to the Asian region. He visited Antioch, from where he took a sea route to China through India because of a war. That was in 1291. He was the first European missionary to take this route that the Arab travelers had been using for centuries to come to India. Corvino most probably landed at the region of present Quilon in Kerala.

He met Christians in Quilon, most probably the St. Thomas Christian community. But he also “baptized in different places about one hundred people.” He visited other places in India, significantly Mylapore. He must have baptized people in his own Latin rite. As archbishop of Khanbaliq it was his responsibility to build up communities in various parts his archdiocese.

He arrived Khanbaliq towards the end of 1294, the year when the Great Khan Qubilai died. He was consecrated archbishop of Khanbaliq in 1307. Corvino was considered a sort of Patriarch. Seven suffragan dioceses were created and placed under him. For these dioceses seven friars of his own order were made bishops and sent out from Rome. They also took the same perilous sea-route through India. Three of them died in India.

History knows noting about their work in India. But their arrival is presented as a proof of the existence of Latin Christian communities in India and other parts of Asia.

Since the Archdiocese of Khanbaliq was so vast, Pope John XXII divided the area between Franciscan and Dominicans. In 1318, Archdiocese Sultanieh of Persia was created out of this area and entrusted it to the Dominicans. Later the Archdiocese of Sultanieh was divided into several dioceses, Quilon being one of them.

Jordan Catalani De Severac

After Sultanieh of Persia was entrusted to the Dominicans (in 1318), the first Dominican to come to India was Jordan Catalani de Severac. He landed in Thane near present Mumbai in 1321.

He mentions about at least three Christian communities in the western Indian region—Salcette, Sopora and Broach. The Hindu-majority region was under the Muslim rulers of the Delhi Sultanate.

During their stay in the area, a religious dispute led a local Muslim court to sentence Catalani’s companions to death. He was away on a visit when this happened. This left him alone for the mission.

In a letter to his confrere Catalani claimed he baptized some 130 people in Broach and Sopora together and intended to make many more Christians.

In 1324, Catalani was still in Mumbai as evident from a letter he wrote. But the letter also speaks of persecutions he underwent. However, despite all odds, he wrote that he could win over about 10,000 people to Catholicism, evidently to Latin rite.

We see him soon move to Quilon, may be after realizing that evangelization was difficult in the Muslim-ruled territories and the Hindu-ruled southern region was more conducive for preaching.

He was appreciative of Quilon, its rulers and people and decided to put up there. Catalani then went back and met Pope John XXII in Avignon in 1329 (during the Avignon papacy 1308-1378). The pope erected the diocese of Quilon in 1329, probably at the recommendations of Catalani, and appointed him as its bishop.

When he started for India again, he carried papal letters to the community of Christians in “lesser India” such as the Konkan coast, Mylapore and parts of Gujarat. He also carried letters to the Sultanate of Delhi, rulers of Quilon and leader of “Nazrani” Christians in Quilon, who obviously were the St. Thomas Christians. A special letter to them shows there must have been other Christians in Quilon.

Although history has records of these letters, no evidence exists to show Catalani arrived in Quilon for a second time, as its bishop.

Ordoric De Pordenine

Odoric de Pordenone (1286-1331), a Franciscan friar, visited India while Jordan de Catalani was still in India. After his visit across Persia, India, Central Asia and southern China during 1304-1330, he reported about Christianity gaining footholds in those regions.

In India, he reached Thane and visited the tomb of the martyred Franciscans, who were the companions of Catalani. He also visited Quilon and wrote about Christians in Coremandal and in Malabar.

Giovanni de Maringnolli

Franciscan Bishop Giovanni (John) of Marignolli began his travel to China in 1339, along with a papal legation and reached China in 1342. After spending three years there he decided to return, this time through India.

Marignolli speaks clearly of a Latin Christian community in Quilon, who uses statues and pictures in their worship places. For this reason, the Hindus and Muslims considered them idolatrous, he wrote. While in Quilon he was attached to the Latin Church of St. George.

He also visited Cape Comorin (Kanniyakumari) and erected a pillar witnessed by "infinite multitude of people." Some would site this as a proof of the existence of a pre-Portuguese Latin Christian community in the area.

Bishop Marignolli left India 1349-1350, probably by ship for Sumatra.
Marignolli is considered the last pre-Portuguese European missioner in India. It should be noted that he came more than 10 years after Catalani. The change of governments in Eastern Mediterranean and several parts of Asia with Muslims gaining power in several other regions must have blocked Europeans from taking up missions in the East.


Vasco Da Gama

The arrival of Vasco da Gama in India should be seen along with Portuguese attempts to explore new lands in the East, primarily for trade and commerce. King Manuel I furthered the attempts of his predecessor John II and others, and found success.

Two or three ships were under construction during the time of King John II. King Manuel I ordered their quick completion as a preparation for Gama to move into the East. The fleet under Gama’s command left Lisbon July 8,1497.

Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope mid November the same year and anchored at Melinde on the eastern coast of Africa in early April 1948. From there, Gama and his fleet got helpers, guides and more instructions to reach Calicut. They left Melinde by the end of April and sighted Mt. Ely (Ezhimala) within 20 days.

On May 21, 1498 Gama touched the land at Kappad near Calicut, changing forever the history of the East. On November 20, 1498 Gama started back and returned to Portugal July 10, 1499.

The following year, a second journey was undertaken under the command of Pedro Alarez Cabral. From then on, every year Portuguese ships left Lisbon towards the end of spring or beginning of summer and reached India towards end of autumn or beginning of winter.

Gama and a team started for India for a second time April 1502, and reached Cannanore Oct. 18, 1502. He also visited Cochin. It was the beginning of the Portuguese supremacy over the Arabian Sea and on Indian shores.

After King Manuel's death, King John III sent Gama to India as a Portuguese viceroy (the king's representative) in 1524.

He came to Cochin in 1524, where he died on Christmas eve of the same year. He was buried in the present St. Francis Church, which the Portuguese built as St. Antony's Church in 1516. His remains were later moved to Portugal for burial.

Francis Xavier

Saint Francis Xavier (April 7, 1506 - December 2, 1552), co-founder of the Society of Jesus, is considered a pioneering missionary who was responsible for the spread of Catholic faith in India.

Xavier was born Francisco de Jaso in the Castle of Xavier in Navarre, Spain. He came from an aristocratic Basque family. At the age of 19, he went to study at the University of Paris, where he graduated in arts in 1530. He furthered his studies in theology, and became acquainted with Ignatius of Loyola.

Ignatius, Xavier, Pierre Favre and four others bonded themselves on August 15, 1534 by a vow and formed the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuit Order.

King John III of Portugal wanted Jesuits to take up mission work in the Orient. Together with two other Jesuits, Xavier left Lisbon on April 7, 1541, on board the Santiago. From August that year until March 1542, he remained in Mozambique, and reached Goa on May 6, 1542.
In Goa, officially he held the role similar to present Apostolic Nuncio. He operated from Goa the following three years.

On September 20, 1542, he left for his first missionary activity among the Parava, along the east coast of southern India, north of Cape Comorin. On the west coast, his efforts to convert the king of Travancore failed. He also visited Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In 1545 he planned a missionary journey to Macassar, on the island of Celebes, in today's Indonesia.

He abandoned the idea of visiting Macassar after arriving in Malacca in October 1545 and waiting there three months in vain for a ship. He left Malacca on January 1, 1546 and landed on Amboyna, where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Molucca Islands. Shortly after Easter 1546, he returned to Ambon Island, and then to Malacca.

In December 1547, in Malacca, Xavier met a Japanese and decided to travel to Japan. He returned to India in January 1548. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures in India.

He left Goa on April 15, 1549, stopped at Malacca, and visited Canton. Three Japanese men and two other aids accompanied him. Xavier reached Japan on August 15, 1549. He landed at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma, on the island of Kyushu. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto, but could not meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551.

Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. He stopped at Malacca on December 27, 1551 and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On April 17, he began another journey, this time for China. In early September 1552, his ship reached the Chinese island of Sanchian (Shangchuan), 10 km away from the southern coast of mainland China and 200 kilometers southwest of Hong Kong. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money.

On November 21, he fainted after celebrating Mass. He died on the island on December 2, 1552, at age 46, without having reached mainland China.

He was first buried on Shangchuan beach. His body, found intact, was moved from there and temporarily buried in St. Paul's Church in Malacca on March 22, 1553. On December 11, 1553, Xavier's body was shipped to Goa.

The incorruptible body is now in the Basilica of Bom Jesu in Goa, where it was placed in a silver casket on December 2, 1637. The silver casket is lowered for public viewing only during the public exposition. The latest is scheduled for November 2004.

Pope Paul V beatified him on October 25, 1619, and Pope Gregory XV canonized him on March 12, 1622, along with Ignatius Loyola.

The Diamper Synod

The Diamper Synod (1599) was a turning point in the history of Indian Christianity. It paved the way for a great divide within the St. Thomas Christians, although many scholars now see it as a symbol of growth, maturity and determination of indigenous Christians.

Problems cropped up when Portuguese attempted "cultural correction" among the local Christians, who were culturally Hindu and liturgically Syrian. The local Christians resisted what they called "Romanization" and "Latin" domination by the Portuguese missioners. The synod aimed to seek answers to problems and fine-tune the faith expressions.
The Portuguese missioners initiated the synod, which started on June 20, 1599.

The lay representatives of the Malabar Christians, 660 of them, out-numbered their Cattanars (priests) who were only 153. The discussions were held with the help of interpreters, as Portuguese missioner Bishop Alexis de Menezes, who presided over the synod, did not understand local Malayalam language and the majority did not follow Portuguese.

The synod issued 200 decrees in nine sessions and lasted over a month. It was concluded with a procession and Te Dum singing.

A school of historians argues that the synod was invalid because it was convened without authority, not concluded according to sacred canons and was never approved by Rome.

Valid or invalid, the Diamper Synod was a turning point in the history of Church in Malabar region. As Church historian J. Thaliath would say it gave definite shape to the process of Latinization in Malabar, effectively removed some abuses among Christians, clarified Catholic doctrines without ambiguity and severed Malabar Christians' links with Patriarchate of Chaldea.

The Great Divide

Disquiet among Kerala Christians continued after the Diamper Synod. The Portuguese increasingly asserted their authority and the Malabar Christians clamored for freedom to practice their faith traditions. The synod, instead of solving the issues, actually aggravated them.

The Malabar Christians would not stay together under the Portuguese. Since the Malabar Christians had centuries of attachment with the Eastern Churches and followed Syriac as liturgical language, they could not easily take the Portuguese imposition of Latin bishops and liturgy.

A revolt took place that divided the Church into as Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox. The Christians, who opposed the domination of Portuguese missioners, made a solemn oath Jan. 3, 1653 severing all links with the Latin Church. The oath is traditionally known as the "Coonan Cross oath.”

The breakaway faction came to be called the Syrian Orthodox. Soon after, they placed themselves under the Patriarch of Antioch.

Later, at various points of history, this group broke up into at least five major factions and remained non-Catholic.

The oath is also historically called the "oath at Mattancherry." People made the oath before a cross at Mattancherry, in Cochin. The locution of the oath said they would have no relation with Sampalur pathiris (St. Paul priests), effectively meaning the Portuguese Jesuits in times to come.


The Portuguese word Padroado simply means patronage. Its Spanish equivalent is "Patronato." These words are closely linked with socio-political reality of the Church in the Middle Ages. The Portuguese Padroado also has close ties with Indian mission history.

During the end of the 15-century, the dominant Christian nations of Portugal and Spain successfully engaged in explorations, and discovered new territories. The pope, as the head of the Church, needed to evolve a mechanism for hassle-free evangelization of these territories.
To this end, Pope Alexander VI divided the newly discovered world and entrusted the western region to Spain and the eastern region to Portugal for missionary activities.

The genesis of this "patronage" system could be traced to Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), a son of Portuguese King John I, who obtained special privileges from popes to propagate the faith in newly discovered territories. Henry founded and led a mission organization called the Order of Christ.

In 1500, after the death of Henry, Pope Alexander VI ordered that Apostolic Commissar (administrator) be appointed in the newly discovered areas by the Portuguese king independent of the Master general of the Order of Christ. But in 1514 Pope Leo X restored all such jurisdictions to the Order of Christ.

He also established the archdiocese of Funchal in the Madeira Island off African coast. India and Brazil were attached to this, and the Portuguese king was given the patronage of this diocese. The king was also made the administrator of the Order of Christ. In essence, it meant the king having all administrative authorities over the archdiocese.

Padroado took effect in India in 1534, when Pope Paul III set up Goa as a suffragan of the Funchal archdiocese. It was the beginning of autonomous Padroado Church in India and in the Asian region.

The document that founded Goa also gave definite explanation of the term, Padroado.

According to it, the king was authorized to propose candidate for bishopric and certain other offices in dioceses. It was the king's responsibility to fund the diocese. He should pay for all Church offices and their maintenance. He should also fund the construction of new monasteries, chapels and churches and repair the old ones. Besides, he should also provide for necessary articles for divine worship.

This system continued for centuries and helped in establishing communities in several mission areas. But it degenerated into questioning the papal authority in later times. The Vatican authorities began to feel that a better system was needed for the propagation of faith in mission areas, and the Propaganda Fide was established in 1622. This led to the gradual disbanding of the Padroado system.