The Saint Thomas Christians, also called Syrian Christians or Nasrani, is a community of Christians from Kerala, India, who trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Saint Thomas in the 1st century, and is one of the oldest Christian communities of the world. The community was historically united in leadership and liturgy, but since the 17th century have been split into several church denominations and traditions.

Historically the Saint Thomas Christian community was part of the Church of the East, centred in Mesopotamia. They were organised as the Ecclesiastical Province of India in the 8th century, served by bishops and a hereditary Archdeacon. In the 16th century the overtures of the Portuguese padroado to bring the Saint Thomas Christians into the Catholic Church led to the first of several rifts in the community and the establishment of Catholic and Malankara Church factions. Since that time further splits have occurred, and the Saint Thomas Christians are now divided into several Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and independent bodies, each with their own liturgies and traditions.

The Saint Thomas Christians represent a single ethnic group. Saint Thomas Christian culture is Hindu in origin with influences from East Syrian, West Syrian, Jewish and later European sources. Their language is Malayalam, the language of Kerala, and Syriac is used for liturgical purposes. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.


The Saint Thomas Christians are so called due to their reverence for Saint Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have brought Christianity to India. The name dates to the period of Portuguese colonization. They are also known, especially locally, as the Nasrani or Nasrani Mappila. “Nasrani” is a term meaning “Christian”; it appears to be a local pronunciation of Nazarine, derived from Nazareth, the home town of Jesus. Mappila is an honorific applied to members of non-Indian faiths, including Muslims (Mappila) and the Cochin Jews (Yuda Mappila). Some Syrian Christians of Travancore continue to attach this honorific title to their names. The Indian government designates members of the community as “Syrian Christians”, a term originating with the Dutch colonial authority distinguishing the Saint Thomas Christians, who used Syriac as their liturgical language, from newly evangelized Christians who followed the Latin liturgy. The term Syrian relates not to their ethnicity but to their historical, religious and liturgical connection to the Church of the East, or East Syrian Church.

Syro-Malabar Catholic Church

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (Aramaic: ܥܹܕܬܵܐ ܕܡܲܠܲܒܵܪ ܣܘܼܪܝܵܝܵܐ‎, Edtha d’Malabar Suryaya) or Church of Malabar Syrians is a Major Archiepiscopal Church in full communion with the Catholic Church. The Church is headed by the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, Mar George Alencherry. The members of the Church are known as Mar Thoma Nasranis or Syrian Catholics. It is the largest of the Nasrani denominations with around 4.6 million believers and traces its origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.

The Syro-Malabar Church follows the East Syrian Rite liturgy, traditionally attributed to saints Addai and Mari, which dates back to 3rd century Edessa. It is one of the 23 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in the Catholic communion. It is the second largest Eastern Catholic Church, the largest being the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It is one of the two Eastern Catholic Churches from India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church which follows the West Syrian Rite liturgy. Saint Alphonsa is the first canonized saint from the Church.

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