Documentary Evidence AD 1504
We at last come to the period for which there is some documentary evidence. In 1504 certain Nestorian bishops in India wrote a report to the Nestorian Patriarch of Babylon and this Syriac report is in the Vatican library with a latin translation dated 1533 of the report and of an addition to the report, which addition gives the history of these bishops and of their companions. From this document we learn that in 1490 three faithful Christian men set out from the remote regions of India to ask Mar Simeon, Patriarch of the East, to give bishops for their provinces, One of the three travellers died but the two survivors, Joseph and George, appeared before the patriarch and stated their errand. Two monks were selected from the monastery of St. Eugene and were consecrated by the Patriarch under the names Thomas and John. The Patriarch furnished the two bishops with letters under his signature and seal and sent them forth with prayers and blessings to seek the shores of India. The four arrived safely and were received with great joy by the Christians who ran to meet them and carried before them the book of the Gospels, the Cross, torches and a thurible. The two bishops consecrated altars and ordained a large number of priests, because for a long time there had been no bishop there. Mar John remained in India but Mar Thomas, with Joseph, returned to the patriarch taking first fruits and offerings. In 1493 Joseph returned to India but Mar Thomas remained for some years in Mesopotamia. The Patriarch Simeon died in 1502 and was succeeded by Elias, who chose three monks from the monastery of St. Eugene to be consecrated as bishops for India. Of these three, David, who took the name of Jaballah, was Metropolitan. The others were George, who took the name of Denha, and Masud, who took the name of Jacob. The four bishops journeyed to India, found Bishop John still living and in 1504 they wrote a long report to the Patriarch, in the following words:- "There are here about thirty thousand families common in faith with us and they pray God for your prosperity. Now they have commenced to build more churches and there is abundance of all things and they are mild and peaceable. Blessed be God. Also Christians now again inhabit the Church of St. Thomas. It is distant a journey of 25 days, situated on the sea near a city called Meliapor in the Province of Silan. Our province in which the Christians dwell, is called Malabar and has about twenty cities, of which three notable and firm cities are Carangol, Palor and Colom and others nearly come up to them. In all these the Christians live and churches have been built. Near by there is a large and rich city, Calecut, which the infidels inhabit". The report then gives a narrative of the fighting at Calecut between the Mahomedans and the Portuguese and then continues. "About twenty Portuguese live in the city of Cannanore. When we arrived from Ormuz at Cannanore we presented ourselves to them, said that we were Christians and explained our condition and rank. They received us with great joy, gave us beautiful garments and twenty drachmas of gold and for Christ's sake they honored our journey more than it deserved. We remained with them for two and a half months and they ordered us that on a fixed day we also should perform the holy mysteries, that is, should offer the Oblation. They had prepared a fitting place for prayer and their priests every day sacrifice and complete the holy Oblation, for that is their custom and rite. Wherefore on Nosardel Sunday, after their priest celebrated, we also were admitted and performed the holy rite and it was very pleasing in their eyes.Setting out thence we arrived at our Christians who dwell at a distance of eight days from that place." Joseph, one of the two men who went to the Patriarch in 1490, took passage for Europe with the Portuguese admiral Cabral, sailing from Cochin on January 10th 1501. Arrived at Lisbon this Joseph was an object of much interest. He traveled to Rome, where he had an audience of Pope Alexander VI, to Venice, to Jerusalem, again to Lisbon and so back to India. From the information obtained by persons who talked to Joseph a book was published. Gouvea, p.5, says that it is in Latin and appended to Fasciculus Temporum. An Italian version appeared at Vicenza in 1507 called Paesi novamente retrovati, it is cited also as Novus Orbis or as The travels of Joseph the Indian. It gives a description of the Thomas-Christians which may be taken for what it is worth. Joseph says that the Church was under the control of a supreme head "summus antistes", who had under him twelve Cardinals, two Patriarchs, and many Archbishops and bishops. From one passage he seems to say this of the Patriarch of Antioch although Asseman says that he must have meant the Nestorian Patriarch. Joseph goes on to say that there were priests, deacons and sub-deacons. The priests shaved the whole of the upper part of the head as a tonsure. The churches were buildings similar to those in Europe, with vaulted roofs and adorned by a cross but by no pictures. The faithful were called to prayer not with a bell but by the voice. Baptism is administered when an infant is fourteen days old unless there is danger of death. Unfermented bread is used in the Eucharist. They have confession but not extreme unction. Both Advent and Lent are kept as strict fasts. Their festivals are Sundays, the festivals of the Apostles, Ascension, Trinity, Christmas, Epiphany and the Purification, Assumption and Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Their greatest festival is the Octave of Easter, because on that day St. Thomas put his hand in the wounded side of Christ. There are monasteries, a supply of books and eminent teachers. In the palace of the Zamorin at Calicut are four large halls, one for Hindus, one for Mahomedans, one for Jews and one for Christians. Many writers with an authority, which it cannot deserve, have cited this description by Joseph of the Christians. There is no certainty that the persons who spoke to Joseph clearly understood what he said or accurately remembered it.