The surprisingly early history of Christianity in India

The first that I ever saw was worn by Father Lawrence, an elderly priest who said Mass for the rubber-plantation workers in the Kerala village where I spent a Catholic childhood.

When he came to our house for coffee, he lifted the curiously rounded hat and bowed with grave courtesy, a gesture I remember vividly because we did not know of such things then. Years later I would learn that it was a pith helmet.

We got to know Father Lawrence because attending his ramshackle chapel near our family farm was far easier than enduring the hilly, one-hour walk to our parish church.

The traditional-minded in our parish frowned upon this because the plantation church followed the Latin rite, not the Syrian rite, although both are Catholic. As for us children, none of this mattered in the least.

At the plantation church, we squatted on the mud floor brushed smooth with cow-dung paste and tormented ant lions in their tiny pits scratched into the earth. When we attended the parish church, we risked a caning to sneak into the downhill cemetery and peer into the “well,” in which unearthed bones and skulls from old graves had been unceremoniously dumped.

Of course we had no way of knowing then that the Latin rite had come to Kerala by way of the 16th-century Portuguese or that the Syriac rite had come far earlier, in the centuries just following Christ’s birth.

Therein hangs a tale of the spices—pepper, cardamom, cinnamon—that made Kerala a hot spot in the ancient world, a story that helps explain how Christianity came to India not once but twice. Continue reading

Source and Image

  • An article by Paul Zacharia, a Malayalam short story writer, novelist and essayist. Photo is by Lynn Johnson in


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