Karingachira St. George's Church, established in 722 AD (Makaram 13), is one of the ancient churches of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, is the founder of the ancient church in India. Christian writers and historians from the 4th century refer to the evangelistic work of Apostle Thomas in India, and the Indian Christians ascribe the origin of their church to the labors of the apostle in the 1st century.
"Insistent tradition ascribes the introduction of Christianity to India to the Apostle Thomas, one of the original Twelve."
It is reasonable to believe that the St. Thomas came to India, preached the gospel, established the church and died there as a martyr. It is believed that St.Thomas arrived in Cranganore, Kerala, India, in 52 AD He preached the gospel and founded churches at seven places; Cranganore, Palur, Paraur, Gokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Quilon, and appointed prelates and priests. He is believed to have been martyred at Mylapur, Madras, India, around 72 AD Malankara Orthodox Church in India is as old as any other ancient Christian communities elsewhere in the world.
South India had trade connections with the Mediterranean and West Asian world since ancient times. This enabled the Church in those areas, particularly Persia, to have knowledge of the existence of a Christian community in India. Many Christians, when they were persecuted in Persian Empire, fled to the southwestern coast of India and found there a ready and warm welcome. There is no documentary evidence referring to the way the Indian Church was governed during early centuries. According to tradition, the successor of St. Thomas corresponded with the leaders of the Christian Churches in the Middle East; and prelates from that part of the world guided the church of India from time to time.
Like the other churches, the Indian Church maintained its autonomous character under its local leader. When the Portuguese established themselves in India in the 16th Century, they found the Church in Kerala, as an administratively independent community. Following the arrival of Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese General, in Calicut, Kerala, India, in 1498, they came to South India and established their political power there. The Portuguese brought with them missionaries to carry on evangelistic work in order to establish churches in communion with the pope of Rome under the Portuguese patronage. These missionaries were eager to bring the Malankara partly assembly called Church also under the Pope. They succeeded in their efforts in 1599 with the `Synod of Diamper'. The representatives of various parishes who attended the assembly were forced by Portuguese Authorities to accept the Papal authority.
Following the synod, the Indian Church came to be governed by Portuguese prelates. They were as a whole, unwilling to respect the transitions and the integrity of the Indian Church, and a majority of people was not happy about the state of affairs. This disaffection led to general revolt in 1653, which resulted in an oath of separation known as "The Coonen Cross Pledge". They demanded administrative autonomy for the Indian Church. Kerala Syrian Christians had an inevitable role in that revolution. The party that sought to preserve the Church's freedom stood in need of assistance in restoring its Episcopal succession. It appealed to several eastern Christian centers for help. The Antiochene Syrian Patriarch responded and sent metropolitan Mar Gregorios of Jerusalem to India in 1665. He came to India and confirmed Marthoma I as the bishop and both of them worked together to organize the Church on firm footing. The Malankara Church began to grow steadily. The parishioners of Karingachira and the neighborhood had a fair role in this awakening in 722 AD. Karingachira church was separated from the Edapally church, which was an off short of Kottakyavu (or Paravoor) church. It is believed that Cochin Hindu Royal Dynasty had an official affection and respect towards Karingachira church. Historically well known Synod of Diampor (Udayamperur Suhannados) and The Coonen Cross Pledge are closely related to this church. They echos the remarkable contribution to Malankara Orthodox church when it had undergone a lot of strife and pain to uphold its old ties with the Holy Apostolic Throne of The Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch And All The East. The lone saint of the Malankara Church, Mor Gregorius was ordained koorooyo (fourth order of deaconate) on September 14, 1857 at this church.
The Karingachira church is located 1.5 km east of Tripunithura town and 250 m west of Hill Palace, the royal palace of the Highnesses of the erstwhile Cochin state. Marshy land on either side of a rivulet that flows west of the church had a few islands connected by paths (chira in Malayalam) made of bushes known locally as karingali which gave the place the name Karingalichira that later became Karingachira.
Tradition has it that St. Thomas arrived at Kodungallur in AD 52 and established seven churches in Malankara, one of which was the Kottakkavu church in North Parur. In course of time, a church was established at Edapally was established by migrants who belonged to the Kottakkavu church. When Tripunithura gained prominence as the capital of the erstwhile Perumpadapu Swaroopam (Cochin State), several Syrian Christians migrated to the area. Syrian Christians of those days primarily engaged in commercial activities which were looked down upon by the upper-casted Hindus. But the rulers of the kingdom recognized the value of their activity and encouraged them to migrate to their capital by opening a new market (Puthan-angadi) for them. While many Christians settled in the Tripunithura-Karingachira area, they continued to depend on the Edapally church for their spiritual needs.
In the early part of 8th century AD, two Syrian Christian families-Maliackel and Palathinkal gained prominence in this region. A member of the Maliackel family died unexpectedly. A message was sent to the authorities of the Edapally church, but they refused to bury the remains in the church due to alleged dues to the church outstanding from the Maliackel family. Even so, the family took the dead body to Edapally church hoping for a settlement and burial rites, but was turned away. On their way back, they decided to bury the body in Karingalichira, an uninhabited place in those days. This event caused great concern among the local Christians.
The Maliackel family consulted with the Palathinkal family and decided to construct a church at the location where the body was buried. A church was established there in the name of St. George, the patron saint of Edapally church. There is evidence to believe that this church was established in AD 722. In 1923, an inscription was found when an opening was made in the south wall on the eastern side of the church to construct a window. This inscription (70 cm x 52 cm) was in a language known as "Naanam-Monum.
"This inscription was translated into Malayalam and inscribed on the southern wall on a granite slab. An English translation would read "In the Year of our Lord Yeshue Meshiha 722, month of Makaram 13, this Church of St. George was established and was rebuilt in 812 AD, Karkidakom 21. Translated from Naanam-Monum." Malayalam developed as a language between 800 and 920 AD, during the reign of Kulashekhara Rajas (Sridhara Menon, "Survey of Kerala History", p. 188). Since the inscription is in Naanam-Monum and not Malayalam, the inscription is acclaimed to be true. Following the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, the trade route between Europe and Asia became inaccessible to Europeans. This encouraged them to explore a sea route to Asia. In 1498, Vasco de Gama, a Portugese navigator, arrived in Malabar. The Portugese attempted to displace the Arab merchants who were favoured by the Samoothiri (Zamorin) of Kozhikode (Calicut) but did not succeed. Taking advantage of the strife between Samoothiri and Perumbadapu Moopila (Cochin Highness), they curried the favor of the Cochin royal family.
Since Syrian Christians had earned rights in commercial activities, the Portugese claiming to be co-religionists began to arrogate their rights. When they were comfortably established they began a campaign to bring the Syrian Christians under the Roman Pope. Their objective was not only a religious conversion but also a cultural conversion. In 1599, a Portugese Archbishop, Alexis de Menesis, arrived from Goa and held the notorious Diamper Synod at Udayamperoor. Menesis set out to every church in Malankara in order to bring them under the Roman yoke. While every church was included in his itinery, he was unable to include Karingachira. Thus Karingachira church never came under the Portugese. On hearing about the persecution suffered by his flock in Malankara, [allegedly] the Patriarch of Antioch, Mor Ignatius Ahathulla, set out to Malankara in 1653. He was captured by the Portugese enroute and was taken to Madras.
Two Syrian Christian deacons from Malankara, Itty and Kurian, who were on pilgrimage to Mylapore heard about the incident and reported to the church in Malankara. They also managed to meet Mor Ahathulla and secured a 'Statikon' from him appointing Archdeacon Thomas as the episcopa of Malankara [with the condition that a proper ordination would be obtained as soon as the situation permitted]. In the meantime, Mor Ahathulla was brought to Cochin. On hearing about his arrival, hoardes of Syrian Christians rushed to the Cochin Port to free their holy father.
It is said that church bells rang at Karingachira and several of those who rushed to Cochin were from Karingachira. They were unable to free Mor Ahathulla. Legend has it that he was drowned in the Arabian Sea with a millstone tied to his neck, although another version says that he was taken to Goa and burnt on the stake. Later on Makaram 3rd, at Mattancherry, about 25000 Syrian Christians held on to a rope tied to a leaning cross and pledged to never surrender to the Roman yoke and always remain under the Holy Apostolic See of Antioch maintaining their ancient rites and traditions.
Archdeacon Thomas, who had received a 'Statikon' from the Patriarch of Antioch was declared the episcopa of Malankara. This historic event is known as the Koonen Kurishu Sathyam (The Leaning Cross Oath). A number of those who participated were again parishioners of Karingachira. However, after this event, Karingachira Church saw schism amongst the two prominent families on the question of loyalty to Rome. The Maliackel family favoured Rome while Palathinkal family remained in the traditions of the Syrian church. On an appeal from Maliackel family, the Cochin Highness called the two parties together in 1758 and settled the dispute. Following this, the two factions continued to share the church for some more time until 1780 when the Roman faction took a share of 10002 puthen from the church and separated.