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DIOCESE OF SAINT THOMAS OF MYLAPUR (SANCTI THOMAE DE MELIAPOR).
Suffragan to the primatial See of Goa in the East Indies; it, derives its name from the site of its cathedral in which the Apostle, St. Thomas was interred on his martyrdom and the Tamil word Mailapur (i.e. the town of peacocks), which the Greeks rendered as Maliarpha the Portuguese Meliapor, and the English Mylapore.
The local Indian tradition, largely corroborated by collateral evidence is that the Apostle St. Thomas, after preaching on the west coast of India, passed on to the east coast and fixed his see at Mylapur, which was then a flourishing city. The number of converts, be made having aroused the hostility of the heathen priests, he fled from their anger to the summit of what is now known as St. Thomas's Mount situated in a direct line four miles to the southwest, of Mylapur. Thither he was followed by his persecutors, who transfixed him with a lance as he prayed kneeling on a stone, A.D. 68. From the facts that the Roman Breviary declares St. Thomas to have "crowned the glory of his Apostleship with martyrdom at Calamina" and that no traces of any Calamina exist, various theories some of them probably absurd have been put forward to identify Calamina with Mylapur, or with St. Thomas's Mount. The writer of this article once suggested that Calamina might be a modification of Cholamandalam (i.e. the kingdom of the Cholas as the surrounding country was in the beginning of the Christian era). On maturer reflection he has found it far more reasonable to believe that Calamina was an ancient town at the foot of the hill at St. Thomas's Mount, that has wholly disappeared, as many more recent, historic Indian cities have disappeared, built as they were of mud, except for their temples and palaces which were of exquisitely wrought stone. This much is certain: till Europeans settled in the place there was no Indian name even for the hill. This is shown by the present, Indian name, Faranghi Malai (i.e. hill of the Franks), used to denote both the bill and the town around its base, a service which the English name St. Thomas's Mount equally renders. His body was brought to Mylapur and buried in the house in which he had lived, and which was used as a place of worship. A notable portion of the relics of the Apostle was obtained for the church of Edessa, at an early period, by Christian traders from Persia. The Edessene relics were in course of time conveyed to Chios, and finally to Ortona in Italy, where they are yet venerated.
India's maritime trade languished and died out about the fourth century. Though the country was thus cut off from all communication with the external world, the succession of bishops was kept up till the revival of Brahminism at Mylapur in the seventh century, when there was a ruthless massacre of Jains and Christians. The Bishop of Mylapur and his priests were put to death, and the remnant of his flock fled across the country to the mountains of the west. As the sees on the west coast were vacant at the time, the Apostolic succession was interrupted, and on the death of the priests then living, the Christians kept the light of their faith burning by lay baptism, the recitation of their prayers, by wearing a cross, and by surreptitious visits to the tomb of the Apostle in the ruined church at Mylapur; in this they were helped by the fact that shortly after the massacre, Mylapur had been overwhelmed by the sea, which returned to its bed after wrecking the city and causing the Brahmins to flee and build a new Mylapur a mile further inland. This new Mylapur is to this very day almost purely Brahmin. The site of old Mylapur is now a sand dune, and would have been wholly forgotten but for the interest it possessed for the early Indian Christians and their successors.
India's maritime trade began to revive in the ninth century. The Nestorian merchants from Persia, finding that there were Christians in India, brought out their own priests and subsequently bishops to minister to them, whom the Indian Christians for want of instruction did not know to be in heresy. Presently, a new Nestorian town began to rise on the sand dune that covered old Mylapur, the most prominent feature of which was a chapel over the site of the Apostle's tomb. Hence the Persian and Arabian traders called the town Betumah (i.e. house, church, or town of Thomas. But the Indian Christians called it Tirumailapur (i.e. Holy Mylapur). It is this chapel that the ambassadors of Alfred the Great of England are supposed to have visited (A.D. 883), and which John of Monte Corvino (1200), Marco Polo (1220), Blessed Oderic di Perdone (1318), and Conti (1400) did for a certainty visit. Later Betumah declined, and about 1500 was only a heap of ruins.
Shortly after the discovery of the Cape route to India, caravels of Portuguese Franciscans and Dominicans set out to evangelize the no longer sealed lands of the East, and traversed their surf-beaten coasts in search of suitable centres for their operations. There is a legend which tells how, when a caravel with some Franciscan missionaries engaged in such a search was cruising up the Coromandel Coast, one day towards nightfall their attention was attracted by a light on shore and they decided to land there. They did, without knowing then or for some time after, that they had landed at the ruins of Betumah. But when they attempted to approach the light, it preceded them inland, across the ruins of the Nestorian town, over an empty stretch of ground, past (new) Mylapur and into a forest, where the light vanished. Here the Franciscans established a mission and built a church (still extant) in honour of Our Lady of Light in 1516, whence the locality, no longer a forest, but a wealthy residential quarter, is still known as The Luz after Nossa Senhora da Luz (that is, Our Lady of Light). The Dominicans followed in their wake, and in 1520 Fre. Ambrosio, O.P., was consecrated bishop for the Dominican missions at Cranganore and Mylapur.
The following year King John III of Portugal ordered a search to be instituted for the tomb of the Apostle St. Thomas. As long as the tomb, with the counterpart of the Ortona relics, was looked for, nothing was found; however when the search was given up, both were accidentally discovered. The royal commission found traces of the old Nestorian chapel, but nothing of the tomb. But while directing operations to build an oratory commemorative of the spot, and digging deeply in the sandy soil to lay its foundations, it found a masonry tomb, containing what might have been expected to be found in the Apostle's tomb: some bones of snowy whiteness, the head of a lance, a pilgrim's staff, and an earthen vase. This was in 1522. The fact brought ruined Betumah into popularity with the Portuguese, who settled here in large numbers and called the new European town San Thomé (after St. Thomas) and San Thomé de Meliapor, when they wanted to distinguish it from São Thomé the African island, though the town was somewhat distant from Mylapur.
The Portuguese Augustinians were the next missionaries to follow; they took charge of the oratory built over the grave of the Apostle, and built their priory and church adjoining it. In the meantime the Dominican missions in the surrounding country gained so much in importance, that in 1540 Fre. Bernardo da Cruz, O.P., was consecrated and sent out to tend them. There is nothing to show when the Fathers of the Society of Jesus settled at Saint Thomas, but by 1648 they had a college in the place and a church and residence at Mylapur, while St. Francis Xavier spent three months in 1545 at Saint Thomas praying at the grave of the Apostle for light in regard to his projected mission to Japan. All of these missionaries, and those who came after them, had no definite spheres of work, but worked side by side and in dependence on the local ordinaries, when these were in due course appointed. By the end of the sixteenth century they had extended their operations to Bengal and Burma. In 1552 the Diocese of Cochin was erected, and made to include, among other places, Ceylon and the countries bordering the Bay of Bengal. Saint Thomas was thus constituted a parish of the Diocese of Cochin; and the Augustinian church adjoining the chapel over the grave of the Apostle was designated the parish church of Saint Thomas.
At the instance of King Philip II of Portugal, Paul V, on 9 January, 1606, separated rated the Kingdom of Tanjore and the territories to the north of the Cauvery River and bordering the Bay of Bengal, from the Diocese of Cochin and constituted them a distinct diocese with Saint Thomas of Myrapur as the episcopal city and the parish church of Saint Thomas as the cathedral. At the same time the pope appointed Dom Sebastião de San Pedro, O.S.A., who had been presented by the King of Portugal, to be the first bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, and granted Philip and his heirs and successors in perpetuity the right of patronage and presentation to the see, and the benefices that might be created therein, by the mere facts of their creation and dotation. This right and obligation the Crown of Portugal has exercised and discharged to the present, by making the bishops a princely allowance, paying a certain number of priests' salaries, with periodical increases, leave with free passages and pensions, on the lines of the Portuguese Civil Service Code, and contributing to the support of a still larger number of priests on a graduated scale. Bishop Sebastião de San Pedro arrived at Saint Thomas in 1611, but in 1614 was promoted to the See of Cochin. In 1615 he was succeeded by Luiz de Brito e Menezes, likewise an Augustinian, who was transferred in 1628 to the See of Cochin. His successor was Luiz Paulo Paulo de Estrella, O.S.F., appointed in 1534, who died at Saint Thomas on 9 January, 1637. During the next fifty-six years the see continued vacant; for, though no less than nine personages were selected by the Crown for the honour, they either declined it, or were promoted, or died before their election was confirmed by the Holy See. So in the interval the diocese was governed by administrators selected chiefly from the various religious orders and appointed by the archbishops or vicars capitular sede vacante of Goa. But it was only natural that the members of the religious orders as also secular priests of other nations should have desired to share in the work of preaching the Gospel to the heathen; hence in 1622 Gregory XV created the Sacred Congregation de propaganda fide to distribute infidel regions among the religious orders and missionary societies of other nationalities as assistants to the local ordinaries, where there were any, and to supervise their operations. But occasionally the Congregation was misled a thing that was easy enough when geographical knowledge was neither as correct nor as extensive as at the present time and this occasioned trouble.
The foundations of the British Indian Empire of the present day were laid, so to say, by Sir Francis Day in the sandy delta of a tiny river, some three and a half miles north of Saint Thomas, with the beginnings of Fort St. George. The British invited the Portuguese of pure and mixed descent to settle in the new township; and as the Portuguese were Catholics, they were ministered to by the clergy from Saint Thomas. In 1642, the Congregation of Propaganda sent out two French Capuchins to establish a mission in Burma. But, when they, landing at Surat and travelling overland, reached Fort St. George, the British persuaded them not to go further, since they judged it prudent to have clergymen differing in nationality from, and independent of, the Portuguese ordinary at Saint Thomas to minister to the Catholics in their settlement. Accordingly, R. P. Ephraim', one of the two, wrote to the Sacred Congregation de propaganda fide representing that there was a prospect of reaping a larger harvest at Fort St. George and the fast rising native town of Madras that was beside it, than in Burma; and in the name of Urban VIII a prefecture Apostolic was established within three and a half miles of the cathedral of Saint Thomas. It is perhaps needless to say that ever after there were continual bickerings between the local ordinaries and the French Capuchins, the former insisting on the Capuchins acknowledging their jurisdiction, a claim which the latter, relying on their papal Brief, refused to recognize.
Both the Portuguese and the British had obtained their charters for their respective forts of Saint Thomas and St. George from the local Hindu chiefs. But the Mohammedans were now extending their power southwards; and before laying siege to Fort St. George they, with the help of the Dutch who bombarded the place from the sea, took Saint Thomas and began the work of demolishing its walls in January, 1697. The Mohammedan governors then settled on the waste land, separating Saint Thomas from Mylapur, which was soon covered with the residences of Mohammedan settlers. In the unchanging East these three townships still exist: as a European quarter, as a Mohammedan quarter and as a Brahmin quarter while the casual observer fails to see where Saint Thomas ends and Mylapur begins and uses the names as convertible terms. However, having reduced Saint Thomas and deprived it of its battlements, the Mohammedans did not further trouble the resident Portuguese, who regarded the place as still a Portuguese possession and managed its affairs with an elected council of which the ordinary of the place, for the time being, was the president.
Dom Gaspar Alfonso Alvares, S.J., was the fourth Bishop of Saint Thomas. His presentation was confirmed by the Holy See in 1691, and he was consecrated at Goa in 1693. In the meantime the Capuchins of the French Prefecture Apostolic of Fort St. George spread apace and took charge of the French settlement of Pondicherry. Not to offend the French, Dom Gaspar allowed them to minister to the Europeans and their descendants, but in order to assert his right, placed the Indian Christians in Pondicherry under the care of members of his own Society from France. This led to a number of complaints being addressed to Rome about the interference of the Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur with the work of the missionaries Apostolic, with the result, however, that Clement XI, by his letters "Gaudium in Domino" of 1704, issued an injunction restraining the missionaries from invading the rights of the diocesan. But the Congregation de propaganda fide seems to have followed an altogether different course. In 1706 it issued a Decree in support of its own missionaries, which reversed what the bishop had ordained. Under these circumstances the bishop again appealed to the pope, who, by the Brief "Non sine gravi" of 1711, annulled the Decree of the Congregation and reaffirmed the right of the diocesan to make what arrangements he chose at Pondicherry, which was situated within the limits of his diocese. Presently Cardinal de Tournon, who was on his way to China as legate of the Holy See, having touched at Pondicherry, hearing of the doings of the Capuchins, placed the French Prefecture Apostolic of Madras, the name by which Fort St. George and its surroundings were coming to be better known, under interdict. The Capuchins must have submitted forthwith and the interdict thereupon been removed, as there appears no record of its removal.
In the meantime Dom Gaspar had died (1708). Owing to his advancing years, he had been given a coadjutor with the right of succession, Dom Francisco Laynes, S.J., of the Madura mission, in the Diocese of Cochin. Dom Laynes was consecrated at Lisbon on 19 March, 1708, as Bishop of Sozopolis in partibus. He came out to India the same year, but did not take possession of his see till 1710. Though Bishop Laynes was Portuguese, the Portuguese Augustinians of Bandel defied his authority as their diocesan. He therefore placed Bandel under interdict on 14 July, 1714; on the submission of the Augustinians the interdict was removed (8 October, 1714). Bishop Laynes died at Chandernagore (Bengal) in 1715, and was succeeded by Manoel Sanches Golão, who was appointed in 1717 and reached India in 1719. It was Dom Manoel who welcomed the Italian Barnabites as invaluable co-operators in the work of preaching the Gospel in Burma, though he had regularly served mission stations there. These friendly relations with the Italian Barnabites were always maintained, as they recognized the authority of the diocesans. Bishop Golão was succeeded by José Penheiro, S.J., who was consecrated in 1726. He sanctioned the arrangement whereby French Jesuits were to have spiritual charge of Chandernagore, in Bengal. During his time the Barnabite mission in Burma was created a vicariate Apostolic. Bishop Pinheiro died on 15 March, 1744, and was succeeded by Antonio da Incarnacao, O.S.A., who was consecrated at Goa in 1747.
It was about this time (1746) that the French marched on Madras and, making Saint Thomas their head-quarters, attacked and took Fort St. George, which they held and improved till August, 1749, when they restored it to Admiral Boseawen under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Saint Thomas had been nominally a Portuguese possession from 1697, without the semblance of a military force to resist its occupation by a foreign power, as the French did when operating against Madras. To obviate a recurrence of such an eventuality Admiral Boscawen annexed the place and built a redoubt to the south-east of it, thus rendering it a part of Madras, as it still is. The British now regretted having harboured the French Capuchins, as they suspected that the capture of Fort St. George by the French was largely due to the information supplied by them. Consequently R. P. Rene, on whom the suspicion rested most heavily, was deported to Europe, and the others were expelled from the fort and settled in what is now Georgetown (Madras), where the cathedral of Madras now stands, four miles from the cathedral of Saint Thomas.
On the death of Bishop da Incarnacão on 22 November, 1752, Fre. Theodoro de Santa Maria, O.S.A., was presented for the see and confirmed by the Holy See. He belonged to the priory at Saint Thomas, but hesitated to receive episcopal consecration. Two Italian Barnabites destined for the vicariate Apostolic in Burma came with letters of commendation to the bishop-elect, who welcomed and speeded them to their destination. At last Fre. Thedoro, the bishop-elect, renounced the see into the hands of Fre. Bernardo de San Caetano, O.S.A., who was then consecrated bishop. Bishop Bernardo in turn consecrated one of the two Barnabites just mentioned, Dom Percotto, Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Burma, in 1768. But Bishop Percotto did not reach the field of his labours, as on his voyage back to Burma the vessel foundered.
The Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur was ministered to at this period as follows: By the Portuguese Franciscans, Portuguese Dominicans, Portuguese Augustinians, and Portuguese Jesuits. Besides these, there were French Jesuits and Italian Barnabites working in the diocese in harmony with the ordinary, And French Capuchins defying their authority, at least occasionally. One drawback of this total manning of the diocese with the religious orders was the absolute neglect to form an indigenous clergy to meet the emergency that presently arose. For it was at about this time that the Marquess of Pombal suppressed the houses of the Society of Jesus in Portugal and thus cut off the supply of Portuguese Jesuits to the diocese. The emergency became still more acute, when, in 1773, Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. Withal, the situation was not quite so hopeless as to call for drastic measures in regard to the diocese from without. For it was not till 1834 that the houses of the other religious orders in the Portuguese dominions were suppressed. And as the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur was situated wholly outside of Portuguese territory, there was nothing to prevent the Portuguese religious orders from thriving there. Nevertheless, as at home vocations became fewer, the houses in India gradually died out, the last to be represented in the diocese being the Portuguese Augustinians in Bengal, the last member of the order dying in 1869.
On the extinction of a religious house in any place, the property and rights of the religious revert to the Church, as represented by the local diocesans. But all Catholic Europe was so incensed against Portugal for the initiative taken by the Marquess of Pombal against the Society of Jesus, that without waiting to weigh the justice of their action in turn, reprisals became the order of the day in the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, the Congregation de propaganda fide supporting the missionaries of other nationalities against the Portuguese. On the suppression of the Society of Jesus by the Holy See, the Fathers of the Missions étrangères of Paris were sent out to take charge of the Society's missions in the Dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapur and of Cochin, of which Msgr Champenois, Bishop of Dolichum in partibus, was appointed vicar Apostolic. Bishop San Caetano resented this, as he was filling up the places of the Jesuits with Indian secular missionaries from Goa; but his protests were of little avail. In course of time, as the members of the other religious orders died out, these same Indian missioners from Goa assumed charge of their churches under the order of their diocesans, though more often than not there was a dispute between them and the missionaries Apostolic. The latter did not hesitate to misrepresent the Goan missionaries to be ignorant and immoral as a whole though the diocesan seminary at Goa was conducted by the Jesuits until their suppression, and thereafter by members of the other religious orders till 1835. On the other hand, between 1652 and 1843, no less than seven of their fellow-countrymen were deemed worthy of episcopal consecration by the Crown of Portugal, the Holy See, and the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, not to speak of the Venerable Joseph Vaz, who was of their race. Howbeit, since then and up to the present time the majority of the priests working in the diocese have been Indian Secular missionaries from Goa.
Bishop San Caetano died in 1780, and was succeeded by Fre. Manoel de Jesus Marie José, O.S.A., a native of Goa and the prior of the Augustinian convent there. He was consecrated in 1788, and died at Saint Thomas in 1800. He was succeeded by Fre. Joaquim de Menezes e Athalde, O.S.A., who was consecrated and took charge of his see by procuration in 1805, but before he could come out he was transferred to the Diocese of Funchal. As a result, Fre. José de Garca who on the death of Bishop Jesus Maria José had been appointed administrator, continued as such till his death on 14 July, 181.7, when Fre. Clemente de Espiritu Santo, O.S.F., was appointed administrator. During the latter's tenure of his office, Madras was visited by Dom Pedro d'Aleantara, O.C., Bishop of Antipheles in partibus and Vicar Apostolic of the Grand Mogul [sic] and visitor Apostolic of the French Capuchin missions, who "according to the mind of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide declared the Capuchins of Madras to be independent of the Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur not alone in temporal but also in spiritual matters". But the administrator declined to accept his decision, as being a reaffirmation of the Decree of the same Sacred Congregation, which had been annulled. Fre. Clemente resigned the administration of the diocese to Fire. Manoel de Ave Maria, O.S.A., in 1820.
The British power was now paramount on the Coromandel Coast, and English was universally spoken by the Indo-European population that formed the mainstay of the Catholic congregation of Madras, as it always was and still is all over India. Withal, the French Capuchins would not conform to the times, but continued to preach in Portuguese (which had degenerated in Madras to a patois) and Tamil, the language of the Indian Christians. As a result, many Indo-European families gave up the practice of their religion and in time became Protestants. Finding their representations to the Capuchin prefect Apostolic unheeded, a band of young men represented the matter to the Holy See. In response to this appeal the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide raised the French Capuchin prefecture into a vicariate Apostolic and sent out Dr. O'Connor, 0 S A with Irish priests, in 1828 to take over the work of the Frenchmen.
On the outbreak of the Peninsular wars, King João VI of Portugal, with his elder son Dom Pedro, sought refuge in Brazil. Presently a movement was set on foot to have his younger son, Dom Miguel, proclaimed king, a movement which had the support of the religious orders, but not of the bishops or of the secular clergy. However, João returned to Portugal and quelled the insurrection. In the meantime Brazil proclaimed its independence with Dom Pedro as its emperor an arrangement in which João acquiesced. On the death of João VI the loyalists in Portugal proclaimed Dom Pedro of Brazil King of Portugal; but, as Dom Pedro preferred staying in Brazil, he ceded his right to Dona Maria da Gloria, his younger daughter, appointing his brother, Dom Miguel, as regent till she should grow up, when the regent was to marry her and thus heal the rupture between the loyalists and the adherents of Dom Miguel. The adherents of Dom Miguel, however, proclaimed him king. Dom Pedro came over to Portugal in 1826 to assert his daughter's rights, and finally defeated his brother in 1834. Dom Miguel was perpetually banished and those who sided with him were punished, amongst those to suffer being the religious orders, whose houses were suppressed and properties confiscated.
In consequence of this last measure mainly, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Portugal were broken off. The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide deemed the moment opportune to extend the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Madras to Saint Thomas of Mylapur and its missions southwards to the River Palar (those south of the Palar being assigned to the Vicar Apostolic of Pondicherry), to declare Burma to be an independent vicariate and to create in the northern part of the diocese (Bengal and the adjoining countries) an independent vicariate Apostolic under Dr. St. Leger, with a staff of British priests. From a certain point of view this action was unfortunate, as under the circumstances it caused the loyalist Portuguese to regard these measures as retaliatory and not as prompted by a desire for the spiritual welfare of the regions concerned. And, indeed there was nothing up to this to show that Portugal had shirked her responsibilities in regard to the diocese, or that the successive ordinaries of the diocese had been found wanting, beyond the mere accusation of those missionaries Apostolic who were sent into their territories and, failing to recognize their authority, had received scant courtesy. Howbeit, when called upon by the Vicar Apostolic of Madras to surrender his churches and submit to him, the administrator replied that he would gladly do so when instructed by the authority that placed him there. The vicar Apostolic then called upon the priests and the subjects of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur to submit to him, but they all replied in much the same terms. The same thing happened in the parts of the diocese between the Rivers Palar and Cauvery, and in Bengal; whereupon the vicar Apostolic declared the administrator, priests, and people of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur schismatics, and from the fact that a large number of the priests in the diocese were from Goa, defined their action as the "Goan schism". However the Holy See seems not to have taken much notice of the " schism " and diplomatic relations were resumed with Portugal in 1841. Then followed a series of acts unworthy of the Church, when both sides strove to capture or recapture churches that they claimed; when church was built against church, altar raised against altar, and violence and police-courts were a common resort.
On 14 March, 1836, Dom Antonio Tristão Vaz Teixeira was presented by the Crown of Portugal to the Holy See as Bishop of Saint Thomas of Mylapur, and left Lisbon for India a month later. As the Holy See had in the meantime refused to confirm the presentation, the Vicar Capitular of Goa appointed him administrator of the diocese in place of Fre. Ave Maria, who had died on 5 August of the same year. Dom Antonio assumed charge on 15 October following, and died on 3 September, 1852. He was succeeded by Padre Miguel Francisco Lobo, an Indian from Goa (as were all the administrators of the diocese up to 1886), who was appointed on 3 October, 1852.
On the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pius VII the French Jesuits returned to the parts of the Diocese of Cochin, which their Portuguese brethren had evangelized; though opposed by the authorities of that diocese; and in 1846, the Congregation de Propaganda Fide erected their missions into a vicariate Apostolic. In 1850 the Salesians of Annecy were sent out to take charge of the country between the Rivers Godavery and Mahanuddy, which was at the same time created a vicariate Apostolic. In the same year, the country between the Chittagong and Kabudak River was created a vicariate Apostolic, and committed to the care of the Fathers of the Holy Crow; while at about the same time the Fathers of Missions etrangeres of Paris replaced the Italian Barnabites in Burma. Thus the Diocese of Mylapur was divided up between six vicariates: Madura, Pondicherry, Madras, Vizagapatam, Western Bengal, and Eastern Bengal and Burma.
In 1857 a concordat was entered into between the Holy See and Portugal, pending the execution of which both the vicars Apostolic and the authorities of the diocese were to enjoy pacific possession of the places they actually held. But the Crown of Portugal undertook manifestly too great a burden, to wit, to provide for the spiritual needs of the whole of India, and consequently the concordat remained a dead letter. In 1854 the Royal Missionary College of Bomjardim at Sernache, Portugal was founded for the training of secular priests for the Portuguese missions beyond the seas. Meanwhile the missions of the diocese had been greatly weakened by secessions to the vicars Apostolic. The missions were situated in British territory and as beyond the clergy there were scarcely any Portuguese subjects to be found through- out the diocese there was no particular inducement or the people to cling to the see.
In Madras itself, the Irish vicars Apostolic and missionaries had been educated at Maynooth College, and almost all of them were doctors of divinity. They were socially and intellectually on an equality with the best British talent. Protestants as well as Catholics crowded to hear their sermons in churches and their lectures on scientific matters. When Dr. O'Connor first came out, he brought letters of introduction to the governor and was a guest at Government House. On the first occasion when he drove to St. Mary's of the Angels, the quasi-cathedral of his vicariate wearing a cocked hat and buckled shoes, long coat and knee-breeches, the old ladies protested that he could be no Catholic bishop but the emissary of the Government to make them all Protestants. These things lent prestige to the Catholic name. One of the first things the Irish missionaries did was to open a seminary (to which a college was attached) and ordain Indo-European priests, who proved of invaluable help to them. They also brought out the Irish Presentation nuns, whose schools are yet the best in all Southern India. As a result, almost all the Catholic Indo-Europeans and Indians with pretensions to respectability flocked to the vicars Apostolic, till in the end it was deemed opprobrious to term one as belonging to the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur. Hence in the course of the negotiations preparatory to the fresh concordat of 1886, the cardinal secretary of State was in a position to show that out of 1,167,975 Catholics in British India, the Portuguese missions of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur could actually claim only some 30,000 subjects, with a proportionate number of churches, one seminary from which a priest was occasionally ordained, one high school at Saint Thomas, two middle schools at Tuticorin and Manapad, and a number of elementary schools; while any single vicariate Apostolic had a better equipment. But of these 30,000 souls which were all that were left to the Portuguese of the once flourishing diocese, it has truly, though scarcely laudably, been said that "they loved the Portuguese more than their own immortal souls ".
Such was the state of affairs when in 1886 a fresh concordat was entered into between the Holy See and Portugal, which showed itself disposed to accommodate itself to the changed conditions of the times. The concordat was preceded by negotiations with England, to make sure that the British Government would not object to the continuance of the Portuguese royal patronage in its Eastern possessions. Accordingly, the Primacy of the East of the archbishops of Goa was reaffirmed, while in addition they were accorded the honorary title of Patriarchs of the East Indies and the substantial privilege of presiding at the plenary council of the East Indies, which were ordinarily to assemble at Goa, while the special relations existing between the Archdiocese of Goa and its suffragan dioceses were to be continued. But the limits of the original Portuguese dioceses were contracted, the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur being assigned two distinct pieces of territory on the Coromandel Coast, separated from each other by a distance of some 150 miles. The first is a triangle of an area of some 800 square miles, in the northern angle of which Saint Thomas is situated; the other is roughly the ancient Kingdom of Tanjore. In addition, both by the concordat and certain appendixes thereto, the diocese was given five churches in the Archdiocese Of Madras the old vicariates Apostolic having been converted into dioceses as a sequel to the concordat by the Constitution "Humanae salutis" of 1886, of Leo XIII three churches in the Archdiocese of Calcutta (Western Bengal), five churches in the Diocese of Dacca (Eastern Bengal), and twenty-four churches in the Diocese of Trichinopoly (which originally belonged to the Diocese of Cochin), with their congregations.
The first bishop appointed to Saint Thomas of Mylapur on the conclusion of the new concordat was the princely Dom Henrique José Reed da Silva, who was at the time coadjutor to the Archbishop of Goa, and who took possession of his see in 1886. He was the first to sign himself for the sake of brevity, Bishop of Mylapur, a practice which his successors have adopted. Hence the diocese is at the present time better known in India as the Diocese of Mylapur. His was the arduous task of gathering the broken shreds of the old historic diocese, putting them together, and rendering it once again the thing of beauty it was. His first care was to reform the diocesan seminary, and in order to have an efficient body of European priests with their heart in their work, he brought out a number of young boys from Portugal and gave them a collegiate course in English, in the college to which he had raised the existing high-school, previous to their entering upon their ecclesiastical course of studies. His successors are reaping the benefit of his policy. He opened a convent of European nuns at Saint Thomas, and another of Indian nuns in Mylapur, which have since thrown out branches into various parts of the diocese. He invited English-speaking priests to join his diocese (a call to which the present writer responded) and established the "Catholic Register", a weekly newspaper. His courtly manners and noble bearing made him a favourite in society. Soon the people felt it an honour to be able to point to him as their bishop. He pulled down the old cathedral, the chapel over the grave of St. Thomas, and the old Augustinian priory, that had nothing antique to commend them, and built the present magnificent cathedral in the centre of which, between the nave and chancel, lies the grave of St. Thomas. Despite the good he was accomplishing, he incurred the ill-will of certain parties connected with the churches situated in other dioceses, and when he found the accusations brought against him accepted without demur in Europe, he resigned and retired to Portugal, as titular Bishop of Trajanopolis.
He was succeeded by Dom Antonio José de Souza Barroso, who, within a few months of his arrival at Saint Thomas, was promoted to the See of Oporto. Bishop Barroso was succeeded by the present bishop, Dom Theotonio Manuel Ribeiro Vieira de Castro, who was presented on 12 June, 1899, and confirmed by Leo XIII ten days later. He was consecrated at Oporto on 15 August, 1899, and reached Saint Thomas on 23 December. The tercentenary of the creation of the diocese occurred in January, 1906, in which almost all of the archbishops and bishops of the vast tract that constituted the original Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur took part in person in addition to the delegate Apostolic and other prelates, numbering fifteen bishops in all. It is instructive to note, that with the single exception of the Archdiocese of Madras, all of the dioceses into which the original Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapur is divided are served by non-British clergy, save for the Indian and few Indo-European priests, where there are any. But even in the Archdiocese of Madras, though it is served by the British Missionary Society of St. Joseph, the majority of the priests and the coadjutor bishop are from the Continent. Dacca is served by the Fathers of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America.
According to the latest available statistics, there are in the diocese some 72,000 Catholics 20 European and 51 Indian priests, I seminary. For boys there are: 2 high schools at Saint Thomas, one being for Indo-Europeans, the other for Indian Christians; 3 orphanages, one for Indo-Europeans at Saint Thomas, another for Indian Christians at Tanjore, managed by the Salesians, and the third at Calcutta for Indian Christians. For girls: 2 convents of the Franciscan Missionary Nuns of Mary, at Saint Thomas and at St. Thomas's Mount, which maintain schools and orphanages attached to them both for Indo-Europeans and Indians, the latter of whom are mainly looked after by Indian Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis; 6 convents of Indian nuns of the diocesan Institute of Our Lady of Help, in populous centres, with schools and boarding establishments for Indian caste girls; there are also 8 middle-schools and 57 primary schools. The conversions for the year ending 30 September, 1907 totalled about 200, of which 135 were from heathenism, 63 from Protestantism and 8 from Mohammedanism. The catechumens under instruction at the same time numbered 141. Thus is Portugal in the beginning of the twentieth century continuing the work inaugurated on the Coromandel Coast in the beginning of the sixteenth, in the days when the Vasco de Gamas, Cabrals, and de Albuquerques were not the mere shadowy heroes of the past, but walked the earth in living flesh and did their deeds of daring.
APA citation. (1912). Saint Thomas of Mylapur. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13382b.htm
MLA citation. "Saint Thomas of Mylapur." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13382b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Jeffrey L. Anderson.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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