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The exact date of the arrival of Christianity to India is not established. By tradition, Christianity is said to have arrived in South India with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, at the Malabar Coast in 52 AD. He spent some years in South India and died near Madras. However, others believe that the first missionary to arrive in the country was Saint Bartholomew. Historically, Christian missionary activity started with the advent of St. Francis Xavier in 1544 AD, who was followed by other missionaries from Portugal, Denmark, Holland, Germany and Great Britain. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Catholic as well as Protestant missionaries preached Christian doctrines in India and also made important contributions to social improvement and education in India.

The great period of expansion of Christianity in India began in 1858, when the British government took over rule in India from the East India Company. Christians from many countries came as missionaries and in 50 years the faith was rooted in large parts of India.

Christians, numbering about 30 million, comprise 2.34% of the Indian population. Most of them are concentrated in the Northeast and in Kerala and other southern states, although they are scattered all across India. Today, there are 23 dioceses in India with 11 of them being located in Kerala.

(a)The Syrian Church:

The Christians belonging to the Syrian Church are found in South India and claim an apostolic foundation for their Church. They believe that Christianity was introduced in India by St. Thomas, who arrived in Cranganore at the Malabar Coast in 52 AD. St. Thomas established seven Christian communities or churches in Kerala at Cranganore, Paravur (Kottakavu), Palayoor, Kokkamangalam, Malayattoor, Niranam, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam (Quilon). He was followed by a group of Christian immigrants from Persia, led by Thomas Cananaus, who arrived on the Malabar Coast in 345 AD.

The earliest historical evidence regarding the existence of a Church in South India is found in the book Christian Topography written by an Alexandrian merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes, which is dated at the second quarter of the 6th Century AD. Persian crosses ("Thomas Crosses") discovered in Madras and Kottayam point towards the existence of a connection of the Malabar Church with the Church in Persia, which eventually came to be known as the East Syrian or Nestorian Church and was visited by Marco Polo in 1293 AD.

After briefly paying obedience to the Roman Church, under the influence of Alexio de Menezes, the Archbishop of Goa in 1599 AD, the Malabar Church renounced the authority of the Pope and asserted its independence in 1653 AD. This is known in history as the 'Coonen Cross Declaration'. The Christian communities then split into many groups - East Syrian Catholics, West Syrian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Jacobite Syrian Orthodox, Marthoma (those who accepted the Anglican Church but with the Eastern Liturgy), Church of the East (those who accepted the Nestorian Patriarch) and the Latin Church. In 1887 Pope Leo XIII issued the bull of "Quod Jam Pridem", which liberated the Syrian Christians from the jurisdiction of the Latin prelate of Verapoly and placed them under two Eparchies - one in Trichur and the other in Kottayam in Kerala. More recently, on January 23, 1993, a papal declaration again upgraded Ernakulam to major Arch Episcopal Church with the title of Ernakulam Angamaly.

(b) The Roman Catholic Church:

The arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut in 1498 AD is a landmark in the history of Church in India. With the arrival of the Portuguese to India, the visits of Roman Catholic Missions to India became more organised, and were initially concentrated to Goa, Cochin, Tuticorin and other coastal areas. St. Francis Xavier (1506-52 AD) became the first Jesuit missionary to arrive in India. He was followed by Robert de Nobili (1577-1656 AD). Christianity was spread in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries under the auspices of the Society of Jesus. After the Portuguese retreated from the Indian political scene, many other missionaries like the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Augustinians and the Carmelites began their visits. The Franciscans, who were the first to come to India in 1517 AD, chose Dom John de Albuquerque (1537-53 AD) as the first bishop of Goa. In 1557 AD, Pope Paul IV declared Goa an archdiocese with its supremacy extending from the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to China, and all Christians, including the East Syrian Church, brought under its jurisdiction.

(c) The Protestant Missions:

The first Protestant missionaries, German Lutherans, came to India in 1706 AD at Tranquebar, near Tiruchinapally, under the protection of the King of Denmark. By the 19th century several other missions were established in different parts of South India.

(d) The North Indian Church:

The origin of Christianity in North India is a matter of conjecture. Some consider that St. Thomas had travelled to North India and introduced Christianity. Others consider it to be the influence of merchants from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Marco Polo describes the existence of Christian kingdoms in Central India during the end of 13th century. Under the influence of the Portuguese, several missionaries began to visit North India between 16th-18th Centuries. The Jesuit missions were sent regularly to the Mughal Courts from the time of Akbar to that of Aurangzeb, but it became weaker thereafter due to the decline of the Portuguese influence in India. The arrival of William Carey in 1793 AD changed the entire dimension of missionary work in India. Carey's pioneering work in Bible translation, primary education and journalism had a profound influence in Bengal and other parts of India. Numerous other missionaries began visiting India after the passing of Charter Acts by the British Parliament in 1813 and 1833 AD. These missions set up several colleges and educational institutions in India.

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