Sixth Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Church 

Entombed at Puthencavu church (d. 1808)


The Madbho of the Puthencavu Church where the mortal remains of Mor Dionysius I the Great, is interred

(The foundation stone of this church was laid by Mor Dionsyisus I on December 2, 1793)


or Dionysius I, the Great, was the sixth native Metropolitan of Malabar/Malankara, in line of the Mor Thoma’s starting from Mor Thoma I (d. 1670).  Like his predecessors Mor Dionysius I also hailed from the pakalomattom family, a tradition that was being continued in Malankara for many centuries.  

Events prior to the Metropolitan ordination of Mor Dionysius I

Initially Mor Dionysius I (Divanasios) was known by name Mor Thoma VI after being ordained by Mor Thoma V as his successor on July 10, 1761.  This ordination took place under certain political compulsions and hence was not considered valid by all in Malankara.  The main reason for the opposition was that the very ordination of Mor Thoma V (who ordained  Mor Thomas VI)  was not legitimate as he himself was said to have been consecrated by laying on his head, the hands of his unconscious predecessor (Mor Thoma IV) who was lying at the point of death. This created a lot of difference of opinion on his (or Thomas V) powers to administer the Malankara Church.  Mor Thoma V, who himself aware about the invalidity of his ordination, made several appeal to the supreme head, His Holiness the Patriarch of Antioch, to send delegates to validate his ordination.  In those days it was the Dutch colonizers who were controlling the affairs of Christian subjects under the Raja of Cochin as per an agreement reached between both the parties and hence Mor Thoma V had to get prior permission of Dutch authorities and they in turn agreed to bring the Primates from Antioch on condition that Mor Thoma meet the fare. 

In April 1751, Maphryono Mor Baselios Shakralla, accompanied by Metropolitan Mor Gregorios, Ramban Yuhanon of Mosul diocese (Iraq), Corepiscopo Geevarghese, Kassisso Yuhanon and four deacons started from Aleppo in Syria and via Baghdad reached Basra and thence arrived at Cochin on 5th May Being informed of the arrival of the Maphryono and party, the jubilant Mor Thoma V then staying at Pallikkara Church, asked his priests and Church leaders to receive the dignitaries to Kandanad Church. It was only then the Mor Thoma came to know that the Dutch authorities are demanding Rs.12000 as fare for bringing the patriarchal delegates to Malankara. It is said that Mor Thoma never expected so heavy and exorbitant amount as travelling expense. This prevented Mor Thoma nor anyone authorised by him to appear before the Dutch authorities to clear the accounts.

The Dutch, insisted that only after clearing the accounts, would the party be set free. The Maphryono too did not have so much funds to spare, as he had been informed earlier that the money would be paid here.  The Dutch insisted for payment, but Mor Thoma continue to abscond. The Dutch in turn detained the ‘hostages’ with them and petitioned in Court for recovery of the amount. Mor Thoma remained silent. He shifted to Rakkad Church – farther away from Cochin in fear of Dutch detention. The Dutch then filed a civil action before the Travancore Government, which issued a warrant for the arrest of Mor Thoma. For some time, he hid himself and it was in despair, that he consecrated his successor under the title Mor Thoma VI.  However soon after Mor Thoma V was arrested by the Dutch. This compelled Mor Thoma to send firm circulars to all Syriac churches which prompted many parishes to pay a certain amount, and also a large sum was realised by the attachment and sale of some church properties in Niranam. The debt was thus partially paid, and the delegates were released from custody; but having been dissatisfied with Mor Thoma in consequence of his inability to release them earlier, and as the latter was seem to be afraid to appear before them, they refused to re-consecrate him. 

{There are certain modern writers who hail Mor Thoma V as a freedom fighter of the Indian Church as he refused to pay the pending amount due to Dutch authorities which in reality is utterly ridiculous. It is very clear that he didn't paid the amount as he could not garner the huge amount which was demanded by the Dutch authorities to release the Antiochean prelates from their detention. There are many records available which clearly explains that Mor Thoma V was always faithful to the Holy See; in one of his letters to the Dutch in Cochin, he says; “we honour, the Patriarch as our Supreme Head,” and when he was enticed by the Dutch to join the Protestant church, he wrote that he could not reply on the matter, without the permission of the Patriarch}.  

The disputes between the Maphryono (Catholicos) and Mor Thoma V that began with the Dutch detention of the former did not end for a very long time. In 1752, Maphroyono Mor Baselios Shakralla consecrated Ramban Yuhanon, who had accompanied the Syriac prelates from Antioch, as the Bishop of Malabar under the title Mor Ivanios.  After a long period, a reconciliation was brought about between Mor Thoma V and Mor Baselios, towards the close of the latter's life; but before the accomplishment of re-consecration, Mor Baselios Shakralla died on the 9th of Thulam (October 20) 1763/4 and was buried in the church at Kandanad, where his anniversary is still celebrated on a grand scale. Mor Thoma V followed him to the grave on the 27th Medom , 940 M.E. (May 8, 1765) .

Re-Consecration and elevation of Mor Thoma VI as Metropolitan of Malabar by name MOR DIONYSIUS I

As mentioned above, Mor Thoma VI was consecrated in despair, and a time when the Dutch were threatening to deport Mor Thoma V. The young Metran, as anxious as his predecessor to have his dignity perfected, applied to the surviving delegates for re-consecration, but for some time without success. At last, on a certain Sunday, when Mor Gregorios, the patriarchal delegate was celebrating the Holy Eucharist in the church at Niranam, Mor Thoma VI suddenly entered the church, and falling at the feet of the celebrant, earnestly implored pardon, with the result that the delegates at once extended the right hand of fellowship and was reconciled with him.

On 29th of May 1770, Mor Thoma VI was re-consecrated by the patriarchal delegates, Mor Gregorios Yuhanon (Metropolitan of Jerusalem) and Mor Ivanios (Episcopa of India), by name DIONYSIUS and was invested with the cross and the crozier sent from Antioch for his predecessor.  Thenceforth the government of the Church was vested in Dionysius I (alias Mor Thoma VI) and Mor Ivanios (patriarchal representative) conjointly, and Mor Gregorios retired to the church at Mattancheri  built by Maphryono Mor Baselios Shakralla.

Statikon (Bull of Appointment) of Mar Dionysius I
alias Mar Thoma VI. (Translation)

          Joseph, of the other name of Mor Thomas, was, by the hands of us, the feeble and weak Gregorios, Metropolitan of (Jerusalem) and Ivanios, Episcopa of India, under the command of the Exalted Moran Mor Ignatius Patriarch, ruling on the throne of Antioch, consecrated by the Holy ghost as the Metropolitan of our Jacobite people residing in the country of Malabar. We, after imparting our peace and blessing unto our dear and beloved children, heirs to the kingdom of heaven and the first body of servitors, being the clean priests, graceful deacons, vicars, headmen, chieftains, noblemen, learned men, wise men, merchants, rich men, artisans, great and small, being our Jacobite Syrian people residing in Malabar, do hereby inform our spiritual children that this Joseph Mor Dionysius, Metropolitan, being thereunto chosen by the Holy Spirit has been made by that Holy Spirit worthy to be called by that name, to be a Shepherd, Prelate and Ruler of God's Church, and to walk in the ways of perfection in all goodness, meekness, fasting, incessant prayers, love towards the poor and the humble, and with all spiritual instruction; and you now hear and understand that he is worthy and competent to be Shepherd and Prelate. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ granted to His holy Apostles, we have, by the command of Moran Mor Ignatius, Patriarch of Antioch, given him power to bind and loose, to judge according to the law and precepts, to ordain priests and deacons, to consecrate sanctuaries and churches, to accomplish everything lawful to the people who follow his tenets according to the canons of the Jacobite Syrians, and to perform mass. You should honour him. You, ordained priests, should be unto him as priests ordained by him. Wherefore also, should henceforth this our brother Mor Dionysius, Metropolitan, interdict anyone, be that person a chorepiscopa, monk, priest, deacon, man, youth, woman, small or great, such person will be one cursed and rejected by God, by Moran Mor Ignatius Patriarch, and by our feeble sleves. Should this Mor Dionysius Metropolitan, bless anyone, that person will receive blessing from God, from Moran Mor Ignatius Patriarch, and from our feeble selves. We, feeble and weak, implore God that in His mercy He may fill you with joy, bless you with all blessings, amplify to you all goodness, and save you from all harassing trials and punishments. May He shelter you with His mighty right hand, and make you and your dead hear the joyful words addressed to those on the right-hand side: "Coe, ye blessed of my Father, enter in, and inherit ye the kingdom prepared for you before the beginning of the world." May this be, by the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, of Mor John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Paul, the other chosen Apostles, Saints, Martyrs, and Confessors. Amen.

Given this 19th Haseeron (June) in the year 2081 of the Greek era (A.D. 1770).

  (Source:  'Indian Church History' by Edavazhikkal E M Philip)

Mor Kurilos Kattumangatt and the formation of Thoziyur Church

Gradually Mor Gregorios, the delegate became blind and in his old age was ministered by a monk, Kattumangatt Geevargese Ramban, shrewd and intelligent, but also a scheming man. He made approaches to Mor Gregorios to consecrate him bishop. One version is that the latter who had entertained ill-feeling towards Mor Dionysius, probably because of irregularities in forwarding the sums necessary for his expenses, readily fell in with the proposal and consecrated the Ramban under the title Kurilos on the 28th of November 1772 (1771 ?). Another popular version is that Mor Kurilos was ordained under compulsion and threat as Mor Gregorios who by then had turned blind, was staying at the mercy of former.  Whatever be the reason for this ordination, it happened without the knowledge or approval of Mor Ivanios and Mor Dionysius. Following the death of Mor Gregorios on the 8th of July 1773(buried in Mulanthuruthy church), Mor Kurilos Kattumangatt raised a faction, but the dispute was decided against him by the Rajas of Travancore and of Cochin. Thereupon, he escaped to British Malabar, where he founded a church at Thoziyur (also called Anjoor) and spent his remaining life in seclusion.

Mor Dionysius the Great

Mor Dionysius I was a man of rare abilities and attainments. He was the greatest and most influential of all the bishops of the Pakalomattam family, and is therefore usually called Mor Dionysius the Great.  Dr. Claudius Buchanan, who visited him in his old age, describes him thus: "He is a man of highly respectable character in his Church, eminent for his piety and for the attention he devotes to his sacred functions. I found him to be far superior in general learning to any of his clergy whom I had yet seen."

Attack by the Muslim king of Mysore  &  the troubles created by Mathu Tharakan, a Romo-Syrian landlord

During Mor Dionysius' time, the States of Travancore and of Mysore, and the Syrian Christians were by no means exempt from the universal sufferings that resulted. The churches at Arthat, Paravur and Angamali were set fire to by the invading Muslim king of Mysore, Tippu Sultan. Many Syrian shops were plundered. Some Christians who happened to fall into his hands were forcibly circumcised, though happily none was converted to Islam. However the unexpected interference of the British East India Company and their declaration of war in Mysore, compelled Tippu to return before he had time to complete the devastation of Travancore and Cochin.

Tippu's persecution was followed by another one soon after. Travancore was then governed by a feeble king. One Mathu Tharakan, a rich Romo-Syrian Catholic landlord, gained the Raja's (kings) confidence and favour. Though not a friend of the European Catholic bishops and missionaries, he was a staunch adherent of the Roman Catholic Church, and was eager to have a native bishop, following the Chaldean rite and in communion with Rome, to rule the Romo-Syrian churches in Malabar. With this view he sent to Portugal two priests, Kariattil Joseph Kathanar and Paremakel Thoma Kathanar, to be consecrated bishops for the Syro-Roman churches. They won the favour of the King of Portugal, who nominated Joseph kathanar for the bishopric of Cranganore (Kodungallur); he was consecrated bishop in Europe. On their way to Malabar, Bishop Joseph died at Goa. The general impression among the Syro-Romans is that the death was due to the effect of poison administered by European missionaries who did not like to have a native Bishop in Malabar. However, Thoma Kathanar was appointed Vicar General. The Syro-Roman community headed by the Vicar General were so indignant at the supposed murder of Bishop Joseph, that they immediately met in Synod and drew up a resolution, denying the authority of the Latin Bishops of Verapoly and of Cranganore over them, and acknowledging the newly appointed Vicar General as their temporary head till he was consecrated by the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon (in communion with Rome).

After thus consolidating the Syrians of the Roman rite, Mathu Tharakan turned his attention to Mor Dionysius, and contemplated the amalgamation of the Jacobites and the Romo-Syrians under the same native Roman Catholic Bishop. He also offered to acknowledge Mor Dionysius as the Bishop of the united Church, provided the latter adopted the Chaldean creed and rituals, recognised in Rome. Mor Dionysius was a man of policy. At first, he thought of winning over the Romo-Syrians to his side by some concessions. But when the terms of the union were proposed by Tharakan's party he could not accede to them. Tharakan next proposed to hold a public discussion to convince the Jacobite party of the orthodoxy of the Roman Church. The Raja of Travancore, who was at Tharakan's beck and call, was ready to comply with any proposal of his favourite. Mor Dionysius therefore had no alternative but to accept the challenge. A meeting of both parties was held at Kayamkulam on the 20th of September 1791, and was about to begin discussion, when a messenger brought the melancholy tidings of the sudden death of Tharakan's mother. The meeting had to be postponed to the 22nd of November.

The second meeting was held as previously arranged at Niranam, and the Roman party, were so confident of success that they arrived with all the equipment necessary for the celebration of the Eucharist according to the Romo-Chaldean rite. Fortunately, just when the discussion was about to begin, a messenger brought the sad intelligence of the demise of Tharakan's son, who had been confined to his bed. The parties had again to disperse without achieving any result. Mathu Tharakan was so distressed by this sad domestic occurrence that for some years he dropped the question of amalgamation.

Ordination of Mor Thoma VII and the death of the delegate Mor Ivanios

About this time, Mor Dionysius' nephew was ordained Ramban by the patriarchal delegate Mor Ivanios, eventually to be raised to the rank of a bishop, as co-adjutor to the Metropolitan. But before he had time to accomplish this object, Mor Ivanios died on the M.E. Medom 7, 969  (18 April 1794), and was buried in the Chenganur church. A month later on 5th May 1796 (M.E.  Medom 24, 971), the Ramban was consecrated Bishop by Mor Dionysius I under the title Mor Thoma VII in the same church.


Mor Dionysius' signing and acceptance of Roman Catholicism under compulsion

Not long after this, Mathu Tharakan revived his old scheme of amalgamation, again convened a meeting at Kayamkulam. Discussions were vehemently carried on for fifteen days, but without resulting in any decision. Conciliatory means failing, Tharakan applied to the Raja of Travancore for help. A fine of Rs. 25,000 was imposed on the Metropolitan on the pretext that he had concealed the properties of a Dewan (Prime Minister of the State) who had recently been removed from office for misconduct. The churches at Niranam and at Chenganur, together with the properties appertaining to them, as well as those of the Metropolitan including his Episcopal cross, crozier and sacramental vessels, were confiscated, Rs. 5,000 being realised thereby. Another sum of Rs. 5,000 was remitted, and the balance was collected from other churches and paid. During the commotion, Tharakan offered to remit the whole fine, if the Syrian community would sign an agreement accepting Romanism; but they chose to give up their property rather than betray the faith of their forefathers. Finding that neither conciliatory measures nor considerations of money could induce the Syrians to accept his proposal, Tharakan finally adopted the policy of Archbishop Menezis; bringing armed men from the Raja, he arrested the Metropolitan and many of the leading members of the community and carried them to Alleppey. There the Metropolitan was put to starvation for several consecutive days and was eventually forced to sign an agreement accepting "the profession of the faith prescribed by Pope Urban VIII for the Orientals, and submitting himself and his Church "to the Holy Father the Pope, performing the Mass, reciting the breviary, and observing the fasts and other rites as they were prescribed by the Synod of Diamper." It was thus Mor Dionysius celebrated the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic church at Tathanpalli (in Alleppey) on the 30th of Edavam (June) 1799.

Downfall of Mathu Tharakan (Romo-Syrian persecutor of Mor Dionysius)  &  Mor Dionysius' repentance

Within a fortnight from this incident, Mathu Tharakan was called away to Trivandrum to putdown a rising of the Hindu population of South Travancore. The rebellion was caused by the discontent of the people about the exorbitant price of salt, which had been granted as a monopoly to Tharakan. The rebels got hold of him on his way, scourged him most severely, and cutting off one of his ears, made him eat it with leaves of plants boiled without salt. The Raja, however, honoured him with the present of a golden ear; but it was the beginning of his downfall from which he never recovered. Tharakan's sudden and unexpected fall enabled Mor Dionysius to escape to Niranam, where he publicly apologized  for having administered the sacraments in the Roman rite, and as a penalty for his guilt, he had the Holy Eucharist celebrated in all the Syrian churches  at his private expense for the remission of his sins.

Towards the close of his life, Mor Dionysius received a visit from Dr. Kerr, Senior Chaplain of Madras, who had been deputed by the Government of Fort St. George to investigate the state of Christianity in Malabar.

Soon after Dr. Kerr's visit, the Syrian Church received a visit from another European clergyman in the person of Dr. Claudius Buchanan, Vice-Provost of the College of Fort William.  He was sent by the Government of Bengal on a mission of Christian research. He visited the Syrian churches at Mavelikara, Chenganur, Kallisserry, Ranni, Kandanad, Angamali, Kunnankulam (Cochin State), and other places, and had more than one audience of Mor Dionysius, His chief aims were the collection of Syriac manuscripts and the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the vernacular. The following extracts from Buchanan's writings are interesting. "You have come", said the Metran, 'to visit a declining church, and I am now an old man, but hopes of seeing better days cheer my old age, though I may not live to see them.' I submitted to the Bishop my wishes in regard to the translation and printing of the Holy Scriptures. 'I have already fully considered the subject,' said he, 'and have determined to superintend the work myself, and to call the most learned of my clergy to my aid. It is a work which will illuminate these dark regions, and God will give it his blessing."

With reference to Dr. Buchanan's proposal of a union between the Syrian Church and the Church of England, there was a long discussion between him and the Metran's chaplain. In reply to the enquiry as to the advantage of a union, Buchanan observed: "One advantage would be that English clergymen or rather missionaries ordained by the Church of England might be permitted hereafter to preach in the numerous churches of the Syrians in India and aid them  in the promulgation of pure religion against the preponderating and increasing influence of the Roman Caholic Church; and again that ordination by the Syrian Bishop might quality for preaching in the English churches in India." The Bishop said, "I would sacrifice much for such a union; only let me not be called to compromise anything of the dignity and purity of our Church."  "I told him we did not wish to degrade; we would rather protect and defend it. The next day the Bishop returned an answer in the words, 'that a union with the English Church, or at least, such a connection as should appear to both Churches practicable and expedient would be a happy event and favourable to the advancement of religion in India'."

Translation of four Gospels into Malayalam & the presentation of the old Jacobite Syrian Bible to Dr. Buchanan

On the subject of the translation of the Scriptures, Mor Dionysius promised to do all that he could, and he fulfilled his promise. The four Gospels translated into Malayalam (vernacular of Malabar) under his direction by Ramban Philipose of Kayamkulam were afterwards printed at Bombay and circulated in the Syriac churches. He also made a present of a very old manuscript copy of the Syriac Bible to Dr. Buchanan. It was the one preserved in the Syrian church at Angamali, the seat of the Syrian bishopric till its removal to Cranganore by Romish prelates.  Dr. Buchanan says: "The Inquisitors condemned many books to the flames, but they saved the Bible, being content to order that the Syrian Scriptures should be amended agreeably to the Vulgate of Rome. But many Bibles and other volumes were not produced at all.  In the Acts of the Council of Nicea, it is recorded that Johannes, Bishop of India, signed his name at that Council in A.D. 325. The Syriac version of the Scriptures was brought to India, according to the popular belief, before the year 325.  Some of their present copies are certainly of ancient date."

Dr. Buchanan has left behind him a lasting memorial of his name. Besides publishing the four Gospels in the vernacular, he got the whole Bible in Syriac printed in England for the use of the Church of Malabar. The Syrian Christians still venerate his name with feelings of sincere gratitude. In 1807, a Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan, Mor Dioscorus by name, commissioned by Mor Ignatius Matthew, Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in Malabar. He being a man of fiery temper, his behaviour or attitude was not welcomed; he was sent back by Col. Macaulay, the first British Resident in Travancore.

Origin of 'Vattipanam'  (deposit in govt. treasury by the Church)

The last act of Mor Dionysius the Great–an act whose benefit the community is destined to enjoy for ever–was the investment in Government Securities of three thousands star-pagodas, equivalent to Rs.10,500, for "charitable purpose." There are three versions of the origin of this investment. One version is that the amount was a gift of the Madras Government. But this view has not support in the Government records. The communications between Col. Macaulay and the Madras Government on the subject of the endowment not only do not make even an allusion to such a gift, but expressly refer to it as an amount actually deposited by the Metropolitan of the Syrian Church.  The second version is that the amount was realised by Col. Macaulay by sale of the properties of Mathu Tharakan (the Romo-Syrian persecutor of Mor Dionysius) and invested in the Metran's name. This view also is quite improbable. It is true that a large sum of money in the shape of arrears of tax was due to the Travancore Government from Mathu Tharakan, and that his properties were attached for the purpose. But what Col. Macaulay did was to support Tharakan in his defense and to oppose strongly the realisation of the arrears. It also appears that Tharakan's dues were realised only after Col. Macaulay's resignation. Hence, it cannot be that an investment made through Col. Macaulay was the outcome of a sum of money collected after his severance from the State.

But the tradition on the subject current among the Syrian Christians, and the version most probable in the nature of the circumstances, as this: It was a period of pressure and anxiety of Col. Macaulay. The subsidy due from the Travancore Government was in arrears for two years. The Residency treasury was consequently empty.  There were remonstrances and disagreeable correspondence passing between the Resident and the Native State of Travancore, the former speaking of the Dewan as "a temporizing, equivocating prevaricating, and marauding boy."  The Resident demanded the immediate retirement of the Dewan, but the Raja appealed to the Madras Government, praying for immediate recall of Col. Macaulay. This unpleasant incident assumed such a serious aspect, that the Resident's confidential mediator was put to death, and an attempt was even made upon Col. Macaulay's life.  This was followed by a general insurrection. In the absence of any regular postal communication delay was inevitable in obtaining timely help from the British authorities. To meet the emergency, Col. Macauly borrowed moneys from his Christian friends, viz., the Syrian Metropolitan and the Bishop of Verapoly; and these sums not having been repaid, they were afterwards converted into perpetual investments bearing interest at the then usual rate of 8 per cent per annum. The bond for investment was, however, issued five months after the demise of Mor Dionysius, in the name of his successor Mor Thoma VII. The investment has since become one of the funds for the maintenance of education in the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam.

Demise of Mor Dionysius I

After a long and glorious reign, partly interrupted by a Roman persecution, Mor Dionysius I expired at the ripe age of eighty, on M.E. Meenam 27, 983 (April 8, 1808) and was, at his own request, buried in the Syrian church at Puthencavu (near Chenganur), – a church built and endowed by him at his own expense.


Malankara Orthodox  Church at Puthencavu where the mortal remains of Mor Dionysius I, the 6th native

Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrian Church of Malabar were interred in 1808

(Photo: 2004)


Main Source:          

     'Indian Church History'  published in 1908 by Mr. E M Philip Edavazhikkal


Other References:          

     1.  Very Rev. Kurien Corepsicopo Kaniamparambil, 'The Syrian church History' (1987).

     2.  Old Malankara Church documents (manuscripts) published in the titles, 'Nalagamam' (by Shemvun Mor Divanasious) & 'Niranam Grandhavari'