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The Assyrian Church of the East

History and Geography

Christine Chaillot

The cradle of the Church of the East was in Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and the Euphrates), where it developed its first centre at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, then the capital of the great Persian Empire and today an archaeological site to the south of Baghdad. From the very beginnings of Christianity until the fourteenth century, this Church experienced a remarkable expansion in Asia, its missionaries carrying the Gospel from Persia to India, via the Persian Gulf, and even as far as China. The Church of the East reached China as early as the seventh century via Central Asia and the celebrated Silk Road that linked China to the Mediterranean world. Much later, in the late fourteenth century, the invasions of the Mongol conqueror, Timur Lang (Tamerlane), across Asia brought about a great decline of the Church of the East. Eventually, after the genocide suffered by Christians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and the massacres that followed in Persia, the Church of the East and its people were on the verge of extinction. In 1940 the patriarchal seat was moved to Chicago (in the United States) and then in September 2015 to Erbil (in northern Iraq). Many of the faithful have left the Middle East and have formed diaspora communities throughout the world. The history of Christianity in the Middle East and well beyond, in Central and Eastern Asia, is very little known. In this book, the reader is invited to travel in time and space and undertake the fascinating discovery of a very ancient apostolic Church, the Church of the East, whose two-thousand year history constitutes an indispensable chapter in the history of the universal Church.
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Chapter 3 In India

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CHAPTER 3

In India

From the Historical Beginnings to the Fifteenth Century

To reach the maritime routes of India/Southern Asia from the Middle East sailors had first to navigate the Persian Gulf, and from there, after crossing the Sea of Oman, make landfall on the west coast of India. From southern Mesopotamia (from the city of Basra, today in southern Iraq) to Kerala the voyage could last around three months and was undertaken in the sailing season when the winds were favourable for ships with sails. It was in Kerala, today a state in South India, that the community of the Church of the East developed, principally along the southern stretch of the west coast of India, which is also known as the Malabar Coast. Christianity also developed on the south-east coast of India towards Madras (today called Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu). Some think that in the sixth century there were also Christian colonies in Punjab, around the port of Tana (near Mumbai, formerly Bombay, on the north-west coast of India). The evangelisation of India is complex, with Christianity entering India in several different regions.

According to the Church of the East’s tradition, it was St Thomas, one of Christ’s twelve apostles, who was the first to evangelize Kerala from the time of his arrival in around 52, where he founded seven churches after landing at Cranganore. It is for this reason that the Christians of India are also called...

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