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The Eastern Catholic Churches / The Syro-Malabar Church

The Syro-Malabar Church

Number of faithfulapprox. 4.5 million
Title of First HierarchMajor Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly
See of the First HierarchKochi (India)
Current incumbentCardinal George Alencherry, born 1945, in office since 2011
Bishops and dioceses63 bishops; 35 dioceses


East Syriac

Liturgical languageMalayalam
Presence in Austriaapprox. 3,000 faithful; 1 congregation, 4 priests
Presence in Germanyapprox. 4,000 faithful; 8 parishes, 5 priests

The Syro-Malabar Church is - alongside the Chaldean Church - a second Eastern Church united with Rome, whose roots lie in the East Syrian tradition. Its origin dates back to the colonization of India by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Indian Saint Thomas Christians, who until then had been under the Assyrian Church of the East, accepted without hesitation Eucharistic and church fellowship with the representatives of the Latin Church who came to the country with the Portuguese, since they were not aware of the division in Christianity. However, the Latin hierarchs of the 16th century proved to be indifferent to the specific character of the East Syrian rite. They pursued a Latinization process culminating in the 1599 Diamper Synod, during which the Indian Church had to undertake the revision of its liturgical books according to the Latin rite. In addition, the Portuguese ensured that the territory of the East Syrians who were in union with Rome, would remain confined to the West Indian Malabar Coast.

In the 17th century a large part of the Indian Saint Thomas Christians resisting the Latinization submitted to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch as a form of resistance to Latinization. It was only with the help of the Carmelites sent by Rome possible to maintain some of the Thomas Christians in communion with Rome. This latter part formed the core of the Syro-Malabar Church, which, however, only received this designation from the 19th century. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Syro-Malabar Christians received their own church structure through the establishment of apostolic vicariates and the appointment of local bishops. Pope Pius XI established an independent ecclesiastical province in 1923 and in 1934 contributed to the reintroduction of the original form of the East Syriac liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church. After the Second Vatican Council had emphatically welcomed the cultivation of Eastern Church rites within the Catholic Church, in December 1985 the Holy See approved the East Syriac liturgy, which had been reconstructed on the basis of historical sources. In January 1993, the Syro-Malabar Church was raised to the rank of major archbishopric, which expressly confirmed the independence of this local church of East Syrian tradition within the Catholic Church.


  • P. Pallath, Die katholische Kirche in Indien gestern u. heute, St. Ottilien 2008, 177-232.
  • W. Hage, Die Syro-Malabarische Kirche, in: ders., Das orientalische Christentum, Stuttgart 2007, 328-340.
  • J. Perumthottam, Syro-Malabar Church. A Short Historical Introduction, in:
    P. Pallath (Hg.), Catholic Eastern Churches: Heritage and Identity, Rom 1994, 231-242.