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India, and described the monastery which had been erected there, over the body of St. Thomas. That the same notion remained to the days of Alfred, is as clear; because the account drawn up by Elfric, who lived at the close of the tenth century, states at length the romance which the respected fables of preceding ages had preserved concerning the Indian journey of St. Thomas (1). It was in full credit in the twelfth century, for Ordericus makes it a part of his ecclesiastical history (2).
But were there any Christians at that time living in India? Because, if not, the embassy was ridiculous. The generally diffused tradition may have suggested to Alfred the idea of the scheme; but unless there was the local truth of Christians residing in a particular part of India, the king must have been a dreamer. To have delegated a mission to wander over the extensive district of India, till they had found a city called Calamine, and the shrine of St. Thomas, without any previous topographical indication of a particular district, was too wild a thought to have been countenanced by an Alfred.
But on investigating ancient remains, we find the fact to be as authentic as it is curious, that there were Christians then flourishing in the Indian peninsula.
The Syriac letter of Jesujabus Abjabenus, the Nestorian patriarch, to Simeon the metropolitan of the Persians, written in the seventh century (5), yet exists, and satisfactorily expresses the fact. It calls to the metropolitan's recollection, that he had "shut the doors of the episcopal imposition of hands before many people of India." It states that "the sacerdotal succession is interrupted among the people of India, nor in India only, which, from the maritime borders of Persia, extends to Colon, a space of above 1200 parasangs, but even lies in darkness in your Persian region (4).”
That Christianity had in these times obtained footing in India, is a reasonable inference, from the larger fact of its existence in China, in the seventh and eighth centuries (5). About the year 720, Salibazacha, the Nestorian patriarch, created metropolitans in China, as well as at Samarcand (6); and Timotheus, who had the same dignity from 788 to 820, appointed Da
(1) The narration of Elfric has been noticed before in this chapter, p. 93., note 10., and its substance quoted. He says, he translated it on the importunity of the venerable Dux Ethelwold; that he had himself doubted for some time whether he ought to put it into English, because St. Austin objected to one part of the narration; but that at last he determined to omit this, and to translate the rest concerning St. Thomas's death. This Anglo-Saxon history of St. Thomas contains an abridgment of the Apostolical History ascribed to Abdias. The amiable Melancthon says of this, "Legat has qui volet.—Ac suaserim potius ne legant omnino. Sunt enim illa scripta mirifica et referta falsitate manifesta." See Fabricius Cod. Apoc. 393. and 687. for the Legend.
(2) See it p. 410-414. Hic in Anglia natus est, 1075. Du Chesne, præfatio.
(3) Jesujabus died 660. Assemanni Bib. Or. T. ii, p. 420. and T. iii. p. 615. Assemanni gives the Syriac, with a Latin version.
(4) "Quod sicuti fores impositionis manus Episcopatus coram multis Indæ populis occlusistis." Tom. iii. pars 2. p. 27. "Interrupta est ab Indiæ populis sacerdotalis successio, nec India solum quæ a maritimis regni Persarum finibus usque ad Colon spatio ducentarum supra mille parasangarum extenditur, sed et ipsa Persarum regio vestra-in tenebris jacet." Ibid.
(5) On this subject I follow, as I think I ought, the guidance of the learned Assemanni, He says, "Sub cognomine Gadalensi An. Ch. 633, prædicatores Evangelii in ipsarum Sinarum regnum penetrasse, ex monumento lapideo, anno 781 erecto, compertum est,” P. 28.
(6) ❝Salibazacha item Nestorianorum patriarcha (Bib. Or. t. iii. p. 346.) circa annum 720 Heriæ, Samarcandæ et Sinarum metropolitas creavit." Assem. p. 28.
vid to the head of the ecclesiastics in China (1). If in the eighth and ninth centuries, Christianity so flourished in China, as to support a metropolitan dignity, no one will hesitate to believe that it was existing in India.
The most detailed statement on this subject, is that of the Grecian traveller Cosmas, surnamed Indicopleustes, if that really be the name of the author of the Christian topography (2); he performed his voyage in 522 (3). He mentions Christians not only in other places of the east, but in India, in Ceylon, and, what comes nearest to our subject, in Male, which we call Maliapour (4).
It is to the zeal and activity of the Nestorian Christians, that this extensive dissemination is chiefly to be attributed. Their traditions, or history on this subject, demand our respect. In 1504, their Indian bishops stated to the then Nestorian patriarch, that there was a place called the house of St. Thomas; that it was twenty-five days' journey from Cananore; that it was on the sea in the city of Meliapour (5).
From the ninth century to the sixteenth, the state of the Indian Christians varied (6). Ludovicus, who travelled in India, and in many parts of Asia and Africa, about the year 1500, mentions, that he found Christians in an Indian city, who called themselves of St. Thomas (7); and in 1304, the bishops in India stated these Christians to be about 30,000 in number (8). The archbishop of Goa, who visited the Malabar coast in 1599, mentions, that he found Christians there, and that their chief churches and cities were Angamale, Cranganor, Cochinum, Coulanum, Meliapora, Calicut, and Cananor (9). Tachard found them in the mountains of Malabar in 1711 (10); and the latest accounts declare, that they yet exist in these parts.
Thus then we find, that in the days of Alfred, it was believed that St. Thomas perished in India; that there were at that time, and have been up to this century, Christians in the Indian peninsula; and that Meliapour, on the Malabar coast, has been for ages the spot pointed out by local tradition, as the scene of St. Thomas's fate. These facts afford a good ground for
(1) "Timotheus, qui ab anno 778 ad annum 820 Nestorianis præfuit, Davidem (tom. 3. p. 489.) Sinensibus metropolitam dedit." Assem. p. 28.
(2) Gibbon follows the learned in so naming him, v. 4. p. 79. quarto. Fabricius intimates that as Indicopleustes alludes to his Indian navigation, so Cosmas may express that he wrote the topography of the world. Bib. Græca, 2. p. 612. This is of no moment. The author was an extensive merchant; he lived long in Egypt; he wrote at Alexandria, and was, or became a monk. Fabr. p. 613.
(3) His Topographica Christiana is in Montfaucon's Collections of the Fathers, t. 2. p. 113-436. and part of it in Thévenot, Relations Curieuses. Gibbon, p. 79.
(4) In Taprobana insula ad interiorem Indiam ubi Indicum pelagus extat Ecclesia Christianorum habetur ubi clerici et fideles reperiuntur-Similiter in Male ut vocant ubi gignitur piper-Itemque apud Bactros. Hunnos, Persas, reliquos Indos, etc. ecclesiæ infinitæ sunt." Cosmas, cited by Assem. p. 437. and 28.
(5) Assemanni, p. 34. The Mahometans sanction the account of the early establishment of the Christians in India. Ferishtah, in his general History of Hindostan, says, “Formerly, before the rise of the religion of Islam, a company of Jews and Christians came by sea into the country (Malabar) and settled as merchants. They continued to live until the rise of the Mussulman religion." Asiatic Register, Miscel. p. 151,
(6) Assemanni relates their prosperity and vicissitudes until the arrival of the Portuguese in India, and their fortunes afterwards, p. 441. Renandot declares, that Meliapour was known by the name of St. Thomas Be-tuma for ages among the Arabs. Ancient Account of India, p. 8o.
(7) "Illic (hoc est in Caicolon Indiæ urbi) nacti sumus nonnullos Christianos qui Divi Thomæ nuncupantur." L. 6. c. 1. ap. Assem. 451.
(8) Assemanni quotes them, p. 450. (9) Assem. 446. and 635.
(10) Assein. 449.
Alfred's embassy. It only remains to inquire if such journeys were in those days undertaken, and if it is probable that the ambassadors, having commenced such an expedition, could have been able to have completed it.
That a Persian ambassador should visit Charlemagne (1); that Arcuulfus should, in the eighth century, travel to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Alexandria (2); and that Abel, the patriarch of Jerusalem, should have sent letters with presents, and of course messengers to Alfred (3), are circumstances which make the Indian embassy credible.
We have the account of another journey in the same century, which also proves that there were spirits then existing, whose curiosity for such distant expeditions prevailed over their fears.
In 870, three monks desirous to see the places so celebrated in the Christian writings, undertook a journey to Palestine, and the Egyptian Babylon. Their itinerary, written by Bernard, one of the travellers, is extant (4). They first went to Mount Garganum, in which they found the church of St. Michael. This is near the Gulf of Manfredonia. An hundred and fifty miles brought them to Barre, then a city of the Saracens, but which had once been subject to the Beneventans. This is on the south-east side of Italy; they sought admission to the prince of the city, who was called a suldan, and obtained leave to prosecute their journey with letters to the chief of Alexandria and Babylon, describing their countenances, and the object of their journey.
From Barre, they walked ninety miles to the port of Tarentum, where they found six ships, two going to Tripoli, and two to other parts of Africa, with some captives. After thirty days' sailing they reached Alexandria; here the master of the ship exacted six pieces of gold before he would let them leave it (5).
They produced to the governor of Alexandria the letter of the suldan of Barre, but it did them no good; a present of thirteen denarii a piece was more serviceable. Bernard remarks, that it was the custom of Alexandria, to take the money by weight; he says, six of the solidi and denarii which they carried out with them, weighed only three of those at Alexandria. The governor gave them letters to the chief of Babylon; but by Babylon, it is obvious that Bernard means a principal city in Egypt, and not the famous Babylon which spread along the Euphrates.
Sailing up the Nile south for six days, they came to the city of Egyptian
(1) See the Astronomer's Annales Francorum, ann. 807, in Reuberi Germ. Script. p. 35. (2) See the first volume of this history.
(3) Asser declares, that he saw and read these letters. "Nam etiam de Hierosolyma Abel patriarchæ epistolas et dona illi directas vidimus et legimus," p. 58. It appears to me very likely, that the emissaries of Abel supplied Alfred with the local information that he wanted. Mesopotamia was the great seat of the Nestorians, and it is very reasonable to suppose, that the patriarch of Jerusalem and his officers were well acquainted with the diffusion of this party.
(4) It is in MS. in the Cotton Library, Faustina, B. 1., and it has been printed by Mabillon in his Acta Benedict. from another MS.; he dates it 870. The latter MS. has 970. It begins thus: "Anno ab incarnatione Domini nostri Jesu Christi 970, in nomine Domini volentes videre loca sanctorum quæ fuerunt Jerosolymis, ego Bernardus duobus memet ipsum sociavi fratribus in devotione caritatis ex quibus erat unus ex monasterio Beati Vincenti Beneventani nomine Theudemundus, alter Hispanus nomine Stephanus; igitur adeuntes in urbe papæ Nicolai præsentiam obtinuimus cum sua benedictione nec non et auxilio pergendi desid eratam licentiam."
(5) He says, that wishing to go ashore they were hindered, “A principe nautarum qui erant super 60, ut autem nobis copia daretur exeundi, dedimus aureos x." MSS.
Babylon (1). The guards of the place conducted them to the governor : their letters were useless, and they were sent to prison; a present of denarii as before released them. In return for this, he made them out letters, which, he said, whoever saw, would in no place or town exact any more. They could not leave this Babylon without a sealed permission, which some more denarii were required to obtain.
Bernard proceeds to describe his journey from Egypt to Jerusalem (2), which need not be given here, as enough has been extracted to give some idea of the practicability and course of oriental expeditions. He mentions one trait of Jerusalem, which shews that some intercourse was maintained by devotion between these distant places and the west of Europe. He says, "We were received there in the mansion of hospitality of the most glorious Charlemagne, in which all are received who visit this place for devotion, and who speak the Roman language (3)." From Jerusalem they sailed in sixty days, with an unfavourable wind, to Italy.
These particulars shew, that it was very practicable to get to Alexandria and up the Nile, into the interior of Egypt, and to traverse Egypt and Palestine, although among Mahometans. What then should make it more difficult for a traveller to go on through Egypt to Suez, or at Suez to find shipping for the coast of Malabar?
Some further circumstances may be noted which must have considerably facilitated the progress of Alfred's ambassadors. Of these, the great infiuence of the Nestorian Christians in the courts of the Mussulman princes may be ranked among the chief.
Nestorians were frequently appointed by the Saracen caliphs, to the government of cities, provinces, and towns, especially in Adjabene and in Assyria (4). In the ninth century, these districts were actually under the Nestorian government (5).
The scribes and physicians of the Caliphs, and chiefs of Arabia, were also in general Nestorians (6). This courtly situation gave them great influence among their own party (7), and must have frequently enabled them to extend to their friends a very powerful protection.
Now as the Nestorians abounded over Persia, Chaldæa, Mesopotamia,
(1) He states, that Alexandria was on the sea; on the east and west was a monastery; north was the gate of the city. "A meridie habuit introitum Gyon sive Nilus qui rigat Egyptum et currit per mediam civitatem intrans in mare in prædicto portu. In quo intrantes navigimus ad meridiem diebus sex et venimus ad civitatem Babyloniæ Egypti ubi regnavit quondam Pharao rex." MSS.
(2) It is shortly; back up the Nile in three days to Sitinuth; thence to Maalla; thence they sailed to Amiamate, quæ habuit ab aquilone mare; thence sailed to Tanis, to Faramea; here was a multitude of camels. The desert of six days' journey began from this city; it had only palm-trees; in the middle were two hospitia; the earth was fertile to Gaza; thence to Alariza, to Ramula, to Emaus Castle, to Jerusalem.
(3) Cui adjacet ecclesia in honore Scæ Mariæ nobilissimam habens bibliothecam studio prædicti Imperatoris. lbid.
(4) Hinc primo adhibiti a Chaliphis ad regimen provinciarum urbium oppidorum ex eadem secta præfecti quorum mentio in historia Nestoriana frequenter occurrit, ac præsertim in Adjabene et in Assyria, ubi plurimi habitabant. Assemanni, p. 96.
(5) Assem. ib.
(6) Secundo tam Chaliphæ quam regni Arabici proceres Nestorianis scribis medicisque usi. He adduces a great many instances, both of physicians and scribes, or secretaries. Assem. 97.
(7) Horum scribarum medicorumque tanta erat in christianos suæ sectæ auctoritas ut neque patriarcharum electiones neque ecclesiastica negotia ipsis inconsultis conficerenAssem. ib.
Syria, Arabia, and Egypt (1), and as Alfred's mission was to one of their Indian colonies, and to do honour to the apostle whom they so much reverenced, and whose remains they professed to have preserved, his ambassadors would of course experience all the friendship and protection which their leaders could display or obtain. If, from Jerusalem, the Saxon bishop took his journey to the Euphrates, to sail to India from the Persian gulph; or if, from Alexandria, he went to Suez, and thence navigated from the Red Sea to the coast of Malabar; yet both tracts abounded with Nestorians, and of course with persons willing and able to instruct, to guide, and to protect him.
We may therefore infer, from all these facts, that there is nothing improbable, nor even romantic, in Alfred's embassy to India. The authorities which affirm it are respectable, and from the credibility which they derive from the other circumstances alluded to they may be trusted.
(1) See Assemanni, 81.