10 June 2009

The Stone crosses of Kerala

The Stone crosses of Kerala

 Written by NSC- Admin on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 3:15 - 20 Comments

Kerala has many churches of antiquity. It is recorded that before the arrival of Portuguese there were more than 150 ancient churches in Kerala. 

The Synod of Diamper conducted in 1599 had a representation of more than hundred churches of the St. Thomas Christians. Though not all of these churches are preserved, many of them gave indication to the importance stone crosses had in early Kerala Christian life.  

Christian art and architecture in Kerala in the pre-European periods are developed by nourishment from two sources. From the countries in the near-east including Greece, Rome, Egypt and other Middle East countries from which ideas and practices were imported by missionaries and traders, and secondly from the indigenous forms and techniques of art and architecture that existed in the land. The nourishment of these two sources can be seen in the Stone crosses of Kerala. 

There are two types of rock crosses in Kerala Churches broadly classified as St. Thomas cross and Nazraney sthambams. 

1. St. Thomas Cross  

The small interior type rock cross is called St Thomas cross or Nasrani Menorah or Syrian Cross. This crosses are found at St. Thomas Mount, Kottayam [ 2 nos ], Kadamattam, Muttuchira, and Alangad. This has been venerated by all St Thomas Christians from ancient times. They have inscriptions in Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and Syriac which indicate that they date to before the eight century.  http://nasrani.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/stonecrosses.jpg

These older carved crosses are located inside the churches and are considered particularly sacred and worthy of veneration by the St Thomas Christians. These crosses are very decorative and are not typical crucifix.  These are plain crosses which doesnot show Christ on the cross. In Eastern Christianity and Syrian Christianity, the plain cross is the symbol of the triumph of Christ’s life over death. It is of  symbolism in Eastern Christianity.

These crosses are also sometimes called Leaved Crosses or Persian crosses as they symbolise at the bottom a set of leaves. The leaves usually flow upwards either side of the base of the cross symbolizing the cross as the tree of life.  But some of these crosses from Kerala the leaves are downward pointing. This is indigenous and this symbolism and tradition is not find in Persian or Middle East or even in Byzantine art.    

2. Nazraney Sthambams 

The giant open air rock cross are called Nazraney Sthambams.  The plinth of these crosses represents lotus petals and lotus flowers and has a square base. It also has a variety of iconographic motifs, including elephants, peacocks and various other animals, depictions of the Holy Family and of the Crucifixion, to name a few.  http://nasrani.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/nazraney_sthambams_nsc.jpg

These crosses are found in Kottekkad, Enammavu Mapranam, Puthenchira, Parappukkara, Veliyanad, Kalpparambu, Angamaly, Kanjoor, Malayattoor, Udayanperur, Kuravilangad, Uzhavoor, Chungam, Kaduthuruthy [2 Nos.], Muttuchira, Kudamaloor, Niranam, Kothamangalam, Chengannur, Thumpamon, Chathannur and many other places. 

These crosses are very large, freestanding crosses found outside the churches. They are usually aligned  to the west end of the church. On festival days and during processional days when people process around these crosses. People also burn coconut oil as an act of offering and reverence at the base of these large crosses on their pedestals.  

The plinths represent lotus petals and lotus flowers as the cross is sitting on top of a lotus flower. There is a square base, it’s a circle on a square with a cross on top. The circle as the lotus flower represents the divine, heavenly aspect, on the square which represents the earth.  

There are depictions of the holy family. There are imags of Mary and the Christ Child, also of the Crucifixion in these crosses. There is a variety of iconographic motifs including fish, various animals, elephants. The elephants are very much part of an Indian context.

There are even archway’s in older churches which shows two elephants either side of the cross on a plinth.  The elephants are coming to venerate the cross. And on the other side of the archway, there are peacocks sitting either side of the cross. This represents the  indigenisation of stone crosses and Christian symbols in India.   

There are depictions of the holy family, images of Mary and the Christ Child and also of the Crucifixion.    


Ancient Kerala Christian Art- Prof. George Menachery 

Stone crosses of Kerala- Dr Ken Parry, Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, Sydney

Rock Crosses of Kerala- Prof. George Menachery 

26 March 2009

Meaning of the Mid-Lent Cross

Meaning of the Mid-Lent Cross
(special sermon)

There are four powerful prayers in each of the four directions with the Mid-Lent Cross. This sermon is on the meaning of the Mid-Lent Cross, the golgatha, King Abgar and the healing power of the prayer for this auspicious time.

This sermon was given for Mid-Lent, March 18, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

PODCAST OR DOWNLOAD: http://feeds.feedburner.com/frjohnbrian or http://frjohnbrian.hipcast.com/rss/spiritual_reflections_or_fr_john_brian.xml

The Blessing Cross

Dear Father John,

I want to express my thanks for the beautiful article you wrote on the
glorious Cross. I have emailed it to many people, because I think it truly
captures the significance of our blessed symbol of redemption and salvation.

In the Ethiopia Orthodox Church we pray the Prayer of the Cross every day:
The Cross is our power.
The Cross is our strength.
The Cross is our redemption.
And the Cross is the salvation of our souls. Amen

May Our Lord and Our Lady bless you as you continue to use your gift of
writing to proclaim the glorious truths of the Orthodox Faith.


Gebre Menfes Kidus

The article "The Blessing Cross" by Fr John Brian was recently published on
the ICON website:

27 January 2009

Saint Nino's Cross - The Grapevine Cross

On January 26, Saint Nino's Cross was brought to the Dusk Prayer and put down at the center of the temple. This is the very cross with which the saint baptized the whole Georgia. The believers will have a chance to visit the cathedral in the evening of January 27 and worship the miraculous cross.


The Grapevine Cross ("Jvari Vazisa" or ჯვარი ვაზისა in Georgian), also known as Saint Nino's cross, is a major symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and dates back to the 4th century AD, when Christianity became the official religion of the ancient Georgian kingdom of Iberia, thanks to the missionary work of St. Nino.

Legend has it that Nino received the Grapevine Cross from the Virgin Mary and bound it together with her own hair. This was the cross Nino brought with her when she came to evangelize the Georgians. The Grapevine Cross is recognizable by its slightly drooping horizontal arms.


...in the night the Holy Mother of God appeared to Nino in a vision and said to her, "Depart into the land of the north and preach the gospel of my Son, and I will guide and protect you." But she answered in alarm, "Queen, how may I accomplish this ? For I am a worthless and ignorant woman." Then the Holy Queen stretched out her hand upon a vinebranch which grew close to Nino's bed and cut it off and fashioned it into a cross and gave it to Nino, saying, "Let this be your protection. By it, you may overcome all your foes and preach your message. I will be with you and not abandon you."

After this vision, Nino awoke and found the cross in her hands. When morning came, she went out and told all this to the Patriarch and showed him the cross, and the Patriarch gave thanks to God. Then Nino begged the Patriarch to send her with the noble lady who was leaving for Ephesus. So she received the Patriarch's blessing, and set off in company with the noble lady.....

When the blessed Nino saw this, she began to sigh towards God and shed tears because of the errors of this northern land, for the light was hidden from its people and the reign of darkness enclosed them. she lifted up her eyes to heaven and said, "O God, by Thy great might throw down these enemies of Thine, and make this people wise by Thy great mercy, so that the whole nation may worship the only God through the power of Jesus Christ Thy Son, to whom belong praise and thanks for evermore."

After St. Nino had uttered this prayer, God immediately sent winds and hurricanes out of the west, with clouds sinister and grim in appearance. The noisy roar of thunder was heard, and at sunset a wind blew with a fetid and unpleasant smell. When the crowd saw this, they ran away as fast as they could towards their homes in the city. God granted them but little time, and when they were all safely home, His anger burst fiercely out from the sinister cloud. Hail fell in lumps as big as two fists on to the abode of the idols, and smashed them into little pieces. The walls were destroyed by the terrible gale, and thrown down among the rocks. But Nino remained unharmed, watching from the same spot where she had stood at the beginning.

Three days later she got up, crossed the River Kura, and found outside the walls of the city a bramble bush growing in the shape of a small tent. she made a cross of vine-shoots and stayed there to pray.....

Now when the king and queen severe baptized with their Children and all the people, there stood on the crest of a remote crag a tree of wondrous beauty and sweet scent. It was a miracle-working tree, for wild animals wounded by arrows used to come to it and eat its leaves or its seeds which had fallen to the ground, after which they acre healed, even if they had suffered fatal wounds. The common folk, who had previously been pagan, considered this a great marvel, so they told Bishop John about the tree. Anal the bishop said, "Behold, this tree has been planted by God specially for this occasion. Now that the grace of God has shone forth upon Georgia, from this tree shall be carved the holy cross which all the multitudes of Georgia shall adore." Then Rev, the king's son, went with the bishop and many of the people and cut down the tree, and a hundred men carried it to the city with all its branches and leaves. The people collected to see it, because of the fresh green leaves which it had at a time when all other trees were bare. Its foliage had not fallen and it was sweet-smelling and beautiful to look at. They stood the tree up on its base at the southern door of the church, where the breezes wafted its fragrant scent about and unfolded its leaves. There the tree stood for thirty-seven days, and its leaves did not change colour. It looked as if it was standing immersed front root to topmost twig in a stream, and remained thus until all the tress of the forest were clothed in verdure, and the fruit trees were in blossom. Then on the first of May they fashioned three Crosses from it, and on the seventh thus raised them up in the king's presence amid popular rejoicing on the part of the crowds gathered in the church. Soon afterwards, the people of the city saw a fiery Cross Come down from heaven. Round about it was what appeared like a crown of stars. The cross of fire rested on the church until claws. When daylight came, two of the stars separated from the others—one going eastwards and the other towards the west. The brighter of the two went gently towards a spot near a stream on the far side of the river Aragvi, and Stood over the rocky hill out of Which a rivulet had sprung from the tears of Nino. From there the star rose up to heaven. They asked the blessed Nino, "What is the meaning of these bright stars, one of which as gone eastwards towards the mountains of Kakheti, and the other to the western outskirts of this city?" St. Nino answered, "When you have found where the stars are Shining over those hills, there let two crosses be raised to Christ." The king acted accordingly, and melt went to inspect the highest mountains, one after another. Some went to the West, where they climbed the hill called Cavern's Head. These men reported to the king that one star had parted company from the others to take up a position over Mount Tkhoti by the pass of Caspi, after which it was lost to their sight. Similarly, those who had been sent to the hills of Kakheti returned to tell hoes they had seen a star move in that direction and stand over the village of Bodbe in the district of Kakheti.

Then St. Nino said to them, "Take two of these crosses, and raise one in Tkhoti where God revealed His power. Give one to Christ's handmaiden Salome to be erected in the town of Ujarma. The village of Bodbe in Kakheti should not be given preference over the royal city of Ujarma, where there arc great numbers of people, but Bodbe also shall later witness God's grace." So they did as Nino directed.

In Mtskheta also they raised the wonder-working holy cross, and they went dozen to the stream which flows past the mound, and there they passed the night praying to God. Next day, the countless multitude knelt and worshipped the cross, and confessed the Crucified to be the True Son of the Living God, and they believed in God Almighty, Three in One. And on Easter Sunday, King Mirian and all Mtskheta offered up prayers and thanksgiving. On that day they instituted the service of the Cross at Easter, which is observed throughout Georgia to this day. And many pagans in distress Were healed by the cross, a number of whom were baptized and gave cheerful praise to God...

King Mirian fell sick, and felt his death drawing near. He said to his son Bakar, "My son, my darkness had been turned into light, and death into life. To you I give the Cross n of my kingdom. May God, who created heaven and earth strengthen you in perfect faith. Obey all the commands of the Son of God, and rely entirely upon thorn and upon Christ's name. Wherever you find those fire-worshippers with their idols, burn the idols and make them swallow the cinders. Carry the honourable cross before you to overcome your enemies, as the true believers do. Honour the divinely raised column, and direct your hopes upon it. May you fall asleep at last in the faith of the Holy Trinity." Then they caused St. Nino's cross to be brought, the cross which she had at the beginning, and they hung the royal crown upon it. They led forward Bakar, and made the sign of the cross upon his head, and took the crown from the cross and placed it on his head....

http://www.georgianweb.com/religion/stnino.html - From the book "LIVES AND LEGENDS OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS" selected and translated from the original texts by DAVID MARSHALL LANG (M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Caucasian Studies University of London).