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Coonen Cross

The cross outside the church at Mattancherry in Cochin-coonen meaning “crooked” or “bent”-at which a crowd of Syrian Christians took an oath not to be subject to the Jesuit Archbishop Francis Garcia on 3 January 1653 and thereby initiated a revolt which affected almost all the Syrians in the Roman Catholic Church in Kerala, India. Discontent with the rule of the Jesuit archbishops of Cranganore was nothing new, and led the Syrians to look again to Mesopotamia for a bishop of the old church, although the Synod of Diamper* had apparently terminated that connection and bound them to Rome.

In 1652 a Bishop Ahatalla did in fact come to India, but was detained by the Portuguese at Mylapore (Madras). He managed to get a letter to the Syrians in Kerala, and a great agitation was stirred when the Syrians learned that he was being taken to ship and that the ship was now at Cochin. The Portuguese shut the fort and manned the walls until the ship sailed. A rumor was that the bishop had been thrown overboard and drowned; in fact he probably reached Goa and may have been shipped to Europe after trial as a heretic. The fury of the Syrians left hardly any of them under Roman authority, but it is evident that the revolt was not against Romanism as such, for efforts led by the Carmelites to win back the lost Syrians were very successful. The Coonen Cross incident, however, marked the renewed independence of a considerable section of the Syrians, and tempered Roman policy in Kerala.