A letter from the Bishop of Angamale to Roberto Bellarmino

The study of religious figures in the East is often focused on the analysis of letters written between Europe and Asia. Collections such as the Josef Wicki’s Documenta Indica and António da Silva Rego’s Documentação para a história das Missões do Padroado Português do Oriente are essential for scholars in this field. But the Internet has been very helpful in offering access to less common sources.

Needless to say, projects such as Google Books have become indispensable for researchers. But the Gregorian Archives Texts Editing initiative, developed by the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University, is still an unexplored well. Although many of its indexes have a long way to go before becoming more reliable, there are very interesting sources already available as PDF files.

Tumba Francisco Rodrigues peq

Tomb of Francisco Rodrigues in the Kottakkavu Mar Thoma Syro-Malabar Pilgrim Church

One example is a letter sent to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino by the Bishop of Angamale Francisco Rodrigues. Also known as Francis Roz, Rodrigues had arrived in India in the carreira of 1600, where the prelates decided to subject the prelacy to the Archbishopric of Goa. It was part of the efforts to conform the St Thomas Christians to the Roman Catholic church, which had begun in 1585 during the III Goan Council and culminated with the Synod of Diamper in 1599. (1)

Rodrigues was the first episcopal authority sent by the Roman church to Angamale. Substituting Mar Abraham, former St Thomas Christian bishop, Rodrigues learned the local language, Malayalam, as well as the liturgical language used by the St. Thomas’s Christians, Syriac. (2)

Carta Bellarmino

Transcription of Rodrigues’s letter to Bellarmino

In 12 December 1607, the Bishop wrote a letter to Roberto Bellarmino, Jesuit Cardinal and one of the most important authorities of the Counter-Reformation. Written in Cranganor, the letter presents a list of complaints about Rodrigues’s relations with other prelates and orders, and it exposes some of the grievances St Thomas Christians had regarding their situation. The bishop asks Bellarmino to intervene on his behalf to promote the Bishopric of Angamale to archbishopric.

This document offers an interesting perspective on the negotiation involved and the efforts needed during the years before Angamale was turned into the Archbishopric of Cranganor. It is an interesting source for those studying the St Thomas Christians and their relations with Catholics, as well as those interested in the strange position the Jesuit Francisco Rodrigues found himself ahead of the campaign to subject the community to the Catholic rite.

(1) See Joaquim de Oliveira Bragança. “O sínodo de Diamper.” Didaskalia, 14:1-2. Lisbon, 1984, p 251; and João Teles e Cunha. “De Diamper a Mattanchery: Caminhos e Encruzilhadas da Igreja Malabar e Católica na Índia. Os Primeiros Tempos (1599-1624).” in: Anais de História de Além-Mar, Vol V. Lisbon, 2004, p 294-5.

(2) See Ines Zupanov. O Império Oriental, 1458-1665. Unpublished, p 32.