Christianity is of course, in its origins, an Asian and African religion: it first took root and flourished in the regions that link the two continents. As it expanded the church also created connections between distant realms – Kerala and the Levant for example. This connection goes back to the infancy of the faith and has endured until this  day. Just a couple of years ago a friend of mine was at a service conducted by priests from Kerala in an ancient Syrian church: he found the experience deeply moving for it reminded him of services he had attended in Kerala with his mother, who had been born into the Syriac Orthodox church.

By its very antiquity this connection is sure to have generated a great deal of archival material. For a long time this material was studied primarily by scholars with theological intereststs: it is only recently that historians have begun to sift through the archives of churches in Kerala for materials that might concern those (such as myself) who have other interests, such as the history of travel.

Recently John Paul Ghobrial (see my post of March 22), a scholar of Eastern Christianity (and himself of Coptic origin) wrote to me about a historian who has been working on church archives in Kerala for a decade or so: “The Hungarian scholar I mentioned to you is Istvan Perczel.  Here are two of his articles:  [1] “Classical Syriac as a modern lingua franca in South India between 1600 and 2006,” in: Modern Syriac Literature, ARAM Periodical 21 (2009), 289-321; and [2]  I. Perczel and George Kurukkoor: “A Malayalam Church History from the Eighteenth Century, based on Original Documents,” in: Bibel, Byzanz und Christlicher Orient: Festschrift für Stephen Gerö zur 65. Geburtstag, ed. D.Bumazhnov, E. Grypeou, T. Sailors and A. Toepel (Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 291-314.  You will find in his footnotes references to other works of his, many of which seek to uncover this unique Syriac milieu in India.”

I doubt that I will soon have the leisure to set off on the trail of these dauntingly recondite references. So I was glad to come upon this interesting discussion and this article in The Hindu, which provides a broad overview of Dr.  Istvan Perczel’s work. Apparently Dr. Perczel is currently working “on the travails and travels of Mar Simeon, a Persian Metropolitan who came to India in 1701.” I hope his findings will be published soon.

John Paul also sent news of a seminar where Dr. Perczel will be speaking: it is to be held at the Warburg Institute in London on April 25-26.

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