Sacred Tomb of Mor Dionysius II (Pulikottil Thirumeni I - d.1816), the

founder father of the Jacobite Syrian Seminary at Kottayam

Mor Dionysius II, the former primate of the Malankara Archdiocese is greatly revered by the Syrian Christians for his efforts in founding the ‘Syrian Seminary’ at Kottayam in 1813. Born in the Pulikottil family of Kunnamkulam, he was baptized by name Joseph at the Arthat St. Mary’s church. He became the chief of the Malankara Edavaka in 1815 adopting the title 'Joseph Mor Dionysius' (Pulikottil Thirumeni I), and passed away on 24th November 1816. Mor Dionysius was a pious, fearless ascetic, an educationalist, a well-read scholar of Syriac, and an eloquent preacher. In fact, he was the pioneer of education, not only in the Syrian community, but throughout the whole of the native States of Travancore and Cochin; the Seminary he built at Kottayam was the first educational institution of the kind in the state after Portuguese era. He was the first Primate of Malabar who hailed from a family outside the Pakalomattom lineage that presided over the native church for centuries. 

Pulikottil Joseph Kathanar & the Arthat church 

Pulikottil Joseph Kathanar after his Priestly ordination by Mor Dionysius the great (Mor Dionysius I), was appointed the vicar of the Kunnamkulam Arthat church which was his home parish. It was during his vicariate there, the Muslim ruler of Mysore Tippu Sultan, invaded the State of Cochin in 1789. Because of their fierce attacks, most of the Syrian Christians of Kunnamkulam deserted their village and hid themselves in the neighbouring hills and mountains; but all the while Rev. Joseph Kathanar bravely remained in the church at Arthat, spending his days in prayer. Tippu's men set fire to the church and got hold of the Priest; they were about to kill him for not accepting Islam, when the sudden recall of the army to Mysore compelled them to leave the place abruptly, and before they could execute their design upon him. When peace was restored, Joseph Kathanar took the initiative to repair the damage done to the Arthat church. Dr. Claudias Buchanan, the European who visited Arthat church in 1806 has given an account about Pulikottil Joseph Kathanar. 

Arthat St. Mary's church at Kunnamkulam


After completing the renovation works of the church, Joseph Kathanar left Kunnamkulam leaving his parish in charge of other priests; he then travelled through several of the northern parishes, preaching the necessity of establishing a theological institution for the education of the Syrian clergy. Being well versed in the Indian science of architecture, he had prepared a plan and estimate of the building for the proposed theological institution, which was his dream project. 

In 1809 Pulikottil Joseph Kathanar was elevated to the order of monk-priest (Ramban) by Mor Thoma VII. His activities since then were concentrated mainly in Kottayam keeping in my mind to start a Seminary there.

The Malabar church in those days

After the demise of Mor Dionysius the Great (Mor Dionysius I) in 1808, Mor Thoma VII, who had been acting as suffragan during the late Metropolitan's time, was unanimously acknowledged as the head of the Archdiocese. The new Metropolitan’s tenure in office was only fifteen months, he died in June 1809. When he was about to die, some of the members of the community who were over anxious regarding the succession to the episcopacy, got his successor (Mor Thoma VIII) suddenly consecrated by laying on his head the hands of the unconscious Metran who was lying on the point of death. This was done on the distinct understanding that the dignity would be perfected by a delegate from the church of Antioch which is the mother Church of the Malabar/Malankara Christians. An application was accordingly forwarded to Col. Macaulay, the British Resident in Malabar, to get a delegate from the Patriarch, and the Resident consented to undertake the transmission of the letter to Antioch. But this issue of succession created havoc in the church. One party in the Church contended that, Mor Thoma VIII not having been canonically consecrated, should not exercise any of the functions of a bishop until his dignity was perfected by a Patriarchal delegate, while the opposite party maintained that the Church should not be reduced to a state of widowhood till the arrival of the delegate from Antioch.  

It was during this time emerged the leadership of Pulikottil Joseph Ramban who opposed the illegal succession of Marthoma VIII. Rival complaints were laid before the British Resident, one party accusing Mor Thoma VIII of arbitrary conduct in exercising the duties of a bishop before getting his dignity confirmed by the Patriarch, and the other party charging Joseph Ramban, leader of the opposition, with insubordination to the Bishop. All this was without any effect for some years. About this time, Col. Macaulay retired (March 1810), and was succeeded by Col. John Munro (1810-1819).

Founding of the 'SYRIAN SEMINARY' in Kottayam 

Pulikkotil Joseph Ramban meanwhile was taking every effort to start a House of Learning (Seminary) for training priests which as stated earlier was his dream project. The Ramban laid his plans before Col. Munro, who heartily welcomed them. At first, Mor Thoma VIII too was in favour of the scheme, but when it was suggested that the interest on the endowment due for the Syrian Metropolitan from the British Government treasury should be spent in the erection of the Seminary, he declined to support the noble design of the Ramban. This is said to be one of the chief causes of his rupture with Mor Thoma. 

The disputes between Mor Thoma VIII, and Joseph Ramban reached its climax in 1813, when Col. Munro acted as per the advise of Mor Philexinos, Bishop of Thoziyur, who supported the Ramban's cause. (This bishop of Thoziyoor was a successor of, Mor Kurillos Kattumangatt who had to flee from the state of Cochin due to opposition from the church hierarchy.) The Resident issued a notice inviting representatives of all churches to meet him at Quilon (Travancore State) and also deputed an officer to take possession of the Metran's credentials and personal properties. After a nominal enquiry, Col. Munro declared the Metran's consecration null and void, forbade him from exercising any of the functions of a bishop until the arrival of delegates from Antioch, and declined to pay him the interest on the endowments due from his treasury. (Grieved and disheartened, Mor Thoma VIII died on the 12th of Meenam (March) 1816, after having appointed a successor, under the title Mor Thoma IX. But this dignitary was at once forced to abdicate, and after depositing all properties of the former Metrans in the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam, he passed the remaining years of his life as a private priest in the Kadamattam church (near Kolancheri). With him, the succession of episcopacy in the old Pakalomattam family became extinct.) 

After unseating Mor Thoma VIII, the British resident placed at the disposal of the Ramban the arrears of the endowment-interest with instructions to utilise the money for the accomplishment of his seminary project. The site necessary for the purpose was provided at Kottayam by the Travancore Government free of tax. (The concerned government order donating the land for the seminary is given in the end of the page.) The enthusiastic Ramban lost no time in availing himself of the opportunity. He laid the foundation of the first Jacobite Syrian Christian Seminary at Kottayam (the Old College) in February 1813 and opened it as an educational institution in March 1815. It was known by name ‘Syrian Seminary’ in those days. (This came to be also called as 'Old Seminary' after a new theological institution run by the European missionaries started functioning from Kottayam in 1845.)

Around the time, the Government of Madras issued an order disapproving the Resident's procedure in paying the interest on the endowment to one who was not a bishop. Pulikottil Joseph Ramban was therefore asked to accept consecration at the hands of Mor Philexinos of Thoziyur, or refund the money drawn from Resident's treasury. To evade the difficulty, the Ramban accepted consecration from Mor Philexinos under the title Mor Dionysius II on 9th of Meenam 990 (March 21, 1815). The Travancore Government, prompted by the British Resident, issued a proclamation dated 21st Makaram (January) 1816 requiring all Syrian Christians to obey Mor Dionysius II as their Metropolitan.  This was followed by a similar proclamation issued by the Cochin Government.

The CHAPEL (left) & the oldest block of the seminary building (right) in the

SYRIAN SEMINARY (old Seminary) at Kottayam


Mor Dionysius II had the support of the British Resident, and, through him, of the two Native States as well. It was from this period that the Travancore and Cochin Governments began to interfere in the appointment and removal of bishops in the Syrian Church. Since then it became a law that no Bishop could freely exercise his Episcopal authority unless he was recognised by the States through proclamations enjoining all Syrian Christians to obey him. If a Bishop was once recognised, it was considered penal for a Syrian to disobey his orders thereafter. Freedom of choice was not heard of for several years thereafter.

Whatever may be the views of a section in Malankara about Mor Dionysius II in his contest with Mor Thoma VIII, it has to be remembered in favour of the former that he was one who sincerely desired to advance the prosperity of the community and the Church. He was pious, fearless, impartial in his dealings, open-hearted, a rigid ascetic in his mode of life, a friend of education, a well-read scholar of Syriac, and an eloquent preacher. In fact, he was the pioneer of education, not only in the Syrian community, but throughout the whole of the Native States of Travancore and Cochin, in as much as the Seminary he built at Kottayam was the first educational institution of the kind in the country; the old Cranganore and Vaipicottah Seminaries of the Portuguese period (which had long since ceased to exist) being, of course, excepted. He did not aspire to episcopacy, and but for the necessity of drawing the interest on the endowment fund from the Residency, he would gladly have ended his days as a mere Ramban. Having been consecrated by a bishop who was not an authorised delegate of the Patriarch, Mor Dionysius II doubted the validity of his title to bishopdom; consequently, he declined to exercise any of the sacerdotal powers of a bishop, and contented himself with the mere signing of receipts. 

Left:   Inside of the SYRIAN SEMINARY CHAPEL (tomb of Pulikotttil Joseph Mor Dionysius can be seen in the right side of the hykala);

    Right:   Sacred Tomb of the Holy father Mor Dionysius II, the founder of the Jacobite Syrian Seminary


In lending his support to Mor Dionysius II, Col. Munro had the noble motive of improving the condition of the Syrian community, socially, politically, morally and religiously; and to carry out this object, he subsequently imported English missionaries to work among the Syrians. However sincere he was in his intentions, and however beneficial his scheme might have seemed at the outset, its effect in after-years was injurious to the Syrian Church.  

The incident explained by the renounced historian E M Philip in his book, 'The Indian Church of St. Thomas' gives us a rough idea of how the CMS missionaries entered the Syrian Seminary and its consequences.  After the starting of the seminary, Col. Munro once invited Mor Dionysius to his residence and requested the Metran’s permission to appoint a European missionary in the seminary. The Metran was told that the new European was an ordained missionary of the Church of England, intended to reside in the Seminary and work for the religious and social advancement of the Syrian community. The open-hearted Metran at once thanked the Resident for his good wishes, but objected to the intrusion of the missionary for work in the Syrian Church. "He is a member of a different creed," said the Metran to Col. Munro; "his faith and our faith are not one; if he were to live in the Seminary, it might lead to religious feuds, and the result might be deplorable." The Colonel was disappointed. He had expected a cordial welcome for the missionary. The Metran, who was actually foreseeing the trouble and calamity which the community is suffering at present, thought it better to incur the displeasure of the Resident than betray his Church. Col. Munro next proposed that the missionary should be stationed at Alleppy, and be asked to visit Kottayam occasionally. To this, Mor Dionysius reluctantly consented. But on his return, Mor Dionysius expressed to his close confidents that he is feeling very sad for giving permission to these missionaries. Tears were running down his furrowed cheeks while telling this. Such was the way in which the C.M.S. missionaries were first introduced into the Syrian Church, and such was the spirit in which they were welcomed. 

On 24 November (Vrichigom 12) 1816, Mor Dionysius II passed away and his body was was laid to rest inside the Chapel in the 'Syrian Seminary' established by him at Kottayam.

The greatest achievement of the holy father undoubtedly was his initiative to start the educational institution for the Jacobite Syrian Christians of Malabar for the first time in its history which helped for the overall development of the community.

By the middle of the 19th century, the Seminary founded by Mor Dionysius II, and the chapel where his mortal remains was entombed, came under the possession of Palakunnath Mor Athanasius and the CMS missionaries. However towards the end of that century, the 'Syrian Seminary' was returned to the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, but again lost it following another split in the church in early 20th century. This Seminary which is also called as 'Old Seminary' is now under the management of Malankara Orthodox Church and its name has been changed to 'Orthodox Theological Seminary'. After loosing this seminary Valiya Thirumeni (St. Athanasius, the Malankara Metropolitan) started a new theological training centre for the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christians at Alwaye. In 1990's the institution was relocated at Udayagiri near Mulanthuruthy and is known as the 'Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary' (M.S.O.T.S).

Several historical documents such as the Sthathikon's issued to the Syrian and Indian fathers by the Antiochean Patriarchs, many ancient Syriac manuscripts, certain copper plates issued in favour of the Church in Malabar by the erstwhile kings, etc. are still preserved in the Old seminary.


Main source:  

        E M Philip Edavazihikkal,  "The Indian Church of St. Thomas",  Kottayam (1908).


Other References:

        Very Rev. Kurien Corepsicopo Kaniamparambil, 'The Syrian church History' (1987).




Ninavu, or Grant of Land, for the Erection of The Syrian Seminary at Kottayam, issued by Her Highness the Rani PARVATHI BAI of Travancore in 1814

 -- Translation --


Ouseph Rramban (Joseph Ramban, afterwards Mor Dionysius II) 

Whereas you have come here and represented that there is no seminary for giving religious instruction to the Puthencoor Syrian Christians and that some land should be given for building such upon, a site has been determined upon therefore, in the Govindapuram Kara, Kottayam Proverthi, the boundaries whereof being: west of the way lying north to south and used for taking the Tirunakkarai Devan in procession to the river for Arat; north of Idanal; east of the Cownar river; and south of the Arat landing place, the way, and the Cownar river. Within these four boundaries land to the extent of 120 dennoos north to south and 60 dennoos east to west is granted on anubogam tenure from the 6th day of Kartigai in M.E. 990 for building a seminary upon. The tax of 61/4 fanams per annum payable to the Sirkar thereon has been given up to meet the expense of a lamp to be lighted; wherefore a seminary shall be accordingly erected thereon and the money allowed for the light shall be used for such purpose; and the same shall be held and enjoyed thus by the Ramban and succeeding Rambans as anubogam. In witness whereof, this ninavu is written by Valia Meleluthu Yogeeswaran Raman, this 6th day of Dhanoo in M.E. 990 (A.D. 1814) by Royal Command.

Reproduced from the book "The Indian Church of St. Thomas" by E M Philip, Appendix VII, (Ref. Chapter XX);   First published in 1908,  Republished by 'Mor Adai Study Centre' in 2002