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The Old Seminary and Two Centuries of Theological Education

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--- Rev. Dr. B. Varghese                              

PAGE 5 of 6 

Cochin Arbitration Award (1840)


                   Since the Missionaries were the joint trustees of the property of the Seminary, they had legal claims on it. Thus they put forward the solution of the division of the property. On 23rd December 1836, a special meeting of the Missionaries was held (in Kottayam?) and the following resolution was passed:

“(1) That a statement showing the precise nature of the connection at present subsisting between the Mission and the Syrian Church be sent to Madras, with a view to pointing out the expediency of completing the separation which the Syrians, as far as their power, have already made;


(2) Also a statement of the whole amount of property at present possessed by the College and the sources from which it is derived and what may be claimed by the respective parties on any division of the same.


(3) That the sanction of the Madras Corresponding Committee be requested to the missionaries suggesting to the Resident a plan for separation between the Metran and themselves as joint-trustees of the property of the college, such as will cause as little detriment as possible to the means employed for the education and spiritual improvement of the Syrians.


(4) In reference to the peculiarly unpleasant situation in which the missionaries are placed as joint-trustees with the Metran in the affairs of the College, especially in their not having it in their power to suppress idolatrous and superstitious worship in the College Chapel, or to the Metran, if they cannot agree to a former resolution [viz., that the services should be in English], to relieve the missionaries from their trusteeship of the College property, which they can no longer consciously hold in conjunction with the Metran “.[1]


On 6th February another resolution was made by the Missionaries’ conference:

“That immediate steps be taken to effect the separation between the Metran and the missionaries as joint-trustees of the College property, agreeably to the sanction granted by the Madras Corresponding Committee “.[2]


               Both parties were determined to proceed for a separation and appealed to Colonel Fraser, the British Resident. On 20th February 1838, the Resident moved the Travancore Government to appoint a Commission to sell the property and to pay the proceeds into the treasury to be distributed between the parties.[3] Cheppattu Mar Dionysius soon made a submission to the Resident to suspend the procedures.[4]  Part of the property was sold, which brought Rs.61,364. Meanwhile the Madras Government intervened and directed the Resident to suspend further proceedings.[5] The Madras Government, after consulting the Metran and the Missionaries, decided to appoint a Commission consisting of one member nominated by the Metran, another by the Missionaries and a third by the Travancore Government. The Government further ordered ‘ that in the event of the parties not agreeing to this plan, they should be asked to settle the dispute in the local Civil Courts’.[6] Both sides agreed to the proposal to have a settlement by the Arbitration.[7] The board of Arbitrators (known as Punchayat) consisted of Baron D’Albedyhll, J.S.Vernede and W.H.Horseley, nominated by the Missionaries, the Metran and the Travancore Government respectively. They met in Cochin, examined all the documents produced before them,[8] heard the claims of both parties and passed their award on 4th April 1840.



I  Awarded to the Syrian Metran:


1.           Copper-plate charters (Cheppedu) containing grants from ancient kings.

2.           The Kadamattom Estate (property of the Mar Thoma Metrans)

3.           The sum of Rs.4134.0.3, the produce of jewels of the former Metrans.[10]


Awarded to the Metran and two co-trustees: a priest and a layman from the

Syrian Church:


4.           The sum of 3000 Star Pagodas invested with the East India Company in


5.           Rs.8,000 given by the Travancore Government in 1816.

6.           The site of the Old Seminary.

7.           The Old Seminary itself.

8.          The Chapel of the Seminary.

9.           The dining room of the granary attached to the Seminary.

10.        Future interest on 3000 Star Pagodas.


II.                   Awarded to the Church Missionary Society:


‘To the Rev.Missionaries, the Secretary pro.tem. to the Corresponding Committee and the British Resident[11], to be held in trust by them for the exclusive benefit of the Syrians’, they awarded:


1.       Rs.20,000 granted by the Travancore Government in 1818 for ‘the political,                  moral and religious renovation of the whole Syrian people through the instructions of English Missionaries’.

2.       Rs.14,035-1-6, given by the European donors, through the Missionaries.

3.       Munro Island.

4.       Rs.500, spent on building the Seminary chapel, to be paid from the Seminary funds and spent on a chapel for the new CMS College.

5.       Rs.5,170-0-4 for salaries of the (CMS) College servants.

6.       Rs.2,279-9-11 advanced by the Corresponding Committee to enable the Seminary to be carried on from May 1838 to December 1839. [This was awarded to be paid from the Seminary funds to the Corresponding Committee and No.5 to Mr.Bailey from the same source].

III.                  The following sums were divided between the Metran and the Missionaries and their co-trustees:


1.          Rs.2520, interest on 3,000 Star Pagodas from 1835 to 1837 (three years) not drawn.

2.          Rs.15, 245 estimated surplus in the Resident’s treasury, i.e.; Rs.6088-15-5 to the Metran and Rs.9156-0-7 for the new CMS College.[12]

                   Cheppattu Mar Dionysius was unhappy about the award. In fact all the funds and assets of the Seminary, with the exception of the donations from the Europeans (item II-2) were secured from local donations and royal grants. But the Cochin Punchayat awarded them to the Missionaries, especially the Munro Island and the royal grant of Rs.20,000 (Item II-1).

                    The Metran complained to the Madras Government of the terms of the award, and the Government passed the following minute on 13th July 1840:

“ Although the Syrian Metran did not bind himself, as he ought to have done by a formal document, to abide by the decision of the arbitrators, still, from the circumstance of his having agreed to submit his claims to arbitration and having himself nominated one of the arbiters, The Right Honorable the Governor in Council is of opinion that he should submit to the decision which has been passed and declines to interfere further in a matter which has already occupied much of the time and attention of the Government and ought now to be considered finally adjusted “.[13]


                   Following the Award of 1840, the Seminary came to the sole possession of the Syrian Metropolitan. However, Cheppattu Mar Dionysius was unable to see that the studies shall be resumed in the Seminary. E.M.Philip says that the Seminary discontinued to function, as funds were not available. Though the Resident promised to disburse the amount awarded by the Punchayat, as a sign of protest, Mar Dionysius, refused to draw it.[14] Apparently, he did not take the initiative to elect or to nominate the co-trustees. Consequently, he could not draw the interest of the Syrian Fund. Similarly, the amount (Rs.6088) awarded by the arbitration Commission was also not drawn. He continued to send petitions to the Madras Government and they were ignored. Another factor that prevented him from drawing the amount was a memorandum submitted by some Syrians of the reformed group to the Resident, requesting him not to pay the amount to Mar Dionysius.[15]



Seminary under Mathews Mar Athanasius


                   In 1842, Mathews Mar Athanasius, the first bishop of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church was consecrated by the Patriarch Mar Elias II of Antioch in Mardin. The new Metran arrived in Travancore in May 1843 (ME 1018 Edavam). In July 1852 (ME 1027 Karkidakam 15), the Travancore Government issued a Royal Proclamation acknowledging Mar Athanasius as the Metropolitan of the Syrians. Soon he took possession of the Old Seminary.

                   If we believe Mr.Ittoop, Mar Athanasius soon took the initiative to resume the studies at the Seminary. He negotiated with the Government authorities to draw the arrears of the interest of the Syrian Fund, and the amount awarded by the Cochin Punchayat, so that the amount could be used for the Seminary. Ittoop says that, though the studies were resumed under Mar Athanasius, it was soon discontinued.[16]

                   Meanwhile, on 22nd February 1858 (ME 1033 Kumbom12) a few Syrians from Kottayam, who were employed in Cochin met at the residence of Mr.Ittoop Writer and resolved to resume the studies at the Seminary. They formed a Society and decided to raise funds towards the Salary of competent masters to teach Syriac, English and Malayalam. They could collect about Rs.300 and Mar Athanasius was promptly informed. He was pleased and donated Rs.1000, and Mar Coorilos of Anjoor made a donation of Rs.300. They were able to collect more that Rs.2000 in a short period.

                    A few weeks later (on 24th Meenom =  April 1858), Mar Athanasius sent a circular to all the churches informing them of the decisions of the meeting at Mr.Ittoop’s residence. One of the decisions was that ‘ the correspondence and the accounts shall be managed by a Committee consisting of four members, nominated each year by the Metran’.[17]

                   Ittoop writes that the Society of the employed Syrians planned to collect Rs.80,000 to be invested as fixed deposits, so that it may bring a monthly interest of Rs.200 (at the rate of 3%) for the expenses of salary and books.[18] The Society was able to run the Seminary for fourteen months. An Englishman and a native assistant were appointed to teach English and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan (Puthupally) and Ayroor Philipose Kathanar for Syriac.

                 However, after fourteen months, (in 1859 = ME 1034), Mar Athanasius sent a letter to the Society instructing to discontinue the studies. Ittoop dos not give the reason for this intervention by the Metran.

                  In 1869, after a long negotiation, Mar Athanasius succeeded in drawing the arrears of the Syrian Fund, and the amount awarded by the Cochin Punchayat. The arrears had been accumulating for thirty five years (since 1835) and together with the Award dues, amounted to Rs.45,150. Mar Athanasius surely enjoyed the influence of the Missionaries in drawing the amount. In a letter to the CMS Secretaries, Henry Baker wrote how the Bishop of Madras was helpful to influence the British Resident Mr.G.A.Ballard.[19] Later, Mr.Baker himself arranged a meeting between the Resident and Mar Athanasius with a large number of his supporters. Baker himself wrote about this meeting:

“Eighty-two churches sent in a petition begging for the opening of the College and for Mar Athanasius, he Bishop recognized by the Government, as their head. The vicars and churchwardens of these and other churches met Mr.Ballard at my house. There were many hundred priests and laymen present – over 700, I think, some thought 1,000. Each answered to his name when called and spoke clearly before Mr.Ballard, the Peishkar and the Metrans present. The Madras Government has ordered the money to be paid to the trustees.”[20]


                 In his letter to Bishop Gell, Mr.Baker (Jr.) describes : “ Mr. Ballard with the Diwan Peishkar, examined the petition presented and required the representatives of each church to stand forward and identify their signatures and called upon the seven or eight hundred persons before him, being the richest and most respectable Syrians of Travancore, to say whom they considered Metran and who to be the College trustees “.[21]

                   Baker adds: “ Your Lordship will remember the front verandah of my house. The Bishops, the Resident and the Peishkar stood there, and the verandah and hall were filled with some 150 priests, while the laymen filled the garden all down the avenue…”.[22]

                  Obviously the number of priests (150) might be an exaggeration. It is not all certain that there were 150 priests with Mar Athanasius in 1869. However, the show of power might have impressed the Resident and was persuaded to disburse the amount from the treasury. Mr.Ballard himself nominated two trustees to receive the money.[23] The amount was deposited with the Bank of Madras and Mar Athanasius intended to use it for the resumption of

Studies in the Seminary. Each parish was asked to co-operate to raise an equivalent amount. Each Seminarian had to pay one rupee per month and to find clothes for himself.[24]

                   Under Mar Athanasius, the Seminary functioned for several years. According to the information provided by C.M.Agur, in the 1870s  Malpan P.Joshua Kathanar from Kandanadu was the Rector of the Seminary. K.Paulos Kathanar and G.Philipose Kathanar of Kozhencherry and Ayroor parishes served as Professors of Theology and of the Syriac Language, and Mar Thomas Athanasius was the President of the ‘College Council’.[25] According to Agur, in 1859, there were 82 students at the Seminary; but in 1874, their number was only 50.[26]

                Mathews Mar Athanasius died on July 16, 1877 and was succeeded by Mar Thomas Athanasius who occupied the Seminary till 1887.





The Seminary Case (1879-1889)


                   In 1879, Pulikkottil Mar Joseph Dionysius II (nephew of the late Joseph Dionysius I), the canonical Metropolitan of the Orthodox Syrian Church, sued Mar Thomas Athanasius for the recovery of the immovable properties of the Church, including the Seminary. In 1884, the case was decided in favor of Mar Dionysius. Mar Thomas Athanasius appealed to the Travancore High Court, which in 1886 confirmed the decision of the lower court. Following the verdict of the High Court, Mar Dionysius arrived at the Seminary to take possession of it. Since the Seminary was found locked, he sought the assistance of the judicial court and a special order was issued to open the locks. Finally in July 1887, (= ME 1061, Karkidakam 3) Mar Dionysius entered the Seminary along with Mar Simeon Athanasius a visiting Antiochene prelate.[27]

            Mar Athanasius appealed to the Royal Court, which also confirmed the decision in Mar Dionysius’ favor in October 1889.