The English Factory at Madras
In the year 1639, the English obtained Madras from Aiyappa Naik a local representative of King of Chandragiri for trade and commerce. Francisday and Cogan the English merchants with 25 Europeans came to Madras and laid foundation for St. George Fort in 1640 and the fort was completed in 1668.
This was the first settlement of the English at Madras and the first territorial acquisition by the English in India.[ii] They constructed a Fort consisted of a tower or house enclosed by a rectangular wall 400 by 100 yards with bastions at four corners. They put up the industries of weaving and cotton fabrics and they invited the weavers and native merchants to settle near the fort. Madras is the shortened name of the fishing village Madraspatnam or Chennaipatnam before the arrival of the English. The British East Company built a fort and trading port in 1639-40[iii].
Portuguese Catholics of Mylapore
The English put up the industries of weaving and cotton fabrics. And they realized that the Catholic settlers of the nearby Portuguese town of San Thome were well acquainted with the local language, customs and manners of Tamils, and as such would be very useful as interpreters, clerks, tradesmen and soldiers. [iv] Thus, the English invited some of them to settle in the growing new township. Plots were allotted to them to build houses inside the Fort and the soldiers were given houses built at the expense of the company. The new settlers were allowed to take their families with them. These were the first Catholics of the town. The English authorities at the Fort did not appreciate the idea that their Catholics going to San Thome for their spiritual needs, which was a Portuguese territory. Therefore they wanted a priest from San Thome should visit their factory from time to time.
The Arrival of Fr. Ephrem de Nevers (+1695)
Father Ephrem de Nevers, a French Capuchin priest came to Surat, India in 1639.[v] Along with Father Zeno de Bouge founded the first Capuchin mission in India. Fr. Ephrem having helped Fr. Zeno at Surat moved on towards Pegu in South Burma (Today, Myanmar) where 2,000 native Christians were held prisoners by the King of that place.[vi] He was sent as Papal ambassador to get release of the Christians and look into their spiritual needs. On his way to Pegu, he stopped to rest in the kingdom of Golconda. The King Abdulla Khuta Khan in Bhagnagar, the Capital, gave him a warm reception. Since Ephrem was a great linguist and mathematician, he enjoyed the privileges of a royal guest. The King pleased to have him as dignified professor in his court but Ephrem pleading the orders of his superiors proceeded to Madras, hoping to find a boat to take him to Pegu.[vii] Fr. Ephrem reached Madras, the British township on 8, June 1642.[viii] The unexpected arrival Fr. Ephrem de Nevers to Madras caused a great jubilation among the Catholics. The few Catholics in this new English settlement were aspired for the Sacraments and the Word of God.
Foundation of the First Christian Mission
The Christian community at Madras enthusiastically received Fr. Ephrem and pleaded him to stay and cater their spiritual needs.[ix] But he explained to them that he must obey his superiors’ order to go to Pegu. Thereupon, eighteen prominent Catholics of the town presented a petition to the authority of Fort St. George, entreating him to prevail upon Fr. Ephrem to stay at Madras to care the spiritual needs of the Catholics. The English were happy to have French than a Portuguese priest in their territory. The chief agent of the English company, Andrew Cogan along with his councillors Thomas Winter and Henry Greenhil gave official invitation to Fr. Ephrem to take up the spiritual care of the Catholics of Fort St. George. Having seen the spiritual desolation of the Catholic community Fr. Ephrem accepted the invitation,[x] the agent issued an order that Rev. Fr. Ephrem has no objection to stay for the well-being and consolation of these Christians, a church shall be built in a convenient place. Thus Fr. Ephrem presuming his superiors’ permission[xi] founded the Capuchin mission in Madras on 8th of June, 1642.
Fr. Ephrem De Nevers (1603-1695)
Fr. Ephrem was born in Nevers, France in 1603 and he joined the Franciscan Capuchins one of the rigorous religious orders in the Catholic Church.[xii] He prompted to be a missionary and he was sent to the Eastern Missions in Levant. He came to Surat, India and collaborated with Fr. Zeno to found the first stable Capuchin mission in India, 1639. Fr. Ephrem was a man of great learning and linguist.[xiii] He knew French, Portuguese, English, Dutch, Persian, Arabic and some other Oriental languages. He built the church dedicated to St. Andrew; this was the first church to be built in the walls of Fort St. George and in the city of Madras. He was reputed to be a holy man by all.
A Man of Religious Harmony
He won the hearts of people with sympathy and love.[xiv] The Portuguese and the Indian Christians, even the Muslims and Hindus highly esteemed him for his virtues. He was kind, gentle, polite and very charitable to everyone. He celebrated public divine service in the church of St. Andrew the Apostle, carried out the solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the streets, accompanied by many people. He celebrated every Christmas with great devotion, Hindus and Muslims came during this most solemn festival to see this father’s church. His excellent sermons in Portuguese and in Tamil attracted more Catholics in the neighbouring Portuguese territory of San Thome. His ministry was a roaring success. He took no fees for baptism, wedding or burial and never accepted any gifts except a little rice or other things to sustain his life.
A Man of Ecumenism
The Capuchin church of St. Andrews in the Fort was the only church in the English settlement of Madras. All Catholics irrespective of language, culture and caste took active part in all the religious ceremonies conducted by Fr. Ephrem. Since there was no any church for the denominations, even the Armenian Orthodox and the Protestant Christians held their worship in St. Andrews.[xv] The early Armenians in Madras worshipped in the Church of the Capuchins at St. Geroge Fort.[xvi] This paved a way for the great affinity between the Armenians and the Roman Catholics in Madras. This attitude of Fr. Ephrem helped to grew a healthily relationship among all the Christians and he truly became a man of ecumenism even in the 17th century.
The First English School in India
Fr. Ephrem de Nevers was kind, gentle and polite to everyone. His fatherly affection drew children to him, he taught them music and catechism.[xvii] His love for them moved him ahead to open a public school. They were mostly English speaking children[xviii] and it was opened in 1642 within his residence of St. Andrews in the Fort of St. George.[xix] The English even did not have an idea at such an early date to open a school for their children.[xx] Mgr. A. Pereira Andrade had affirmed that this is the First English School in India.[xxi] Thus Fr. Ephrem de Nevers, a French Capuchin Priest is credited to open the first English school for the English speaking children in the Indian soil.
Fr. Ephrem and Padroado Priests of Mylapore
The Padroado missionaries under the patronage of the kings of Portugal by the special permission of Pope embarked to Asia and Africa to plant Christianity. When the missionaries of Propaganda Fide (Who were sent directly by the Pope) came to these countries for evangelization, the Padroado looked at them as their rivalries. Thereupon, Fr. Ephrem of the Propaganda Fide had to face a lot of opposition from the Padroado clergy of Mylapore. When he established the Catholic mission within the walls of St. George Fort, Madras, naturally the English stopped the Portuguese priests to come to their territory. He attracted a lot of faithful from Mylapore to the Capuchin Church of St. Andrews. The Padroado missionaries at San Thome grew jealous over the creative methods and missionary enterprises of Fr. Ephrem. All these aroused anger and pain among them; they wanted to trap and expel him from Madras.[xxii] Since he was in the English territory, they could not carry out their vicarious plan. The Padroado priests invited Fr. Ephrem to San Thome on 27th July, 1649 to settle a dispute among the Portuguese and the English soldiers. Without knowing the evil plot of the Padroado clergy, he went to Mylapore. No sooner he entered the Portuguese territory; he was seized by the soldiers and imprisoned.
He was taken in chains to the governor of Mylapore and from there to Goa.[xxiii] He was accused before the tribunal of the inquisition as an apostate and a heretic, because he had dared to exercise the ministry without permission from the king of Portugal. Meanwhile Fr. Zeno from Surat came to Madras and took care of the spiritual needs of the people. [xxiv] All the efforts ended in failure for the release of Fr. Ephrem.[xxv] But God’s providence worked miraculously to deliver him in an unexpected way. During this time Abdulla Khuta Khan, king of Golkonda took initiative and got release of Fr. Ephrem. He was released after twenty two months of the Portuguese inquisition. He became free on December 5, 1652 and he left Goa and he arrived in Madras at the beginning of April, 1653.
Protestant Resentments against the Capuchins
Fr. Ephrem returned to Madras and began his mission as before.[xxvi] Fr. Zeno who came to Madras to replace Fr. Ephrem when he was under inquisition in Goa became his assistant, while Fr. Ambrose of Preuilly became superior of the mission at Surat. Fr. Ephrem now with the support of his conferrer Zeno carried out missionary activities in more efficacious way. In 1647, William Issacson was appointed as the chaplain of the Church of England in Madras.[xxvii] He was a staunch Protestant and could not tolerate the flowering mission of the Catholics in the English colony who were mostly Anglicans.
He made a complained to Thomas Chamber the governor that the Capuchins held funeral processions solemnly in the town and they tried to visit the sick Anglicans in order to persuade them to become Catholics.[xxviii] They tried to baptize the children born of Protestant fathers and Catholic mothers. He requested the agent to expel the Capuchin fathers Ephrem and Zeno from the Fort. But Chamber could not carry out the request of Isaacson for he feared that the Portuguese soldiers might leave, if their priests are expelled. However, he directed the priests to hold any public processions within their walls and instructed them not to seduce the soldiers or any of the Anglicans to the Catholic fold.
Church for the New Christians
As pastor of St. Andrew’s Church, Fr. Ephrem felt the need of another Church in the native quarters because of the growing local Catholics.[xxix] He put up a chapel in 1658, it is known in the Fort records the “Open Pandall Chappell”. This is the origin of St. Mary’s Cathedral (now the co-cathedral)[xxx] at Armenian Street. The Portuguese soldiers, topazes and other Catholics depended on the English for refuge and security, more people from San Thome settled in Madras. The Catholic community grew rapidly. [xxxi]
The Splendid Celebration in Madras
In the Capuchin mission of Madras, the Catholic population continued to increase for many Catholics from San Thome and the towns occupied by the Dutch in South India flocked to the flourishing township of Madras, where they could enjoy freedom of conscience and worship.[xxxii] As the number of Catholic children and neophytes increased, there arose the need for the sacrament of confirmation.[xxxiii] Since Fr. Ephrem the Capuchin Prefect Apostolic did not have the right to confer confirmation and the nearest Propaganda Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur, Mgr. M. Castro was away from his vicariate therefore he invited Mgr. F. Pallu the Vicar Apostolic of Tonkin in China of Propaganda.
In 1663, he came to Madras and administered the sacrament of confirmation to 3000 Catholics. Mgr. Pallu performed the rites of confirmation with great pomp and splendour in public. It was indeed a great event in the history of the Church in Madras and was a great missionary success of the zealous Capuchins. Again it aroused the anger of the Protestants. They created a lot of troubles during the celebration of the confirmation. The Capuchins were subjected to many trials by the Padroado authorities now had to face the antagonism of the Protestants.
The Establishment of Prefect Apostolic of Madras
One of the first documents relating to this event is the Catholic Directory of Madras, written by Dr. S. Fennelly, Vicar Apostolic of Madras (1868-1882), it says that “The Capuchin Mission of Madras commenced in the year 1642 with the sanction of Pope Urban VIII and Madras was made Prefecture Apostolic independent of the territory of the Episcopal See of Mylapore yet within the Padroado territory.[xxxiv] Dr. J. Fennelly, Vicar Apostolic of Madras (1841-1868), tells that the Capuchin Mission in Madras was an independent mission.[xxxv] Fr. Hull “on referring this matter” to Rome, he speaks in his book Bombay Mission History, Vol.1, p. 271 that the Pope confirmed their design and appointed one of their Fathers as Prefect Apostolic of the Capuchin Mission of Madras.
Fr. Ephrem – The First Prefect of Apostolic of Madras
Thomas Pothacamury, Archbishop of Bangalore (1942- 1967) also certifies that “In 1642 Father Ephrem, a French Capuchin was made Prefect Apostolic of Madras”.[xxxvi] The Capuchin establishment in Madras was providential and Fr. Ephrem received his formal appointment from the Propaganda.[xxxvii] Subsequently, he came under the jurisdiction of a Propaganda Vicar Apostolic. The Capuchin missionaries and the Catholics of Madras did not come under the jurisdiction of Padroado Bishop of Mylapore neither they were under the Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur. Thus Fr. Ephrem independent of Padroado carried out his mission in a great success.
The Saint of the Great City of Madras
The pioneer missionaries Ephrem and Zeno grew old and weak to carry out much work, Fr. Michael of Angel of Bourges a French Capuchin from Tours in 1691 came to assist them. Fr. Zeno a zealous missionary at Surat and Madras, encouraging and amiable companion of Fr. Ephrem died in 1692.[xxxviii] He died at the age of 85 and was buried in St. Andrew’s Church in the Fort. It was taxing Frs. Ephrem and Michael to cater the spiritual needs of 8000 Catholics; therefore they petitioned the government to allow employing another assistant. The government considered the reasonable petition and allowed for another missionary and Fr. Rene of Angouleme joined them in 1693.[xxxix]
Fr. Ephrem of Nevers died on October 13th, 1695, having been a religious for 70 years.[xl] “He had toiled in Madras for more than half a century (1642-1695) and was loved and revered by all. He was buried at the foot of the high altar of St. Andrew’s Church, by the side of his confrere Zeno”.[xli] He was a loyal servant of Jesus Christ, true son of St. Francis and man with great missionary zeal to plant Christianity in the Indian soil. Though he had to suffer with grave antagonism of the Portuguese clergy and the Protestant missionaries never gave up his missionary zeal. He endured all sufferings for the love of Christ and laid a strong foundation for the flourishing Church in Madras.
- Rev. Fr. A. Thainis OFM.Cap.,
Director- St. Pio Capuchin Postulancy,
Shanthi Ashram, Fatima Church,
4th st.ext. Gandhipuram, Coimbatore-12.
 Subburaj (ed.), Tamilnadu Year Book (jkpo;ehL ,aHGf;), Chennai: Sura College of Competition, 2002, Tamilnadu Yearbook 2002, 03.
[ii] The English soon acquired Tondiarpet, Purasawalkam and Egmore in 1693; Vyasarpadi, Nungambakkam, Tiruvottiyur and Ennore in 1708 and Vepry, Perembur and Pudupakkam in 1742 and the town was expanded widely. David Packiamuthu, “The Beginnings of Protestant Missions in
,” ICHR, vol., xxxiv, no., 2, December 2000, 94f. Madras
[iii] Robert P.Gwinn, “
Madras”, The New Encyclopedia Britannica, vol., 7, Chicago: The , 1986, 659. University of Chicago
[iv] Here and the following, Joseph Thekkedath, S.D.B., History of Christianity in India, vol. ii, Bangalore: Church History Association of India, Theological Publications in India, 1982, 205f.
[v] Here and the following, Cuthbert, The Capuchins, vol., ii,
: Sheed and Ward, 1928, 381. London
[vi] Here and the following, Norbert Wolf, O.F.M Cap., “Capuchin Missions in South India 17th and the 18th”, Round Table of Franciscan Research, vol 26, no.1 January, 1961, 13.
[vii] Joachim, O.F.M., ed., Capuchins in India (1972-1997), New Delhi: CCMSI, Media House, 1998, 12.
[viii] Clemens a Terzorio, 145. Arulappa, An Outline of the History of the Archdiocese of
Madras and Mylapore, , 1986, 18. Joseph Thekkedata, 206. Madras
[ix] Here and the following, Peter Celestine, O.F.M. Cap., Early Capuchin Missions in India, Sahibabad: Capuchin Publications, 1982.97f. Cf. A copy of the original of the petition of the Catholics of Madras to retain Fr. Ephrem in Madras (as found in) the Archives of the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore (MMAA): (Bundle 8) No. 5110, Madras: 8.7.1642. The names of the eighteen prominent Catholics of Madras:
Luis da Costa Bernardo Loitao Sebastiao Roiz
Joao Pra Matheus Pra Gonsalo de Moraes
Luis de Menzande Anto Correa Joao de Rocha
Custodio Barreto Pero Marquez Anto Caldro
Anto Barreto Sis to Anto de Souza
Mill. De Souza Thomas Dias Diego Vas.
The date 1642 on the gate pillars of the Roman Church, now the Cathedral, marks the founding of the Capuchin mission. Cf. Love H.D, Vestiges of Old
Madras 1640-1800, vol., ii, : Published for the Government of India, 1913, 465. London
Attenta praesenti petitione invitamus R.P. Ephraem a Nevers Capuccinum, ut suam responsionem exhibeat, edocens, an ipse spirtualem curam assumere Velit Chirstianorum, qui inveniuntur in hac arce, et resolutionem nostrum accipere. Madraspatan, die 8 junii 1642. – Andreas Cogan, Thomas Vinder, Henricus Grenit. Cf. P. Clemens a Terzorio, Manuale Historioum Missionum Ordinis Minorum Cappuccinorum, Isola Del Liri: Soc.Tip. A. Macioce & Pisani, 1926, 144-145.
A Capuchin Mission was established at
by Ephrem de Nevers during the Cogan’s rule. He had been originally commissioned to go to Pegu but accepted the invitation to be here for the benefits of the Portuguese Catholics. Cf. C.S. Srinivasachari, History of the City of Madras Madras, P. Varadachary & Co, , 1939, 22f. Madras
The Portuguese and the other Catholic residents in the English garrison asked the Fort authorities to detain Fr. Ephrem to minister the “Christian Catholics” in the Fort. The petition was addressed on the 8th June, 1642 and it was granted by the Fort council on the same day. Cf. Arulappa, R., 18.
[x] Ibid, Here and the following, Peter Celestine, 98. Cfr. AGC, H 55, XIII/2, Capuchin Missions in
, 16; MMAA (Bundle 8), No 5110. India
[xi] Ephrem suos Superiores informavit, qui approbationem dederunt et Missio Madras eodem illo anno 1642 fundata fuit. Cf. P.Clemens a Terzorio, 145.
[xii] Here and the following, Peter Celestine, 96.
[xiii] Here and the following, C.S. Srinivasachari, 18.
[xiv] Here and the following, Norbert Wolf 14f.
[xv] S. Muthiah, “The Portuguese reminder”, The Hindu, vol., no., Chennai: Monday, January 07, 2004. This
Capuchin church, which served the Fort as a centre of inter-denominational worship until St. Mary’s was built.Cf. S. Muthiah, Madras Rediscovered, Chennai: East West Books (Madras) Private, Ltd, 2004, 38.
[xvi] Here and the following, S. Muthiah, Madras Rediscovered, 119.
[xvii] Here and the following, Daniel D’Souza, 23.
[xviii] Srinivasachari, 22f. Cf. Hambye, S.J., History of Christianity in India, vol. iii, Bangalore: Church History
Association of India, Theological Publications in India, 1982, 263.
[xix] Arulappa, 20. Cf. Peter Celestine, 104. See also. S. Muthiah, 31&332.
[xx] Arulappa, 20.
[xxi] Here and the following, Peter Celestine, 104f.
[xxii] Here and the following, Daniel D’Souza, 23.
[xxiii] Here and the following, Cuthbert, 325, Norbert Wolf, 15.
[xxiv] Here and the following, Peter Celestine, 106.
[xxv] Here and the following, Daniel D’Souza, 24.
[xxvi] Here and the following, Norbert Wolf, 16.
[xxvii] Peter Celestine, 111.
[xxviii] Here and the following, Frank Penny, The Church in Madras, Smith Elder & Co,
, 1904, 26-33. Cfr. Srinivasacharri, 23. London
[xxix] Here and the following, Love H.D, ii, 45.
[xxx] This is called the Capuchin Church of the Assumption of Our Lady or St. Mary of Angels. This is built in the heart of
, the Portuguese quarters. This church is one of the existing monuments of the zealous Capuchin mission, in George Town Armenian street. Cf. S. Muthiah, “The Portuguese Reminder”.
[xxxi] Here and the following, Love H.D, 46.
[xxxii] Here and the following, Joseph Thekkedath, 207.
[xxxiii] Here and the following, Peter Celestine, 111f.
[xxxiv] Ibid., 98-111.
[xxxv] Arulappa, 19f.
[xxxvi] Thomas Pothacamury, The Church in Independent India, Bombay: Examiner Press, 1961,155.
[xxxvii] Here and the following, Peter Celestine, 109f.
[xxxviii] Here and the following, J. Talboys Wheeler, Madras in the Olden Time,
: Asian Educational Services, 1993, 151. Madras
[xl] Norbert Wolf, 17.
[xli] Peter Celestine, 116.