The Syro-Malabar Catholics, formerly known as St. Thomas Christians, date back their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle who landed in India in 52 A.D. Until the end of the 16th Century, this Church was governed by a Metropolitan with the title, "Metropolitan and Gate of All India." But, the Metropolitan See was called the 'See of St. Thomas.1 However, the administration of the Church was done by a Priest with the title 'Archdeacon.' He was known as the 'Archdeacon of all India.'
Though the Church of St. Thomas Christians had her origin from St. Thomas, in the course of history, she entered into hierarchical relationship with the East Syrian Church and was considered an independent Metropolitan Province under the East Syrian Patriarch for a long time. The Metropolitans, who were from the East Syrian Church, were used to be appointed by the Patriarch. This situation lasted until 1597 in which year the last East Syrian Prelate in India expired. Afterwards, the St. Thomas Christian Church was put under the Portuguese Padroado and later under the Congregation of the Propaganda Fide by the Holy See. This arrangement paved the way for the rule of Latin prelates appointed by the Portuguese Crown and by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide. The rule of Latin prelates lasted until the year 1887. The St. Thomas Christians, whose Metropolitan See was suppressed in the course of time and were put under the Latin Archbishopric of Verapoly, were separated from the Latins in 1887.
Two Vicariates Apostolic - Kottayam and Trichur - were erected for them in 1887. Following a re-organisation in 1896 these two were suppressed and three new Vicariates - Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry - were erected and indigenous prelates were appointed as Vicar Apostolic. By this time the name of the Church in official documents was changed to Syro-Malabar Church. In 1911 the Vicariate Apostolic of Kottayam was erected for the Knanaya Community. In 1923 Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was established and all the Vicariates were made eparchies with Ernakulam as the Metropolitan See. In 1956 Changanacherry also was raised to Metropolitan status. The number of Syro-Malabar eparchies increased steadily ever since. However, hierarchically the Church was in an anomalous situation, because there were two independent Metropolitans without a common head in accordance with the system of Oriental Churches. There were also a few Syro- Malabar eparchies in North and Central India which were suffragans of the nearby Latin Metropolitans.
As the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) was promulgated in 1990 it became imperative to correct this anomaly. Thus, on December 16, 1992 His Holiness Pope John Paul II raised the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church with the provinces of Ernakulam and Changanacherry as the territorium proprium. The See of Ernakulam was determined to be the See of Major Archbishop. Antony Cardinal Padiyara, who was the then Metropolitan of Ernakulam, was appointed the first Major Archbishop. The powers of the Major Archbishop were vested in the person of Archbishop Abraham Kattumana who was the special delegate of the Pope. Following the sudden demise of Mar Kattumana in 1995, Cardinal Padiyara was allowed to exercise the powers of the Major Archbishop. As Cardinal Padiyara resigned from his office in November 1996, Mar Varkey Vithayathil C.Ss.R. was appointed in his place as Apostolic Administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis.
In December 1999 His Holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Vithayathil the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and Metropolitan of Ernakulam - Angamaly at the same time transferring him from his titular see to the see Of Emakulam-Angamaly. In the consistory of February 21, 2001 Mar Vithayathil was created Cardinal by His Holiness. He was called to Eternal Reward on 2nd April 2011. The Synod of the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church elected Mar George Alanchery as the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and he took charge of the Office on 29th May 2011. At the consistory on 18th February 2012 he was raised to the dignity of a Cardinal. At present, there are 34 Syro-Malabar dioceses of which 13 dioceses are in Kerala, 2 in Tamilnadu, 3 in Karnataka and 16 in outside the proper territory. There is one Apostolic Exarchate also for Syro-Malabars in Canada - Mississauga.