Macro Polo is the first writer in history to locate the tomb of St. Thomas on a seashore and by doing so he revolutionises the legend. All documents in the world prior to his locate the tomb on a mountain following the Acts of Thomas. Macro Polo is also the first writer in history to locate the tomb in South India. He wrote, “It is in this province, which is styled the Greater India, at the gulf between Ceylon and the mainland, that the body of Messer St. Thomas lies, at a certain town having no great population.” Obviously this is a reference to the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka, not the Mylapore beach area that is now called Santhome. – Ishwar Sharan
USA Today Report 1999
If Marco Polo spent years exploring China for the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, as he claims, why do his reports contain no reference to the Great Wall, to Chinese tea-drinking ceremonies or to the practice of binding girls’ feet to keep them small?
In a new book, Did Marco Polo Go to China?, British librarian Frances Wood points out the holes in Polo’s account of his years in Asia and suggests he never made it to China.
“It is a terrific story; the only trouble is that there is no evidence to support it,” she says. “Like so many other great historical legends, the story is a myth.”
Other historians also have questioned whether Polo went to China, but none have succeeded in changing the prevailing view.
Since 1295, when the adventurous merchant returned, ragged and exhausted, to his home city of Venice after 24 years on the road, he has been accepted as the first European to travel right across Asia.
He told his story to a writer with whom he shared a jail cell in Genoa in 1299 after being taken prisoner in a sea battle. It became the travel epic, Divisament dou Monde, (Description of the World), which was received with astonishment and disbelief.
The account was the primary source for the European image of the Asia until the late 19th century. It stimulated Western interest in Asian trade and had a deep impact on other early voyages of discovery.
Columbus is known to have owned a copy, and studied it closely before sailing off in 1492, thinking he was headed for Asia.
Polo says he set off for China in 1271 with his father and uncle, bearing a letter from the papal legate in Acre and a bottle of oil from the lamp that burns in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre.
In 1275, they arrived in Kublai Khan’s summer palace in Shangdu. At the time, the Mongol leader’s empire spread from China to the Mediterranean.
Polo says Kublai Khan took a liking to him because of his lively conversation, and sent him on fact-finding tours of his newly conquered territory.
In her book, published in October, Wood says that although Chinese sources of the period are littered with references to foreigners at the court of Kublai Khan, there is no mention of Marco Polo – or any Italians, for that matter.
And, although his report includes long descriptions of Chinese cities and aspects of life there, he “fails to remark upon the cultivation of the Yangtse delta area” and ignores the Great Wall and the practice of feet-binding.
Wood, who heads the Chinese section of the British Library, concedes that in Mongol times the Great Wall may not have had an uninterrupted run, and therefore may not have seemed so phenomenal. And as a city dweller, she adds, Polo may not have been attuned to agricultural developments.
His defenders argue that women with bound feet would have been closeted at home, invisible to a foreign visitor. But, says Wood, Odoric of Pordenone, a missionary who visited China 20 years later, described them in detail.
Wood admits that, “if Marco Polo was not in China, there is, unfortunately, nothing to prove he was anywhere else.”
Nevertheless, she concludes “that Marco Polo himself probably never traveled much further than the family’s trading posts on the Black Sea and in Constantinople,” pointing out that travelers who have tried to trace his footsteps have become lost at this point.
Wood argues that Marco Polo may have copied details from Persian or Arabic guidebooks on China that the Polo family collected on their travels.
That may explain why his vocabulary and some of his descriptions – notably of large fowl in southern China – tally with those of Persian and Arabic writers in some places, she said. – USA Today, London, 2 December 1999
Deccan Chronicle Report 2011
Thirteenth century Venetian explorer Marco Polo never reached China, but lied about his trip to the Middle Kingdom after collecting second-hand information from Persian travellers he met on the shore of the Black Sea, according to a team of Italian archaeologists.
Knowledge of Marco Polo’s famed trip are based on The Travels of Marco Polo, as recounted to and written by a writer from Pisa named Rustichello.
The book has is often referred to as Il Milione, or “The Million” by sceptics of his million stories. Among the sceptics are the archaeologists from the University of Naples whose doubts were raised by historical errors pertaining to Marco Polo’s description of Kublai Khan’s attempted invasion of Japan in 1274 and 1281, said University of Naples archaeologist Daniele Petrella, interviewed in the current new edition of monthly history magazine Focus Storia. Mr. Petrella, director of an Italian archaeological dig in Japan, said he and other archaeologists were unable to find any “material proof, of concrete proof of his trip. In fact, it was this trip that made me doubt the tales.” Rather than reach Peking, the explorer may have reached the Black Sea where he listened to stories from Persian travellers who had been to China, Mr. Petrella said. – Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, August 5, 2011
Extract from The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple
Marco Polo, the famous Venetian traveller, is said to have visited South India twice, in 1288 and 1292, where he saw a tomb of St. Thomas “at a certain little town” which he does not name. Many historians accept these dates and visits without question, and identify the little town that he speaks of with Mylapore. Yet it would appear that they are mistaken about the visits, as, indeed, was Marco Polo about the tomb of St. Thomas.
Macro Polo is the first writer in history to locate the tomb of St. Thomas on a seashore and by doing so he revolutionises the legend. All documents in the world prior to his locate the tomb on a mountain following the Acts of Thomas. Macro Polo is also the first writer in history to locate the tomb in South India, in a certain unnamed little town, though some Christian scholars argue that Metropolitan Mar Solomon of Basra, in his Book of the Bee, ca. 1222, did this before him. They identify Mar Solomon’s Mahluph with Mylapore, but do this after the fact of the Portuguese identification of Mylapore with St. Thomas. There is no existing original manuscript of the Book of the Bee — as there is none of the Milione — and various copies of it give various places of burial. One says “Mahluph” which has never been identified, a second “India” but not which India or where in which India, a third “Edessa”, and a fourth “Calamina”. Mar Solomon’s contemporary neighbour Bishop Bar-Hebraeus of Tigris, in his Matthaeus and Syriac-language Chronicle, ca. 1250, is more consistent. Like Mar Solomon (and the earlier writers mentioned below in note 23), he says that St. Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes and Indians (some add Hyrcanians and Bactrians), but in his books he asserts that the apostle was killed and buried at Calamina. – Ishwar Sharan, Chapter Seven
1. Hippolytus, the third century Roman theologian and antipope, is the earliest writer to say that St. Thomas was martyred and buried at Calamina, which he claims is in India. He is followed at the end of the third century by Dorotheus of Tyre, and in the seventh century by Sophronius of Jerusalem and Isidore of Seville. Thomas Herbert identifies Calamina with Gouvea in Brazil, T.K. Joseph with Kalawan near Taxila, P.V. Mathew with Bahrain, and Veda Prakash with Kalamai in Greece. Calamina has never been identified and ancient Thebes northwest of Athens may be added to the list of conjectures. It was originally known as Cadmeia and often called that up to the end of the second century CE. Cadmeia when latinized becomes Calamina. The earth from the single grave of its twin heroes, Amphion and Zethus, was believed to contain great power and was protected, even as the earth of St. Thomas’s sepulchre was believed to heal. Cadmean or Thebean earth, called calamine, is pink in colour and used in medicine and metallurgy.