“St. Thomas church” also known as “National Shrine of St.Thomas Basilica” or “San Thome church” is located in San Thome locality of Chennai. It is a Roman Catholic minor Basilica and is built over the tomb of Apostle St. Thomas. Saint Thomas, one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, was also witness to the momentous resurrection of Christ. He arrived in India in 52 AD and spent seven years preaching Christianity in areas surrounding Chennai. It was during his stay, that a log of wood was washed ashore at SanThome. The log was so heavy that even royal elephants could not move it! Soon St. Thomas came by, and magically pulled the log out of water using nothing more than his girdle! The local population and their King Mahadevan were awed by this feat and soon St. Thomas’s magical prowess became popular. As a token of appreciation, the King gifted the log of wood to St. Thomas who used it to build a small chapel. This chapel was the first structure of the current San Thome church. Unfortunately, the King’s ministers were not broad-minded and refused to acknowledge St. Thomas’s magical powers. They tried to force the saint out of their kingdom. In order to avoid their tortures, St. Thomas took shelter in a cave on a hillock called Mount Hill. The enduring distance and tortures of climbing to his cave could not dissuade his followers from visiting him at this cave. The Feast of St. Thomas, that is celebrated on the 3rd of July, every year, is a testament to his eternal popularity. Tragically, it was at the same cave that St. Thomas was pierced with a spear while praying to the Cross. His wounded body was buried in the chapel that he had built with utmost devotion and love. As you know by now, the chapel has been renovated several times to resemble the present San Thome church. Despite drastic changes to its architecture, the church continues to treasure the remains of St. Thomas in its underground tomb chapel.
At the church, the presence of “Our Lady of Mylapore” makes it all the more special to Christians. The sight of “Our Lady” seated on a throne with her hands joined in prayer creates a venerating atmosphere. This beautiful statue of “Our lady” was brought to SanThome by a Portuguese Parish priest.
Interestingly, San Thome is one of the three churches in the world that is built over the tomb of an apostle. Built in Neo-Gothic style, this church is spotless white and the current structure was built by the British in the late 19th century. The central area known as the nave is colossal and measures 112 feet by 33 feet. The church and its slender towers reach a maximum of 155 feet from the ground. As an icon of Gothic architecture, the nave has a wooden ceiling that is interspersed with elegant chandeliers. White, curved arches support this glistening, dark brown ceiling. Stained glass windows depict the lives of St. Thomas and the other apostles. While at this cathedral, make sure you visit the museum that showcases the artifacts of St. Thomas.