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Santhome Basilica Cathedral

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Santhome Basilica

Located at the end of Kutchery Road in Mylapore at the southern end of the Marina, you can find the Santhome Basilica Cathedral. It was built in memory of St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ who had come to Madras during 52 AD where he was martyred. On his death in 72 AD, he was interned under the church of Saint Thomas in San Thome ( St.Thomas in Portuguese), Madras. The Portuguese who arrived in Madras around 1500 AD discovered the tomb of St.Thomas and promptly they built a small church and named the church after Saint Thomas. The old church was rebuilt as a Cathedral in 1890 AD.

In 1956, it was made into a Basilica. The Santhome Basilica Cathedral is built over the tomb of St. Thomas. Originally when they excavated the area at the time of Portuguese, they unearthed a metal lance head, bloodstained earth inside a pot and the bones of the saint. A small hand bone of the Apostle as well as the head of the lance that was used to attack him are said to be contained within the church. The statue of Virgin Mary enshrined within the Santhome Basilica Cathedral is believed to have come from Portugal.

There is a legend associated with this first church of Mylapore in Madras. A hugh log washed ashore was blocking the narrow mouth of the river that caused floods. The army of the King could not dislodge the log despite their best efforts. Hearing about the divine powers of St.Thomas, the king requested Thomas to help. St.Thomas touched the log with the Girdle of Virgin Mary and when the King's men pulled the log, it came without any difficulty. The grateful King offered the place where the log was sighted to St.Thomas who constructed a small Chapel.

Tomb of St.Thomas:

Santhome Basilica shares the distinction of one of the three Basilicas built over the tombs of Jesus Christ's disciples. St.Peter's Basilica in Rome (built over the tomb of St.Peter) and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain (built over the tomb of St.James).

The tomb was opened for the first time to take some earth to cure the son of the then ruling king - Mahadevan. Starting from the year 222 AD portions of St.Thomas' remains were shifted to Edessa in Asia Minor. Later it came to be reposed in a silver casket inside the basilica of San Thommaso Apostolo in Ortona, Italy.

View of the San Thome Basilica as it is now View of the Saint Thomas Basilica as it was in 1896 - the year when it was renovated

Relics of St.Thomas:

Blood soaked earth and the spearhead that martyred St.Thomas is preserved below the Basilica in an underground prayer hall. The travels of Marco Polo , a book describing the travels of the Italian traveller talks about his visit to San Thome in the year 1293 and about the miraculous healing powers of the sand from the tomb. Credit card sized Relic cards containing minute earth sample of the place where St.Thomas was killed is sold here.

This basilica attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every month. There is a small prayer hall and a museum built under the church. The sepulchre of St.Thomas is directly under the altar of the church. The museum contains many historic artifacts along with a Mother Mary statue which stood watch over the area for more than 450 years.

The Cathedral was built in the neo-Gothic style and contains beautiful stained glass windows depicting the story of St Thomas. There are wooden plaques that depict scenes from the last days of Christ. With a steeple of a height of 180 feet, the Santhome Basilica Cathedral is more than a century old. It has a small museum attached to it.

Santhome Basilica Cathedral Tomb of St.Thomas Relic of St.Thomas