In the early days of Christendom, Christianity was being spread westwards by apostles like St. Paul, but it was also being spread as far east as India by St. Thomas. There are an impossible number of reasons to visit India, and for many, St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica will come as an unexpected additional reason.

St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica (also known as San Thome Church) is a minor Catholic basilica in India that according to tradition houses the remains of Thomas the Apostle. It is located in the city of Madras (aka Chennai) in southern India.

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The Tradition of St. Thomas In India

According to the Bible, St Thomas was born in Judea (then a Roman province he was one of the twelve original disciples of Jesus. And the Doubting Thomas who touched the wound of Jesus after he had risen from dead.

Tradition says it was St. Thomas who brought Christianity to India in the first century (making Christianity older in India than Sikhism or Islam). St. Thomas is thought to have arrived in India some 2,000 years ago having visited King Gondaphares in North India in 40 AD. The tradition has it that he was martyred in Mylapore in India on July 3, between 68-72 AD.

He was martyred on Parangi Malai (called in English St. Thomas Mount). It is a small hillock in Chennai not far from the cathedral. The church, St. Thomas Garrison Church, is located at the base of the hill.

The ancient Syrian Christian community of India traces its origin to St. Thomas. Christianity is today the third largest religion in India after Hinduism and Islam. There are around 28 million adherents in India making up 2.3% of the population of the country.

Building Of The St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica

Long before the present basilica was built over the tomb, Marco Polo visited the tomb in 1292. He wrote of the Christians of India going on pilgrimage to the shrine to be miraculously healed by the saint.

  • Marco Polo: Visited The Tomb of St. Thomas

The cathedral was built by the early Portuguese in 1523 AD when they built the Church over the tomb of Thomas the Apostel.

  • First Built: In 1523 By The Portuguese

Later on the British reconstructed the church in 1893 and 1896. It was consecrated by da Silva, the first Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in India. In 1956, Pope Pius XII gave the church the status of a Basilica Minor.

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One of Only Three Such Churches

There are only three churches in the world built over what are supposed to be the remains of the apostles. According to tradition, the remains of the following apostles are buried in these cathedrals.

In addition, there was also a basilica over the tomb of the Apostle Philip in Hierapolis in modern-day Turkey.

The website of St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica states the:

"...Basilica, sits on the tomb built over the mortal remains of one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Saint Thomas had come to India in A.D.52, was martyred in A.D.72 and buried in this very site then known as Mylapore. “San Thome” assumes its name from Saint Thomas."

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Visiting St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica

Today the church is open to all, they "welcome you, your family and friends to this very holy site."

As one enters the church, one can find the sanctuary and a statue of St. Thomas seated. Below the chapel of the Basilica is an underground tomb chapel. In 1986 Pope John Paul II visited the tomb and prayed.

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In the church, there is also a theater that shows exclusive films on St. Thomas and the church. They are screened twice daily for local and foreign pilgrims.

Eucharistic celebrations happen every day in the (full air-conditioned) tomb chapel. For any events being held at the church see their website.

  • Entry Fee: No Entry Fee
  • Address: 38, Santhome High Rd, Basha Garden, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
  • Open: 6.00 am to 9.00 pm Daily

The third day of every month is dedicated to St. Thomas, while the second Saturday of every month is dedicated to the Lady of Mylapore.

Mass Timings:

  • Sunday: 6.00 am, 9 am, and 5 pm
  • Other Days: 6.00 am, 11.00 am, and 6.00 pm

There are also a number of other attractions nearby including various temples like Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Velleeswarar Temple, Sai Baba Temple Mylapore, and other attractions.

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