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Indian basilica soaked in the blood of St. Thomas, the Apostle

Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore Indian basilica soaked in the blood of St. Thomas, the Apostle

Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica at Mylapore is a monumental declaration on ancient root of Christianity in India. The church was built over the tomb of St. Thomas, the Apostle who is believed to have preached Christianity in India. The cathedral preserves 2000-year-old bones of the saint and the lance that pierced him to death.

Popularly known as Santhome Church, the cathedral at Chennai (formerly Madras) in Tamil Nadu state was constructed during the Portuguese era in the 16th century. “San Thome” assumes its name from St. Thomas.

Interior of Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica

Santhome Church is one of the three cathedral churches in the world built over tombs the apostles of Jesus. Two others are St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral over the tomb of St. James in Galicia, Spain.

Portuguese explorers built the church in 1523, on the tomb of St. Thomas who embraced martyrdom for preaching Christianity. It was renovated in 1896, during the British rule in India. This religious and historic landmark stands about eight kilometers from Chennai Central railway station. The road from the railway station to the church is named San Thome in honor of the saint. The cathedral church celebrates a special Mass on July 3, four times a year, to honor St. Thomas.

Famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who visited the tomb of St. Thomas in 1292, recorded in his travel diaries miraculous healing power of the saint. "The Christians who go thither in pilgrimage take of the earth from the place where the saint was killed (or buried), and give a portion thereof to anyone who is sick of a quartan or a tertian fever; and by the power of God and of St. Thomas the sick man is incontinently cured," he wrote.

The underground of the basilica has a small chapel on the tomb of the saint. Its altar is adorned with a crypt and framed photographs of Pope John Paul II who visited the church in 1986, during his visit to India.

Little Mount Thomas' chapel with the holy spring and the bleeding cross
The red cave is also seen.

Little Mount St. Thomas Church is located on a hillock over a rocky cave near Santhome Church. The saint is believed to have hidden himself here after being attacked with a spear. The church has the famous bleeding cross and the spot marked with a red circle, known as the fingerprint of the Apostle. The small opening of the cave is the one St. Thomas escaped through to another mount called St. Thomas Mount. A spring above the cave streams clean water with information on the wall declaring healing power of the water. A photograph of famed scientist and former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam adorns the wall who once visited the spring.

The bleeding cross

Saint Thomas Mount is a few kilometers away, where the Apostle breathed his last, on Dec. 21, 72 AD following a spear attack. A visit to Santhome Church is a must, as it beholds the memories of the great Apostle.

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