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Brief summary of Saint Thomas in India in Chronological order
Saint Thomas the Apostle at King Gondaphares in North India. 40 AD
Saint Thomas the Apostle lands at Cranganore. 52 AD
Saint Thomas the Apostle builds churches or communities
(Palayoor, Kodungaloor, Parur, Kokamangalam, Niranam,
Nilackal, Kollam). 52-68 AD
Martyrdom of Saint Thomas the Apostle at
Mylapore, India July 3rd. 68-72 AD
Nearly 2000 years ago a reluctant apostle was sent to an unknown destination to spread the word of God and this particular apostle who plays a significant role in bringing to reality the resurrection of our Lord was none other than Thomas Didymus. Thomas is mentioned as one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus himself in Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15. Though he was called “Thomas the twin” there is no credible mention about whose twin he was.
Although little is known about his lineage, Thomas ‘s presence in the Gospel is finely etched. His loyalty and steadfastness is portrayed in John 11:16 when he says “Let us all go, that we may die with him” his humility, clean hearted and straight forward approach is portrayed in John 14:5 when after failing to understand Jesus’s teaching about his death and resurrection he raises a doubt “We do not know wither though goest. How can we know the way? Leading to Jesus’s concise revelation “I am the way, The Truth and the Life”. Finally in being the only disciple who was absent when the risen Jesus appeared before his co-disciples, he became the chosen one by divine providence to ratify the resurrection of Jesus, by representing every common man in insisting with childish persistence that his belief lay in his touching the wounds of Christ. Jesus’s response to this universal doubt addressed to all doubting Thomases in John 20: 27 “Put your finger here and look at my hands, Then stretch out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe” put to rest all speculations about his resurrection. That was not all, what followed provided the much needed comfort to future believers when Jesus said “How happy are those who believe without seeing me”. Thomas confessed his faith “My Lord and My God” and lived to fulfill it to the last word by his martyrdom. Thomas is also mentioned as being present at another resurrection appearance of Jesus – at the miraculous catch of fish on lake Tiberias.
A vast majority of early writings point to thomas’s apostolic ministry in India specifically Cranganore along the Malabar coast from 52 A.D to 68 A.D. His journey through Kerala resulted in numerous conversions. After spending 10 years on the Malabar coast he is said to have traveled Eastwards across the Deccan Plateau, Arriving in Mylapore in 68 A.D. The cave at little mount used to be his favourite preaching spot. A 2000 years old never drying, miraculous stream of water on rock face is a shining example of the apostle’s divine (overtures) exploits. Thomas, is said to have struck the dry mountain rock and water trickled out as a small stream. 2000 years have passed by and even unto this day this infinite source of water is quenching the thirst and curing illness of millions of faithful pilgrims and devotees. The church atop St. Thomas mount was built by Portuguese in 1547 to mark the spot here. It was on this St. Thomas mount that the apostle was killed by a lance which pierced through his backside. A blood stained cross which the apostle is said to have been clutching during his martyrdom would bleed annually on 18th day of December commencing 1551 through the years to 1704.
His mortal remains were buried in the location over which the present day Santhome Cathedral Basilica stands. Sometime in the 10th century AD a group of Nestorian Christians from Persia founded the Christian village of San Thome and proceeded to build a church over the burial site of St. Thomas. This structure fell to ruins between 14th and 15th century. In 1522 the Portuguese moved the apostle’s remains to a new tomb and church which attained the status of Cathedral in 1606.
Pope Pius XII honored the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Madras- Mylapore raising her to the dignity and rank of Minor Basilica by apostolic brief dated 16th March 1956. Massive following and immense devotion of people to a very ancient image of the Blessed Virgin also known as “Our Lady of Mylapore” was among the motives that prompted the Pope to bestow this honor.
There was 118 years of insecurity and uncertainty from the time the Golconda’s occupied San Thome in 1662 to 1780 when Hyder Ali khan invaded it. No considerable changes happened to the original structure of the church built in 1523. It was only in 1893 that his Excellency Dom Henrique Jose Reed da Silva, Bishop of Mylapore resolved to build a new church with the tomb of the apostle in the centre. The second small tower in the centre of the existing cathedral points to the exact place where the apostle was buried. Golden Jubilee day of episcopal consecration of his Holiness Pope Leo XIII was aptly chosen to lay the foundation to this Most Holy monument of international eminence. The present Gothic style church was completed in 1896 and duly consecrated by Rt. Rev. Dom Henrique Jose Reed da Silva, the first Bishop of the diocese. In 1956 the church was elevated to the status of a Basilica and became one of the only four of its kind in the world, all others being minor. The new bell was consecrated by the Bishop of Dacca and the architect of the cathedral Captain Power helped to ring the first merry chime.
Nearly 2000 years have gone by and with it the several invasions, devastations caused by nature and humans reducing it to mere stone and mortar, this holy structure has seen it all.
On December 12th, 2004 our very own Santhome Cathedral so redolent with Christian traditions and antiquities, rose like a phoenix from the time worn, lifeless state towering into the skies majestically, dressed like a bride in virgin white robes, beckoning like a beacon of hope, our Basilica proclaims the Glory of God through his beloved Apostle St. Thomas.
History of Saint Thomas or San Thome Cathedral Basilica cannot be complete without mentioning two other places in Chennai that stand out as monuments of honour, speaking aloud about the presence, activities and the martyrdom of St. Thomas, the Apostle of india. They are
St Thomas Mount