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  Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas  Chennai India
  Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas   :::

The Restored Shrine (2004)
In the whole world, there are only three churches built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ - the Basilica of Saint Peter built over the tomb of St.Peter in Rome, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela built over the tomb of St.James in Spain and Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas built over the tomb of St.Thomas. Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas is in Chennai, India. Most Indian Catholics, why, even most Catholics in South India, or even in Chennai, seem to be unaware of the importance of this extraordinary shrine.

By Apostolic brief dated 16th March 1956, Pope Pius XII gloriously raised the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore to the dignity and rank of Minor Basilica.

The present National Shrine of St.Thomasis built over the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who came to India in the year 52 AD. After preaching on the West Coast, he came to Chennai(formerly Madras), and suffered martyrdom on a hill at the outskirts of the city, today known as "St. Thomas Mount." His body was buried on the spot over which the present Basilica stands.

As for the church, that too has much history behind it. This lovely Gothic Church is an architectural treasure. Rising 155 feet from the ground, with a nave of 112 feet by 33 feet, and an imposing sanctuary 62 feet long and 33 feet wide, it is adorned with stained glass windows depicting St. Thomas and the other Apostles. Inside the sanctuary is a statue of St. Thomas seated.

A valuable work of art kept in the Basilica is an ancient painting of Our Blessed Mother, in front of which the other great apostle of India, St. Francis Xavier, used to pray.

There are two new structures today: The Tomb Chapel below the Basilica and Museum cum Theatre. The new underground chapel with a separate access outside the church structure, allows pilgrims to pray at the tomb and tourists to visit it, without disturbing the sacred functions in the church.


St.Thomas, referred to as Didymus, in the Gospel of St.John is one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. He is one of the prime witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

St.Thomas arrived in India in the year 52 AD at the then famous port of Cranganore in the Malabar Coast. He travelled extensively all over the world for seventeen years. He spent four years in Sind, six years in Malabar and seven years in Mailepuram, or the present Mylapore in Madras.

Certain sections of Sindhis and especially "Tatanagar Fakirs" venerate the apostle under the name of "THUMA BHAGAT". Ancient martyrologies of both the Catholic and Oriental Churches always connect St.Thomas to India and the Fathers of the Church have also regularly referred to his visit to India.

Legends say that a huge log of wood was washed ashore near what is now called Santhome, which could not be moved even by elephants. St.Thomas used his girdle and pulled it out. The king of Mylapore was so taken up that he donated the huge log of wood to St.Thomas, who built a small chapel with it.

There are many literary works that proudly attest to the fact that Santhome offers shelter to St.Thomas the Apostle. He was a favourite of the local king Mahadevan. However, his ministers disliked him. He took refuge in the jungle of Little Mount, which is about four miles away from Santhome.

Little Mount is a hillock, which is eighty feet above sea level. A cave on the hillock provided him an ideal shelter. The amazing feature of the cave is that one can still see the fingers of St.Thomas clearly imprinted on the rocks of the cave.

There is also a miraculous spring called St.Thomas fountain. This was an answer of the Apostle to the thirsty people who used to come and listen to him. The water from this spring offers healing to all who drink it trusting in the powerful intercession of St.Thomas.

If Little Mount goes down in history as a place that sheltered St.Thomas, Santhome is the sacred place that possesses his tomb. St.Thomas Mount will ever be remembered as the Calvary of St.Thomas. It was at St.Thomas Mount that he was pierced with a spear while praying in front of the cross. Even today pilgrims are moved by the Bleeding Cross, which is believed to be carved by him.

After his death, his body was buried in the Church built by him. A pot containing earth, probably moistured by his blood and the lance with which he was pierced were both buried in his tomb. In the 10th century AD Christians from Persia, founded this Christian village of Santhome, and then they built a Church and tomb over the burial site of St.Thomas.

The Portuguese who came to India in 1523 AD found a small shrine called "Ben Thuma", that is, the house of Thomas, in the custody of a Muslim. The Portuguese then built a Church and erected the Diocese of Santhome-de-mellapore. Dom Sebasteao-de-Pedro of the Augustinian Order was the first bishop of the Diocese of Mylapore.

Later a fort was built to protect the Portuguese settlement of Santhome. Over the years it was destroyed by the constant attack of the Dutch and Golcondas. During the time of the Portuguese there were five Roman Catholic Churches, including what is the Shrine today.

St.Thomas is renowned for working numerous miracles. His tomb was opened four times in the history of the Shrine.

It was opened for the first time to cure an ailment of the son of the Raja Mahadevan. St.Gregory of Tours recorded this in his book 'De Miraculis Sti Thomae'. It was opened for the second time between 1222 and 1235 when most of the Saint's relics were removed to Ortona in 1258 for a troubled journey on the East Coast of India. His relics are present in Ortona even today.

It was opened for the third time in 1523 by the Portuguese who arrived at Mylapore to rebuild the ruined Church over the tomb of the Apostle, St.Thomas. Dom Jose Pinharno, the bishop of Mylapore, opened it for the fourth time in 1729 to give pilgrims the earth from the sepulcher. It was at this time a bright light appeared from the tomb.

Today, the Shrine preserves a small bone of the Saint and the head of the lance with which the Saint was pierced. In 1954, his Eminence Cardinal Eugene Tasserant brought a piece of bone from the hand with which the Saint touched the side of Jesus after his resurrection, to the Shrine.

Marcopolo, a Chinese traveler, has mentioned about this visit to the blessed tomb of St.Thomas in his travelogue. He has also mentioned about St.Thomas Mount where a Nestorian monastery was established.

The Shrine is also proud of possessing a very ancient image of Our Lady of Mylapore. In 1545 St.Francis Xavier prayed before this statue before going to the Far East to preach the kingdom of God.

The tomb of St.Thomas is the very nucleus of the present day Shrine. This makes the soil in which he was martyred sacred and exclusive.

Pope John Paul II visited and prayed at this Holy place on February 5th, 1986.

St.Thomas is the patron for

1. People in doubt
2. Architects
3. Blind people
4. Builders
5. Construction workers

National Shrine of St.Thomas Basilica
38, San Thome High Road,
Mylapore, Chennai-600 004, India.
Telephone: (91_044) 2498 5455
(91_044) 2498 0758
Fax 91-44-2498 1268
Email :

"Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am The Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me." (John 14:5-6 RSV)
Tip of the lance that took the life of St. Thomas which was recovered from the grave during the portuguese excavation and preserved in the Milapore
St. Thomas Museum
Piece of a hand Bone of St. Thomas which touched the wound of Jesus, it was brought from Edessa and preserved in the Milapore
St. Thomas Museum
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