Built on top of its eponymous apostle’s final resting place, Santhome Basilica (or St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica) is a stunning piece of architecture steeped in religious history. Here is why it is well worth a trip for any visitor to Chennai, India.
The sacred tomb
The church was first built by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, became a cathedral in 1606, and was later rebuilt by the British in the 19th century. Pope Pius XII honored this cathedral church, elevating it to the dignity and rank of minor basilica in March 1956. The exact place where St. Thomas was buried is marked by the second small tower in the center of the cathedral.
This church near the shore is dedicated to one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. He is often called the Patron Saint of India, for spreading Christianity in the country. St. Thomas landed in 52CE and baptized several Indians. He spent a few years in what is now called St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, performing miracles for believers. After his death in Chennai, he was laid to rest at the cathedral’s present site. The presence of his tomb makes this church a holy shrine.
Santhome Basilica has an all-white facade and is built in neo-gothic style, with big windows and naturally lit interiors. The windows have coloured panes and the rows of wooden pews add to the church’s beauty. The calm and comforting interior has an aura of peace to it, inviting all those who seek peace and tranquility. The place was renovated and restored in December 2004.
St. Thomas’ also has a museum attached to it. The museum has the great apostle’s fingerprint and there are wall paintings depicting the saint’s life and death. It also holds the lance head that killed him, an episcopal chair, a rare piece of his precious bone, and a stone receptacle. A sun dial from the old site is placed in the rear of the basilica.
It is very close to the shore and sometimes when the city quiets down, one can hear the waves of the ocean while sitting inside the basilica. Its close proximity to the ocean makes it one of the most beautiful churches in the world.