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Timings : 6:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Time Required : Less than 1 hour

Entry Fee : No entry fee

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Santhome Church, Chennai Overview

The significance of San Thome Church is unparalleled in the history of Christianity in India. The church, which was once constructed as a mausoleum in memory of Saint Thomas, has now grown to be a Basilica, as stated by the then Pope in 1956. San Thome Church is among the only three in the world that house the tombs of one of Christ's original disciples. The other two are St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain.

If you visit the St Thomas Church in Mylapore, you will be stepping into a historical tale that will take you back a couple of centuries. Beneath the towering white structure of the basilica minor lies the last remains of the saint, who once used to be one of the twelve apostles of Christ and came over to India in 52 AD to spread the religion. He is considered to be the patron saint of Christianity in India, as he converted a large population of locals in Kerala and Tamil Nadu with his wise words and preaching, and formed the community which now calls themselves Syrian Christians. The museum inside the church displays souvenirs of the great saint and his legend so that the visitors can be acquainted with the glorious past of San Thome Church.

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San Thome Church Mass Timings

The masses and rosary sessions take place on scheduled time from Monday to Saturday at:

Regular Mass at the Main and Tomb Chapels: 5:45 AM
Rosary: 6:15 AM
Mass in English: 11:00 AM
Mass in Tamil (Crypt Chapel): 5:30 PM
Benediction: 5:45 PM
Rosary: 6:15 PM
Mass in Tamil on Sundays: 6.00 AM

Legend of San Thome Church

The legendary past of this church is what makes it so special a place to visit. More than the history of the physical structure of the basilica, it is about the saint whose grave lies buried here underneath the building. As per the legend of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, the man himself had landed at Muziris (near Kodungallur in present-day Kerala) around 52 AD to spread the word of God in the Orient. He preached Christianity along the Malabar Coast for a decade before travelling towards the eastern shore.

As the myth goes, he loved to spend time in the Mylapore area of Tamil Nadu, in a cave atop a small hillock, which is now named after his holiness. It is said that on the top of this mound, now called St Thomas Mount, a lance pierced through his back and took his life. His remains are said to be lying underneath the San Thome Church today, which makes this a place of pilgrimage, especially for the Syrian Christians of India.

History of San Thome Church

The previous legend about Saint Thomas, the apostle, brings us straight to the actual history of the church. In 1522-23, a group of Portuguese explorers brought the remains of Saint Thomas to this spot where the church now stands, from the Christian village of San Thome and constructed the very first structure atop it. It attained the status of cathedral in 1606. However, it was not until 1896 that the church rose to its due prominence.

Three years prior to that, the then Bishop of Mylapore, His Excellency Dom Henrique Jose Reed da Silva, took it upon himself to build a proper tomb in memory of Saint Thomas. Thus, the new church building was constructed, with an additional smaller tower right above the spot where the remains of the apostle rest. It was consecrated in 1896 by da Silva, who also happens to be the first Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in India. In 1956, the then Pope Pius XII himself gave the church the stature of a Basilica Minor. This church, now a basilica, is probably the most important shrine in the establishment and progress of Christianity in India.

Main Attractions at San Thome Church

The tomb of Saint Thomas: The sacred crypt tomb of Saint Thomas is marked with a second tower, built when the church was renovated in 1893-96. Inside the church, a statue of Saint Thomas is displayed to be lying down in his final resting position, inside a glass case. The tomb is decorated with flowers and candles every day, along with Holy Water. It is kept inside a chapel, where the devotees can sit in peace and pay their respect. This is an important spot in the church to visit as this is what makes it a holy shrine.

The museum of antiquities: San Thome Church has a museum on its premises housing multiple memorabilia and other antique displays related to the life and work of Saint Thomas. There is a display case holding the great apostle's fingerprints. It is among the rarest of museum collections in all of India. There are wall paintings as well, depicting the life, missionary work and death of the saint. His discipleship with Jesus, his coming to India and baptising the local villages of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, his work in the Mylapore region and ultimately his death by the lance - everything is told in a story-like manner on the wall paintings. The 2000-year-old lance that killed the saint is itself cased in and displayed as an artefact. Other than that, an episcopal chair, a piece of the saint's bone and a stone receptacle are also showcased. At the rear end of the basilica, there is a rare and antique sundial, which has been brought here from the earlier site of his grave.

Charity activities by the church: Every year during the Christmas and Easter season, the church takes donations from members as well as non-members in cash and kind both, to serve the underprivileged communities of the neighbouring areas. From November to December and from March to April, around 500 festival kits including clothes, books and other essential commodities are distributed in these areas. So, if you are visiting the church during this period, you can contribute to the noble cause whether or not you follow the faith.

Architecture of San Thome Church

The San Thome Basilica is built in typical neo-gothic architectural style, complete with enormous windows and tinted panes in them. The outer fa├žade of the church is stark white, and it looms over the surrounding lawn with sheer grandeur. The interior is lined up with wooden pews, while the aisle leads up to the crucified Jesus and a statue of Saint Thomas beside him. A sparkling chandelier hangs over the chancel, and along with several other hanging lights, it illuminates the whole nave and altar.

How To Reach Santhome Church

San Thome Church is a popular site in all of Chennai, especially Mylapore region. Being a busy area, many main bus routes pass through the San Thome High Road. So, you can make the commute via any one of them. Or you can hire a cab or rent a car for the day if you want to make your trip more comfortable.

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