Christianity in Tamil Nadu

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Thiruvithamcode Arappally under Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is believed to be built by Thomas the Apostle and was patronised by the Chera king, Udayancheral
San Thome Basilica, Chennai is built over the site where St.Thomas is believed to be originally interred
St. Lourdes Latin Catholic Church in Tiruchirappalli

Christianity in the state of Tamil Nadu, India is believed to be 2000 years old. It possibly was introduced to Tamil Nadu by St. Thomas, the Apostle, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ who landed in Malabar Coast (modern day Kerala) in AD 52. But today, these Saint Thomas Christians or Syrian Christians are found mainly in Kerala. Later the colonial age brought a large number of Portuguese, Dutch, British and Italian Christians to Tamil Nadu. Priests accompanied them not only to minister the colonizers but also to spread the Christian faith among the millions of non-Сhristians in Tamil Nadu. Currently, Christians are a minority community comprising 6% of the total population.[1] Christians are mainly concentrated in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu - Kanyakumari (48.7% of the population, 2001[1]), Thoothukudi (17%, 2001) and Tirunelveli (11%, 2001).

The Roman Catholic Church (Latin Rite), the Church of South India, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and other evangelical denominations constitute the Christian population in Tamil Nadu. The Latin Rite of Roman Catholic Church is the oldest and the largest among all. With 15 dioceses including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madras and Mylapore and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madurai, the Latin Rite has a homogeneous presence throughout the state. The second largest church by number of members is the Church of South India with 8 dioceses in Tamil Nadu. They are Coimbatore Diocese, Kanyakumari Diocese, Madras Diocese, Madurai-Ramnad Diocese, Thoothukudi - Nazareth Diocese, Tirunelveli Diocese, Trichy-Tanjore Diocese and the Vellore Diocese. Church of South India Synod, the highest administrative body of the Church of South India, is in Chennai. Christian missionaries have contributed to the state's development in the fields of education, healthcare and literature. The vast majority of Christians in Tamil Nadu are either members of the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church or the Church of South India. The Pentecostal Mission is headquartered in Chennai.

In 1996, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church created its first `Diocese of Thuckalay` in Kanyakumari district, (which was under the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Changanassery in Kerala till then), of Tamil Nadu. The same year the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has also newly established the `Diocese of Marthandam` (bifurcated from its Archdiocese of Trivandrum) in Kanyakumari district. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church established its first diocese Chennai Diocese in the year 1979. St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, the place where St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, was believed to have been martyred,is an important pilgrimage site for Indian Christians. The Santhome Basilica, supposedly built atop the tomb of St. Thomas, and the Vailankanni Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health—revered churches by India's Roman Catholics—are good examples of majestic church architectures in Tamil Nadu.

Important Basilicas[edit]

Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health[edit]

The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health is located in the small town of Velankanni in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The Roman Catholic Basilica is devoted to Our Lady of Good Health. Devotion to Our Lady of Good Health of Velankanni can be traced to the mid-16th century and is attributed to three miracles at different sites around where the Bacilica currently stands: the apparition of Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a violent sea storm.[2]

Although all three apparitions ultimately resulted in the erection of a shrine to our Lady, it was the promise of the Portuguese sailors that was the proximate cause of a permanent edifice being built at Velankanni. The chapel was dedicated on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8), the day of their safe landing. More than 500 years later, the nine-day festival and celebration is still observed and draws nearly 2 million pilgrims each year. The Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni, also known as the "Lourdes of the East,"[3] is one of the most important Christian religious sites frequented by Christians in India.

San Thome Basilica[edit]

Main article: San Thome Basilica
San Thome Basilica at evening

San Thome Basilica is a Roman Catholic (Latin Rite) minor basilica in Santhome, in the city of Chennai (Madras), India. It was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, and rebuilt again with the status of a cathedral by the British in 1893. The British version still stands today. It was designed in Neo-Gothic style, favoured by British architects in the late 19th century. Christian tradition holds that St. Thomas arrived in Kerala from Israel in 52 A.D. preached between 52 A.D. and 72 A.D., when he was believed to be martyred on St. Thomas Mount. The basilica is built over the site where he was believed originally to be interred.

San Thome Basilica is the principal church of the Madras-Mylapore Catholic Archdiocese. In 1956, Pope Pius XII raised the church to the status of a Minor Basilica, and on February 11, 2006, it was declared a national shrine by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. The San Thome Basilica is a pilgrimage centre for Christians in India. The church also has an attached museum.[4]

Poondi Madha Basilica[edit]

Main article: Poondi Madha Basilica

Our Lady of Lourdes Basilica, Poondi, is a Catholic pilgrimage centre located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, South India. Poondi is a small village located in Thiruvaiyaru Taluk (also spelled as Taluka), about 35 km away from Thanjavur. It is considered as one of the Roman Catholic pilgrim centres similar to Velankanni, which houses the famous Poondi Madha Shrine that attracts pilgrims from all over India.

Contributions to literature[edit]

Thambiran Vanakkam first Tamil Christian book (1578)
Tamil New Testament (1713)

Christians of Tamil Nadu who have made concrete contributions to Tamil language and Tamil literature are

Christians who had been born in Europe, but were adopted to Tamil culture and made major contributions to Tamil language and literature are

Christian pilgrimages[edit]

Notable Christian churches and pilgrimage sites in Tamil Nadu.

List of denominations[edit]

Apostolic Christian Assembly[6]


Districts with significant percentage of Christians as per 2001 census
District Christian (%) Christian (numbers)
Tamil Nadu 6.02 3,785,060
Kanyakumari 48.74 795,406
Thoothukudi 16.70 262,718
The Nilgiris 11.45 87,272
Tirunelveli 10.88 296,578
Tiruchirappalli 9.01 218,033
Chennai 7.62 331,261
Dindigul 7.55 145,265
Ramanathapuram 7.08 84,092
Kanchipuram 5.92 170,416
Sivaganga 5.86 67,739
Thanjavur 5.63 124,945
Tiruvallur 5.56 169,719
Ariyalur 5.21 36,261
Pudukkottai 4.55 66,432
Coimbatore 4.34 185,737
Viluppuram 3.90 115,745
Virudhunagar 3.89 68,295
Madurai 3.34 86,352
Cuddalore 3.22 73,611
Teni 3.09 33,830
Nagapattinam 3.07 45,780
Vellore 2.94 102,477
Tiruvarur 2.70 31,621
Tiruvannamalai 2.52 55,180
Erode 2.14 55,414
Perambalur 1.70 8,412
Salem 1.67 50,450
Karur 1.48 13,863
Dharmapuri 1.36 39,019
Namakkal 0.80 13,137

Further reading[edit]

  • William Strickland, `THE JESUIT IN INDIA`,London/Dublin,1852. Reprint: Asian Educational Services, New Delhi,2001.(ISBN 81-206-1566-2).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ History of Velankanni
  3. ^ Hindus join in India's Marian pilgrimage on Catholic World News
  4. ^ "Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas". Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  5. ^ "Thiruvithamcode church to be global pilgrim centre". Retrieved 2012-10-07. 
  6. ^ a b c d e World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 368
  7. ^ a b c d World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 369
  8. ^ a b c d e f g World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 370
  9. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 371