St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica, Chennai

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Santhome Church
National Shrine of Saint Thomas Basilica
Santhome Basilica.jpg
Santhome Basilica
Santhome Church is located in Chennai
Santhome Church
Santhome Church
Location within Chennai
Santhome Church is located in India
Santhome Church
Santhome Church
Santhome Church (India)
13°2′1″N 80°16′40″E / 13.03361°N 80.27778°E / 13.03361; 80.27778Coordinates: 13°2′1″N 80°16′40″E / 13.03361°N 80.27778°E / 13.03361; 80.27778
Location38 Santhome High Road, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Language(s)Tamil and English
DenominationCatholic Church
TraditionLatin Church
Authorising papal bull16 March 1956
StatusMinor basilica[1]
Founded1523 (499 years ago).
Founder(s)Portuguese explorers.
DedicationSt. Thomas the Apostle
Relics heldThomas the Apostle (claimed)
Functional statusActive
Heritage designationNational Shrine[2]
Architect(s)Captain J.A. Power (current structure)
Completed1523 (Current building 1896)
Length64 metres (210 ft)
Width12.2 metres (40 ft)
Nave width10 metres (33 ft)
Height41 metres (135 ft)
Spire height47.2 metres (155 ft)
DioceseMadras and Mylapore
ArchbishopArchbishop George Antonysamy (2012- present)
Priest(s)Rev. Fr. M. Arulraj
Assistant priest(s)Rev. Fr. A. Ritchie Vincent

San Thome Church, officially known as St Thomas Cathedral Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Thomas, is a minor basilica of the Catholic Church in India, at the Santhome neighbourhood of Madras (Chennai), in Tamil Nadu. The present structure dates to 1523 AD, when it was rebuilt by the Portuguese in Goa and Bombay, over the tomb of Thomas the Apostle, one of the Twelve commissioned by Jesus Christ.[3] In 1896, it was renovated in the Madras province according to neo-Gothic designs, as was favoured by British architects in the late 19th century. It is one of the only three churches of the apostolic age of ancient Christianity, known for enshrining the tomb of an apostle and are still standing in the world today; the other two being the St Peter's Basilica in Vatican city and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain. In antiquity, there was a basilica built over the tomb of the Apostle Philip in Hierapolis of Phrygia, present-day Pamukkale.

History of St. Thomas the Apostle[edit]

According to Bible, Saint Thomas was born in Judea, the Roman province. He was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He was one of the brothers of Jesus, and was named Judah, called the Twin, aka Didymus. He was the one who touched the wound of Jesus after he rose from his death. Later on in AD 52 he came to Kerala, India to preach about Jesus and later on he moved to present-day Chennai. In AD 72 he was killed in St. Thomas Mount and he was buried in Mylapore (presently Santhome) by his disciples and they built a small structural building (church) to mark his tomb.

Later on the tomb of St. Thomas was respected and maintained by Muslims and they called the tomb as "Bothuma" (House of Thomas). Centuries later, it became an abandoned structure although many pilgrims came to visit the tomb from East and Kerala.

Portuguese Era[edit]

Santhome Church built by Portuguese in 1523

In 1521, the Portuguese in Goa and Bombay-Bassein sent missionaries to Madras (Chennai) seeking the tomb of the famed Thomas the Apostle, which had become neglected or was maintained nominally by Muslims, they decided to rebuild the shrine over the tomb of the apostle. With the order and funding of King John III of Portugal they started building the church. In 1523, the structure was consecrated as a church, and Portuguese Padroado priests resumed the daily celebration of Liturgy (Holy Mass) at the site.

In 1545, St Francis Xavier visited the shrine and lived for about one year in the Presbytery of the Santhome Church before he left for his mission in Ilha Formosa, Portuguese name for the Chinese island of Taiwan. When he lived in Santhome Church he regularly prayed in front of a statue of the Virgin Mother Mary and celebrated Holy Mass, he also prayed regularly at the tomb bearing the relics of St Thomas.

British Era[edit]

Santhome Cathedral, rebuilt by the British in 1896

This church was made a cathedral in 1606 by Pope Paul V with the creation of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapore. Later this church was rebuilt with a status of cathedral in 1896 by the British in the late 19th-century style of Gothic Revival architecture. The exact place where St. Thomas was buried is marked by the second small tower in the centre of the cathedral. Pope Pius XII honoured this cathedral church, elevating it to the dignity and rank of a minor basilica in March 1956. Pope John Paul II is the only pope to have visited the church, in the year 1986. This church was declared as a National Shrine in 2004 by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. This church is also called the "National Shrine of Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica", or as "Santhome Church". It is a very important church for worldwide Christians as it is the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle.


Santhome Church was built in the style of Gothic revival architecture the late 19th century architecture style. The church has Rib vault ceiling made of teak wood. It was built with 16 windows and 34 stained glass with a main stained glass in altar represent "Saint Thomas Touching The Wound Of Jesus Christ". The statue in main altar indicates "Jesus Christ as Priest and Jesus Christ as King", with both sides the statue of Saint Thomas the Apostle and Saint Peter the Apostle. And there are 14 Stations of the Cross attached at the side wall of Cathedral. The Cathedral was built with materials Teak wood, Marble and Granite.

There are two spire in this Church :

  • First spire : acts as bell tower in the left side of Church it is 147 feet tall and it can also be seen from distance.
  • Second spire : was built in the center of the cathedral to indicate the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

A 200 years old British Pipe Organ is kept at upstairs of the Church. The visitors can see the pipe organ by climbing the stairs located at the Narthex of the Church.

Santhome Cathedral Pipe Organ

Our Lady of Mylapore[edit]

The Portuguese statue of Mother Mary was brought from Lisbon to Santhome Church in 1523 and now it is kept at left side of the church altar is now called as Our Lady of Mylapore.

Our Lady of Mylapore, locally known as Mylai Matha, feast is celebrated in the month of December with great devotion. Second saturday is devoted to Mylai Matha devotion. Special prayers, procession, rosary and benediction in the evening.

The wooden statue of Our Lady of Mylapore is painted in gold and placed on a special altar. Saint Francis Xavier used to spend long hours in front of this statue in prayer and deep contemplation, prayers, procession, rosary and benediction in the evening.

Pole of St. Thomas[edit]

It is believed that Apostle Saint Thomas erected this pole made out of the wood washed ashore. Faithful believe that the presence of this pole saved their life and cathedral during the devastation of Tsunami on 26 December 2004.

Santhome Cathedral—Interior.


Santhome Cathedral—Side view from back side

Relic held in Santhome Church[edit]

The reliquaire of the spear which is said to have killed Saint Thomas kept in Santhome Church.

Burials in Santhome Church[edit]

Santhome Museum[edit]

Santhome Church has an attached museum contains lot of historical things belongs to Saint Thomas the Apostle and Santhome Church and the tomb. It has oldest Cross of 7th-8th centuries and Inscription. It is located at the backside of Santhome Church. And that is the way to enter the tomb of St. Thomas erected under Santhome Church. The museum has an information center about Saint Thomas the Apostle, Tomb of St. Thomas and about Santhome Church and more.

Currently there are two new structures one being the Tomb Chapel below the Basilica and the other a Museum-cum-Theatre. Exclusive films on the Patron saint Thomas and the church are screened twice daily for local and foreign pilgrims. The new underground chapel has a separate access from outside the church structure, allowing pilgrims and tourists to visit or pray at the tomb without disturbing the sacred proceedings in the church. Eucharistic celebrations happen every day at the fully air-conditioned tomb chapel.

Santhome museum interior

Holy Eucharist Chapel[edit]

An Adoration chapel adjoining the main church provides perfectly for those soulful, silent moments before the Blessed Sacrament. This chapel can be approached from the left wing of the church apart from an exclusive entrance from the outside. The day does not begin for scores of local public without a short or prolonged visit to this chapel.


Santhome high altar—Jesus statue.
Statue of Mylapore Matha.
Santhome Cathedral—St. Thomas and Jesus.
Santhome Cathedral during evening mass
Chair of Santhome Church
Santhome church bell tower.
Santhome church second spire.
Santhome church aerial side view.
Santhome church eagle pulpit.
Saint Thomas Tomb.
Santhome Main Altar

Stained glass[edit]

Santhome church stained glass—Left Wing.
Santhome church stained glass—Main Altar.
Santhome Church lower window.
Santhome Church Main Door.
Santhome upper window—Main Altar.
Santhome church stained glass—Upper floor.
Santhome stained window.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas". Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  2. ^ National Shrine Status Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Santhome Basilica in Chennai — A historical pilgrimage Retrieved 30 August 2021

External links[edit]