St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica, Chennai

Coordinates: 13°2′1″N 80°16′40″E / 13.03361°N 80.27778°E / 13.03361; 80.27778
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Santhome Church
National Shrine of Saint Thomas Basilica
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; 80.27778
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 (500 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)Fr Antony Anand
AssistantFr. Dyson Raja Rathinam

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 Chennai, in Tamil Nadu. The present structure dates to 1523 AD, when it was rebuilt by the Portuguese over the tomb of Thomas the Apostle.[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.


Santhome Church built by the Portuguese in 1523.

History of the church[edit]

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 maintained nominally by Muslims, and 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, the Portuguese name for the 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 colonialism[edit]

Santhome Cathedral, rebuilt by the British in 1896.

The church was made a cathedral in 1606 by Pope Paul V with the creation of the Diocese of Saint Thomas of Mylapore. Later the church was rebuilt with the 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 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 Gothic revival architecture style of the late 19th century. The church has a rib vault ceiling made of teak wood. It was built with 16 windows and 34 stained glass with a main stained glass in the altar representing "Saint Thomas Touching the Wound of Jesus Christ". The statue in the main altar indicates "Saint Thomas the apostle as Priest and Jesus Christ as King", with both sides the statue of Saint Thomas the Apostle and Saint Peter the Apostle. In addition, there are 14 Stations of the Cross attached at the side wall of the cathedral. The cathedral was built with teak wood, marble, and granite.

There are two spires in this church :

  • First spire : Acts as bell tower in the left side of church. It is 147 feet tall and can be seen from a distance.
  • Second spire : Was built in the center of the cathedral to indicate the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

A 200 year old British pipe organ is kept at upstairs of the church. 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]

A statue of Mother Mary was brought from Lisbon to Santhome Church in 1523. It can be found at the left side of the church altar and is referred to as Our Lady of Mylapore or, locally, Mylai Matha.

The Mylai Matha feast is celebrated in the month of December. The second Saturday is devoted to Mylai Matha devotion, with 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 a Tsunami on 26 December 2004.

Santhome Cathedral, interior.


Santhome Cathedral, side view from behind.

Relics 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]

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 Our Lady of Mylapore.
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 church stained window.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas". Archived from the original on 26 February 2015. 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]