A severely edited version of an article I wrote on Thomas in Chennai appeared in Deccan Chronicle. Not only did they edit the piece badly (IMO), they also forgot to give credit to the photographer Arul Jegadish. All in all, a bit of a mess :(
Here's more on the apostle’s Chennai connection:
Our exploration began where St Thomas died, at St. Thomas Mount. The peripatetic Italian, Marco Polo, who visited Chennai in the 1290s, says that Church brethren told him how the saint had been killed when a hunter aiming at some peacocks accidentally hit the apostle. Another Italian traveller, Bishop John de Marignolli, who came by about a hundred years after Polo, corroborates this and adds that
Incidentally, the story more commonly given today is that St. Thomas was killed by a Brahmin, because the Brahmins were agitated by how popular the apostle was becoming...
At the summit is the Church of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin, a simple church that is devoid of ostentation but rich in myth and legend. It was first built by Armenians and rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1521 and again in 1547. The Armenian influence is evident in the 14 beautiful paintings (dating to the 1700s) of Jesus and the apostles that line the walls. You can also see many Armenian inscriptions in and around the church.
The altar here is believed to mark the spot where
But controversy and doubts seem essential ingredients of all stories associated Doubting Thomas. The strange lettering incised on the cross definitely added to its aura of mystery. Although it was first assumed to relate to St Thomas, in the late 1800s, historians realised the inscription was actually in Pahlavi and, somewhat anti-climactically, had nothing to do with St Thomas, but recorded only the name of the person who fashioned the cross. Paleographically, the inscription and hence the cross were dated to about 650 AD, making it the oldest among only about half a dozen such Nestorian crosses in India.
Next to the bleeding cross is a beautiful oil painting on wood of the Madonna with baby Jesus, which according to legend was brought to
Our next stop was to the stately Santhome Cathedral Basilica, near
Today’s cathedral is a grand Gothic edifice, complete with nave and transept, soaring towers and spires. Light streams in through exquisite stained glass windows in the clerestory. One set of three large stained glass windows depicting the episode where Jesus appears to Doubting Thomas, was made in
Signs of antiquity are everywhere. Lining the walls on either side of the walls is a row of ornate hand-carved chairs. In the transept on the right is a statue of Mary, brought here from
At the very heart of the church, in the basement, is the apostle’s crypt and a tomb chapel. I learned that the soil around the grave has always been renowned for its miraculous powers. Bishop Marignolli, Marco Polo and other European travellers speak of several miracles wrought by the sacred soil. The church even sells small parcels of sand from the grave embedded in a small card which devotees can conveniently carry.
But the crypt itself is empty. According to some texts, the saint’s relics were transferred to
If they were removed, why, in the late 800s, did the English king Alfred the Great send alms “to
In the early 1500s, after strenuous efforts, the Portuguese claimed to have located the tomb and relics of
But the church does have some relics of