You’d never guess there’s so much behind a name. Gosh! There I go putting the cart before the horse again. Typical of me.
Santhome Church at Santhome, the southern end of Marina Beach derives its name from St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ who is believed to have come to Madras sometime in 52 A.D. But of course if you know a smattering of Portuguese, you’d have guessed as much. Saint Thomas in Portuguese is São Tomé.
Legend has it that the Apostle, after preaching on the west coast of India, arrived at the east coast and fixed his see at Mylapore, which was then a flourishing city. The number of converts he made, aroused the hostility of the local priests so much so that he had to flee from their anger to Little Mount (Chinnamalai in Tamil).
He was martyred in 72 A.D. at Little Mount (Saint Thomas Mount, as it would be known in later years) and was interned in Santhome Beach, where a church was presently built.
Several years later, another church was built further inland and his mortal remains were moved from the old church to the new one. In 1606 the church was rebuilt as a cathedral. In 1896 it was made a basilica.
The beautiful stained glass windows at the basilica portray the story of St. Thomas and fourteen wooden plaques at the central hall illustrate scenes from the last days of Christ. The statue of Virgin Mary, three feet high, is believed to have been brought from Portugal in 1543.
So much history here. It’s a place you mustn’t miss when you’re in Chennai the next time.