Saturday, 3 May 2014


Jesus Christ as priest atop a lotus flower flanked by peacocks — the bird and the flower are an integral part of Indian culture. St.Thomas Cathedral Basilica, Chennai in South India

The last time I visited Santhome Cathedral in Chennai, South India, my hair was black; waist, willowy and the face smooth and unlined. I was 15. This time around when I stood in front of the same, unchanged Jesus Christ in the sanctum under the great dome, the hair was dyed and the hips wide. I was 15 twice over and more.

There are only three churches in the world that are built over the tomb of an postle of Jesus Christ — St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome; The Tomb of St. James in Spain and the Sathome Cathedral Basilica, which stands over the tomb of St. Thomas.

Records state that St.Thomas came to India in 52 AD; he was martyred in the city that is now Chennai in 72 AD and was buried in Santhome that stands near the Marina beach — world’s second longest beach.

The Cathedral was a small chapel to begin with, and in ruins when the Protuguese arrived in 1517. It was rebuilt and stood the test of times till the end of the 19th century. In 1953 the present cathedral was built by Bishop Henrique Jose Read De Silva.

The cathedral is old, new and gothic — all rolled into one.  It’s massive teak doors are open to all. People have been visiting this cathedral for around 2000 years. 

The nave of Santhome Basilica is 112 feet long and 33 feet wide.
The steeple is 155 feet hight
The sanctuary is 62 feet long
The ceiling is 36 and a half feet high over the nave and 41 and a half feet high over the sanctuary
The nave has 36 windows and the arches are 36 feet high 

As you walk down the long and wide sanctuary, the sun streaming through 36 stained glass windows, paint an ethereal picture — a kaleidoscopic display of light and colours. Commanding attention at the main altar is the statue of Christ as Priest with outstretched arms. Interestingly, he is perched atop a lotus and flanked by peacocks — the flower and bird are an integral part of India. It is believed that the magnificent edifice owed much to the competent and free services of Capt J A Power. 

There are 36 stained-glass windows in the main cathedral
Behind the main cathedral is the underground Tomb Chapel, which is said to have been built directly above where the saint is believe to have been buried.The Chapel also has the relic of the saint — a bone from the tip of his finger. 

A nun with benign eyes, the caretaker of the Tomb Chapel, brings out the relic from under lock and key once a month for a special mass. How does it feel to hold the supposed bone of an apostle who lived with Christ? "I get goosebumps just thinking about it," she says, rubbing her arms. "I cannot express the feeling in words, but it is something, something...." she gropes for the right word and fails. But I understood. Some feelings are not defined by words. 

This one is behind the statue of Christ in the sanctum
In spite of its cold modern interiors, the underground chapel is soothing — like when you enter a house filled with good people and the aroma of freshly baked bread. It is envelops you in its warmth.  Grown men and silent women are praying and weeping noiselessly at the feet of the statue of St.Thomas, pleading for a miracle. The nun confidently says: St.Thomas never fails. "He delivers all the time."

Within the compound stands a pole called the Santhome pole. It is ancient. No body knows who erected it. Some attribute it to the Saint himself. Legend has it that the sea have never crossed the pole. And never will. Apparently even during the tsunami the sea did not defy the pole, leaving the church intact and annihilating the rest in its wake. Thus remains till today the glorious, centuries old edifice as witness to Christ's saying: Be not faithless, but believing. 

Some more images:

Inside the majestic St.Thomas Cathedral Basilica

This is in the underground Tomb Chapel. This statue of St.Thomas in repose is said to have been built right above the place where he is said to have been buried

Beautiful windows

The windows are like paintings when sunlight streams through them

The faithful praying for a miracle

The relic of St.Thomas — a bone from the tip of his finger

Be not faithless, but believing

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