Saturday, August 22, 2015

San Thome Basilica, Chennai

Today, while Chennai (the late Madras) celebrates its 376th Birthday, the number marks the foundation of the city on the establishment of Fort St. George on a small piece of land in 1639 by the British East Indian Company. Every year we celebrate this day as Madras Day/Week marked by various events, and walk on the memorial lanes of Madras. I thought it was appropriate to write on one of the remarkable landmark of Chennai, the San Thome Basilica – also known as Santhome Church.

San Thome Basilica Cathedral
The front view of the Steeple
Standing tall against the Chennai skyline in backdrop of blue sky and Bay of Bengal behind, the San Thome Basilica Cathedral (on Santhome High Rd) is indeed an imposing structure. Built in the Gothic style of architecture the spire raises to a height of about 155 feet. This Basilica Cathedral is one of thee Basilicas built over the tombs of apostles of Jesus Christ. The other two are the Basilica of St. Peter, built over the tomb of St. Peter in Rome and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compoostela of St. James in Spain.

IMG_1607
A zoom on the middle spires
According to tradition it is believed that St. Thomas came to India in the year 52 A.D and then travelled to Madras after worked along the west coast. As he suffered martyrdom at St. Thomas Mount, his disciples buried him in Santhome over which the present Cathedral stands. Marco Polo, during his visit to India, records that “it is in this province (Malabbar) which is styled the greater India at the gulf between Ceylon and the mainland that the body of Messer St. Thomas lies at a certain town having no great population and it’s a place not very accessible”. When Portuguese arrived at Mylapore in 1517, they were surprised to find a shrine there but to be in ruins almost, they took it upon themselves to rebuild the church and parish in 1524.

IMG_7799
View of the Steeple from the side
But over the centuries, this small church becomes fragile and was in dire need of repair. In 1893, this structure was demolished and the present church was built with the tomb of the saint placed at the heart of the structure. The predominant feature of a Gothic structure is its tall spires and at the Santhome Bascilica Cathedal it is the first spire that strikes immediately. The second and the shorter one are constructed directly about the tomb of the saint – which could be accessed from the outside of the church rather being within then and it was in 1956 that the church was declared a minor Basilica. The church also holds a museum inside and all the memorabilia of St. Thomas and of that period was arranged along the display of the spear that killed the saint!

ps. all these photos were shot on different times while waiting at the santhome signal.

17 comments:

Indrani said...

A great monument!

TexWisGirl said...

incredibly beautiful!

L. D. said...

It is so beautiful. I didn't know that India had any Christian cathedrals. I guess I don't know the history of Christianity in your country. It is a beautiful cathedral. Thanks for sharing it.

GreenComotion said...

One of the famous landmarks of Madras. Nice history and photos - thanks to you, Jeevan.
I wonder if this was the Church in the movie Raja Paarvai with Kamala Haasan.
Have a Beautiful Day!
Peace :)

Destination Infinity said...

Nice looking Church. I wonder if we are allowed to go inside and take photos. I'll try it someday. I also want to go inside the Church next to American Embassy and on St. Thomas Mount.

Destination Infinity

Pooja Mittal said...

its beautiful
Kisses
www.beingbeautifulandpretty.com
www.indianbeautydiary.com

Kirtivasan Ganesan said...

St Thomas was a big lover.

Sandhya said...

Beautiful photographs. Whenever I cross this area, I tell my son that one day we will go inside and have a look! Good to know the history of this church. Thank you, Jeevan!

ashok said...

Wonderful post Jeevan...good to read about this church. Nice photos too

Rajesh said...

Wonderful shots of historic church.

Kirtivasan Ganesan said...

Madras state to Andhra Pradesh is controversial due to Tirupati. People say St Thomas is due to Sivakasi. It is actually big love.

Kirtivasan Ganesan said...

Please post what I had posted.

Jeevan said...

Kirtivasan - I don't get what u suppose to say

Kirtivasan Ganesan said...

Sorry for my mistakes.

Ramakrishnan Ramanathan said...

Majestic beautiful and amazing architecture !

Twilight Man said...

India and Chennai have such a long and colourful history!

The historical building is so prominent and lovely.

Sandi said...

"...it is in this province (Malabbar) which is styled the greater India at the gulf between Ceylon and the mainland that the body of Messer St. Thomas lies at a certain town having no great population and it’s a place not very accessible."

But I bet Thomas liked it there.

Stunning photos. So incredible that they rebuilt that church.