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Sweet Grace
I am a retired Colonel from the Indian Army. Basically I am an engineer but had turned into an English teacher during my retired life. Have evolved a new method of teaching English for learners from non-English speaking countries consequent to my extensive research on English grammar.


The History of St. Thomas Mount, Madras, India

 article about st. thomas mount

This article belongs to Sweet Grace column.


A Land mark
One of the important landmarks in Madras city, India, is, "St. Thomas Mount" at the southern most end of the city, near the airport. It is a small hill feature about 300 feet high (91 meters). It was on this hill that Thomas Didymus, one of the disciples of Lord Jesus Christ, was killed in the year 72 A.D. and this hill had been named after the Apostle.

Resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ
According to the Bible, Lord Jesus rose physically from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion. A week later, He appeared to 10 out of the 12 disciples. [Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, had hanged himself, leaving only 11 alive]

The eleventh disciple by the name Thomas Didymus, was not in the house when Lord Jesus appeared. He had perhaps gone out somewhere. When he returned, the 10 told him that Lord Jesus was very much alive and He materialized before them even when they were inside a closed room.

Thomas wouldn't believe the news at all. "A dead person coming to life?" he debated and asked, "Are you sure? Was it Lord Jesus or someone else?" Then, he made his mind known to his colleagues. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe ," he had declared.

Hence the title "Doubting Thomas" for the disciple.

After another week, when all the 11 disciples were huddled inside their room, Lord Jesus came in view to them once again. He told Thomas, "Come over. Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas did go near him and did touch the wounds with his fingers. He was immediately convinced and cried out, "My Lord and My God."

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." [John 16: 24-28]

This event was possibly engineered by Jesus Christ Himself, not only to bring home a truth to all His disciples but also to the entire humanity that would follow. It was also to set at rest any doubt about the physical resurrection of the Son of God.

Preaching Jesus's Gospel
Before finally ascending to Heaven, His original abode, some 40 days after resurrection, Lord Jesus commanded the disciples to stretch out and preach the Good News to the ends of the Earth. Accordingly, the disciples (later named Apostles) branched out in different directions from Jerusalem but seem to have restricted their missionary work to the areas in Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Italy and Malta. None of them went to Africa or the Northern part of Europe or Russia or Asia.

Thomas's journey to India

Possibly it was Lord Jesus's desire that the Gospel must be propagated in India and He had chosen Thomas for the role. But Thomas is reported to have declined the proposal. "Lord, why me? Send someone else to India. Of all places…….?"

But the Lord wanted only Thomas to evangelise in India.

About this time, an emissary of an Indian king happened to visit Jerusalem for the purpose of finding an architect who could build a super palace for the king. He had heard that good architects were available in Jerusalem.

Pointing at Thomas, a Jew said that he was a renowned architect. The emissary approached the Apostle for negotiations. At this moment, Lord Jesus Himself joined the twosome in physical form and said showing a finger at Thomas, "He is my slave. I am giving him to you. Take him to India." Thomas Didymus was stunned.

The emissary turned to the 'architect' and demanded, "Is this man your master?" Thomas hesitated for an instant even as the risen Lord kept gazing at him He could not deny that Jesus was his Master.[Simon Peter's denial of the Lord at the palace of Pontius Pilate, prior to Jesus's crucifixion, was fresh in his mind.] "Yes", he confirmed loudly and positively.

Jesus Christ told Thomas briefly "Go" by way of farewell and walked out of sight. Knowing that his Master wanted him to go to India at any cost, Apostle Thomas landed at Cranganore in Kerala, in the western coast of Southern India, during the year 52 A.D.

As regards the king's palace, Thomas withdrew large sums of money from time to time from the king's treasury but spent it all on the poor along with his evangelism. Whenever the king asked the architect for a progress report, Thomas would say, "The palace is coming up beautifully oh my king – in Heaven." The king didn't understand the statement at all. In course of time, the king came to know that instead of a palace, Thomas was building churches on the western coast and was also feeding the poor. Getting wild, the king had decided to punish the Apostle with death.

But, that night he had a dream. He found himself in a magnificent country, a like of which he did not imagine ever existed. A guide was showing him around. On seeing an exquisite building structure that was just about half complete, the king enquired, "Whose mansion is this?" The guide raised his head in surprise and answered, "Of course, it's yours, your majesty. You had ordered it. Don't you remember?"

The king woke up and realized that Thomas was a godly man who knew that his palace was coming up in some other world. He then began to revere Thomas and asked to know everything about the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ.

After completing 7 churches in Kerala, St. Thomas crossed over to the Coromondal coast and landed in Madras. He lived for some years here. His home was a cave on a small hillock. This cave is preserved till date at a place called Little Mount which is about 3 KM from St. Thomas Mount.

Besides evangelism to thousands of people, St. Thomas also built a chapel with his own hands in Mylapore, which is about 6 KM from Little Mount. After his martyrdom, the Apostle's body was buried here. And today stands on St Thomas's tomb, a big church of Gothic architecture called, "San Thome Cathedral".

Some records say that the Apostle made a brief visit (possibly for some months only) to China and returned to Madras. The Apostle's evangelism perhaps was confined only to the Madras city region. People flocked to hear him. He performed several miracles through the power of Lord Jesus Christ such as, healing the sick, the lame, the blind and other varieties of handicapped persons.

One summer when multitude of people had come to listen to his sermon, the Apostle noticed that they were thirsty and were looking around for some water to quench themselves. Little Mount is an area known for its water scarcity and was so in the first century as well. Taking pity on the audience, the Saint struck at a particular point on the hillock with his staff. And water gushed out at once. This was reminiscent of what prophet Moses did to provide water for the Israelites in the desert between Palestine and Egypt about the year 1430B.C.

The existence of a small spring almost at the top of a hillock and water being available round the year would sound truly remarkable. This is known as the fountain of St. Thomas, which exists even today. Some miraculous power is attributed to this water.

Martyrdom and thereafter
The spread of Christianity in a Hindu dominated society of Madras was indeed a matter of jealousy for many of St.Thomas's persecuters. The flash point came when one day a Hindu brahmin chased the Saint from his Little Mount cave-home along the road and pierced him to death with his lance when the Saint ran the distance of 3 KM to the hill feature. And thus came the name "St. Thomas Mount", the spot where St. Thomas was murdered.

His body was taken to Mylapore and buried in the chapel built by him.

Thomas Mount remained a simple hill feature for several centuries. One Diego Fernandez, a Portuguese, built a small chapel on it in the year 1523 A.D By then St. Thomas Mount had become a place of pilgrimage and as the number of pilgrims increased, one Father Gasper Goelho converted the chapel into a big church in 1548 A.D.

This ancient church on top of the 300 feet high Mount, had been a sign post for mariners for some 400 years. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Portuguese and Armenian ships sighted the church, the sailors used to offer prayer of thanksgiving for a safe voyage ahead and then fire a gun shot as salute.

St. Thomas Mount Church
The church houses a few important objects of Art and Antiquity. Chief among them is, a Cross which had been chiselled by the Saint himself. This Cross was dug out during the construction work of the church in the year 1547. It can be seen now behind the altar.

According to records, this cross started sweating blood from 18 December 1558.

The bleeding Cross sweated every year, then every two years and later at longer intervals. The last occasion of 'blood sweating' was in 1704 A.D

There is also on the Altar an oil painting of Mary, the earthly mother of Lord Jesus. This picture was painted by St. Luke, one of the Gospel writers, and was brought to India by St. Thomas.

Mount Road
Madras city has been renamed as 'Chennai' in recent years.

A straight road 12 KM long runs right in the middle of Chennai city. This is a popular commercial road that contains posh shops, show rooms and important industrial offices. The stretch starts from Fort St.George and ends at St. Thomas Mount. Hence it is known as "Mount Road." The Dravidian Government of Tamil Nadu, has renamed the road as "Anna salai". But 'Mount Road' continues to be the more widely used and known .name to the citizens of the city.

Conclusion
If you plan a journey to India, do include Chennai (Madras) in your itinerary and when here, don't forget to visit St. Thomas Mount, Little Mount and the Santhome Cathedral. During this sojourn, which could be titled also as 'pilgrimage', the Christian history of some 1960 years would unfold itself right before your eyes.

May the living Lord Jesus Christ bless you richly.




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