January 3, 2010

St. Thomas Mount National Shrine

There is a general belief that Christianity was brought to India by the European priests during the 16th century CE. However, there are quite lot number of people who believe in different theory. According to them, the Christianity was preached in India right from the 1st century CE. They believe that St. Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ, landed in Kodangallur in 52 CE. He was probably the only Apostle to cross Rome to preach Christianity. It is also believed that he was martyred in St. Thomas Mount in Chennai.

This article talks about the National Shrine located in St. Thomas Mount and the legend and history related to that site.

St. Thomas Mount, which is also called as "Parangi malai" by the locals of Chennai city, is a small hillock located in the outskirts of Chennai city.  The word “Parangi” in Tamil language refers to “foreigner” (interestingly this word was originated from English word), and “malai” means “hill”.

A flight of 135 granite steps would take us atop the beautiful mount. To enjoy the pleasant climate and hill view, it is advisable to visit the mount either in the early morning or late evening. Coja Petrus Uscan, the wealthy Armenian merchant, who had constructed the Marmalong bridge, had construted these steps in 1726 CE. He also donated 1,500 pagodas for the maintenance of these steps. The sides of the steps are adorned by fifteen Stations of  the Cross that depict the last moments of Jesus.

As per the legend, St. Thomas, who was preaching Christianity in India, spent his last years in a cave in St. Thomas Mount. Reportedly, the local king was also converted into Christianity. A Brahmin who served the King did not want his king to follow another religion. He reportedly killed St. Thomas with a spear in 72 CE in this hill.

It is believed that there was a church atop the hill from the very beginning and it served as the light house for the Portuguese and Armenian vessels in the 16th and 17th centuries CE. As per the tradition, the holy Cross that is found inside the Church was made by St. Thomas himself. It is believed that it has stains of his blood. When the Portuguese dug the foundation for the new church in 1547 CE, they accidentally discovered this cross. As per the traditional records, the Cross was bleeding at regular intervals between 1558 CE and 1704 CE.

The church of “Our Lady of Expectation” (Mother Mary) was built by the Portuguese in 1523  CE on the top of this hill. It is believed that the altar of this church was built on the spot where St. Thomas was killed. The paintings depicting the last days of all the Apostles are found on the walls of the church.

On the top of the hill, there is a Calvary, built in 1963 CE, which acts as the landmark of this mount. The church also has the holy relic of St. Thomas. There is a painting of Mother Mary with child Jesus which is believed to have been painted by St. Luke in 50 CE and was brought by St. Thomas himself. It is considered as the oldest Christianity related painting in India. (It is not accepted by the historians though).

Please note that there are many people who challenge if St. Thomas visited India and if he was killed and all. According to them, the story was cooked up by the Portuguese. 

The statue of Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa are new additions to the shrine.

There is a huge banyan tree, which is believed to be more than 175 years old. Under the tree, the statue of Col. William Lambton is found. He was a British surveyor, who planned the Great Trigonometrical Survey. He launched his fieldwork from this place on 10th April 1802 CE. 

Happy travelling.


  1. Interesting article. I thought Chinna malai is the one near Saidapet bridge. It is not so?

  2. Not only your article was interesting but also the information your brought before us is altogether new. I always wish to know more & more details in the history.Thank you.
    Mangesh Nabar

  3. reading this post has given experience of visiting the church. a good guide to the people interested in visiting the church

  4. Parangi malai is from the name of Sage Bringi and not as given. It is a great fun to say that Christians preached in Chennai in 1st A.D.

  5. Nice article KK. It answers a lot of questions of mine . :) :) .

  6. The article shared the history of great apostle St. Thomas, with his mission of preaching the people of our country about the only Begotten of God. The info in this article is not known to even many who stay in and around Chennai. Thanks for sharing.

  7. can you plz tell how to reach the hill top ? where is the starting point of the trekking ?

  8. Can you let me know where is the starting point to reach the top ? and how can we reach it ?

    1. You need to go to Mount Poonamallee High Road - hardly 0.75 km from Kathipara junction. That is the starting point; you need to climb a lot of steps to reach the top.

  9. any tell me bus numbers from cmbt to mount of st . thomas

  10. can anyone tell bus numbers from cmbt to mount of st thomas