On the southern part of Chennai, soaring above 300 feet from sea level stands a natural, historical and religious foundation known as the St. Thomas Mount. The way up is steep and winding but the road is embraced by the greenery of trees and shrubs on the roadside. On the way up to the summit, visitors will come across four remarkable curves surmounted with a cross. Also along the way, you will see the fourteen Stations of the Cross. A hundred and sixty steps will then take you to the top of the hill as this path is laden with granite making the climb easier and smooth. Once you reach the top, surrounded by a great view of the greenery surrounding the mount, sits the shrine of the “Our Lady of Expectations”.
The mount, also known as Periyamalai, meaning “Big Mount” in Tamil, is said to be the final resting place of St. Thomas, the renowned apostle of Christ. It was said that he arrived in India to spread the word of Jesus around 52 AD. His last years were spent in India, in a small hill called Saidapet, now known as Little Hill. Seeking refuge from an assailant, St. Thomas fled the cave that was his home to a nearby hill where he was killed by an arrow. This hill was then named after him as a tribute to his martyrdom. The Portuguese built an impressive church on the same ground where he was buried in 1523. The original church had gone through several changes but by 1893, it was finally demolished. A Gothic-style cathedral was then built in place and consecrated in 1896. The cathedral was then elevated to the status of Basilica in the year 1956 to pay tribute to the martyrdom of the Saint. This Church is today more popularly known as the St. Thomas Mount Church.
In 1547, a stone cross was discovered with the inscriptions `Sassanid Pahlavi` as this was presumed to be chiselled by the saint himself. It is popularly known as the bleeding cross because of the presence of bloodstains which seem to mysteriously resurface even after being scraped off. This bleeding cross is now being mounted on the altar wall.
Walking into the Basilica visitors will be enthralled to see engravings on the floor and statues on each side. On the right side of the church, you will find a statue of the Mother and Child. There is just one row of pews inside the church leading to the altar, which holds the important relic of the Mount, the bleeding cross. This ancient stone cross was said to have been engraved by St. Thomas himself. On top of the altar is a painting of the Mother and Child believed to be a work of St. Luke. On the side of the chancels, on the other hand are the oil paintings of the twelve apostles of Christ.
Aside from the church, St. Mount Thomas is also home to the Holy Apostles Convent which houses mentally and physically challenged children run by the saints of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. At the foot of the hill, you will find the venue of training for Indian Army officers.
Who would have ever thought that such a rich history of Christianity like this abounds in the middle of a Hindu country. This then definitely makes St. Thomas Mount such a spectacular scene to see only in Chennai.