On the trail of St. Thomas

St. Thomas one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ reached the shores of Kerala in AD 52. He built seven and half churches in Kerala. The ‘half church’ located at Thiruvithamcode in the south of Kerala, possibly gets its name from its smaller size. Of these churches the Niranam Church built by him in A.D.54 is only 12 kms away from my home and our ancestors were the members of this church. The Orthodox Church has possession of this church and the half church at Thiruvithamcode. The Christians of Kerala were called St. Thomas Christians. We are proud to be known as the St. Thomas Christians as no other Christians in the world have the name of a disciple of Jesus attached to them and Christianity in Kerala is as old as it is in any part of the world.

Though we speak much about our ancestry from St. Thomas, I have observed that our veneration and adoration for St. Thomas exists more on paper than in real practice. In fact I have not heard much from my parents or grandparents about this great disciple of Jesus, who talked and walked with Jesus and came all the way from Jerusalem and landed just 12 kms from my home founding one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. In fact I was taught more about the saintly St. Gregorios who lived and entered into eternal glory at Parumala which is only 3 kms away from my home. He was the only canonized Saint of the Malankara Orthodox church till 2003. The feasts and festivities in his remembrance are celebrated with much pomp and splendor by the Orthodox Church while St. Thomas the beloved disciple of Jesus has nothing in comparison. I have put in my own experience to throw light on the attitude of the people and church at large for the last 100 years or more.

St. Thomas came into my life while I was still a Pre – University student at Madras – now called Chennai. I fell ill and my father came down to meet me. He took me to Fr.Gheevarghese Thykadavil who was the vicar of the Orthodox Church at Mylapore. He advised my father to take me to Santhome Cathedral Basilica Church where St. Thomas was entombed. In fact this is one of the three known churches in the world where an apostle of Jesus was entombed. My father took me to Santhome Cathedral Basilica church said to be built over the tomb of St Thomas and after our prayers there he took me further to Parangimalai which is now known as St. Thomas Mount, a small 300 ft. high hillock surrounded by a forest.

It is near the Madras International Airport. Even now it remains scarcely populated. St. Thomas was martyred there being pierced from behind with a lance as he was praying before the cross that he chiseled himself, from granite. This cross with the blood stains was discovered centuries later and was placed on the altar of the small church built at the spot where he was martyred. This cross used to sweat blood during the Mass and this miracle of the sweating of blood continued for several centuries. The last instance of this sweating of blood occurred in 1704.

Crosses made by St. Thomas have a dove flying onto the top of the cross and being the only one of its kind, they came to be known as St. Thomas Crosses. With no proper road, the walk to reach the pinnacle of the hillock was tiresome. There is a small church there and the pilgrims were slowly trickling in. I sought the intercession of St. Thomas here as well just as I had done in Santhome Cathedral Basilica where his body was entombed. But it was here that I experienced the divine aura and healing. This divine experience I had five decades ago, took me to this place of his martyrdom whenever I visited Chennai, the last of which was a couple of weeks ago. The roads have been widened and the premises have been developed to take care of the growing influx of the pilgrims.

The body of St. Thomas was entombed in Mylapore after his martyrdom and Santhome Cathedral Basilica was built there. However only some of his relics remain there today, as his body was taken away and entombed at the Greek Island Chios.

In 1258 Ortona’s Gen.Leone Acciaiuoli while visiting the island went into a local church to pray. A light hand waved at him while praying urging him to go closer to the tomb. He felt a sweetness and peace as he had never felt before. He reached the tomb and took a bone. The halo surrounding the bone was a proof that it was the relic of St. Thomas. He came back on the next night and stole the rest of the relics and tomb itself. The relics were brought and placed in a local church in Ortona about 195 miles away from Rome. The relics survived centuries of turbulent events, including an earthquake, a fire, an attack by the Turks, and an attack by the French. It was hidden in the Second World War during the German occupation in the house of the parish priest. The church was reopened after renovation and rebuilding in 1949 and the tomb and the relics of St. Thomas stored in a gilded copper shrine were placed in the crypt in the Basilica. Today many continue to take the take the 195 mile route pilgrimage “Cammino di San Tommaso” from Rome to Ortona to seek intercessions and blessings from St. Thomas at the Basilica di San Tommaso.

My adoration and veneration of St. Thomas which began 50 years ago as Pre University student continue to grow as I am crowned with more and more blessings each time I visit the St. Thomas Mount and the Santhome Cathedral Basilica.

Praise the Lord!

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