Theodore, a sixth-century visitor from Europe, spoke of the San Thome church as “a church of striking dimensions, elaborately adorned and designed”.
Pilgrims from England, sent by King Alfred, seem to have visited it in the year 883.The world-renowned traveler from Italy, Marco Polo, traveled here in 1292 A.D. and speaks of it in his journals.
There are reports on this church by Oderic of Pordenone(Papal Legate) in 1325, by John De Marignolli in 1349, Nicolo de Conti, another Italian visitor, between 1425 and 1430.
A certain Joseph, from Cranganore, went to Italy and Portugal in 1501.After seeing the splendid churches of Venice, he said that the San Thome Church was comparable in splendor to the church of St John and St Paul in Venice.
However, when the Portuguese arrived in Mylapore, they found the San Thome Church in ruins, except for the small chapel, which contained the tomb of St Thomas.They rebuilt the church in 1523.
In 1893, under Bishop Henrique Jose read De Silva of Mylapore, this structure was demolished and the magnificent ‘Gothic’ church was built.The tomb of St Thomas is at the heart of the structure.
The blessing of the church took place on 1 April 1896 and Bishop A.S. Valente, Patriarch of the East Indies consecrated the main altar.In 1956 the church was declared a Minor Basilica.In the Basilica stands an ancient statue of Our Blessed Mother, Mary.The three-foot-high statue is called “Mylai Matha’ in Tamil or our Lady of Mylapore in England.It was before this statue that the world famous missionary, St Francis Xavier, whose body is exposed for veneration in Goa, used to pray, during his four months’ stay in Mylapore in 1545.
The basilica consists of two structure, the tomb chapel below the Basilica and the Museum-cum-theatre.The new underground chapel, with a separate access outside the church structure, allows pilgrims to pray at the tomb and tourists to visit it without disturbing the functions of the church.
The museum exhibits artifacts connected with St Thomas and the Basilica, and the theatre screens a short video on the life of the Apostle.
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