A `national shrine' near the sea

DECLARED A NATIONAL SHRINE: A view of the majestic Santhome Basilica.  

J. Malarvizhi

CHENNAI: The Santhome Cathedral Basilica has been declared a `national shrine' by the Catholic Bishops Conference.

"The Basilica is built over the tomb of St. Thomas, who brought Christianity to India in 52 A.D much before it reached Europe," Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore A.M. Chinnappa told newspersons here on Thursday. "It is one of the three basilicas in the world to be built over the tombs of Christ's disciples and is of international historic interest," he said.

The church has applied for `international shrine' status with the Vatican and is likely to receive it in a few months time. As a national shrine, the Basilica will attract more visitors than the approximate ten lakhs it receives each year, said Lawrence Raj, Rector.

There are plans to add a religious bookstall and amenities such as drinking water.

Over 100 years old

"Several churches have stood over this spot in Santhome, where the remains of St. Thomas were interred after he was killed on St. Thomas Mount. The current structure is a little more than a hundred years old," said Dr. Chinnappa.

Tall spires, self-supporting masonry and large stained glass windows characteristics of Gothic church architecture are found in the Basilica, built in 1896. It was renovated and blessed in December 2004.

The structure is stressed both by its proximity to the sea and the main road.

The Tomb Chapel below the Basilica is a recent addition and has separate access.