In the whole world, there are only three churches built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ - the Basilica of Saint Peter built over the tomb of St.Peter in Rome, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela built over the tomb of St.James in Spain and Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas built over the tomb of St.Thomas. Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas is in Chennai, India. Most Indian Catholics, why, even most Catholics in South India, or even in Chennai, seem to be unaware of the importance of this extraordinary shrine.
By Apostolic brief dated 16th March 1956, Pope Pius XII gloriously raised the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore to the dignity and rank of Minor Basilica.
The present National Shrine of St.Thomas is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who came to India in the year 52 AD. After preaching on the West Coast, he came to Chennai(formerly Madras), and suffered martyrdom on a hill at the outskirts of the city, today known as “St. Thomas Mount.” His body was buried on the spot over which the present Basilica stands.
As for the church, that too has much history behind it. This lovely Gothic Church is an architectural treasure. Rising 155 feet from the ground, with a nave of 112 feet by 33 feet, and an imposing sanctuary 62 feet long and 33 feet wide, it is adorned with stained glass windows depicting St. Thomas and the other Apostles. Inside the sanctuary is a statue of St. Thomas seated.
A valuable work of art kept in the Basilica is an ancient painting of Our Blessed Mother, in front of which the other great apostle of India, St. Francis Xavier, used to pray.