Unraveling a beautiful secret in Chennai – Santhome Church

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Tamil Nadu | 95

I have been to Chennai umpteen number of times – either on work or to meet someone or just as a transit city for a bigger destination elsewhere. Given the nature of my visits, I never really explored Chennai as a tourist. It frankly, never occurred to me as one . It just seemed like any other metropolitan city. Thanks to my journey on the Golden Chariot, I discovered one lovely secret of this city – Santhome Church. This church has remained a little elusive as people here take it for granted. It’s history and significance seems to be forgotten and for me, that precisely was the reason I enjoyed the church. In this blog post, I reveal all that I discovered about this lovely secret – Santhome Church.

Santhome Church, Chennai
Santhome Church, Chennai

Significance of Santhome Church

Santhome Church is also, known as St.Thomas Church. This church is significant not just for the history of Christianity in India but also, for the Christians worldwide. It is one of the three churches in the world that is built over the remains of a saint – St. Thomas in this case. The other two include St.Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. St.Thomas himself, is quite significant as he is one of the 12 disciples of Jesus and was considered to be a miracle saint. He came to India somewhere around 52 AD. While he landed in Kerala, he traveled through the South of India slowly spreading a new faith – Christianity. Eventually, he reached Chennai and they say, used to preach from the Mount of St.Thomas. It is here that he was struck dead and buried. They say, that his body still remains below the church and that definitely, make this monument a landmark one.

History of Santhome church

The Old Santhome Church before it was rebuilt
The Old Santhome Church before it was rebuilt

Around 16th century was when a proper church was built by the Portuguese over the grave of St. Thomas. The initial structure did not look like what is today. Over time, the church fell into disrepair until the British decided to reconstruct. Around the late 1800s, the current, white shining building was constructed and has remained since.

Exterior of the Santhome Church in Chennai

The beautiful spires of the Santhome church, Chennai
The beautiful spires of the Santhome church, Chennai

The sight of a gorgeous white church against the clear blue skies of Chennai had me completely spellbound. It is hard not to get impressed. The huge spires and the Gothic-style architecture is bound to make you look up again and again. The tall steeples have this lovely carved designs that appealed to the artist in me. I even loved the dome-shaped windows around the church.

The beautiful spires of the Santhome church, Chennai

The dome shaped windows of the Santhome Church, Chennai
The dome shaped windows of the Santhome Church, Chennai

I am sure that the white structure would look equally beautiful in the dark nights but sadly, for this visit I had be content with a day view. I had not had enough of the outside but did not have the patience to wait more. The only thought running through my head – “If the outside is so stunning, I wonder what awaits inside!”

The stained glass interiors of Santhome Church

And was I rewarded! Those very windows that I was admiring from the outside, were even more gorgeous from the inside. What was white and simple outside was as colorful and vibrant inside. The Altar was just so impressive with its bleeding Jesus statue and the backdrop of the colored glass.

The Inside of the Santhome Church, Chennai
The Inside of the Santhome Church, Chennai
Altar of Santhome Church
Altar of Santhome Church

I loved the whole arched roof effect in brown wood within the church. As simple as it was, it helped lift the whole colored glass effect. The murals alongside the wall and the elegant colors of the windows just added so much of vibrance to the otherwise dark church. Scroll through the slide show below to know what I mean.

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Check out these seating arrangements. For one moment I thought it was for the dignitaries. However, that was not the case. It was for anyone who visited the church.

Some of the seating arrangements within the Santhome Church
Some of the seating arrangements within the Santhome Church

There was something simple and yet elegant about the church interiors. And that is why I fell in love with this place.

The remains of St.Thomas

A glimpse of the remains of Saint Thomas near the Altar within the main church
A glimpse of the remains of Saint Thomas near the Altar within the main church

Close to the altar, you can get a glimpse of the grave of St. Thomas. You can visit the same by exiting the church and heading to the little building behind it. Here you need to descend to the basement and pay your respects to the remains of St. Thomas. No photography is allowed here and I would urge people to respect the same as responsible tourists.

Museum at Santhome Church

Spend a few minutes at the museum that is within same building that leads you to the grave of St. Thomas. I found a few interesting exhibits here – like this relic of St.Thomas.

Relic of St. Thomas at the Santhome Museum

I also, found this picture depicting St.Thomas unblocking a river with his miracle. It is said that the log could not be removed by the strongest of men but he managed to do it by dragging it with his girdle. The King was pleased and granted him leave to build a church.

Bronze art depicting a scene from St.Thomas's life at the Santhome church
Bronze art depicting a scene from St.Thomas’s life at the Santhome church

Santhome Church may not be the grandest of church but it is definitely an important one, especially if you are a huge heritage buff. It is also, a good example of how sometimes the simplest things are elegant and appeal. These two for me were the main draw and I sure was glad to have stumbled upon one of Chennai’s secret. So, the next time you plan to go to this metro city, you too, might want to unravel this secret by adding Santhome Church as one of the key places to visit in Chennai. Remember to pin for a reminder!


Getting here:

  • Chennai is one of the key metros in India and is very well-connected by road, rail and airways.
  • Santhome church is located in Mylapore and one can reach here either by bus, taxi or an auto rickshaw. It is quite central and finding transport should not be an issue from anywhere in Chennai.

Travel Tips:

  • Here is the official website of this church. The Mass timings are included here for those who are keen to attend one.
  • Shoes are not allowed inside the main church.
  • Please maintain silence when you visit the church
  • You can team your visit here with one to India’s longest beach – Marina Beach. The church is quite close to the same.

P.S: I visited this church as a part of the Golden Chariot tour, organized by Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation .



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95 Responses

  1. 100cobbledroads

    This is really a surprising dIscovery…I had no idea about it. The Gothic steeples and the red-tiled roof are so typically European. I love it. To think that it was pulled down!!

    • Ami

      It was pulled down for this structure…and this one was what amazed me! I hope you get to visit.

  2. nickymackenzie

    I love visiting churches when I travel. I’ve found many a hidden gem just by peeking around a church door! This one sounds beautiful, glad to hear it was restored beautifully, and the stained glass is exquisite!

  3. ellisveen

    This church looks so european and quite surprising it is in chennai. since i have seewn chennai express i really like to visit chennai.

    • Ami

      That is nice …I hope you get to go to Chennai sooon, though I must warn you, Chennai looks nothing like what is in Chennai express 🙂

  4. departureandarrivals

    I have never seen such a white gothic church and also I would never say this church is in India! Great article 🙂

    • Ami

      🙂 And I am so glad to have found it. It is a lovely one and I do hope you visit it.

  5. mackinawroad

    What a stunning church! It was interesting to learn the history of it as well- thank you 🙂

  6. Louiela

    Santhome Church is a must-see place in Chennai… It is my first time to read about it… And thanks you discovered this beautiful Christian Church with its architecture and history…

    • Ami

      It sure is and to me, I discovered it after so many visits….guess better late than never.

  7. Krista @ Gringita

    Very interesting, I didn’t know that building churches over saints was a thing. Looks really beautiful and unique! I would really like to visit India one day !

    • Ami

      I hope you do. It is rare to build church over graves and which is what makes this unique.

  8. Jyotirmoy Sarkar

    Never heard about it, its really surprising to know about such an old church specially when a great personality is attached with it. Thanks for sharing, will love to visit.

    • Ami

      Thanks Jyotirmoy. I think we all took it for granted but did not realise the significance of it. Glad to have found out.

    • Ami

      Thanks Shrinidhi. The faith here is still strong, I think weekends is when it would be crowded with the mass. Lucky for us, we got in between the mass time on a week day.

  9. ilive4travel

    Beautiful church, looks lovely from the outside and inside is beautiful too. I love the stained glass windows.

  10. arv!

    I have passed through Santhome Church many times when I was studying in Chennai. I never ventured inside this church though. Thanks for posting it here on Santhome church, Ami

  11. Melanie

    Wow! Stunning! I love exploring old churches and learning the history! I am also a sucker for beautiful stained glass! Will have to add this to my bucket list!

  12. Isadora Koller

    Now that I read it I realised how little we hear about Christianity in India! Very fascinating to see such a beautiful and important church there! By the way, I prefered the British version over the Portuguese one

    • Ami

      The British one is definitely grander than the Portuguese one. Hope you visit here soon.

  13. BellyBytes

    This is a favourite spot of mine especially before boarding the plane back to Mumbai. But if I remember correctly, I was shown a cross that used to bleed ( or at least tear up) . Was this just my imagination?

    • Ami

      Well, if there was I seemed to have missed it. 🙁 Will have to return back (which I am sure I will) and figure this one out. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Becky Angell

    Wow this church is gorgeous so beautiful, I love exploring them whenever I visit anywhere as they are amzing on the inside and out. Thanks for the useful tips too 🙂

  15. travelerettenyc

    I have never heard of this church! I had no idea that there was a church in Chennai built over the remains of a saint. It looks gorgeous and I’d love to visit some day.

    • Ami

      Oh discovering this was a complete surprise and joy for me. I do hope you visit this soon. Thanks for stopping by

  16. Doreen Pendgracs

    Thanks so much for this post about the Santhome Church, Ami. It is so true that often, we don’t appreciate the gems in our own area, and don’t realize how fascinating they may be to visitors.

    • Ami

      Thank you Doreen. A lesson that I learnt – the next time I know I am not going to take any place for granted 😀

  17. asoulwindow

    I have been to Chennai so many times but on my last trip even I was surprised to see this granch ancient Church. It surely is one of the offbeat places to visit in Chennai. I was completely absorbed in the little museum behind the church. I am glad that you wrote about it in detail.

    • Ami

      Thanks Abhinav. The museum was a small but interesting one indeed. This place did take me by surprise. Pity we could not stroll down Marina though 😀

  18. Ana Ojha

    I went to Chennai couple of times few years back but was always disappointed by that city! Loved the Neo-Gothic architecture of the Santhome Church. Looks like a hidden gem!

  19. danik

    I have to admit, I didn’t even know Chennai had a church like this. It looks totally amazing and quite a discovery. Thanks for sharing this and hope to come across this one day.

  20. Archana Singh

    Like you I had been to Chennai umpteen times and even saw this church couple of times but never got a chance to see it from inside. Probably now after reading this, I would 🙂

    • Ami

      I am sure you will love it and also, wonder why you never went it. Glad to have found this one.

  21. Karyna

    This church looks beautiful! Those stained glass windows are beyond gorgeous, what a great find. Will definitely need to add it to my list one day!

    • Ami

      Well, based on an account I read, he seems to have been a victim of some battle. Not sure of the details. Thanks for stopping by Flo

  22. Nandhini Chandrasekaran

    Being born and brought up in the city, it took me 17 years until somebody invited us to a wedding, to visit the church. Yes, it’s a beautiful architecture. There are yet other places in Chennai, mostly not-so-popular architectures that remain unexplored by tourists. Thanks for writing on this.

    • Ami

      Yes, this church made me realise that I need to discover more of Chennai. Thanks for stopping by

  23. Chris

    You certainly had a beautiful day for it!

    I’m guessing the name Santhome is a perversion of the name of the saint over time?

  24. James Smith

    I love church photography, Santhome church looks no exception. The architecture looks so detailed and you photographed it brilliantly. I will check it out on a visit to Chennai!