Catholic Shrines in Chennai, India – Thomas Charles Nagy

“The two main issues that weaken the historicity of the St. Thomas story and thus make St. Thomas a controversial figure in the modern day, is the reliance on the Acts of Thomas, as a pseudo-historical document, as well as the flimsiness of oral tradition as an accurate recording of history. Additionally, while the various arguments regarding the preservation of early Christian communities along the Malabar Coast are far more historically viable, they also cast some doubt over the validity of the St. Thomas tradition. It seems far more logical that Christianity was introduced to India by way of the Eastern Syrian Church, maybe as early as the fourth century CE, and maintained by subsequent migrations from those regions of the Middle East that fell under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Syrian Church.” – Thomas Charles Nagy

Catholic Shrines in Chennai, India (Cover)


This thesis investigates the phenomenon of Catholic renewal in India by focussing on various Roman Catholic churches and shrines located in Chennai, a large city in South India where activities concerning saintal revival and shrinal development have taken place in the recent past. The thesis tracks the changing local significance of St. Thomas the Apostle, who according to local legend, was martyred and buried in Chennai. In particular, it details the efforts of the Church hierarchy in Chennai to bring about a revival of devotion to St. Thomas. In doing this, it covers a wide range of issues pertinent to the study of contemporary Indian Christianity, such as Indian Catholic identity, Indian Christian indigeneity and Hindu nationalism, as well as the marketing of St. Thomas and Catholicism within South India. The thesis argues that the Roman Catholic renewal and “revival” of St. Thomas in Chennai is largely a Church-driven hierarchical movement that was specifically initiated for the purpose of Catholic evangelization and missionization in India. Furthermore, it is clear that the local Church‘s strategy of shrinal development and marketing encompasses Catholic parishes and shrines throughout Chennai‘s metropolitan area, and thus, is not just limited to those sites associated with St. Thomas‘s Apostolic legacy. – Thomas Charles Nagy

Fr. Lawrence Raj


Readers of Thomas Charles Nagy’s thesis Catholic Shrines in Chennai, India, should be aware that the statements made to Nagy by the then parish priest of San Thome Cathedral Basilica, Fr. Lawrence Raj, are self-serving, exaggerated, casteist, and when referencing Ishwar Sharan blatantly untrue.

Ishwar Sharan did not at any time enter San Thome Cathedral Basilica nor did he ever attempt to contact Fr. Lawrence Raj or the Madras-Mylapore Archbishop.

As parish priest of San Thome Cathedral Basilica, Fr. Lawrence’s clearing and building activities were of a possible criminal nature. Read G.P. Srinivasan’s article “San Thome Cathedral cover-up uncovered“.

Thomas Charles Nagy did not attempt to get any Hindu perspective on the St. Thomas in India legend or the replacement of the original seaside Kapaleeswara Temple by a San Thome Church (except to reference Ishwar Sharan’s book), nor, unfortunately, did he verify any of the statements made to him by Fr. Lawrence Raj before publishing them. – Admin

› Nagy’s references to Sita Ram Goel and Ishwar Sharan can be found in the thesis starting at Chapter Three (3.3).

San Thome Cathedral was built by the British in 1893 to replace the original Portuguese church and raised to the status of a minor basilica in 1956 after much lobbying by Indian bishops.

About Basilica Churches

A lot of noise is made in the mainstream Indian media about Christian churches designated as basilicas. These reports are prompted by bishops and clergy who want to give the impression that the term describes some special spiritual status of their respective churches.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are more than a thousand basilica churches in the world and only four are designated major basilicas. All four are in Rome and reserved for the pope.

The term basilica is Latin (derived from Greek basilikè stoá) and was used by the Romans to identify a large public building or city hall. These buildings had an architecture which included a large auditorium, a style which was later taken over by Christians when they gained political power in the Roman Empire and needed big showy churches.

So a basilica church is one built in a grand architectural style, almost always being the cathedral church of the bishop (cathedra being Latin for ‘seat’ of the bishop). Many of the old churches of Europe are built in the basilica style.

Later the term came to signify an important pilgrimage church or one with certain ritual privileges. For example San Thome Cathedral Basilica is a minor basilica and the only special privilege it affords the Madras-Mylapore bishop is that he has his own altar on which to say Mass and doesn’t have to share an altar with the parish priest. This gives him ecclesiastical status. San Thome Cathedral Basilica is also an important pilgrimage centre for Christians because of the St. Thomas fable the Portuguese created and which the Church continues to promote in India and abroad—abroad being more important as that is where the money is!

India has three minor basilicas (out of 1,810 worldwide). The most important and oldest is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, which contains the remains of the Spanish missionary pirate ‘St.’ Francis Xavier.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni is designated a minor basilica only because it has become through religious propaganda a famous pilgrimage center for Christians (and Hindus). It generates huge profits for the Catholic Church. There is no other reason for this designation whatever the so-called secular newspaper columnists and TV commentators may say.

See also

  1. For an analysis of Nagy’s thesis see the Thomas Myth Blog.
  2. The Haaretz Paradox: Why would an Israeli newspaper propagate the myth that St. Thomas was killed by Hindu priests? – Aravindan Neelakandan