Saint Thomas – In América and India
Chennai (in the past called Madras) is the capital and largest city of the state of Tamil Nadu, located in the extreme south of India. Making part of the city is São Tomé de Meliapor, an ancient territory colonized by Portugal in India between 1523 and 1662, and later between 1687 and 1749. Today it is a historic quarter of the city.
Chennai was also colonized by England, having been the seat of the English East India Company until 1773 and prospered on the basis of cotton and textile trade. At that time it became the most important city of India as an English colony. It is also the fourth largest city in the country, after Calcutta, Bombay and New Delhi.
It is in São Tomé de Meliapor that there are the remains of the Apostle Thomas, in a Catholic Basilica built by the Portuguese on his tomb. Known as a missionary in India through the Acts of Thomas, written around the year 200, his followers are known as “Christians of St. Thomas (Nasrani Malabar).” It is an ethno-religious group in Kerala, referring to those who became Christians on the coast of Malabar in the early Christian Faith, including natives of the region and those of the Jewish diaspora in Kerala. They are called Christians of São Tomé because they were evangelized directly by the apostle St. Thomas in preaching between the years 52 and 72 A.D.
By the year of 1986, Pope Jhon Paul II visited Chennai
Clique on the figure bellow to see the pictures
The various denominations of the modern Eastern Christian Church of Saint Thomas attribute its origins to its oral tradition, dated back to the second century AD, claiming that Thomas has arrived in Maliankara, near the village of Moothakunnam in the year 52. This village is located 5 km of Kodungallur, in the Indian state of Kerala, and contains the churches dedicated to Saint popularly known as Ezharappallikal. These churches are in Cranganor, Coulon, Niranam, Nilackal, Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal, Palayoor and Thiruvithamkode
During the first centuries of colonization in America, the first Jesuits who arrived in Brazil were surprised by the receptivity of Kara-yo natives, who lived in the coastal territory between the city of Cananéia (SP) and the region of Lagoa dos Patos (RS). These natives not only reported, but also showed various records and signs of “proof” that became strong indications of the passage of Thomas by the South of America. Interestingly, there are similar records in India, indicating it is the same person. The natives also reported the mythological figure of a white man who would have visited our South of America in Pre-Columbian times. This figure, which they attributed the nickname “Father Sumé”, was identified and merged with São Tomé.
The most remarkable historical information about the existence of the footprints of Saint Thomas in Brazil was transmitted to us by Jesuit Manoel da Nóbrega, one of the first Jesuit missionaries, who was provincial of the Company of Jesus in Brazil and very close to José de Anchieta:
“Also told me, a reliable person, that the roots of bread that here are made, which St. Thomas gave them, because they had no bread here.”
Later, Jesuit Manuel da Nóbrega adds:
“They say (the natives) that St. Thomas, whom they call Sumé, passed by here and this was told to them by their ancestors and that their footprints are signaled by a river, which I went to see, for the certainty of the truth, and I saw with my own eyes four footsteps very marked with their fingers, to which they are covered by the river sometimes, when it fills. They also say that when he left these footsteps he was escaping from the natives who wanted to shoot him, and when he got the river it opened, and he passed through it, without getting wet. And from there he went to India. They also say that when the natives wanted to shoot him, the arrows turned back to them, and the bushes made way for him. They also say that he promised them he would see them again.”
One of the most importante report of Sumé was left to us by Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, a Jesuit missionary in Paraguay. In 1639 he wrote a book where he transmitted an interesting episode about his arrival between the natives of those lands.
The hospitality of them was very friendly, having a festive demonstration of dances, being offered food, causing him surprise. The Indians then told him an age-old tradition received from their ancestors. When St. Thomas, who they called Father Zumé, made his way through those lands, he had said these words to them:
“The doctrine that I now preach to you, you will lose it in time. But when, after a long time, some of my successor priests, who bring crosses as I bring, will hear your descendants this same doctrine that I teach you.”
Click on the figure below to see pictures of the signs left
by São Tomé in Brazil and India
The chronicler still says that these natives had a cross, which associated with the story caused greater admiration. According to the Jesuits, the natives reaffirmed other Christian religious ideas taught by Sumé (Tomé). Admirably, they said that to their ancestors, Sumé taught that a virgin of incomparable beauty gave birth to a beautiful son who had no father; and this son restored health to the sick, vision to the blind, life to the dead. In addition to the relates that resemble the life of Jesus, there are also others parallel to the biblical story of the great flood.
According to the natives who reported all these facts to the Jesuits, Thomas ran into an ancestral and ancient way (road), opened by the various peoples who lived along its route. This road left the Atlantic Ocean and continued uninterruptedly to the Pacific Ocean.
It is the first transoceanic road known throughout history. Through it Thomas passed by the Kingdon of Peru, going up the American territory until a certain point, where it is still possible to identify the signs left by him. After his long journey by land, he most likely took a boat to India, where he landed in the region up mentioned, where he found the ancient State of Kerala.
There he pleased and conquered many people, founding churches and converting thousands of them. His death occurred in the year 72 A.D., in one of the places where he used to preach: a small hill near Madras. It is estimated that today there are about 7 million followers, or “Christians of Sao Tome” only in India.
The history says that Thomas died because of the displeasure local leader after having converted his son and wife to Christianity. In the place was built a small sanctuary where later a beautiful Basilica was built over its tomb. Thomas also would have left a gospel written by himself, which is in the Library of Nag Hammadi. There are many accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus.
Whoever accompanies the History Channel, in January (2018) was shown an episode exclusively about the footsteps of Tomé in India. The results of the examinations proved that the bone of his left forearm – which is currently in the Cathedral of Pari (Italy) proved that the sacred relic dates from 90 AD. This makes it the most authentic holy relic ever found throughout the entire history of Christianity. The small margin of error between the year that Thomas died (72D.C.) and the result pointed in the examinations (90D.C.) is perfectly acceptable. Considering that the bone received a layer of resin and was sealed in an air-proof glass dome.
Such discoveries opended the way for unprecedented studies. Several scholars are joining forces in order to trace the whole history of São Tomé, as well as prove his passage through America, especially Brazil.
The road that São Tomé used to travel through part of the South of America was known by the natives as the “Peabirú Way”.
Later this same way became also known as the “São Tomé Way”. This path has largely been lost, but parts of it still remain alive, resisting in time and progress. There are people who run parts of this way as a pilgrimage, to get closer to God and also to the Adventurer Apostle who passed here. Peabirú was discovered in 1524 by the Portuguese shipwreck Aleixo Garcia, who through it arrived in Cuzco, capital of the Inca Empire.
Nowadays, the closest way to the original path is the route of the railroads that exist along the states of São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul, linking them with the Bolivian railroad that follows in the direction of Cuzco in Peru.
This same path, the railroads pointed above as well as the places where supoosedly Thomas has passed through, served as scenery for the development of much of the adventure narrated in the book “Between Rails and Stars“.
The Bolivian train received in its beginnings the nickname of “Train of the Death”, that does not jus much less at his service. It happens that during the period when its railroads were built, Bolivia faced a severe outbreak of Yellow Fever, leading to death a large number of citizens, including an expressive amount of workers who worked on the construction of this railway. At that time, old wooden wagons were used during the outbreak, to transport doctors, medicine and humanitarian aid, but also from the bodies of those who succumbed to the epidemic. The train is completely safe and has a high quality service. The route between Puerto Quijarro and Santa Cruz de La Sierra served as a scenario for a part of the adventure brought in the book.
There is also a third part of the route indicated in the book, where the main characters leave by train from the city of Cuzco, passing through several stations until reaching Puno, one of the oldest and historical regions of Peru – located on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It is in Puno that the characters arrive at the destination where the highest point of history takes place: The Fabulous Kingdom of Uros (Floating Islands made by Ancestral Peoples that inhabit that region for more than 10 thousand years. The way between the cities of Cuzco and Puno is operated by the company Perurail, and it is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
It is important to mention that the book has a preface written by Dom João Baptista Barbosa Neto. The choice for the prefacing was specially because he is a Benedictine Monk who has the main role of Guardian of the Monastic Library that belongs to the Monastery of São Bento of São Paulo, founded in 1598 by the first Jesuits who arrived in Brazil. Currently the Library is only used by Closing Monks, as well as researchers and scholars of the Course of Philosophy of São Bento Faculty, the first course of philosophy established in Brazil.
Dom Joao Baptista’s notes were of great value to the work, as it not only complements it, but also accurately brings some of the most important writings left by the first Jesuit Missionaries such as José de Anchieta and Manoel da Nóbrega, among others
People from all over the world visit the Sanctuary of St. Thomas in Chennai – India, as well as their churches and the places where the Apostle lived. As a way to facilitate the reception of people, as well as indicate a safe place to stay in the city of Chennai, I had contact for a long time Mrs. Balabavithra Ramani.
She has a very well-established hostel in the city and hosts people from all over the world, including Brazil. Its location is very close to the main sites that refer to the passage of the Apostle, being safe and practical because of the proximity to the places mentioned above in the city of Chennai. In addition, Ramani knows the whole region perfectly and offers precious information on how to get around, where to eat, etc
If you wish to visit Chennai and the places where Saint Thomas lived in India, you can contact her through the following address:
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