An old church stands on top of a hill not far away from the Chennai Airport. It is a famous pilgrimage spot as well as a tourist attraction.
The story goes that, around 2000 years ago, St. Thomas, one of the 12 special friends of Jesus who lived and preached in far-away places like Galilee and Jerusalem, came to India. He talked to the local people about Jesus. He was killed on the hill where he spent a lot of time, and was buried there. Many years later, traders from Portugal, another far-away place, came to India. They were Christians – followers of Jesus. They tried to find out where St. Thomas’ body was buried. While they were digging on the hill, they discovered a stone cross, believed to have been carved by St. Thomas himself. It is considered holy.
The Portuguese built a small church at the spot where St. Thomas was believed to have died, and kept the stone cross there. As the years passed, the church was re-built many times and made larger, as more and more pilgrims started visiting it, drawn by reports of miracles that had taken place there. A set of 134 steps have been carved into the steep hillside, and thousands of people climb them to visit the church. You can also drive up a road on the other side.
The hill is now known as St. Thomas Mount, and the church is dedicated to Mother Mary, mother of Jesus. In the 16th and 17th century, the church served as a lighthouse for sailors in the Bay of Bengal. When they saw it, they would say a prayer for a safe voyage. Even today, you can get a fabulous view of the city of Chennai from the top of St. Thomas Mount.