Since the colonial times, Chennai is the home for thousands of Christians. As early as the 1500s, Christianity started to spread in South India and with the coming of the Europeans like the Portuguese, the Dutch, French, Nestorian Christians and Armenians in Tamil Nadu, heralded the building of some of the most magnificent churches in India. These churches of Chennai reflect the 500 years of rich architectural heritage and the culture of the devout Christians who built them. The rich Christian tradition and culture is very well reflected in their places of worship, Churches. While Chennai is known for the innumerable Hindu temples that are strewn across the length and breadth of the city, the old-world churches are mute testimony of the city's longstanding history of Christianity. Chennai city is proud of its churches and their unique architecture. Some of the churches in Chennai are quite least known to visitors and visiting them is like walking past the city's rich and mixed history. Here is a short summary of some of the most celebrated churches of Chennai.
St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Church is the first Anglican Church in India. It was built in 1678-79 in Fort St. George. This was the first church built by the East India Company outside the Mediterranean. The original rectangular building was about 60 ft. by 90 ft. Its outer walls were 4 ft thick and its roof 2 ft. thick and bomb proof. The treasures of St. Mary's Church are the altarpiece, a large painting of The Last Supper, a 1660 bible and silver plates.
The Santhome Basilica church is located on the southern end of Marina Beach. A rare church, raised on the tomb of St. Thomas, an apostle of Christ, it has in its possession a small hand bone of Thomas and the head of a lance, which brought him down. Renovated in the early 1970s, this Basilica draws huge crowds. There is a beautiful stained glass window at the basilica, which portrays the story of St. Thomas, and the central hall has 14 wooden plaques depicting scenes from the last days of Christ. In the cathedral is a 3ft. high statue of Virgin Mary, which was brought from Portugal in 1543.
This church in Elliot's Beach is in honour of Our Lady of Health, the Madonna of Velankanni, though it is smaller in scale than the original one at Velankanni (near Nagapattinam). The devoted believe in the miraculous curative powers of the Madonna. The founding of the this 16th century church is attributed to three miracles : the apparition of Mary and Jesus to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the survival of Portuguese sailors assaulted by a violent sea storm.
The Armenian Church
The Armenian Church was built in 1772, on the site of the Armenian cemetery, where 350 graves are laid. The Church is also known as Armenian Church of Virgin Mary and is located on the Armenian Street, Chennai. The Armenian Church houses a magnificent belfry - 6 bells, claimed to be the largest bells in Chennai.
C.S.I. Holy Cross Church
The Church of South India or C.S.I. Holy Cross Church is more than 120 years old. It was originally called the Perambur Railway Church, when it was under the railway authorities. The C.S.I. Holy Cross Church earlier had a predominantly Anglo-Indian congregation though now there are also families from other southern states.
St. Thomas Mount
Legend has it that Thomas, an apostle of Christ, preached atop the hill here. He is said to have been killed on this 300 ft. high mount. The paintings of 'The Holy Lady and The Child' and 'Our Lady of Expectations' exhibited in the St. Thomas church are believed to have been done by St. Thomas.
St. Andrews Church
Known as "the Queen of Scottish Churches in the East", the St. Andrews Church has finely etched white Doric columns, black and white tiled marble roof, and a high, sky-blue dome of enviable beauty. On the inner surface of the dome, constellations of stars, as they can be viewed in Scotland, are painted realistically.
St. George's Cathedral
The St. George's Cathedral was built in 1815. It has a towering 45m spire and ionic columns. The highlight of this Cathedral is the graveyard just adjacent to it with its guardrail made up of war emblems - muskets, bayonets etc. of the capture of Srirangapatnam in 1799.
Lying amidst the cultural and religious centre of Mylapore on St. Mary's Road, this 17th century church is said to have been the place where St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, took rest and also served the people.