Raymond Cruze is on a pilgrimage, which in India puts him in
rather ordinary company. The destination, however, is not the
Hindu's sacred Ganges, the Sikh's holy city of Amritsar, or the home
of the Buddhist Dalai Lama in Dharmsala.
Mr. Cruze has come to a barren crag at the southern tip of India
to stand where Christ Jesus' doubting disciple, Thomas, is believed
to have been martyred some 2,000 years ago.
In a land that has given birth to the faiths of Hindus,
Buddhists, and Sikhs and is now the world's third most-populous
Muslim nation, Christianity often gets scant attention. But St.
Thomas Mount on the outskirts of Chennai (formerly Madras) is a
reminder that Christianity may have come here before it came even to
In all, Christians are India's third-largest religious group
behind Hindus and Muslims. Yet at 24 million, they make up only 2.3
percent of the population and have only a fingerhold in most parts
of the country.
It is here in India's far south where the country's Christian
history runs the deepest - where holy days explode in a riot of
color and devotees trace their tradition back to the earliest days
"Christianity is deeply ingrained into the people of the south,"
says Rev. Dominic Emmanuel of the Roman Catholic Church's Delhi
In most parts of the country, he notes, the Nativity of St. Mary
in September is a modest affair, whereas in the south, it is a "huge
celebration." On Holy Thursday, southern Christians visit seven
different churches, gather together as a family, and eat bitter
bread to commemorate Jesus' Passover meal. On Good Friday, the
sermons can take hours. "That's not so in the north," says Father
The distinctions arise from the passage of time. The south has
percolated in Christian traditions since the establishment of the
The Acts of Thomas, a third-century gnostic text, suggests that
the disciple Thomas took his ministry to India after the ascension.
According to the text, Thomas preached throughout southern India
before being martyred for converting the wives and a relative of an
Indian ruler, Misdaeus. In Chennai, the cathedral of St. Thomas
claims to be the resting place of the apostle.
While the truth of the Acts of Thomas is debated, it is likely
that Syrian merchants brought Christianity to the ports of southern
India no later than the fourth century. …