ST. THOMAS, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, is said to have brought Christianity to India in AD 52, where he was killed as a martyr. Hisrelics traveled to many places after his death, until most found their final resting place in the Basilica of San Tommaso in Ortona, Italy.
Reliquary containing the relics of Saint Thomas in the Basilica of San Tommaso Apostolo, Ortona, Italy
Some ofrelics of Saint Thomas are still in Chennai, India, near where he died and was buried. Others ended up on the Greek island of Chios in the early 13th century, where the skull of Saint Thomas is said to still be present. Still others made their way to Italy in 1258, when the general of Ortona, Leone Acciaiuoli, visited the Greek island with three galleys and had a spiritual experience.
The tomb of Saint Thomas, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
After successfully looting the place, the general went to the local church to pray. According to a legend, a light hand gave him two signs, asking him to come closer, and he felt a softness and a peace like never before. Acciaiuoli then approached the grave and took a bone. A halo surrounding the bones proved to him that he had indeed found therelics of the apostle Saint Thomas. The following night he returned and stole the rest of the relics and the tomb.
In 1358, therelics were brought to the local church of Ortona, which was raised to the rank of a minor basilica by Pope Pius IX in 1859. There the relics of the apostle Saint Thomas, together with the looted tombstone, were displayed in a crypt and have remained there to this day.
Relic of the finger of Saint Thomas, part of the collection of relics kept at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Therelics survived centuries of turbulent events - an earthquake, an attack by the Turks, a fire, an attack by the French - but remained intact. Some time later they were placed under the altar of the church. The church was again damaged during the Second World War, under the German occupation. A heavy silver bust of Saint Thomas was hidden from the Germans in a dark corner of the church, under wood, and the relics, which saw daylight for the first time in 150 years, were hidden in the priest's house.
When the church reopened after its renovation and reconstruction in 1949, the tomb and relics of the Apostle Saint Thomas, kept in a gilded copper reliquary, were placed in a crypt in the basilica, where they remain. still find today. The bust of Saint Thomas, which contains some fragments of his skull bone, is also on display again in the church. Today many people come to visit the Basilica of San Tommaso on their 195 mile "Cammino di San Tommaso" pilgrimage, the route of Saint Thomas from Rome to Ortona.
Another bone from Thomas's arm is found in a relic in the Church of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy. The Cronicon Bari mentions that a French bishop, cousin of Baudouin du Bourg, lord of Edessa, returning in 1102 from the Holy Land and Edessa, left the relic of Saint Thomas the Apostle in the basilica of Bari, the reliquary itself is dated 1602-1618 and has the shape of a right arm holding a spear in the iconography of the martyrdom suffered by the Apostle, and rests on a plinth containing a relic of the Magdalen. Thomas' bone is visible through a window in the reliquary. In 2009, the bone was measured and compared to Ortona's bones. The upper arm bone is 23 cm long; this can be used to calculate the total length of the body, resulting in a length of 163.4cm plus/minus 2cm, more or less the same as Ortona's skeleton. Bari's upper left arm is missing in Ortona, so this bone could be from the same person.
another bone from Thomas's arm is in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in the treasury of the Basilica of Saint Servaes.Curiously, the treasury text mentions it as Saint Catherine's right arm bone, but the text visible through the window of the reliquary clearly states: Saint Thomas Apollona (Apostle).This may be the missing right arm bone from Ortona's skeleton.
Also, some finger bones are missing from Ortona.The index finger bone of "doubting" Saint Thomas, who touched Christ's wound, is found in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, Italy.Some say that this relic has been in Santa Croce since the time of Saint Helena (3rd century, that is, the time when the body was moved to Edessa).In the center of the reliquary, redone after the French Revolution, there is an oval case with both sides of crystal in which is placed a finger-shaped support with two openings on the side.Through the openings, the finger bone is clearly visible.Other pieces of Thomas' fingers returned from Edessa in India (instead of in Europe).A reliquary with some hand bones is kept in the St. Thomas of Milapore Museum.