Sunday, November 15, 2009

St. Thomas Mount --My Lord and my God

My family is from Kerala in the Southwest tip of India.  We are far north and east of Kerala here in Chennai.  We are on the beach that faces east, the Malabar Coast in Kerala faces west. 

The apostle Thomas came to India, and legend has it that he arrived in Malabar, and also went to Chennai.  I don't know if it was by land or sea, but the story here is that he landed on the beach and established a community.  When he was being chased down by locals for beginning this new movement, he hid in caves and was finally martyred at the top of what is know St. Thomas Mount, spear in his back while leaning on a stone, very Gethsemane meets Abraham and Isaac.

We went to St. Thomas Mount yesterday. 

First, in case you have any bad ideas in your head ...

We need one of those signs for the East Yard at St. Mark's.  We have a problem with the pairs and merriment there.

You start the walk, stations of the cross, in the middle of the Anglo Indian neighborhood in Chennai.  Anglo Indians are the community descended from marriages or less public liaisons between Brits and Indians.  Usually soldiers and local women, but there are other interesting configurations as well.  This is a community that has been marginalized historically and has, i think, also produced a disproportionate number of well known public figures. 

It was a rainy day, and there were very few people around.

We began at street level and ascend a not very steep "mount" following the stations of the cross with the few people there who seemed to be using it as a walkway.  There are houses built on both sides with entrances through the pilgrimage site.  What a place to live!

As we got higher, we had a view of the city below through clouds and drizzle.

At the top we found Pope John Paul II, some ceramic elephants and a Catholic gift shop with all the usual stuff under a thatched roof. 

In the church, our Lady of Expectation, I think.  I don't know her, but she sounds with child, the altar piece was a section of the stone from the ancient church on this site.  A black orthodox cross.  Interestingly, you could walk all the way up and behind the altar and to both sides.  Can you always do that in Catholic Churches? 

I think my grandmother would see this site as the only pilgrimage worth making.  She lives 14 hours away by train.  She turns 99 next year, or 100, we're not sure.

We went back down the path in a light drizzle with Chennai coming up to street level as we walked the stations in reverse.