St. Thomas Mount, Parangimalai is a small hillock located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Located near the neighbourhood of Guindy and very close to Chennai International Airport, St. Thomas Mount is associated with St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ, who is believed to have been martyred here. The mount was originally named as Periyamalai in Tamil meaning the Big Mount), but is also commonly called in Tamil Parangi Malai. This word, derived from "Farangi", denoted Europeans in general and Roman Catholics in particular in the Tamil country. Syrian Christians of India trace the origin of their church to the Apostle of St.Thomas who attained martyrdom here in Chennai nearly 2000 years ago. Over a period of time, this part of Chennai was populated predominantly by Anglo-Indian. A serene and beautiful relic-filled church built in 1523 by the Portuguese stands on top of this 300-foot hillock. Pope John Paul II visited St. Thomas Mount on 5 February 1986. The Indian Army operates an Officer Training Academy (OTA) at the bottom of the mount. The Southern line of the Chennai suburban railway has a station named after St. Thomas Mount here.
Original name of this place is Pirungi malai. It is believed Sage Pirungi meditated in this place and Lord Siva appeared before him in the form of Nandhi. Nandeeswarar Temple near railway station is testimony for this. The ancient tradition that Thomas the Apostle was one of the first Christians to reach India and to preach Christianity is not well ascertained. He is believed to have reached Kerala in 52 AD and spent the last years of his life in a cave on this hill spreading Christianity and baptizing the native people. Local belief adds that St. Thomas was killed with a spear in 72 AD by persons hostile to him. Even then however, the hillock acquired the name St. Thomas Mount. A shrine dedicated to "Our Lady of Expectation" (Mother Mary) was built in 1523 on top of the mount. It is believed that the altar of this shrine was built on the spot where St.Thomas had died in 72 AD. At the northern foot of the mount, is a gateway of four impressive arches surmounted by a cross bearing the inscribed date 1547. A flight of 160 steps leads up to the summit of the mount. There are fourteen stations of the cross erected on the way to the summit.
In 1547, an excavation unearthed a stone cross with old Sassanid Pahlavi inscriptions on it. The cross, believed by the Christians to have been chiselled by the Thomas himself, became known as the 'Bleeding Cross' as it purportedly has stains resembling blood stains which reappear even after being scrubbed off. It is also believed to 'bleed' afresh periodically. It first 'bled' publicly during Mass in 1558 and the last record occasion when it 'bled' was in 1704. Fr. Guy Tachard, a Roman Catholic priest has recorded about this as explained by then Vicar, Fr. Gasper Coelho. Thomas is supposed to have clutched this cross as he lay dying. When it was discovered, the cross was built into the wall being the altar of the church, which it adorns even today. On either side of the chancel there are framed oil paintings depicting the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Above the altar is an oil painting of The Madonna, which is believed to be one of the seven painted by Luke the Evangelist and brought to India by Thomas. This picture of the Madonna is considered to be the oldest Christian painting in India.
The Little Mount (locally known as the Chinnamalai —the small mount), is a rocky prominence where Thomas is believed to have chosen a tiny cave as his home and led a spartan prayerful life in solitude, often praying on the top of the hill and preaching to the crowds. Today, this monument hewn out of rock with its small narrow opening has an altar with the image of St. Thomas used as a prayer home. To the east of this cave is an opening, supposedly that of a tunnel through which he fled from his alleged assailants to St. Thomas Mount. The Christian faithful believe that the opening (window) was miraculously made and through this Thomas escaped from his enemies who were waiting in front of the entrance. Near the tunnel's entrance is a clearly visible palm print. This hand-print and the footprint at the foot of the hillock, are believed to be those of Thomas himself. Little Mount has an ancient church built by the Portuguese in 1551. At the entrance is a portrait of Thomas and Portuguese inscription, while a masonry cross at the top of the hill marks the spot where Thomas supposedly preached.