Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Entry barred?

Four times has the tomb of St Thomas been opened, say the records. The fourth time was in 1729, and one of the prominent citizens of Madras, Coja Petrus Uscan, was present at this opening. It was on this occasion that he and other Armenians of Madras donated funds for setting up a chapel in the San Thome area, near the tomb of St Thomas. The original inscription can be seen even today, embedded high up on the building at its southern end. Another inscription, also on the building, shows that the Augustians helped in refurbishing the chapel in 1740.

Today, the chapel is part of the premises of the San Thome Matriculation Higher Secondary School. The Montfort Brothers, who run the school, had taken over the maintenance of the chapel in 1954. Over the years, the chapel's orientation seems to have gone through a 180ยบ turn. The view in the picture is from the southern end, which is where the entrance originally was. With the chapel's eastern wall being right on the road and a building crowding its western flank, one enters this building through the school's grounds - the northern side - these days.

When you look at it as you come up on Santhome High Road, you can't help feeling that it is impossible to enter this chapel. Three centuries ago, it was possibly quite difficult for the Armenian merchants to get a toe-hold into what was predominantly the Portuguese town of San Thome. And that must be why they named their chapel, marking it "In Memory of the Armenian Nation", after St Rita - the patron saint of impossible causes!

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