St. Thomas, known as Doubting Thomas, was born a Jew. He was probably a twin, also, since he was called Didymus, Greek for twin.. Born in Galilee, he was martyred far from home in what is now Mylapore, Tamil Nadu, India.
Most of what we know about him is by tradition, only. But we have a few glimpses into his personality from the New Testament. It appears he was the type to speak his mind and demand full facts and truth.
When Jesus heard that Lazarus was gravely ill, he planned on going back to Judea to see his friend. The disciples were very concerned because Jesus had become a wanted man by the authorities. His friends feared for His life. Thomas insisted on their going with Him, despite fear of death.
At the Last Supper, Jesus explained to the Apostles that he was going away to prepare a place for them, because they knew the place and the way. Thomas pleaded with Him that they did not understand. Jesus assured them that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
And, when all but Thomas had seen Jesus after the Resurrection, he doubted. When he finally did see Jesus, his statement “My Lord and my God” indicated the depth of his understanding and Faith.
At some time after the Ascension, the Apostles were assigned different places to go to spread the Good News. Thomas was assigned India. Bartholomew was assigned Parthia, which extended from just beyond the Jordan to the northwest edge of India. We imagine they were together for some time.
According to tradition, threatened by attacks, Thomas took a ship from northwest India south to Muziris on the Kerala coast, arriving in 52 AD. This area was destroyed by a flood in 1341, so can no longer be seen. Over the next few years, he established seven churches along the coast and the Periyar River. He is said to have ordained teachers and elders, the earliest Christian ministry in India. To this day, there are families who claim that their ancestors were baptized by St. Thomas including surnames of Pakalomattom, Sankaraput, Kalli and Kaliyankal. Whether this is true or not, these family names go back into the recesses of history.
There are some less reliable traditions regarding St. Thomas:
In 775, a document was found with possible origins in traditions from a late Persian empire. It claimed that St. Thomas went to China. This is possible, since India and China must have been trading partners. An ancient Christian apologist, Arnobius of Sicca (d. 330) also claimed St. Thomas’ travels.
Another ancient tradition was his presence at Mary’s Assumption. He was the only Apostle not to visit her at the time of her final sickness and death. So, he was mysteriously transported to Mary’s tomb in time to see her bodily assumed into Heaven. In order to prove this incident, Mary, it is said, dropped her girdle, a rope tied around the gown to hold the skirt up and keep the wearer from tripping over it. Thomas, it appears had to show it, and the bare tomb, to the other Apostles for them to believe Mary had been assumed. This made for an interesting role reversal for them.
According to Syrian-Christian tradition, St. Thomas had gone to the east coast of the Indian peninsula and was teaching in the district of Chennai, now Mylapore, Tamil Nadu. On 3 July 72 AD, he was stabbed with a spear and castrated. Some traditions showed he lived for several days. He was interred in Mylapore.
Ephrem the Syrian, a prominent Christian writer of the 4th century, was the first to report that St. Thomas’ remains, or some of them, were moved to Edessa sometime in the very early Church. When the Muslims became antagonistic and dangerous to Christians, the relics were again moved to Ortona, Italy.
Being the type of man who appeared to investigate before he believed, St. Thomas was a perfect choice for introducing Christianity to the pagans of India.
Pray for us, St. Thomas.