The story of the apostle known as "doubting Thomas" begins
after the first Easter. In fear for their lives after the
crucifixion of Jesus, the 11 surviving apostles (Judas had
hanged himself on Good Friday) had locked themselves in the
room they had used for the Last Supper. On Easter evening,
the Risen Christ appeared suddenly among them. Thomas was not
there, but when he returned, the other apostles were still
joyous and excited at finding the Lord alive. Not only did
Thomas doubt that Christ had risen from the dead, he set a
few conditions that would have to be met before he believed.
"Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails," he said,
"and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my
hand in His side, I will not believe."
Eight days later Christ returned, and this time Thomas was in
the room. Turning to Thomas, Jesus said, "Put your finger
here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it
in my side; do not be faithless, but believing."
Overwhelmed by the sight of the Lord, Thomas exclaimed, "My
Lord and my God." Catholics still pray this exclamation
silently at Mass, at the moment the priest elevates the host.
Addressing St. Thomas and all doubters down through the ages
Jesus said, "Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe."
Because of his period of disbelief, St. Thomas has become the
patron saint who resolves the qualms, misgivings and
reservations of doubters, skeptics and cynics.
After this dramatic event described in St. John's Gospel, St.
Thomas disappears from the historical record, and we enter
the realm of tradition and legend. According to a very
ancient tradition, Thomas carried the Gospel first to Syria,
then to Persia (modern-day Iran) and finally to southern
India. Many writers and theologians from the early centuries
of the church assert that Thomas established the Christian
faith in India, including St. Jerome (c. 341-420) who wrote,
"Christ dwells everywhere, with Thomas in India and with
Peter in Rome." Naturally, this tradition is especially
strong in India, where it is common for Catholics and
Orthodox to refer to themselves as "St. Thomas Christians."
In 1293, when the renowned Venetian globe-trotter, Marco
Polo, passed through Madras (modern-day Chennai), he found
that both Christian and Muslim pilgrims visited the tomb of
St. Thomas, located in a church near the harbor. In 1498,
when the first Portuguese explorers reached southern India,
they were pleasantly surprised to find that Christian
communities were thriving there. And the tradition is still
strong today, so much so that in 1972, to mark the 1900th
anniversary of St. Thomas' martyrdom, the government of India
issued postage stamps in the apostle's honor.
Craughwell is the author of This Saint Will Change
Your Life (Quirk, 2011) and Saints Behaving Badly