Saints of the Day – Thomas Didymus, Apostle

stained glass window of Saint Thomas the Apostle; date and artist unknown; north wall, Saint Birinus Church, Dorchester, England; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

1st century; declared apostle of India by Pope Paul VI in 1972; feast day formerly on December 21.

Thomas was probably born in Galilee to a humble family, but there is no indication that he was a fisherman. He was a Jew, but there is no account of how he became an apostle to Christ. His name is Syriac and means “the twin”; he was also called Didymus, which is the Greek equivalent. In France he is referred to as Jumeau, which also means “twin.”

Thomas is remembered for his doubt that Christ had actually risen from the dead, and he said to the apostles, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nailmarks, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Luke 20:25).

Eight days later, Christ appeared to him and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and bring your hand and put it into my side. And be not faithless, but believing.” Thomas fell at His feet, saying, “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe” (Luke 20:27-29). This incident gave rise to the expression “a doubting Thomas.”

Lest we condemn poor Thomas for his lack of belief, consider that he was a man who relentlessly sought the Truth. Like an inquisitive child, he constantly asked questions. Earlier, when Jesus told his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be. And you know the way where I’m going.”

At this Thomas, puzzled, but bold enough to ask his Lord to explain, said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. Henceforth, you know him and have seen him” (John 14:3-7).

When the worried disciples wanted to keep Jesus from going to raise Lazarus from the dead because “the Jews want to stone you and you leave yourself open to them!” Thomas responded, “Let us go also, that we may die with him!” (John 11:16).

Accounts of Thomas’s missionary activities are unreliable, but the most widely accepted account holds that he preached in India. The Acta Thomae say that when the apostles divided up the world for their missionary labors, India fell to Thomas. He said he was not healthy enough and that a Hebrew could not teach Indians; even a vision of Christ could not change his mind.

Christ then appeared to the merchant Abban and sold Thomas to him as a slave for his master, a king who ruled over part of India. When Thomas discovered this he said, “As you will, Lord, so be it.”

At the court in India, Thomas, having admitted that he was a carpenter and builder, was ordered to build a palace. While the king was absent, however, Thomas did no building, and he used the 20 pieces of silver given to him by the king for charitable purposes.

When the king returned, he imprisoned him, intending to flay him alive. At that point, the king’s brother died, and when the brother was shown the place in heaven that Thomas’s good works had prepared for the king, he was allowed to return to earth and offer to buy the spot from the king for himself. The king refused, released Thomas, and was converted by him.

There exists a population of Christians along the Malabar Coast who were supposedly originally converted by Thomas, and their tradition holds that he built seven churches, was martyred by spearing on the “Big Hill” near Madras, and was buried in Mylapore. One account holds that Thomas was killed for successfully persuading a woman, Mygdonia, to cease marriage relations with her husband, Charisius.

It is certainly possible that Thomas reached India as a missionary. Indian Christians, especially in Kerala, often call themselves ‘Christians of Saint Thomas,’ and an ancient 6th-century cross that speaks of him in an inscription lies in the church of Mylapore. In 1522, the Portuguese found the alleged tomb, and some relics now lie in the Cathedral of Saint Thomas at Mylapore.

The larger part of his relics appear to have been in Edessa in the 4th century, and the Acta Thomae say that they were taken from India to Mesopotamia. They were translated to several places and were finally taken to Ortona in the Abruzzi, where they are still honored. According to Eusebius, Thomas evangelized Parthia.

The theme of the long, 3rd or 4th century Acta Thomae is the missionary efforts of Saint Thomas. This is one of the most readable and intrinsically interesting of early Christian apocryphal writings; but it is no more than a popular romance, written in the interest of false gnostic teachings (e.g., the virtual necessity of celibacy for Christians).

Nevertheless, the doubting Thomas managed to quiet the doubts of many others during his missionary journeys. He answered the questions of others with the childlike, loving heart trained by Christ. The Indians celebrate Thomas’s dies natale on July 1 (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Brown, Delaney, Encyclopedia (December), White).

There are several other apocryphal works concerning or attributed to Saint Thomas:

The Gospel of Thomas
Consummation of Thomas the Apostle

In art, Saint Thomas is generally a young or middle-aged man with a carpenter’s rule. He may also be shown (1) with a lance or, occasionally a sword or dagger; (2) touching Christ’s wounded side; (3) catching the girdle dropped by the Virgin at her Assumption; or (4) casting out the devil from an Indian king’s daughter (Roeder). White says that Thomas is portrayed as an elderly man, holding a lance or pierced by one; or kneeling before Jesus; or with a T- square (White).

Saint Thomas is venerated as the Apostle of India. He is the patron of architects, builders, carpenters, masons, geometricians, theologians (Roeder), other building craftsmen, blind people (due to his occasional spiritual blindness), India and Pakistan (White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 June 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>