Our guide is a multi-tasker. As we climb the steps she provides a running commentary about the martyrdom of St.Thomas. She does this while simultaneously answering her phones.The story of the saint being speared to death by the soldiers of a hostile Hindu king interspersed with instructions to her husband, her sons and a group of Singaporean educationalists who are due to arrive in two days time. During the ascent the Singaporean educationalists call three times and are reassured that they don't need malaria medication for their visit.
Finally we arrive at the summit. At the top a small chapel rebuilt by the Portugese in the sixteenth century . Next door to it a shrine . Red, white, black and brass. A ' strident ' colour scheme . No forgetting we're in India. It's hotter up here. 108 in the shade of a solitary banyan tree .
On the altar of the chapel stands the Mount Cross. Dug out of the ground by the Portugese in 1547 when they replaced the old church with this new one. A dark, shiney block of granite two feet square. Carved on it a Persian Cross and an inscription in some ancient long lost language , possibly Pahlavi. The meaning of the inscription is unknown, or at least disputed. It is said that the saint was praying in front of this cross when he was speared to death. Many supernatural stories attach themselves to this carving but in its simple grandeur it is quite powerful enough. An exotic older cousin of the Celtic stone crosses that dot the Scottish and Swedish landscapes.
What a strange story this is. We're not moved by religious feeling but curiosity. All we knew of this man Thomas was that he was a doubter. His story condensed into a hundred or so words in the gospels. And yet here we are on the tip of India , in a suburb of Chennai, at a spot where twenty years of healing the sick came to a sudden end. Around him has grown up an ancient and exotic branch of the Christian family. As old as anything in the ' west ' . Could this story be true ?
We head off, the professors phones ringing, past the Christmas decorations and into the city. The site of Thomas's tomb the next stop on our journey.