Location: 12-km South Of Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Also Known: Sacred Arockia Madha Church
Dedicated To: Our Lady Of Health
Important Festival: Velankanni Festival Celebrated Annually From 29th August to 8th September
Velankanni (also spelt Velangani) also known as the "Mecca of South Asian Christianity" is located 12 km south of Nagapattinam, on the Coromandel Coast, in Tamil Nadu. The shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of Health, the Madonna of Velankanni and is popularly called as 'Sacred Arockia Madha Church' and people of all faiths and religions visit it.
About The Church: The church has an imposing facade with tall spires and the wings present the shape of a cross. In a niche in the alter is enshrined the statue of Our Lady of Health. Many bring with them small gold and silver replicas of parts of the body to donate to the church. There is a small church museum which has a display of the offerings made by those whose prayers were conceded.
Legend Connected Behind The Construction Of The Church: It is here that in 1560, Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a shepherd, asking him for milk to quench the thirst of baby Jesus. When the shepherd returned to his master, after performing the good deed, his pitcher kept filling up with milk. Consequently, a small thatched chapel was built at the site. At the end of the 16th century, Virgin Mary materialized again, in front of a lame boy, who, after the divine visitation, regained the use of his limbs. This occasioned the construction of an actual church.
The legends that go behind the construction of this Church are many-the most famous being that of the ship-wrecked Portuguese sailors, who in the 18th century, vowed to build a great shrine for the Virgin Mary, for saving their lives in a terrible storm.
On 8th September 1869, a Portuguese ship sailing from Macao to Goa, got caught in a massive storm in the Indian Ocean. The sailors, prayed to Virgin Mary to rescue them, promising to build her a magnificent church if she did so. Some time later, their wrecked ship was deposited on the shores of Velankanni. The sailors not only built a Basilica in Velankanni, but also returned year after year, bringing from their trips, exquisite items to decorate the church.
The Portuguese annexed the area and brought it under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Mylapore. To commemorate the miraculous escape of the Portuguese sailors, every year a fascinating festival is held here.
The Outstanding Feature Of The Shrine: The outstanding feature of the shrine is the miracle angle attached to it. Ever since the sailors were saved three centuries ago, by dint of their prayers, Velankanni has acquired a formidable reputation of curing sicknesses and maladies, thus earning the sobriquet, 'Lourdes of the East'.
The tradition is to offer to Our Lady of Health, a candle in the shape of the respective ailment- a red heart in case of cardiac complications, a liver in case of jaundice, yellow lungs in case of tuberculosis and so on. In case of the ailment getting cured, the Virgin Mary and the church are to be thanked by offering a solid silver replica of the part of the body that has been cured.
Festival Celebrated: Every year a fascinating festival (29th August to 8th September) is held and pilgrims from all over the country and even abroad flock to the site, bathe religiously in the sea, have their heads shaved, (the hair later being auctioned by the priests), and then walk on their knees or roll up to the shrine, lending a unique Indian touch to the entire ceremony. The shrine also has its share of Hindu pilgrims.
HOW TO GET THERE
elankanni, an important tourist place is easily accessible. It can be accessed from Trichy, Chennai and Thanjavur by rail. Buses are available for Chidambaram, Chennai, Madurai, Pondicherry, Trichy and Thanjavur. Buses and trains frequently run from Nagapattinam.