Athisaya Manal Matha Shrine (Tamil: “அதிசய மணல் மாதா”, Our Lady of Red Sands) is in southern Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. The shrine belongs to the Sokkan Kudierappu Parish of the Diocese of Tuticorin. The Shrine is surrounded by land masses of red sands and a large number of palm trees. A small lake (known as Tharuvai in by the local people) is also near the shrine. It was once known as Kanakkan Kudieruppu, were lived a number of families in the kingdom of The Pandiyas.
It’s said that, as a result of the unjust in the kingdom, through a poor widow who was killed by the king, the whole village was covered by red sand by sand storm. It is considered as a punishment given to the people and the king by God. Later in 1798, the church was discovered by a shepherd boy with the help of the people of Sokkan Kudieruppu.
Today, the Shrine is one of the sixteen Shrines in of the Diocese of Tuticorin. It is administrated by the people of Sokkan Kudieruppu. Saturday devotion is famous in the shrine, receiving visitors from southern Tamil Nadu and from some parts of Kerala, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka visit the shrine.
Blessed Holy Meal is served to all the people, irrespective of caste and religion on every first Saturday of the month. Ten days of feast is celebrated every year in the month of September. It starts with the flag-hoisting on the Friday followed by The Feast of the Cross and ends with a grand Holy mass on the tenth day of the feast.
History of Athisaya Manal Matha Shrine
St. Thomas drives out a demon from the wife and daughter of the King of Manavira Nadu – In the first century St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, arrived in India. He preached the Good News of Jesus in Kerala and converted many people to Christianity. In those days, today’s southern parts of Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli known as Manavira Nadu were ruled by Pandiya Chieftains. Among those, one was Kandhappa Raja whose wife and daughter were possessed by a demon. St. Thomas drove out the demon. The King was baptized a Christian and his kingdom was won for Christ, Our Lord.
Those who were baptized by St. Thomas were called St. Thomas Christians. They were under the care of the Siriyan and the Arminian churches of Kerala who, with great care, saw that the Light of Christ was not extinguished. Our Lady of Heaven appeared to a pious man (who was residing in Kanakkankudiyiruppu, a part of Manavira Nadu) in his dream and asked him to build a church for Her.
The true devotee constructed a church for Our Lady as he saw in his dream. The Our Lady’s statue, you see here at the centre of the altar, is made up of the mixture of sandal wood and elephant tusk. When the Most Rev. Bishop Jiovini Marincholi, the Emissary of Pope to the South Indian Catholics came to India in 1339, he installed the statue of Our Lady and consecrated the church. The same statue is still venerated as Athisaya Manal Matha.
In 1548 St. Francis Xavier came to Manapadu and Periyathalai to preach the gospel to his humble servants. He was devoted to Our Lady and so frequently visited this church. During one of his visits to this church, he gave life to a dead young man praying to Our Lady.
In 1596 Jesu Marial, a pious poor widow of Kanakkankudiyiruppu, a staunch devotee of Our Lady used to take care of the cranes catching fish in the nearby lake and throwing them in the courtyardof her house.Thus she made a living by gathering the fish and selling in the market whatever remained after her need.
The people, those who were jealous of the pious widow falsely accused that the fish was not thrown by cranes but brought to her by an illicit husband. In those days Kanakkankudiyiruppu was under the control of Arasoor Jameen and was ruled by Thuravi Pandian. The people took Jesu Mariyal to the ruler and he made a haste judgment without a proper enquiry and ordered his servants to burn her alive in the cruellest manner by pouring oil into the holes drilled in her head.
The cry of the poor widow reached Our Lady and there was a heavy down-pour of red sands from heaven. The whole village including the church was buried under ground. The town of Arasoor went disappeared. The curse of the widow destroyed the entire community.
After the destruction of Kanakkankudiyiruppu the place looked like a desert where wild animals roamed. In 1798 Our Lady willed to reappear. A shepherd boy who was grazing his flocks stumbled on a piece of wood. Being curious he dug the place and for his astonishment there was a cross of a church. (You can see the cross still in the underground church)
Without any further delay the shepherd rushed to the nearby village, Sokkankudiyiruppu and conveyed the message about the cross. The parish priest and the people of Sokkankudiyiruppu decided to dig the church out of the ground.
The people of Sokkankudiyiruppu after working hard for several weeks succeeded in excavating the church out fully. When they opened the doors of the church, Our Lady revealed herself in the form of a bright burning lamp. Since the church was discovered buried in red sands, people call it as Athisaya Manal Matha (Our Lady of Red Sands). Now the church celebrates 215 year anniversary of its discovery (1798-2013).
Our Lady healed the lame female child of a fisher woman of Koothankuzhi and made her walk. (She is still with us as a witness to this miracle of Our Lady)
When a man from Sokkankudiyiruppu was cursed to become deaf and dumb by a sorcerer while he was working in Srilanka, praying to Our Lady of Athisaya Manal Matha, got his speech back. He is also with us as a witness to this miracle of Our Lady.
St. Xavier's Visit
In the 16th century, Saint Francis Xavier started preaching Christianity in India. He started preaching the Holy Bible in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. During that time he was preaching in Manapadu Malai. Saint Francis Xavier learned of the church of Manalmatha in Kanakkan Kudieruppu and he also learned that the Christians in Kanakkan Kudieruppu were all followers of Saint Thomas and he was eager to visit the Athisaya Manalmatha church.
Feast Day - 25th September
Annual Feast Day of Our Lady of Manal Matha is held on 25th September.
Sokkankudieruppu, Sathankulam Taluk,
Tuticorin District, Tamil Nadu – 628 653, India
Tel : +91 4639 255 261
How to reach the Shrine
Tuticorin Airport is located 16.9 km from Thoothukudi, Tamilnadu, India is the nearby airport to the Shrine.
Tuticorin Train Station in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, India is the nearby Train Station to the Shrine.