Our Lady of Health Shrine Basilica – Vailankanni
Velankanni is one of the major Catholic pilgrimage centre in India. The Catholic Basilica devoted to Our Lady of Good Health is popularly known as the “Lourdes of the East”. The origins of this church can be traced back to the 16th century and its founding is attributed to three miracles: The apparition of Mary and Jesus to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the survival of Portuguese sailors assaulted by a violent sea storm. It is built in the Gothic style, was modified by the Portuguese and then further expanded later on due to the influx of pilgrims. The church building was raised to the status of basilica in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.
Annually, 20 million pilgrims flock to the shrine from all over India and abroad, out of which an estimated 3 million people visit the shrine during its annual festival from 29th August to 8th September. The 11-day annual festival concludes with the celebration of the Feast on 8 September.
Tradition recounts that Mother Mary appeared with the Infant Jesus in this small hamlet at the end of the 16th or in the early 17th century. Ever since Velankanni is the most important destination and almost the synthesis of all Marian Sanctuaries for the pilgrims of the world. The crowds of pilgrims come here regardless of creeds and languages.
Our Lady of Good Health, also known as Our Lady of Velankanni, is a celebrated Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary believed to have appeared in Velankanni Town, TamilNadu, India. According to traditional beliefs, the Marian apparition is said to have occurred
to a young boy delivering milk to the neighborhood when the Virgin Mary, carrying the child Jesus, is said to have appeared. This apparition has not been approved by the Holy See.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health was erected by the Portuguese and the Indians stand at this site. The iconic depiction of the Madonna is unique in that it is one of two only icons where Mary is portrayed wearing an Indian Sari, while the other statue is said to have been buried with Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor. The basilica is known as a site for pilgrims from all over India and its assembly of multilingual prayers every Christmas.
History of Our Lady of Velankanni
There are no historical documents or records about the apparitions of Mary at Velankanni. Oral tradition is the source for the two apparitions of the Blessed Mother of Velankanni in the 16th century and the saving of the Portuguese sailors from a tempest in the Bay of Bengal in the later 17th century. The first apparition is said to have occurred in May of 1570 when a local shepherd boy was delivering milk to a nearby house. Along the way, he met a beautiful woman holding a child, who asked for some milk for the little one. After giving her the milk, he continued on his way, and upon making the delivery discovered that the jug was now full of fresh, cool milk.
The second apparition is said to have happened in 1597, not far from Matha Kulam. A beautiful woman with a young boy in her arms appeared to a young crippled boy selling buttermilk. The little boy asked for some buttermilk, and after he drank it, the woman asked the boy selling buttermilk to visit a gentleman in the next town and ask him to build a chapel in her honor at that location. The boy set out quickly and realized that he was no longer lame. A small thatched chapel was quickly built in honor of Our Lady of Health, called in Tamil “Arokia Matha”.
The third incident occurred when a Portuguese ship sailing from Macau to Sri Lanka was caught in a storm in the Bay of Bengal. They invoked the help of the Blessed Virgin under her title “Star of the Sea”. The storm subsided and the 150 men on board were saved. It was September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. In thanksgiving, the sailors rebuilt the Shrine to Our Lady of Good Health and continued to enhance it whenever their voyages brought them to the area.
The shrine that started as a thatched chapel in the mid-sixteenth century became a parish church in 1771 when Catholics in India were under persecution from the Dutch. Later in 1962, it was granted a special status of a Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII. The shrine of Velankanni was elevated to the status of ‘Minor Basilica’ and merged with the Major Basilica of Mary (Mary Majore) in Rome on 3 November 1962 by Pope John XXIII.