Basilica of our lady of good health: A place that rose to the glory
This bucket-list journey started with the magnificent Chola legacy of Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram. Our today’s destination is not far away from it. Merely 80-85 km towards east of Darasuram, there’s a small village of Velankanni. This coastal village is the house of our today’s “Incredible India Attraction”. The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health is a Marian Shrine on the coast of Velankanni. Built in the Gothic style of architecture, this shrine is a major pilgrimage for Christians in India.
This Basilica is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health and is attributed to three miracles attached to the area around it. Oral tradition of the stories of two apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the saving of Portuguese Sailors from the storm in Bay of Bengal are the only source of these miracles as there are no historical written records about them.
First apparition of the Virgin Mary dates back to the mid 16th century. Local shepherd boy was on his milk delivery duty. A woman holding a child asked milk for the little one to a shepherd boy. Boy moved to his next delivery after giving some milk to the woman. When he completed the delivery, he discovered the milk jug was still full with fresh cool milk. Then, a small shrine was built at the place of apparition called Matha Kulam, which means Our Lady’s Pool.
Second time, Virgin Mary appeared in front of a crippled buttermilk seller boy asking buttermilk for the little one in her hand. Answering her request, the boy gave some buttermilk. Woman then asked him to go to the next town and meet a gentleman there. After reaching there, ask the gentleman to build a chapel in her honour at that location. As soon as he started the journey, he realized that he is no longer a cripple. They quickly built a thatched chapel in the honour of Our Lady of Good Health (Arokia Matha in Tamil).
Third miracle occurred to the Portugues Ship sailing from Macau to Sri Lanka. The ship got caught in a horrific storm in the Bay of Bengal. When sailors prayed to Virgin Mery under her title “Star of the Sea” storm subsided. As a result, all 150 sailors reached the coast and as a thanksgiving rebuilt the shrine to Our Lady of Good Health and continued enhancing it in their subsequent voyages.
This Basilica is a classic example of a place rising to glory with time. Started with just a thatched chapel, Basilica is currently standing in its glory of Gothic Architecture. Currently, the Shrine Basilica contains three chapels, as well as Our Lady’s Tank, Church Museum, Priests’ Residence, Offering Center, Stations of the Cross, Stations of the Rosary, Shrine Mega Mahal and Vailankanni Beach. This magnificent white Gothic building has red-tiled roofing. It witnessed many extensions like one one southern side in 1928 and the northern side in 1933. Latest extension included a new two storied church with 28 m high dome and 25 m Gothic spirals to accommodate multilingual pilgrims. This extension took place in 1974-75.
Significance and Pilgrimage:
HH Pope John XXIII granted the status of Minor Basilica to this shrine on 3rd November 1962. through an Apostolic Brief. He also aggregated it to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
Annual festival takes place between 29 August to 6 September. This is the time along with Christmas Velankanni Basilica draws maximum pilgrims. As a result, “the Lourdes of the East” is a suitable title for this place. Annual festival has many rituals like mass, novenas, flag-hoisting and carrying a ‘palkhi’ of Mary in a procession. Procession is the major event. Only women are allowed to pull the first car while the statue of Mery is in the last car of the procession. The car of the Mery is the most decorated one in the procession. People of other religions also take part in this procession. Many pilgrims shave their heads and perform ear-piercing. Both of these are Hindu traditions. Hence, this is a very significant site of pilgrimage displaying the meeting point of two major religions of the world – Christian and Hindu.
At this point, the day 2 of our journey comes to the halt. Let’s just enjoy this white Gothic architecture and have a good night rest. Tomorrow is one more exciting day of this journey.
I am participating in A2Z challenge with Blogchatter and this is my take on day 2 challenge. “B is for the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, Velankanni”. You can find my other posts from this challenge here.