Velankanni is a town in the district of Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and lies on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. The town was once a trading port with countries like Rome and Greece. The town lost its charm when the city of Nagapattinam came into existence.
Velankanni, when translated, means the virgin of Velai. The town now is a pilgrimage hotspot with numerous pilgrims coming here from across the globe, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, etc. The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health is the most important point of interest here.
Best Time To Visit Velankanni
Velankanni is a place which can be visited throughout the year; however, most visitors prefer to visit the place during the months from October to April. Being a coastal town the summers tend to get very hot and humid, so it is best advised to visit the place during these months.
More About The Place
The Shrine here belongs to the Roman Catholics. The founding of the church is attributed to three miracles which took place here and dates back to the 16th century. The first is the apparition of Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the second was the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor and the third was the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a violent sea storm.
Although there are no written documents to validate these miracles, this resulted in the construction of the chapel in a thatched roof by the Portuguese. The chapel became a parish church in the year 1771 and in 1962 was elevated to the status of a major basilica by the then Pope John XXIII.
The shrine of Our Lady of Velankanni is also known as the Lourdes of the East as it is one of the most frequented religious sites in India. The church was built in the 16th century and was modified by the Portuguese. The main idol at the altar of Our Lady holding infant Jesus standing atop the globe was brought in by them.
The Three Apparitions
The first apparition is believed to have taken place in May 1570. A local shepherd boy was delivering milk to a nearby house and en route he met a beautiful woman who was carrying a child. The woman is said to have asked for some milk for the child and the boy gave her the same and left to give the milk to others. Very soon he discovered that his milk jug was filled to the brim with fresh and cool milk. Soon a shrine was built at the site and was called Matha Kulam; when translated it means Our Lady's Pool.
The second appearance is said to have taken place in 1597. A beautiful woman along with a young boy in her arms appeared to a crippled boy selling buttermilk. The lady asked for some buttermilk for her boy and the lame boy gave it to him. The woman asked the boy to meet a gentleman in the next town and inform him to build a chapel at the location. The boy set out and realised that he was no longer a cripple and a small thatched chapel was built in honour of Our Lady of Health or Arokia Matha.
The third appearance occurred when a Portuguese ship which was sailing from Macau to Sri Lanka was caught in a storm in the Bay of Bengal. To save their lives, the sailors asked the help of the Blessed Virgin and the storm subsided and saved 150 men on board. In thanksgiving, the sailors rebuilt the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health and continued to renovate it whenever their voyages got them to this place.
The Expansion Of The Shrine
As time passed the number of pilgrims visiting, 'The Holy Town Of Velankanni' also increased. The name and fame of Velankanni also spread along with it. The events which took place at the shrine began to spread like wildfire and that started to bring along a lot of visitors here. Many came with eager and earnest prayers for favours and help and many came to show their gratitude for the favours granted.
The first renovation was undertaken by a Franciscan priest Fr. Rozario which was later expanded by the Portuguese sailors but very soon the extension was found to be inadequate and in the year 1917 another expansion took place and an addition of two Gothic domes each measuring 82 ft was constructed.
PC: Koshy Koshy
Although the church underwent many renovations, the altar and the little sanctuary were preserved and kept intact. Though the church is built in the Gothic style, the roof has been constructed using the brick tiles. The entire building is painted in white as a contrast to the roof which is painted red.