Prologue : The seeds of Christainity was sown by the doubting Saint Thomas in India. Why was he known as doubting Thomas is an interesting incident. He refused to believe that Lord Jesus resurrected after crucification. Naturally he doubted the veracity of the believers, and later he touched the wounds of Jesus ( in his dreams I presume ) and got rid of his doubt on resurrection. After his faith was restored he became a missionary in spreading the gospel of the Lord. He traveled from Syria to West coast with the merchant vessels of the Roman traders. He landed at Muziris ( Cragnallore ) in 52 AD. He began his missionary work and converted lot of people into his faith, which angered the local priests. Than he moved towards Mylapore in 72 AD, where he started spreading the gospel of the Lord. He was followed by his persecutors from Kerala as he was kneeling and praying on St Thomas Mount. He was pierced with a lance and transfixed in 72 AD. His body was bought by his followers and buried in the residence where he stayed put. ( which is now known as the Santhome Church ) The life history of St Thomas has been ironical from doubts to belief and thereon lynched as martyr in quest of spreading Christianity just like Lord Jesus.
Historical Background :
Around the beginning of the 17th century, a Portuguese vessel Santa Maria set sail to Colombo from Macao. While it was sailing in the deep bay of Bengal it was caught in a cyclonic storm with waves rising above 5 feet and rocking the vessel. Portuguese sailors were staunch believers in Virgin Mary, they knelt and prayed for their mother Mary to rescue them from the violent nature’s fury. The sinking souls vowed to build a chapel in her honour if they were rescued from sinking. Thus the fury of nature abated and within 10 minutes the sea calmed with tranquility unknown hitherto. The battered vessel was veered towards the coast of Vellankani.
They were received by the local fishermen community, who spotted the Catholic linage of the sailors and lead them to a thatched hut which was used as chapel in those days. The Portuguese sailors in gratitude renovated the thatched chapel with brick and mortar construction. The Chapel was 24 feet in length and 12 feet in breadth signifying the cross. They dedicated this church to the Blessed Virgin Mary to honour her miraculous power of healing and saviour from crisis.
If one breaks up the word Velankanni word in Tamil it means White Virgin or meaning Virgin Mother Mary.
LEGEND : ( Courtsey : Velankannichurch org ) :
Sometime during the sixteenth century, Our Lady with her infant son appeared to a Hindu boy carrying milk to a customer’s home. While he rested under a Banyan tree near a tank (pond), Our Lady appeared to him and asked for milk for her Son and the boy gave her some. On reaching the customer’s home, the boy apologized for his lateness and the reduced amount of milk by relating the incident that occurred on his way. On inspection, the man found the milk pot to be full and realized that something miraculous had happened. That man, also a Hindu, wanting to see the place where the apparition occurred, accompanied the boy.
When they reached the tank, Our Lady appeared once again. On learning that it was Our Lady who appeared to the boy, the residents of the local Catholic community became ecstatic. The tank where the apparition took place is called "Matha Kulam" or Our Lady’s tank.
EVENT TWO :
Some years later Our Lady appeared again. This time to a crippled boy who was selling buttermilk near a public square on the outskirts of the same village of Vailankanni. She asked him for buttermilk for her infant Son and the boy compiled. Our Lady asked the boy to inform a certain wealthy Catholic man in the nearby town of Nagapattinam of her appearance. Not realizing that his crippled leg was miraculously cured by Our Lady, the boy rose up and began his journey. The man also had a vision the previous night in which Our Lady asked him to build a chapel for her. Together, the man and the boy returned to the site of the miracle.
This time Our Lady appeared to both. The man erected a thatched chapel for Our Lady at the site of Her second appearance. This chapel became a holy place of veneration to Our Blesses mother and She was called henceforth, Mother of Good Health ("Arokia Matha").
Historical Data of Vailankanni Shrine
1. The history of Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni, dawned in the 16th century
2. In September 1771, Vailankanni which had been a substation of Nagapattinam Parish, was raised to the status of a Parish.
3. The majestic Shrine facing the East, was renovated twice in 1920 and 1933.
4. His Holiness Pope John the XXIII, raised the Shrine to the status of 'Basilica' on the 3rd November 1962. The apparitions of Our Lady, the Miraculous statue of Our Lady, the countless miracles, the magnificent architecture and beauty of the Shrine, were the motives for this Shrine to become a Basilica.
5. The storeyed extension Basilica was blessed and opened in 1975.
6. In 1985,the little Chapel at Our Lady's Tank, was built a new and blessed.
OUR VISIT TO VELANKANNI :
We began our journey with the cyclonic effect on the coast of Nagapattinam on the fourth of November 2009 from Myalathdurai to transcending the barriers of religion. The entire day trip was stormy akin to the weather faced by the Portuguese sailors in the 17th century. I was praying to the Virgin Mary silently that I should get to see the Basilica in all its splendour and without much rainfall. Behold it was around 5.30 pm when we reached and the murky light cleared along with the heavy downpour and we witnessed the grandeur of the Church, which had an aura of divinity.
Just imagine getting drenched in the weather for the entire day whenever we stepped out of the car, it used to pour and we returned wet. In ordinary circumstances one would abort the trip and get back to the cosy atmosphere in hotel rooms. We refused to return and continued our journey to pray to the Virgin Mary, and she blessed us with health. We were fortunate that we did not fall sick due to constant wetting in the rain.
We lit up 3 candles in honour of the Virgin Mary and donated some currency into the box, and bought back Memorabilia in honour of DVD and book from the Church counter. We had a wonderful dinner at the church canteen too to relish our trip to the core. All the tiredness of the 13 hour trip vanished when we got up in the morning miraculously. Thanks to VIRGIN MARY.
SIGHTSEEING AT VELANKANI :
1. Garden of Jordan
3. Arokia Tank
4. Retreat Centre
5. Various Accomodation
6. Tsunami Memorial
7. Home for the aged
8. Health Centre
9. Shopping Centres
10. Other Churches