Vailankanni, a town located in Tamil Nadu, India has an interesting history. Three Marian apparitions, or appearances, have been reported in Vailankanni. In response to these miracles, Vailankanni has become home to a Marian shrine and a minor basilica in the Roman Catholic Church. The stories of these miracles have spread through oral tradition. It is a largely popular tourist spot for Christians and non-Christians alike. It remains one of the most frequented pilgrimage sites in India, boasting millions of visitors annually.
Miracles of Vailankanni
The first miracle occurred in the late 16th century when the Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd boy gathering buttermilk at a pond. She asked the shepherd boy for milk to give to her infant son, Jesus. The shepherd boy’s master was very upset to see that he gave away all of the buttermilk. As the master looked into the jar, milk started to fill the jar, overflowing it. The location of this apparition was named “Matha Kulam” or Our Lady’s tank.
Mary and the infant Jesus appeared to another boy in Nagapattinam a few years later, again asking for buttermilk for her son. After this boy gave Jesus the milk, Mary asked him to go to a wealthy man in town and tell him that he saw her. The boy explained that he was disabled and could not go. The boy got up and realized his leg had been healed by the blessed mother. So, he ran to the wealthy man to tell him to build a chapel at the site of the miracle. It just so happened that the Lord gave the wealthy man a dream that a boy would visit him. Because of the healing nature of this miracle, the chapel was named “Our Lady of Good Health.” Additionally, a famous statue of Mary and the infant Jesus placed at the altar of the chapel is said to have brought many healings since its placement.
Amazingly enough, the third apparition occurred in the 17th century on September 8th, which is the feast of the nativity. Mary appeared during a violent storm off the Bay of Bengal and helped bring Portuguese sailors to safety after they had been praying to her. They were so grateful, they decided to renovate the small chapel into a bigger church in her honor. The sailors continued to contribute to the shrine during their following visits to the area.
Vailankanni as a minor basilica
The church has been considered a parish since 1771. According to Vailankanni’s informational page, Franciscan priests looked after the church until 1847, when Mylapore’s diocesan priests looked after it. The basilica is now part of the diocese of Thanjavur after being a part of the diocese of Mylapore until 1952. Pope John the XXIII declared Vailankanni a minor basilica on November 3rd, 1962. Due to the sheer amount of people visiting the basilica, two other chapels have been added. The first is a chapel at our lady’s tank, which is at the pond where the first miracle occurred. The second is nearby, called the chapel of reconciliation. The basilica was also renovated in 1920 and 1933. The king of Portugal supported and funded the church until the basilica was no longer part of the diocese of Mylapore.
Because the third apparition occurred on September 8th, an eleven-day festival is held every year from August 29th to September 8th. This festival consists of masses in a myriad of languages, recitations of the rosary and novenas, a car procession, and our Lady’s flag hoisting. The masses are held in Tamil, English, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Konkani, and Kannada. According to Vailankanni’s informational channel, three million people visit the church during this festival and twenty million visit the church each year. Due to its popularity, it’s been referred to as the “Lourdes of the East.” It has even been referred to as the “Lourdes of the East'' by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Tsunami of 2004
On December 26th, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami hit India, devastating Nagapattinam and the town of Vailankanni. Despite the town being washed away and left in shambles, These Last Days Ministries reports that the only building spared in the tsunami’s aftermath was the shrine. The water reached the basilica but never entered it, miraculously saving the 2,000 pilgrims attending mass inside. Was this merely a coincidence or the Lord’s protection of His people and His Holy dwelling? Can we consider this event another miracle brought about by our Blessed Mother?
I completely recommend Christians and non-Christians visit this holy site at least once. Whether or not you believe in the Marian apparitions, there is something for everyone. From the history, the marvels of the architecture and design of the chapels, or the festival activities, each visitor can find something to appreciate.
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