Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health

Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health
Shrine Basilica Vailankanni
Vailankanni Basilica1.jpg
Night view of the basilica facade, facing the eastern side, Bay of Bengal
Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health is located in India
Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health
Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health
10°40′48″N 79°50′59″E / 10.68000°N 79.84972°E / 10.68000; 79.84972Coordinates: 10°40′48″N 79°50′59″E / 10.68000°N 79.84972°E / 10.68000; 79.84972
Location Velankanni, Tamil Nadu
Country India
Denomination Latin Church in India
Status Minor Basilica
Dedication Our Lady of Good Health
Consecrated 1962
Functional status Active
Architectural type Gothic
Diocese Tanjore (Thanjavur)
Archbishop Antony Anandarayar
Bishop(s) Devadass Ambrose Mariadoss
Rector Rev. Fr. A.M.A. Prabakar
Priest(s) Rev. Fr. Arputharaj S, Vice-Rector & Parish priest

The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, also known as Sanctuary of Our Lady of Vailankanni, is a Marian shrine located at the town of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu, India. The place is also a minor basilica of the Latin Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health. Devotion to Our Lady of Good Health of Velankanni can be traced back to the mid-16th century, attributed to 3 separate miracles believed to have been worked at the site. The apparition of Blessed Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the healing of a handicapped buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a deadly sea storm. These accounts are oral lore with no written records attesting to them.[citation needed]

Initially, a simple and modest chapel was built by the Portuguese in Goa and Bombay-Bassein, soon after they washed ashore safely in spite of a severe tempest. More than 500 years later, a 9-day-long festival is still celebrated and draws nearly 5 million pilgrims each year. The place has been called "the Lourdes of the East", because it is one of the most frequented pilgrimage centres in South Asia.

Velankani Drav Mata.
Velankanni Maatha: Drav-Tarani Aṉṉai, द्रवतारणी, அன்னை, Star of the Seas.


There are no historical documents about the Marian apparition at Velankanni, oral lore and popular belief are the main sources for the two apparitions of the virgin-mother Mary of Velankanni in the 16th century.[citation needed] The third noteworthy incident, is the reported miraculous rescue of the Portuguese in Goa and Bombay-Bassein, who were sailing away from a deadly monsoon surge and tempest, in the Bay of Bengal in the late 17th century.[1]

This well/ pool is situated where the first apparition had occurred.

The first Marian apparition is said to have occurred in May 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 some of his milk, he continued his journey on foot under the hot tropical sun, upon making the delivery he found that the jug was again completely full of fresh and cool milk, that should have finished with the delivery. A small shrine was built near the site where the boy encountered the woman, a location that came to be called Maatha Kulam, which means "Mother's Pool or Well" in Tamil.[2]

The second Marian apparition is said to have happened in 1597, not far from Maatha 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 honour at that location. The boy set out quickly and realised that he had been faith healing and was no longer lame after the apparition. A small thatched chapel was built shortly thereafter in honour of "Our Lady of Health" or Aarokia Maatha in Tamil.[2]

The third notable incident was a supernatural event that reportedly occurred, when a Portuguese ship sailing from Macao to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was caught up by extreme weather in the Bay of Bengal. They invoked the aid of the Virgin-Mother under her title "Star of the Sea". The deadly storm suddenly subsided and the whole crew of 150 on board the ship were saved from capsizing. It had happened on 8 Sept, the feast day of the nativity of Mary. In thanksgiving the sailors rebuilt the shrine, and continued to visit and donate to the cause of the shrine whenever their voyages brought them to the area.[2]

The shrine that began as a thatched chapel in the mid-sixteenth century and became a parish church in 1771, when Indian Catholics were persecuted in the erstwhile Dutch Coromandel, after the Luso-Dutch war was waged by Dutch Protestants. In 1962, the site was elevated to the special status of a Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII.[3]

On 3 Nov 1962, the shrine of Velankanni was elevated to the status of "Minor Basilica" and merged[clarification needed] with the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome by Pope John XXIII.

Significance and pilgrimage

The basilica with a flag visible in the background

For Goan and Konkani people, she is called "Shantadurga" (most compassionate one).[4][original research?] This especially includes use of Kotimaram, which has been described as an extended influence of Hinduism on Catholicism, thus making the Basilica a meeting point of two of the major religions of the world.[5][6]

Being a Roman Catholic Marian church, it is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health. Virgin Mary is depicted wearing a sari. The usual time for pilgrimage is during the annual festival between 29 August to 6 September and Christmas.[7] Some pilgrims, instead of using a mode of transport, perform "walking pilgrimages" to it.[8] They attend mass, novenas, flag-hoisting and carry a palkhi of Mary in a procession. A major event is the procession, where only women are allowed to pull the first car and a statue of Mary is in the last and most decorated one. People of other religions also take part.[9] The pilgrims sometimes shave their heads as an offering and perform ear-piercing ceremonies, both being Hindu traditions. Another ritual considered sacred is dipping oneself in the pond. There is a holy flag which is lowered to signal the end of the festival.[10][11]

Due to the number of pilgrim visits during festival season, the Indian Railways introduced special train services to the town of Velankanni.[12]


Layout of the Basilica complex: 1. Basilica, 2. Nadu Thittu shrine, site of second apparition, 3. Adoration & Reconciliation chapel, 4. Our Lady's Pond, site of first apparition, 5. Stations of the cross, 6. Stations of the Rosary, 7. Stations of the Sacraments

The Basilica is built in the Gothic style of architecture. The southern side was extended in 1928 and the northern in 1933.[13] 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. The building is painted in white, except for the roof that is made of red tiles.

Annai Velankanni Church
Annai Velankanni Feast 2012

The early part of the 20th century marked rivalry between Jesuits and Franciscans regarding their influence on missionary work in Velankanni. In 1928, the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (managed by the Jesuits) was demolished and the statues were brought to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health; in 1933 the Shrine was expanded with two new wings, to the right and to the left of the 'Main Altar', meeting the nave at right angles.[14]

A spacious vestry was provided immediately behind the altar. Thus the entire sacred edifice began to assume the shape of a Latin Cross. Right over the center of the ancient main altar was the miraculous image of Our Lady of Good Health.[14]

In 1956, a new welcome arch was blessed and opened by Bishop Sundaram. The illuminated arch stood to show the way to eager pilgrims who sought the protection of Mary. In January 1961, a new central altar, executed in white marble, replaced the former one made of cement concrete.[13] In 1974-75, an extension of the basilica was built behind the existing central altar to accommodate the multilingual pilgrims. The extension included a two-storied church with 93 feet (28 m) high dome and 82 feet (25 m) high gothic spirals.[14] It was designed to resemble the Basilica in Lourdes, France.[9]

List of parish priests

The basilica first became a parish in 1771.[3] The list of parish priests (mainly Portuguese) from 1771 till now is as follows:[14]


See also


  1. ^ History of the Basilica on its home page Archived 3 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c Thomas, William. "Our Lady of Health, Velankanni, India", Catholic Voice, 2 August 2009
  3. ^ a b VAILANKANNI - an Overview Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine on Tamil Nadu government website
  4. ^ Margaret Meibohm Cultural complexity in South India: Hindu and Catholic in Marian pilgrimage University of Pennsylvania
  5. ^ D Mosse Catholic Saints and the Hindu Village Pantheon in Rural Tamil Nadu, India, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
  6. ^ Corinne G Dempsey, Selva J. Raj Popular Christianity in India: Riting Between the Lines State University of New York press.
  7. ^ "Thousands of pilgrims throng Velankanni for Christmas" news from The Hindu
  8. ^ "More than 20,000 devotees walk to Velankanni ahead of flag-hoisting - Times of India". Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  9. ^ a b All roads lead to Velankanni on The Hindu news.
  10. ^ Kulkarni, Neha (29 August 2016). "Melting pot: Taking a trip to Velankanni, to find solace in Mother Mary". The Indian Express. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  11. ^ "Thousands throng Velankanni to take part in the grand car procession". The Hindu. 8 September 2016. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Special trains for Velankanni festival rush - Times of India". Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  13. ^ a b About Velankanni Archived 9 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine on
  14. ^ a b c d About Church Archived 2012-11-22 at the Wayback Machine on

External links