Our Vailankanni Novena
- A Brief Introduction
The Combined Societies of Mary team visited India from the year 2000 and it was striking to see the great devotion to Our Lady of Vailankanni right across the entire continent. Affectionately Vailankanni is called "The Lourdes of the East", by the inhabitants of the subcontinent. Everywhere we went people sang Her praises telling of the wonderful miracles that occur there and the millions of pilgrims that visit the site every year.
What was further remarkable was the fact that we were told that there are so many hindus and moslems who honour Our Lady there and who receive the extraordinary benefit of Her intercession and aid: Yes, they two receive miraculous healings. That is why the Shrine is so popular amongst people of all faiths.
In fact it is either the most frequented or 2nd most frequented Marian Shrine in the world. Probably 2nd only to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the number of pilgrims each year.
As to the Novena, it is probably the largest publicly celebrated Novena in the whole world. For that Novena week millions gather in Vailankanni. So if you join with us in the powerful Novena you will be spiritually united with many many millions throughout India and the world.
As soon as we celebrated the first Novena in 2007 miracles took place. Even from the very commencement when the first pilgrim statue entered into the Church: A man on lifting the statue had his shoulder healed, and from that point on the reported healings and miracles just kept flowing in.
A Brief History of the Apparitions
Vailankanni is a small coastal village some 280 kilometres from Madras on the Eastern side of India on the Bay of Bengal. Vailankanni itself is a small village of only some 5,000 inhabitants. And yet today it is one of the most frequented shrines in the entire world, with literally millions of pilgrims each year, even more than at Lourdes.
There is good reason for the popularity of the shrine: Firstly it is holy through the Divine presence and it is the place of Mary’s visitation and because of the many miracles that occur there. In fact so many miracles occurred that Our Lady became known there as “Our Lady of Good Health.” That is also why it became known as “the Lourdes of the East,” and to this day so many miracles, favours, and healings continue in abundance.
The most recent famous miracle occurred during the Tsunami of 26th December, 2004. Some 250,000 people were killed when the Tsunami struck various nations in the Indian Ocean, but at Vailankanni the huge wave parted and went around the Church. Everyone inside was saved. This miracle is today famous all over India and beyond.
The Church in India has its origin in apostolic times with a strong oral and Church tradition detailing the activities of the Apostle Thomas who was martyred in Madras.
For cultural reasons the Church tended to flourish on the Western Coast. A second wave of evangelisation came with the arrival of the Portuguese and St Francis Xavier.
It was during this second wave of evangelisation that Our Lady manifested herself and the desire for a shrine, through three separate events in the 16th century and in the early 17th Century.
Every morning a shepherd boy went with his milk pot to Nagapattinam, a town about seven miles from Vailankanni, to supply the milk to his customers. One day on the way he reached a certain place near Anna Pillai Street at Vailankanni. On the bank stood a large banyan tree. It was here that he took rest.
Suddenly he awoke at the sound of wind and a dazzling light. He opened his eyes and to his great surprise, he saw a beautiful Lady with Her Child in Her arm. She smiled sweetly, and asked the boy if he could give some milk to Her Child. Filled with both fear and joy, he offered the milk.
No particular message was communicated. Resuming the journey, he reached Nagapattinam, where the master was angry with the boy for being late, and for the fact that the milk pot was not full. However, when he took the container, the milk surged up to the brim and even flowed over. He was astonished and upon enquiry he learned from the boy what had taken place. Both hastened back to the spot of our Lady’s apparition. This same spot is revered today as the site of the first apparition. The news spread everywhere and devotion to the Heavenly Mother took root in the hearts of the people.
A few years later the Blessed Virgin appeared to a lame Hindu boy. Once again it was in Vailankani, but this time it was a slightly different location, at a place called Nadu Thittu. At this place there was a tree where travellers would rest from the scorching sun.
The mother of a lame boy used to leave him everyday under the tree to sell buttermilk to thirsty travellers. One summer day, the boy, sitting alone, saw a light brighter than the sun approaching toward him. Fear gripped his heart and he began to look for help. But soon his fear disappeared as he saw a Lady in splendour with Her Child in Her arms. She smiled at him with great affection and said “Please give me a drink.” The boy offering the drink, then fell prostrate before Her. The vision continued, “I have chosen this place to favour my people.” She then directed him to go to Nagapattinam and inform a certain Catholic gentleman to build a church on that spot. Sadness pervading on his face, he replied, “How am I to walk, for I am lame!” The Heavenly Mother, smiled and said, “Arise and carry out My request.” The boy felt new strength in his legs and he jumped up with great joy and went as instructed to the Catholic nobleman. The Catholic gentleman himself had a similar dream the previous night, in which Our Lady made the same request. And so a small church was erected on the spot and a beautiful statue of similar appearance to the apparition was placed on the altar.
This first miracle spread great confidence, love and devotion towards the Heavenly Mother among the people. This miracle and subsequent miracles earned Our Lady the title of Mother of Good Health. People soon began to gather from different places to pray and to obtain favours from their Mother of Good Health.
In the 1600’s a Portuguese merchant vessel sailing from Macao (China) to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was caught in a terrible storm. Only divine intervention could save them. All the crew knelt, trembling with fear as they invoked Our Lady, Star of the Sea, to save them and their vessel. Very soon the storm subsided and the sea became calm as their vessel landed near the shore of Vailankanni. This occurred on the 8th of September, the day on which the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of Our Blessed Mother. The sailors entered the small Church at Vailankanni and thanked Our Lady for saving them from the storm. In gratitude they vowed to build a bigger Church and to beautify the altar. On their next visit they fulfilled their vows and the altar today still carries the decorations they provided in thanksgiving to Our Lady for saving their lives.
Due to the increasing miracles and graces granted and the many millions of pilgrims who visit each year, the Church over the centuries has been enlarged and enlarged again. Now it is a fitting Basilica that holds thousands of worshippers at any one time. It is a shrine of splendid gothic design and proportions: a place of miracles and a place of great grace for all Mary’s children.