God is not a man. He will not lie. God is not a human being. He does not change his mind. What he says he will do, he does. What he promises, he keeps. -Numbers 23:19
Vailankanni is fondly known as the 'Lourdes of the East' because like Lourdes in
France, millions of pilgrims visit the Shrine throughout the year, praying to
Our Lady for various needs and thanking her for the favors received through
Tradition recounts that Mother Mary appeared with the Infant Jesus in this small
hamlet at the end of the 16th or in the early 17th century. Ever since,
Vailankanni is the most important destination and almost the synthesis of all
Marian Sanctuaries for the pilgrims of the world. The crowds of pilgrims come
here regardless of creeds and languages.
Our Lady of Vailankanni devotions down through the centuries have proved the
Shrine to be of divine origin and has assumed international character. Mary, the
focus of unity at Vailankanni, is a clear proof of international, multicultural,
and religious harmony.
Vailankanni, a hamlet on the sandy shores of the Bay of Bengal, is located 350
kilometers south of Chennai (Madras) and 12kilometers south of Nagappatinam.
Nagapattinam, a town on the coast of Bay of Bengal, was referred by early
writers and the Portuguese as "the city of Coramandel' (Imperial Gazetteer of
India, XIX, 3). Vellayar river, a minor branch of the river Cauvery, runs on the
south of the village and flows into the sea.
Readers may be startled to learn that Vailankanni was once a port and there is
evidence to prove this. Historical notes reveal that people in this area traded
with Rome and Greece, the ancient commercial centers of the western world. In
the course of time, Nagapattinam expanded and this tiny commercial center
(Vailankanni) gradually lost its importance. The canal that had been dug once
for navigation between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam still lies to the west of
The Growth of the Shrine
As days passed on, the number of devout pilgrims visiting the Shrine increased.
The fame of Vailankanni spread gradually. The wonderful but inexplicable events
that occurred in the Shrine excited awe and wonder. People who witnessed the
eventsor heard first-hand information about them, and related them to their
family and friends. Thus the fame and glory of the gracious Mother of Health of
Vailankanni spread like wildfire throughout the land. Year by year the number of
devout pilgrims increased. Many came with eager and earnest prayers for favors,
and immediate help; many more came with hearts filled with gratitude to show
thanks to the miraculous Mother for favors granted.
The numerous poor who came to Vailankanni on foot from afar, returned to their
homes, singing from door to door the glories and favors of Our Lady, very much
in the style and manner of the troubadours of the Middle Ages in Europe. These
poor singers of Marian praise also helped in their own humble way, in spreading
the devotion to "Our Lady of Health Vailankanni." In fact the press, did very
little to spread the devotion of Our Lady.
In the meanwhile, by the introduction of quicker and more convenient means of
transport, such as steamships, and trains, the number of pilgrims to the Shrine
increased and the Shrine correspondingly expanded.
Fr. Rozario, a Franciscan priest, expanded the small church of 24 ft. x 12 ft.
built by the Portuguese sailors, to 70 ft. x 22 ft. by extending the nave of the
Church. But the ancient little sanctuary and the Altar were preserved intact. As
the years passed by, the Catholic faith was strengthened by ardent missionaries
working at Vailankanni.
Very soon, even this extension was found to be inadequate. In 1917 Fr. Sebastio
Xavier de Noronha expanded the Church by an another 20 ft. from the nave of the
In addition, two gothic domes of 82 ft. each on either side of the entrance
facing the sea were also constructed. About the same time a two-story Parochial
building with facility for pilgrims was also built.
Southern Side of the Church
This period was marked by rivalry between the Franciscans and the Jesuits and it
had its influence on the missionaries in Vailankanni as well. From the beginning
of this century, there was an another church in Vailankanni dedicated to the
Immaculate Heart of Mary, which was under the jurisdiction of the diocese of
Trichy. It was maintained by the Jesuits. In 1928 a solution was found to this
problem. The church of Immaculate Heart of Mary was demolished and the statues
were brought to the Shrine of Our Lady of Health.
By then, both the private and the public sectors began operating bus services to
Our Lady's Shrine from all corners of the land. Hence the number of pilgrims
pouring into Vailankanni further increased. In 1933 two new wings were
constructed, to the right and to the left of the 'Main Altar', meeting the nave
at right angles.
Northern Side of the Church
A spacious vestry was also 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 Health,
(the verybeauty of the whole magnificent edifice, which remained untouched and
With this the Shrine of 'Our Lady' was blessed in 1933, on the feast day of Our
Lady of Immaculate Conception. The moral pillar behind all these developments
was the parish priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Sebastio Xavier Noronha, who attained
eternal grace on August 21, 1942. He was laid to rest in front of Our Lady's
In 1953, Thanjavur was separated from the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore and
created as a separate diocese. Vailankanni came under the jurisdiction of
To have constantcontact with the devotees, who may not be able to visit the
Shrine often, in 1953, the Bishop started two monthly magazines, one in English
(Vailankanni Calling) and another in Tamil (Vailankanni Kuraloli).
The celebration of the Marian Year all over the world in 1954 drew unprecedented
numbers of pilgrims to the Shrine. The Most Reverend Bishop R. Arokiasamy
Sundaram, the first bishop of Thanjavur, and Fr. M. V. Rodriguez, the parish
priest made elaborate arrangements to celebrate the Marian Year meaningfully and
propagate the Marian devotion at Vailankanni.
In 1956, a beautiful welcome arch was blessed and opened by His Excellency Most
Reverend Bishop Sundaram. The illuminated arch stood imposingly to show the way
to the eager pilgrims, who sought the protection of Mary at this beautiful
Shrine. In January 1961, a beautiful central altar, delicately executed in
spotless white marble was erected replacing the former one made of cement
The marble altar adds exquisite splendor to the Shrine. The ancient porcelain
plates and paintings have been carefully retained in their original
beauty.Enlarging the church for active participation in the Liturgy for the
influx of various language-speaking pilgrims became imperative. This warranted a
two-storied extended Basilica.
So in 1974-75 during the time of late Very Rev. Fr. Maria Soosai the two story
church was blessed and consecrated by Rt. Rev. R.A. Sundaram, then Bishop of
Thanjavur.After all these renovations and the extensions, the present Church
shows the triumph of classicism in structure, this magnificent edifice with its
93 ft. high dome and two 82 ft. high gothic spirals dominates the skyline of
And there stands an inspiring octagonal, gothic dome, generous but strictly of
geometrical and architectural propositions, the crowning glory of it all! Indeed
this dome enhances the arresting grandeur of the glorious and majestic Shrine.
History of Vailankanni Parish
The first person to refer to Vailankanni in historical documents is Fr. Paulo de
Trinidad an OFM priest. In hischronicle in the year 1630, he writes:
"... And two leagues (about six miles) from Nagapattinam in the direction of
Mannar (i.e. towards South), we have another Christian settlement, of which one
of our Religious has charge and the Church is under the Patronage of our Lady of
Health..."(Paulo de Trinidad, 111, 68).
In 1771 Fr. Antonio de Rozario, the last Parish Priest of the church of the
Immaculate Conception, was appointed as the first Parish Priest of Vailankanni,
which was then raised to the status of an independent parish. Till then, the
parish of Vailankanni was a substation of the parish of Nagapattinam, and
Nagapattinam had always been under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop
of the Diocese of Mylapore. During that period the Diocese of Mylapore was
administered under the Portuguese 'Padroado' (patronage). Under the Padroado
system, the king of Portugal in Europe met all the expenses incurred by the
Diocese of Mylapore, which remained under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction
of the Roman Pontiffs.
Until 1847 the priests of St. Franciscan Missionaries who had looked after the
province of Goa and Mylapore also looked after Nagapattinam and Vailankanni. The
Franciscan origin and ownership of the Shrine was also perpetuated, by giving
the place of honor to two Franciscan saints, St. Anthony of Lisbon and St.
Francis of Assisi, on either side of the miraculous image of 'Our Lady', on the
High Altar until 1961. Besides the last parish priest, Miguel Francisco
Fernandez, who was of the Franciscan order, controlled the parish of Vailankanni
In the year 1949 this dual system came to an end: the Portuguese patronage of
the Diocese of Mylapore was ended and placed under the direct control
of the Roman Pontiff.
The Diocese of Mylapore was in charge of the mission in this area until 1952. It
was in that year that Thanjavur, a Cauvery-fed basin, became a new and
independent Diocese called the "Diocese of Thanjavur." Thanjavur town was chosen
to be the headquarters of the new Diocese. In November 1952, when the new
Diocese of Thanjavur came into being, the Diocesan Priests of Thanjavur became
the custodians of the Shrine Vailankanni. The administration of the new Diocese
was temporarily placed under the apostolic administration of the Rt. Rev. Dr.
Louis Mathias, S.D.B., who was then the Archbishop of the new Archdiocese of
On March 19, 1953, His Excellency the Rev. Dr. R. Arokiasamy Sundaram, DD., L.
C. L., M. A., a priest of Mylapore Archdiocese was appointed as the first Bishop
of the new Diocese of Thanjavur. He assumed charge of his Diocese on March 24,
Vailankanni being situated in the Thanjavur District came under the jurisdiction
of the Diocese of Thanjavur. The Rev. Dr. R. Arokiasamy Sundaram showed keen
interest in the development of Vailankanni Shrine and granted special spiritual
privileges. 'Our Lady of Health Vailankanni' became the second patroness of our
newly erected Diocese.
2010 @ All rights reserved.