Velankanni, meaning ‘The Virgin of Velai’, is a tiny township nestled on the glorious Coromandel Coast of the azure Bay of Bengal. It is in Nagapattinam district in the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu. The now pilgrim town was once a busy port that traded with Rome and Greece. And it would have remained just that, had it not been for miraculous occurrences nearly half a millennium ago.
Velankanni can be traced to the mid-16th century and is attributed to three miracles: the apparition of Mary and the Christ Child to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of Portuguese sailors from a violent sea storm.
Although all three apparitions resulted in the erection of a shrine to our Lady, it was the promise of the Portuguese sailors that caused a permanent edifice to be built at Velankanni.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Velankanni, also known as the ‘Lourdes of the East’, is one of the most frequented religious sites in India.
Velankanni Church (Our Lady of Good Health) was built in the late 16th century CE with modifications by the Portuguese. In their possible subsequent visits, perhaps they brought porcelain plates, which can be seen even now illustrating bible scenes and other cultural arts of the time, to beautify the Church they had built earlier.
The main statue that they had brought to the altar of the Shrine was Our Lady holding the Baby Jesus, standing majestically on the globe.
The Gothic style of architecture is a unique feature of the church. The church itself is an imposing building with inspiring architecture. While the buildings have been painted white, the roof of the church is made of striking red tiles in contrast to the colour of the walls.
In the year 1771, Velankanni acquired the status of a Parish with Fr. Antonio de Rozario as the First Parish Priest. Velankanni church was raised to the status of basilica in 1962 by His Holiness Pope John XXIII.
Festivals are celebrated here with all pomp and gaiety. Every year on August 29 the feast of Our Lady commences with the hoisting of the flag and on the 10th day it ends after the lowering of the flag.
Velankanni church is considered a very powerful holy place in India where one is cured of ailments when one offers prayers with a true heart. People of all religions come to visit this church and offer prayers.