Velankanni is located 12 km south of Nagapattinam on the Coromandel Coast, in Tamil Nadu. The shrine here is dedicated to Our Lady of Health, the Madonna of Velankanni and is popularly known as 'Sacred Arogya Matha Church'. Virgin Mary is believed to have miraculous healing powers. Thousands of pilgrims belonging to various castes and communities flock daily to this 'Lourdes of the East'. The church has an imposing facade with tall spires and the wings present the shape of a cross. In a niche in the alter is enshrined the statue of Our Lady of Health.
In 1560, Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a shepherd, asking him for milk to quench the thirst of baby Jesus. When the shepherd returned to his master, after performing the good deed, his pitcher kept filling up with milk. Consequently, a small thatched chapel was built at the site. At the end of the 16th century, Virgin Mary appeared again in front of a lame boy, who regained the use of his limbs. The actual church was constructed after the incident.
The tradition is to offer Our Lady of Health, a candle in the shape of the respective ailment- a heart in case of cardiac complications, a liver in case of jaundice, lungs in case of tuberculosis and so on. In case of the ailment getting cured, many bring with them small gold and silver replicas of parts of the body that has been cured to donate to the church. Some times offering are sent in sealed bottles or big hollow bamboos duly closed and thrown in to the sea with the address of the shrine written on them. Such offerings are believed to reach the holy spot. There is a small church museum which has a display of the offerings made by those whose prayers were conceded.
A festival is celebrated for ten days from August 28 to September 10 every year and pilgrims from all over the country and even abroad flock to the site, bathe religiously in the sea, have their heads shaved and then walk on their knees or roll up to the shrine as rituals.
How to get there
Air : Nearest Airport is Chennai
Rail : Nearest railhead is Trichy, Chennai and Thanjavur. Road : Buses are available for Chidambaram, Chennai, Madurai, Pondicherry, Trichy(141kms) and Thanjavur (89kms). Buses and trains frequently run from Nagapattinam.