Without a shadow of a doubt it is the choice of Our Blessed Mother to make her apparitions in Vailankanni, that has transformed this place into a Marian Shrine of international repute, is popularly known as the 'Lourdes of the East'.
It is an indisputable fact that God has always been eager to intervene in human history, especially during turbulent times, in a motherly way and so He comes to us through Mary. Mary is not only the Mother of Jesus, she is the Mother of all us, and it is the distinctive mark of a mother to be solicitous for the wellbeing of her children. Even in her glory in heaven, she is still profoundly concerned about the welfare of her children, and that is why she leaves her eternal throne to come down to man to alert him to the dangers to which he is rushing headlong.
Our Lady’s Vision to a Shepherd Boy
Approximately 400 years ago, there was a small pond and on its bank was a huge banyan tree. A shepherd boy from Vailankanni used to carry milk everyday to a rich man in Nagapattinam which is ten kilometers away. On an unusually hot summer day, the boy, after quenching his thirst with the water from the pond, rested for a while in the shade of the banyan tree which stood beside the pond. Soon the boy fell into a deep slumber.
Suddenly he was startled by the vision of a Lady of celestial beauty holding a lovely child in her arms. The boy could not take his eyes off the Lady of unmatched beauty, so spell bound was he by this heavenly vision. The Lady greeted him with a motherly smile and condescended to ask him for some milk for her child. He joyfully gave her some milk for her child and seeing a bewitching smile spread over the face of the heavenly baby, the boy experienced deep satisfaction.
When he reached the home of the rich man he begged to be excused for his unusual delay and for the shortage of milk. But, when the lid of the milk pot was lifted, lo and behold!, the pot was brimming over with milk. The boy narrated to the rich man about the apparition he had of a Lady of uncommon beauty with a cherubic child and how he had given a portion of the milk he was carrying, to the child at the Lady’s request. He said that he had the unique pleasure of seeing that supernatural Lady feed the baby with the milk he had given. The master was fascinated by the extraordinary phenomenon witnessed by the boy and he hastened to the spot where the Lady had appeared with her child. With great reverence, the gentleman prostrated himself on the holy ground where the Lady had appeared to the boy.
The story of the apparition of the Lady and Child and the miraculous brimming over of the milk, spread like wild fire throughout the neighbourhood. The Christians in Nagapattinam were convinced that the vision was that of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus. Their hearts overflowed with joy at the thought of Our Blessed Mother deigning to choose such an unobtrusive place as Vailankanni to make her apparition. From that day onwards the tank has come to be known as ‘Matha Kulam’ (Our Lady’s Tank). Innumerable miracles are taking place even today by applying it on diseased persons. A chapel now stands at the place where Mary appeared to the shepherd boy.
Apparition of Our Lady to the Buttermilk Vendor
A few years after her apparition to the Shepherd boy, Vailankanni was privileged to be blessed with another apparition of the Blessed Mother, and this time, to a poor lame boy of the village. At the close of the 16th century, there was a poor widow in the village of Vailankanni with a son who was congenitally lame. In order to eke out their existence the lame boy would sell buttermilk at a place known as ‘Nadu Thittu’. It was a slightly elevated spot where there was a huge banyan tree with outstretched branches. The widow would carry the lame boy and leave at Nadu Thittu with a pot of buttermilk. The boy sold the butter milk to weary way-farers who would take shelter from the sweltering heat under the tree. On an extremely hot day the boy was waiting for his customers, but as no one turned up, he was a little disappointed.
But his disappointment turned into joy when, in the twinkling of an eye, he saw a Lady of stunning beauty standing before him, holding a baby of dazzling beauty in her arms. The Mother and Child were attired in impeccable white garments. The Lady looked at the boy with a charming smile and asked him for a cup of buttermilk for the child. Without a moment’s hesitation the lad gave her a cup of buttermilk as he considered it a great honour and privilege to render a little hospitality to his seemingly ethereal visitors. With a sense of deep satisfaction the boy saw the Lady feeding her child with the buttermilk he had offered her. The Lady then cast a benevolent look at the lame boy and turned towards her Divine Child in her arms as if entreating him to heal the crippled lad. The Mother’s silent request was instantaneously answered. Without the boy realizing it, a miracle had been wrought on him, but he kept on gazing at his distinguished visitors as though entranced.
The Lady gratefully acknowledged the youth’s generosity and requested another favour of him. The lad was to go to Nagapattinam and apprise a certain rich Catholic gentleman of the Lady’s appearance to him and to inform him of her desire to have a chapel built at Vailankanni in her honour. While he was eager to carry out the mission entrusted to him, his physical impairment rendered him incapable of carrying out the mission. The boy told the Lady so. But the Lady bade him get up and walk as he was no longer a cripple. Immediately, the lad leaped to his feet. His joy knew no bounds when he realized he could walk. He ran as fast as his leg could carry him, all the 10 kilometers to Nagapattinam. On the way he would pause a while to make sure that the miracle that had taken place in him was not a figment of his mind but a reality.
On reaching Nagapattinam the boy, narrated to the gentleman of the apparition. He informed the gentleman that she had sent him as her emissary to ask him to build a chapel in her honour in Vailankanni. The gentleman had little doubt in believing the lad as he himself had a similar vision of Our Lady in his sleep the previous night, bidding him build a chapel in her honour. With the willing cooperation of the people of that locality whose enthusiasm had been kindled by the miraculous healing of the widow’s crippled son, the Catholic gentleman of Nagapattinam soon put up a small thatched chapel at Vailankanni. An altar was erected in the chapel and a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Vailankanni holding the Infant Jesus in her arms, was placed on the altar. That marked the humble beginning of the Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni.
So many cures were taking place to those who prayed at the miraculous Mother with her Divine Infant came to be known as Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni (Vailankanni Arokia Matha). A chapel has been recently built at Nadu Thittu where Our Lady appeared to the lame butter milk vendor.
The Portuguese Ship caught in a Storm
The 16th century in particular was known for the atimagests made by European merchants to establish trading centres in India. The Portuguese were devout Catholics with a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother Mary, the ‘Star of the Sea’. In the 17th century a Portuguese merchant vessel was sailing to Colombo. While it was cruising towards the west to reach the Bay of Bengal, it was caught in a violent storm. The gale grew furious and the waves rose high and lashed violently at the ship and the fate of the vessel, with everyone on board was all but sealed. The helpless sailors instinctively fell on their knees and with all the fervour, their sinking souls could muster, besought Mary’s help. They vowed to build a church in her honour wherever she helped them land safely. Their earnest petition was instantly heard, for all on a sudden, there was a miraculous lull in the winds; the waves subsided and the sea became calm. Soon the battered ship was pushed to safety to the shores of Vailankanni. On landing, the first thing the sailors did was to fall on their knees and thank God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for having saved their lives. They set about immediately to remodel the thatched chapel.
Remarkably, all these extraordinary events took place on September 8, the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.