The Church of Our Lady of Health
Velangani, or Vailankani, the Mecca of South Asian Christianity, is located on the Coromandel coast, in Tamil Nadu.
It is here that 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 materialised again, in front of a lame boy, who, after the divine visitation, regained the use of his limbs. This occasioned the construction of an actual church.
On 8th September, 1869, a Portuguese ship sailing from Macao to Goa, got caught in a massive storm in the Indian Ocean. The sailors, prayed to Virgin Mary to rescue them, promising to build her a magnificent church if she did so. Some time later, their wrecked ship was deposited on the shores of Velangani. The sailors not only built a Basilica in Velangani, but returned year after year, bringing from their trips, exquisite items to decorate the church. The Portuguese annexed the area and brought it under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Mylapore. To commemorate the miraculous escape of the Portugeuse sailors, every year a fascinating festival (29th August-8th September) is held here. Pilgrims from all over the country and even abroad flock to the site, bathe religiously in the sea, have their heads shaved, (the hair later being auctioned by the priests), and then walk on their knees or roll upto the shrine, lending a unique Indian touch to the entire ceremony. The shrine also has its share of Hindu pilgrims.
The outstanding feature of the shrine is the miracle angle attached to it. Ever since the sailors were saved three centuries ago, by dint of their prayers, Velangani has acquired a formidable reputation of curing sicknesses and maladies, thus earning the sobriquet, 'Lourdes of the East'. The tradition is to offer to Our Lady of Health, a candle in the shape of the respective ailment- a red heart in case of cardiac complications, a liver in case of jaundice, yellow lungs in case of tuberculosis and so on. In case of the ailment getting cured, the Virgin Mary and the church are to be thanked by offering a solid silver replica of the part of the body that has been cured.