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Velankanni Festival is associated with several historical incidences in relating to the sacred church.Wondrous legends surround the church-the most famous being that of the ship-wrecked Portuguese sailors, who in the 16th century, vowed to build a great shrine for the Virgin Mary, for saving their lives in a terrible storm. The Velankanni festival attracts thousands, clad in orange robes to the sacred spot where the ship landed. Equally famous are the Virgin Mary's miraculous healing powers- earning for the church the name 'Lourdes of the East'
Our lady of Good Health, popularly called "Our Lady of Vailankanni" is in the small town of Vailankanni (5000 residents) located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. It is located 150 miles south of Madras in Tamil Nadu and 5 miles south of Nagapattinam. Our lady chose this place to dispense her miracles to mankind. A strong oral tradition attests to Our Lady's apparitions at Vailankanni(Velankanni). The tradition is built around the following three significant events:
Sometime during the sixteenth century, Our Lady with her infant son appeared to a Hindu boy carrying milk to a customer's home. While he rested under a Banyan tree near a tank (pond), Our Lady appeared to him and asked for milk for her Son and the boy gave her some. On reaching the customer's home, the boy apologized for his lateness and the reduced amount of milk by relating the incident that occurred on his way. On inspection, the man found the milk pot to be full and realized that something miraculous had happened. That man, also a Hindu, wanting to see the place where the apparition occurred, accompanied the boy.
When they reached the tank, Our Lady appeared once again. On learning that it was Our Lady who appeared to the boy, the residents of the local Catholic community became ecstatic. The tank where the apparition took place is called "Matha Kulam" or Our Lady's tank.
Some years later Our Lady appeared again. This time to a crippled boy who was selling buttermilk near a public square on the outskirts of the same village of Vailankanni. She asked him for buttermilk for her infant Son and the boy compiled. Our Lady asked the boy to inform a certain wealthy Catholic man in the nearby town of Nagapattinam of her appearance. Not realizing that his crippled leg was miraculously cured by Our Lady, the boy rose up and began his journey. The man also had a vision the previous night in which Our Lady asked him to build a chapel for her. Together, the man and the boy returned to the site of the miracle.
This time Our Lady appeared to both. The man erected a thatched chapel for Our Lady at the site of Her second appearance. This chapel became a holy place of veneration to Our Blesses mother and She was called henceforth, Mother of Good Health (Arokia Matha).
A few years later, Our Merciful Mother rescued a few Portuguese merchant sailors from a violent storm, which wrecked their ship. When the merchants reached the shore of Vailankanni they were taken by local fisherman to the thatched chapel. To give thanks and pay tribute to Our Lady,they built a small permanent chapel on their return trip. On subsequent visits they improved on it. The merchants dedicated the chapel to Our Lady on September 8th to celebrate the feast of her nativity and to mark the date of their safe landing to Vailankanni.
Today, the celebration of this feast is an annual festival which lasts for 9 days and draws more than a million and a half pilgrims. Vailankanni attracts more pilgrims than any other sacred shrine in India. Not only do multitudes of Catholic travel there throughout the year but many non-Christians visit as well. Hundreds of miraculous cures are reported every year.