Vailankanni is fondly known as the 'Lourdes of the East' because
like Lourdes in France, millions of pilgrims visit the Shrine
throughout the year, praying to Our Lady for various needs and
thanking her for the favors received through her intercession. Tradition recounts that Mother Mary appeared with the Infant
Jesus in this small hamlet at the end of the 16th or in the early
17th century. Ever since, Vailankanni is the most important
destination and almost the synthesis of all Marian Sanctuaries
for the pilgrims of the world. The crowds of pilgrims come here
regardless of creeds and languages.
Our Lady of Vailankanni devotions down through the centuries
have proved the Shrine to be of divine origin and has assumed
international character. Mary, the focus of unity at
Vailankanni, is a clear proof of international, multicultural,
and religious harmony.
The Growth of the Shrine
As days passed on, the number of devout pilgrims
visiting the Shrine increased. The fame of Vailankanni spread
gradually. The wonderful, but inexplicable events that occurred in
the Shrine excited awe and wonder. People who witnessed or heard
first-hand information about the events, related them to their family and friends. Thus the fame
and glory of the gracious Mother of Health of Vailankanni spread
like wildfire throughout the land. Year by year the number of devout
pilgrims increased. Many came with eager and earnest prayers for
favors, and immediate help; many more came with hearts filled with
gratitude to show thanks to the miraculous Mother for favors
granted. The numerous poor who came to Vailankanni on foot
from afar, returned to their homes, singing from door to door the
glories and favors of Our
Lady, very much in the
style and manner of the troubadours of the Middle Ages in Europe. These
poor singers of Marian praise also helped in their own humble way, in
spreading the devotion to "Our Lady of Health Vailankanni." In fact the press, did
very little to spread the devotion of Our Lady.
In the meanwhile, by the introduction of quicker and more
convenient means of transport, such as steamships, and trains,
the number of pilgrims to the Shrine increased and the Shrine
correspondingly expanded. Fr. Rozario, a Franciscan priest, expanded the small church of 24
ft. x 12 ft. built by the Portuguese sailors, to 70 ft. x 22 ft. by
extending the nave of the Church. But the ancient little sanctuary
and the Altar were preserved intact. As the years passed by, the
Catholic faith was strengthened by ardent missionaries working at
Very soon, even this extension was found to be inadequate. In
1917 Fr. Sebastio Xavier de Noronha expanded the Church by an
another 20 ft. from the nave of the Church. In addition, two gothic domes of 82 ft. each on either side of
the entrance facing the sea were also constructed. About the same
time a two-story Parochial building with facility for pilgrims was
Southern Side of the
This period was marked by rivalry
between the Franciscans and the Jesuits and it had its influence on
the missionaries in Vailankanni as well. From the beginning of this
century, there was an another church in Vailankanni dedicated to the
Immaculate Heart of Mary, which was under the jurisdiction of the
diocese of Trichy. It was maintained by the Jesuits. In 1928 a
solution was found to this problem. The church of Immaculate Heart
of Mary was demolished and the statues were brought to the Shrine of
Our Lady of Health. By then, both the private and the public sectors began operating
bus services to Our Lady's Shrine from all corners of the land.
Hence the number of pilgrims pouring into Vailankanni further
increased. In 1933 two new wings were constructed, to the right and
to the left of the 'Main Altar', meeting the nave at right
Northern Side of the
A spacious vestry was also provided
immediately behind the Altar. Thus the entire sacred edifice began
to assume the shape of a Latin Cross. Right over the center of the
ancient main altar was the miraculous image of Our Lady of Health,
(the very beauty of the whole magnificent
edifice, which remained untouched and unaltered).
With this the Shrine of 'Our Lady' was blessed in 1933, on the
feast day of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. The moral pillar
behind all these developments was the parish priest, the Very Rev.
Fr. Sebastio Xavier Noronha, who attained eternal grace on August
21, 1942. He was laid to rest in front of Our Lady's Shrine. In 1953, Thanjavur was separated from the Archdiocese of
Madras-Mylapore and created as a separate diocese. Vailankanni came
under the jurisdiction of Thanjavur Diocese.
To have constant contact with the devotees, who may not be able
to visit the Shrine often, in 1953, the Bishop started two monthly
magazines, one in English (Vailankanni Calling) and another in Tamil
The celebration of the Marian Year all over the world in 1954
drew unprecedented numbers of pilgrims to the Shrine. The Most
Reverend Bishop R. Arokiasamy Sundaram, the first bishop of
Thanjavur, and Fr. M. V. Rodriguez, the parish priest made elaborate
arrangements to celebrate the Marian Year meaningfully and propagate
the Marian devotion at Vailankanni.
In 1956, a beautiful welcome arch was blessed and opened by His
Excellency Most Reverend Bishop Sundaram. The illuminated arch stood
imposingly to show the way to the eager pilgrims, who sought the
protection of Mary at this beautiful Shrine. In January 1961, a
beautiful central altar, delicately executed in spotless white
marble was erected replacing the former one made of cement
The marble altar adds exquisite
splendor to the Shrine. The ancient porcelain plates and paintings
have been carefully retained in their original beauty. Enlarging the
church for active participation in the Liturgy for the influx of
various language-speaking pilgrims became imperative. This warranted
a two-storied extended Basilica.
So in 1974-75 during the time of late Very Rev. Fr. Maria Soosai
the two story church was blessed and consecrated by Rt. Rev. R.A.
Sundaram, then Bishop of Thanjavur. After all these renovations and
the extensions, the present Church shows the triumph of classicism
in structure, this magnificent edifice with its 93 ft. high dome and
two 82 ft. high gothic spirals dominates the skyline of
there stands an inspiring octagonal, gothic dome, generous but
strictly of geometrical and architectural propositions, the crowning
glory of it all! Indeed this dome enhances the arresting grandeur of
the glorious and majestic Shrine.
History of Vailankanni
The first person to refer to
Vailankanni in historical documents is Fr. Paulo de Trinidad an OFM priest. In his chronicle in the year 1630, he
"... And two leagues (about six miles) from Nagapattinam in the
direction of Mannar (i.e. towards South), we have another Christian
settlement, of which one of our Religious has charge and the Church
is under the Patronage of our Lady of Health..."
Trinidad, 111, 68).
In 1771 Fr. Antonio de Rozario, the last Parish Priest of the church of
the Immaculate Conception, was appointed as the first Parish Priest
of Vailankanni, which was then raised to the status of an
independent parish. Till then, the parish of Vailankanni was a
substation of the parish of Nagapattinam, and Nagapattinam had
always been under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop of
the Diocese of Mylapore. During that period the Diocese of Mylapore
was administered under the Portuguese 'Padroado' (patronage). Under
the Padroado system, the king of Portugal in Europe met all the
expenses incurred by the Diocese of Mylapore, which remained under
the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiffs.
Until 1847 the priests of St. Franciscan Missionaries who had
looked after the province of Goa and Mylapore also looked after
Nagapattinam and Vailankanni. The Franciscan origin and ownership of
the Shrine was also perpetuated, by giving the place of honor to two
Franciscan saints, St. Anthony of Lisbon and St. Francis of Assisi,
on either side of the miraculous image of 'Our Lady', on the High
Altar until 1961. Besides the last parish priest, Miguel Francisco
Fernandez, who was of the Franciscan order, controlled the parish of
Vailankanni till 1889.
In the year 1949 this dual system came to an end: the Portuguese
patronage of the Diocese of Mylapore was ended and placed under the
direct control of the Roman Pontiff.
The Diocese of Mylapore was in charge of the mission in this area
until 1952. It was in that year that Thanjavur, a Cauvery-fed basin,
became a new and independent Diocese called the "Diocese of
Thanjavur." Thanjavur town was chosen to be the headquarters of the
new Diocese. In November 1952, when the new Diocese of Thanjavur
came into being, the Diocesan Priests of Thanjavur became the
custodians of the Shrine Vailankanni. The administration of the new
Diocese was temporarily placed under the apostolic administration of
the Rt. Rev. Dr. Louis Mathias, S.D.B., who was then the Archbishop
of the new Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore.
On March 19, 1953, His Excellency the Rev. Dr. R. Arokiasamy
Sundaram, DD., L. C. L., M. A., a priest of Mylapore Archdiocese was
appointed as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Thanjavur. He
assumed charge of his Diocese on March 24, 1953.
Vailankanni being situated in the Thanjavur District came under
the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Thanjavur. The Rev. Dr. R.
Arokiasamy Sundaram showed keen interest in the development of
Vailankanni Shrine and granted special spiritual privileges. 'Our
Lady of Health Vailankanni' became the second patroness of our newly
Chronological List of Parish Priests of
Fr. Antonio de Rozario
1774 Aug. Fr. Jose de Santa Roza de
1777 Jul. Fr. Antonio de Rosario, Commissary
Sep. Fr. Luis dos Remedios
1783 Jan. Fr. Antonio de Rosario,
1788 Dec. Fr. Antonio do Jesus Maria Jose
Sep. Fr. Antonio de Rosario Commissary
1792 Sep. Fr. Jos. Roza
de Giterbo Commissary &V. F.
1814 May Fr. Constantine de
Jesus Maria Commissary
1819 May Fr. Thomas de Piedade
Feb. Fr. Francisco Xavier Masearenhas
1822 Aug. Fr. Francisco
1824 May Fr. Felipe de Jesus
1825 Sep. Fr.
Francisco Dos Dores
1828 Jun. Fr. Felipe de Jesus
Fr. Clemente Das Dores
1847 Oct. Fr. Isidore Manuel Alimao
1858 Apr. Fr. Jose Felis Fernandes AG.PP
1863 Nov. Fr.
Felipe Nery Joaquim Dias
1876 May Fr. Ignacio Antonio d' Andrade
1886 Aug. Fr. Miguel Francisco Fernandes
1890 Dec. Fr.
Joaquim Jose Ag. P. Vic. Nagapattinam
1891 Feb. Fr. Cuilherme
1892 Dec. Fr. Joaquim Jose Luis Ag. P. Vic.
1893 Mar. Fr. Martinho Valeriane de Sa
Sep. Fr. Joaquim Francisco da Fiedade Dias
1900 Aug. Fr. Camilla
1910 Jun. to 1942 Fr. Sebastio Xavier de Noronha
Sep. to 1963 Fr. M. V. Rodriguez
to 1980 Fr. S. Mariasoosai
to 1982 Fr. Thomas Vaz
Sep. to 1990 Fr. S. L. Gabriel
May to 1998 Fr. M.M. Sammanasu
till date Fr. G. Arul Iruthayam