There is very few pilgrimage site for the Christians in India and one of the most prominent amongst them is the church at Velankanni also known as Our Lady of Good Health. I still remember from my childhood days that my aunts and other relatives often making this pilgrimage all the way from Kolkata just to pray at the church. My visit to Velankanni, however, was just a coincidence more of a detour during my trip to Thanjavur. On reaching Thanjavur I was informed by the car driver that many people often make a day trip to Velankanni. This was an opportunity that I did not want to miss as I was not sure if I would ever come back to Thanjavur again or for that matter come anywhere near Velankanni.
Thanjavur to Velankanni is around 100 Kilometres and takes around three and a half hours, it’s advisable that you take an air-conditioned car as this part of the country has the majority of hot and sunny days. Alternately you can also reach Velankanni by train, there are direct trains from Chennai Egmore station on a daily basis. Hotels are plenty out here thus if you are in for an extended stay then you can choose from many different price options.
Velankanni over the years has become a pilgrimage site for people of all faith thus don’t be surprised if you see flocks of people everywhere. People from all religion come her to pray for wishes and also come when their wishes get fulfilled. Something which caught me by surprise was that some pilgrims were shaving off their head something which is not practiced in Christianity.
The day we reached Velankanni it was hot beyond my limits also with the mercury touching nearly 42 degree Celsius thus every little walk was a monumental climb for me. Water reserves were fast depleting and had to resort to fruit juices to keep cool.
The first thing that you will notice once you enter Velankanni church locality is that there are quite a few churches out there and all of them painted white. I found it difficult to figure out which one is the actual Velankanni church, after asking few locals I came to know which one is the actual church but here is the tricky part, all the churches in the vicinity is part of the story which led to this place becoming so famous as a pilgrimage site. Thus there is no single church which deserves special attention but some churches are a must during your visit.
Before I go to the important churches and locations it’s important to know a brief history so as to easily understand the significance of this place. The church has three specific historical incidents although all not recorded but these led to the church that we see today and it all began in the 16th century AD.
Incident 1 (1570): Once a mother and a child had appeared to a young boy selling milk near a small water tank. She asked the boy to spare some milk for the baby and even though the milk seller did not have enough he still gave some to her. Moving on the boy went to the house where he was supposed to deliver the milk and apologized for getting delayed and also for the reduced quantity of milk. The house owner checked and found that the quantity of milk had not reduced but remained the same. Surprised the house owner and the milk seller returned to the spot and was visited by the same mother and son (Our Lady).
Incident 2 (1597): A crippled boy selling buttermilk was visited by a mother and her infant son who requested for some buttermilk for her son. The boy gave some and then the mother asked the boy to get up and walk to the nest town of Nagapattinam and inform a wealthy Catholic man about her (Our Lady) appearance. The boy being cured instantly obeyed her order and informed the person. The man, on the other hand, had a vision the previous night wherein Our Lady had instructed him to build a chapel. The man obeying the order built a small thatched roof church on the spot.
Incident 3: A group of Portuguese sellers was traveling via sea and they met with a violent storm. The sailors prayed to Our Lady for a safe landing and in spite of ship wreckage managed to survive and reached the shores of Velankanni. As a mark of gratitude, they built a permanent chapel before their return.
Places of Interest
This is the main church however the church structure has been modified and extended over the years but this church next to the shores of Bay of Bengal is the main church.
Stations of the Cross & Stations of the Rosary
These are murals of 14 important events that Christ took on his way to the cross. This is sometimes seen in many Catholic churches and people pray at each of the station.
1st Station: Jesus is condemned to death
2nd Station: Jesus carries His cross
3rd Station: Jesus falls the first time
4th Station: Jesus meets his mother
5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7th Station: Jesus falls the second time
8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9th Station: Jesus falls a third time
10th Station: Jesus clothes are taken away
11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross
13th Station: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross
14th Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb
Morning Star Church
This is the new extension to the church completed in the year 2013. This church is huge and has a seating capacity of 10,000 and even can accommodate 40,000 standing.
Our Lady’s Tank Church
This is a small church but is significant as Incident 1 took place here. Covered water well is present here and people collect the holy water in bottles to take it back home.
This is a small church but is significant as Incident 2 took place here.
Adoration and Reconciliation Chapel
This is a praying chapel and also houses a counseling center next to it.
You can visit all of these in a single day thus you can easily plan your trip accordingly. Additionally, if you wish to stay there are plenty of hotels and guest rooms all around the place and all of them are of various categories thus choose according to your budget.
The peak season is from 29th August to 6th September which is the annual feast and of course during the Christmas week. During the annual feast, it can get very crowded thus plan accordingly.
Other Places of Interest
If you are traveling from Thanjavur then most probably you would be traveling Vaduvur and on your way, you will find a Vaduvur Bird Sanctuary. This is a seasonal water body and is fed by the Kaveri river through canals thus you can only see post the monsoon season. We were lucky to be present right after Kaveri water was released thus this place was thriving with migratory birds.
Location on Map
Click here to open the location of Velankanni on Google Maps
Click here to open the location of Vaduvur Bird Sanctuary on Google Maps