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November 5th, 2008

The Basilica of Lourdes, France

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Lourdes (can be pronounced either “lourde” or “lourdz”) is a small town in the Hautes-Pyrenees department in southwest France. Lourdes is the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in France, and one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world.

Lourdes lies 497 miles south of Paris in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. The small town of only 17,000 inhabitants receives more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists each year because of a set of visions reported by a young girl named Bernadette in 1858. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes incorporates 52 hectares of property and 22 places of worship, including the sacred grotto, two basilicas, and a variety of buildings for pilgrims and the sick. Outside the sanctuary, many pilgrims also visit the Lourdes home of the young visionary, St. Bernadette.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

The facade of the basilica bears a circular panel with the image of Pope Pius X smiling and holding in his left hand the decree of November 13, 1907, by which the Mass of the Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes was extended to the Universal Church.

The lower circular panel, above the entrance to the Crypt, represents Pope Pius IX who proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. At the entrance on the right is a marble plaque containing the complete text of the judgement made by Mgr Laurence, recognising the Apparitions as authentic.

The sanctuary of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception holds 500 worshippers. The altar is directly over the place of Apparition. The stained glass windows recall the story of the Blessed Virgin from the beginning to the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, in 1854, by Pope Pius IX and of the apparitions of Lourdes in 1858. Every hour, the Basilica’s bells play the “Ave Maria of Lourdes.”

Grotto of Massabielle

The Grotto of Massabielle is the site of St. Bernadette’s visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. The Blessed Virgin is said to have pointed out a previously undiscovered spring in the grotto and instructed Bernadette to drink from it.

The spring water from the grotto is believed to possess healing properties, and the Roman Catholic Church occasionally officially recognizes miraculous healings. Faithful pilgrims, especially those in need of healing, flock to the Grotto of Massabielle to immerse themselves in the grotto’s 17 pools – 6 for men and 11 for women.

Basilica of the Rosary

The Basilica of the Rosary (Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire) is one of several places of worship at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. It is located below and in front of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Designed in a Byzantine-influenced Romanesque style in the shape of a Greek (equal-armed) cross, the Rosary Basilica features two unique elliptical ramps embracing a square that can hold almost 80,000 people. Above the main doors of basilica, two mosaic circular panels made in the workshops of the Vatican depict Pope Leo XIII (left) and Bishop Schoepfer of Tarbes and Lourdes (1899-1927).

When she appeared at Lourdes, the Virgin Mary was described by St. Bernadette as holding a rosary in her hand. The Basilica of the Rosary is dedicated to this theme. Its three arches depict the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. Catholics meditate on these mysteries (events in the lives of Jesus and Mary) while saying the rosary.

Around the central dome, the transepts and the sanctuary contain 15 Chapels of the Mysteries, which are decorated with mosaics depicting the 15 mysteries of the rosary (the five joyous, five sorrowful, and five glorious).

October 31st, 2008

Vailankanni Shrine – Tamil Nadu, India

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Last week, I made a pilgrimage to Vailankanni Shrine, Tamil Nadu, India. I took some snaps, the best among those are given here…..Click on any thumbnail for the original image.

About:-

The historic Marian Shrine at Vailankanni stands out as a light in darkness to many, who make their way from countries far and near to obtain blessing and healing from their Mother. Pilgrims belonging to every religion, caste and creed flock to the Shrine of Our Lady who meets their every need. As one family, they gather sinking every trace of disparity, a living example of unity in diversity.

Location:-

Amid the calm surroundings of palm groves on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, nestles the magnificent Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Health, Vailankanni. This Marian Shrine which has acquired international repute is popularly known as the ‘Lourdes of the East.’

The place which Our Blessed Mother chose to make her apparition, Vailankanni, was once a tiny insignificant village on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Now it resembles a flourishing town and accommodates countless pilgrims who visit the Shrine daily. It lies 10km south of Nagapattinam, a port town. Vailankanni itself was once a port and people here had commercial dealings with Rome and Greece, the ancient commercial centres of the World. However, in course of time, while Nagapattinam continued to flourish as a commercial town, Vailankanni lost its importance in this sphere. The canal which was dug for navigation between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam, lies to the west of Vailankanni.

The Marian Shrine:-

Vailankanni which has developed beyond all recognition in the past twenty five years, has a population of approximately 12000 people. But this number keeps on increasing day by day due to the influx of new settlers. The place has all the facilities found in a flourishing town, such as a post office, banks, hospitals, Higher Secondary Schools, Home for the Aged and Disabled, Medical Stores, Bus Station, Telephone Exchange and all other conceivable facilities.

When one sets foot on the sacred soil of Vailankanni, there is an instinctive feeling that one is on holy ground. It is an unassailable fact that the entire place throbs with the all pervading presence of Mary. Her’s is truly a silent presence that reflects God’s presence in the world through the ages. And it is to experience this silent but powerful presence of Mary that millions of her devotees, irrespective of caste or creed, flock to her hallowed Shrine at Vailankanni. Wherever they come from, their one cherished desire is to have a dharshan (vision) of the ‘holy land’ of Vailankanni, and more so, that of the Miraculous Mother of Good Health.

Apparitions of Our Lady at Vailankanni:-

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 us all. 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. When we reflect on the apparitions of Our Lady, one obvious fact is that the recipients of the overwhelming favour of her apparitions are children of homes in grip of poverty, children bereft of great talents and intimately acquainted with suffering, children of no consequence in the eyes of the world. Just as in the cities of Lourdes and Fatima, in Vailankanni too, Mary appeared to lowly shepherds of tender age, the only difference being, the two youths who were privileged to have the vision of Our Lady, were Hindus, not Christians. There are very strong and compelling traditional evidences that point to the apparitions of Our Blessed Mother in this village. Among those, there are three outstanding incidents. They are

1) Our Lady’s vision to a shepherd boy
2) Our Lady’s vision to a lame buttermilk vendor
3) Our Lady rescuing Portuguese sailors from shipwreck

1) Our Lady’s vision to a shepherd boy

Approximately 400 years ago, alongside a street known as Anna Pillai Street, there was a small pond and on its bank was a huge banyan tree. Passersby would slake their thirst with the water from the pond. A shepherd boy from Vailankanni used to carry milk everyday to a rich man in Nagapattinam which is 10km away. On an unusually hot summer day, the boy, after quenching his thirst with water from the pond, rested for a while in the shade of the banyan tree. 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. Never had he seen such an awe inspiring yet so captivating a vision. With child-like innocence he folded his hands and reverently paid obeisance to the Mother and Child of such breathtaking beauty. The Lady greeted him with a motherly smile and condescended to ask him for some milk for her child. For a moment the thought flashed through his mind as to how he could part with a portion of the milk he was carrying for his master without incurring his ire, yet it was impossible for him to refuse the request of so noble a Lady. 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, it was brimming over with milk. The boy narrated to the rich man all about the apparition he had of a lady of uncommon beauty with a cherubic child. The master was fascinated by the extraordinary phenomenon witnessed by the boy and hastened to the spot where the Lady had appeared with the child. This whole thing 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. From that day onwards the tank at Anna Pillai Street has come to be known as ‘Matha Kulam’ (Our Lady’s Tank). Innumerable miracles are taking place even today by drinking the water from the Matha Kulam or by applying it on diseased persons. A chapel now stands at the place where Mary appeared to the shepherd boy.

2) Our Lady’s vision to a lame buttermilk vendor

At the close of the 16th century, there was a poor widow in the village of Vailankanni with a son who was congenitally lame. 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 him at Nadu Thittu with a pot of buttermilk. The boy sold the buttermilk to weary way-farers who would take shelter from the sweltering heat under the banyan 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 then, 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. 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.

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. The boy told the Lady that while he was eager to carry out the mission entrusted to him, his physical impairment rendered him incapable of carrying out the mission. 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 realised he could walk. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, all the 10km to Nagapattinam. On reaching there, with youthful exuberance he narrated all this to the gentleman. 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. Besides, he could see that the lad, whom he had all along known as a cripple, has been miraculously healed.

With the 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. The news of the new chapel of Our Lady of Vailankanni spread far and wide, and Christians as well as Non-Christians flocked to the chapel. So many cures were taking place to those who prayed at the humble Shrine of Our Lady, that the statue of 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 buttermilk vendor.

3) Our Lady rescuing Portuguese sailors from shipwreck

In the 17th century a Portuguese merchant vessel was sailing from Macao in China to Colombo in Sri Lanka. While it was cruising towards the west to reach the Bay of Bengal, it was caught in a violent storm. 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 of 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. Local fishermen at Vailankanni led the stranded sea men to the chapel built by the Catholic gentleman of Nagapattinam. The Portuguese sailors being devout clients of Virgin Mary lost no time in planning to fulfill their vow in the best possible manner. They set about immediately to remodel the thatched chapel into a modest brick and mortar construction, stopping by every time at Vailankanni to make further modifications to the chapel. Especially, the Chinese porcelain plates they had brought to adorn the altar, illustrating scenes from the Bible, can be seen even today inlaid in the altar of the Shrine Basilica.

Liturgical Timings in the Shrine:-

Everyday Mass:

05.40 a.m. Kaalai Puhazhl (Morning Prayer)

06.00 a.m. Mass in Tamil

07.00 a.m. Mass in Tamil

09.00 a.m. Mass in Malayalam

10.00 a.m. Mass in English

12.00 noon Mass in Tamil

06.00 p.m. Rosary, Novena Prayer and Mass in Tamil

Sunday Mass:

05.40 a.m. Kaalai Puhazhl (Morning Prayer)

06.00 a.m. Mass in Tamil

07.30 a.m. Mass in Tamil

09.00 a.m. Mass in Malayalam

10.00 a.m. Mass in English

12.00 noon Mass in Tamil

05.00 p.m. Mass in Tamil for the Parishioners

06.00 p.m. Rosary, Novena Prayer, Benediction and Mass in Tamil

Novena Prayer to Our Lady of Health

Oh! Most Holy Virgin! You were chosen by the Most Adorable Trinity from all eternity to be the most pure Mother of Jesus. Permit me, your humble and devoted client, to remind you of the joy you received at the instant of the Most Sacred Incarnation of our Divine Lord and during the nine months you carried Him in your chaste womb. I wish most sincerely that I could renew, or even increase that joy, by the fervour of my prayers.

Oh! Tender Mother of the afflicted! Grant me in my present necessities that special protection you have promised to those who devoutly commemorate this ineffable joy. Relying on the infinite mercies of your Divine Son, trusting in that promise which He has made that those who ask would receive, and penetrated with confidence in your powerful prayer, I most humbly entreat you to intercede for me. I beg you to obtain for me the favours which I petition for in this novena, if it be the holy will of God, to grant them and to ask for me whatever graces I stand most in need of.

(Specify Your Requests Here)

I desire by this novena, which I now offer in your honour, to prove the great confidence I have in your intercession. Accept it, I beseech you, in honour of that supernatural love and joy, with which your Immaculate Heart was replenished during the most privileged stay of your divine Son in your womb: in veneration of which, I offer you the sentiments of my heart.

(Recite the Hail Mary nine times and then say the following prayer)

Oh! Mother of God! Accept these salutations in union with the respect and veneration with which the Angel Gabriel first hailed you, “Full of Grace”. I wish most sincerely that they may become so many gems in the crown of your glory, which will increase in brightness to the end of the world.

I beseech you, Oh! Comfort of the afflicted, by the joy you received, when the Word was made flesh, to obtain for me the favours and graces, which I have now implored through your powerful intercession. For this end I offer you all the good works which have ever been performed in your honour. I most humbly entreat you for the love of the amiable Heart of Jesus, with which your heart was ever so inflamed, to hear my humble prayers and to obtain my requests. Amen.

Tamil Catholic Songs

August 16th, 2008

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – Tomb of St.James

Baroque altar Cloisters of Santiago Cathedral Adam and Eve on the Puerta Platerias Crowds leave from a side door after Mass

Nave Orbradoiro facade (1750) and entrance Plaza and facade at sunset Relics of St. James under the high altar

Splendid Baroque facade of Santiago Cathedral Statues of prophets on the Portico de la Gloria The celebrated Portico de la Gloria

Medieval pilgrims walked the Way of St. James for months to arrive at Santiago Cathedral, home of the relics of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. So many pilgrims have laid their hands on the pillar just inside the doorway to rest their weary bones that a groove has been worn in the stone.

This Basilica Cathedral is one of three Basilicas built over the tombs of apostles of Jesus Christ. The other two are the Basilica of St. Peter, built over the tomb of St. Peter in Rome (St.Peter’s Basilica) and Santhome Basilica Cathedral built over the tomb of St. Thomas at Chennai, India.

History

A small church was first built over the tomb of St. James shortly after it was discovered in 819 AD. This was destroyed by al-Mansur’s Moorish army in 997, though Almansor left the relics of the Apostle undisturbed. He did, however, force Santiago’s citizens to carry the bells of the tower to the mosque in Cordoba (they have since been returned).

Despite its Baroque facade, the present cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is predominantly Romanesque; in fact, one of the finest Romanesque churches in Spain. Construction began in 1060 in the reign of Alfonso VI and was completed in 1211.

Various elements were added in later centuries, culminating in the dramatic Baroque transformation of the exterior in the 16th-18th centuries. The interior of the cathedral, however, retains its pure Early Romanesque style.

The remains of St. James, the raison d’être of the cathedral, were lost in 1700 after being hidden before an English invasion. Fortunately, they were rediscovered during building work in 1879.

Actually, three skeletons were found, presumed to be James and two of his disciples. The one belonging to the Apostle was identified thanks to a church in Tuscany, which possessed a piece of his skull that exactly fitted a gap in one of the discovered skulls. The identity was confirmed in 1884 by Pope Leo XIII and reinforced by John Paul II’s visit in 1982.

What to See

The cathedral’s façade forms part of an extended architectural composition on the Plaza del Obradoiro, a grand square surrounded by public buildings.

To the north and south, and in a line with the west front, are dependent buildings of the 18th century, grouping well with it. Those to the south contain a light and elegant arcade to the upper windows, serving as a screen to the late Gothic cloisters. Built in 1533 by the future archbishop of Toledo, the cloisters are said to be the largest in Spain.

The spectacular Baroque facade of the cathedral, known as the Obradoiro facade, was added between 1738 and 1750 by an obscure local architect, Fernando de Casas. Made of granite, it is flanked by huge bell towers and adorned everywhere with statues of St. James as the pilgrim, with staff, broad hat and scallop-shell badge.

The ground rises to the cathedral, which is reached by a magnificent quadruple flight of steps, flanked by statues of David and Solomon. Access to the staircase is through fine wrought-iron gates marked with a seashell.

In the centre, on the level of the Plaza, is the entrance to a Romanesque chapel, the Iglesia Baja (Lower Church), constructed under the portico and contemporary with the cathedral.

Entrance to the cathedral is through the magnificent Pórtico de la Gloria, carved in 1188 by Maestro Mateo and considered one of the finest works of medieval art. Originally the exterior west door, it now stands just inside, behind the newer Baroque facade.

The shafts, tympana and archivolts of the three doorways are a mass of strong and nervous sculpture representing the Last Judgment. On either side of the portal are Prophets of the Old Testament, including Daniel, who seems to smile at Esther on the other side. Faint traces of color remain on some of the carvings, which represent both the culmination of Romanesque sculpture and a precursor of the new Gothic realism.

The arches over the side doors represent Purgatory and the Last Judgment, with Christ in glory presiding in the center. He is flanked by the Four Evangelists and surrounded by the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse playing medieval musical instruments. The string instrument at the top center is an organistrum, an example of which can be seen in the crypt.

Below the Christ figure on the central column is a statue of St. James and, at the bottom, a self-portrait of Maestro Mateo. Since the Middle Ages it has been the custom of pilgrims to pray with their fingers pressed into the roots of the Tree of Jesse below Saint James, and five deep indentations have been worn into the marble as a result. Finally, pilgrims touch foreheads with Mateo for wisdom.

On the south side of the cathedral is the 12th-century Romanesque Puerta de las Platerias (Goldsmiths’ Doorway), featuring a variety of worn stone carvings.

The cathedral’s interior is pure Early Romanesque, with a cruciform shape, barrel-vaulted ceilings, two side aisles along the nave, and several chapels.

The altar is an impressive blend of Gothic simplicity and 18th-century Churrigueresque exuberance. A bejeweled medieval statue of the saint stands at the altar, which pilgrims greet wth a hug upon arrival at the shrine. Those who have travelled over 100km on foot are handed a certificate in Latin called a Compostela.

The sacred relics of St. James lie beneath the cathedral’s high altar in a silver coffer; they can be viewed from the crypt.

In the cathedral’s Capilla del Relicario (Chapel of the Reliquary) is a gold crucifix, dated 874, containing a piece of the True Cross. A cathedral museum displays tapestries and archaeological fragments.

The Late Gothic cloisters are well worth a look particularly for their view of the cathedral exterior, crawling with pagodas, pawns, domes, obelisks, battlements, scallop shells and cornucopias. Underneath the cloister is the Bucheria (Archaeological Museum), housed in Mateo’s original stone choir and the remains of the 13th-century cloister.

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