By Rev. Fr. S.K. Devarajah
The shrine of our Lady of Madhu in the diocese of Mannar is significant
for several reasons: Madhu symbolizes the unique Marian devotion
of the people of Sri Lanka. It has been an enduring citadel of power
of prayer, a common centre for penance and a place of peace for
all the Catholics of both the north and south of Sri Lanka.
vast multitude flocks to this shrine during festivals. They put
up camps , pray, and participate in the well attended liturgical
celebrations. People consider Madhu a power-house of Christian life
and pilgrims carry home and diffuse all around them the fervour
and piety they gathered at the feet of their Heavenly Mother. Therefore
Madhu is the heart of Catholic piety in Sri Lanka.
The Madhu Shrine has a history that goes beyond the period
of persecution at the hands of the Dutch in Ceylon. Like Catholicism
in this country, this shrine too owes its survival to the unrelenting
faith of our people to whom the Vanni and the Kandyan Kingdom were
a haven of refuge, beyond the Dutch ruled regions of Colombo, Jaffna
and Galle. Oratorian documents testify to the centrality of this
shrine in the prayer life of Sri Lanka's Catholic community as far
back as 1700 AD.
conquest of the island by the Dutch in Sri Lanka opened an era of
cruel persecution against the Catholics and the faithful of Manthai
(in the district of Mannar) were forced to consider removing the
statue of Our Lady of Mantai to a safe place. There were no priests
to give them any spiritual support or strength. With the consent
of the people, twenty devoted families, in the year 1670, migrated
with the statue of Our Lady of Mantai into the Vanni wilderness,
where they hoped to save the statue from profanation and themselves
from persecution. The little company wandered hither and thither
in the thick forest of the Vanni in constant fear of the enemy.
Finally they settled in a hamlet called Maruthamadhu: and there
the Mantai Catholics for the first time planted the seed of Catholicism.
About the same time there was another movement towards
Madhu from the Jaffna peninsula. To avoid Dutch persecution, about
700 Catholics crossed over to Pooneryn and sought refuge in the
Vanni. Having wandered for days in anxiety and fear, they too, as
if by a miracle, were led to Maruthamadhu. Among the newly arrived
Catholics from Jaffna was a daughter of a Portuguese Captain named
Helena, who out of her fervent piety built the first little Church
dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu. For this good act the Christians
have immortalised her memory by calling this place "Silena
- Marutha - Madhu'' which to the present day continues to be one
of the names of the holy sanctuary.
Venerable Apostle of Ceylon, Fr. Joseph Vaz knew the place and "Silena
Maruthamadhu" appears in the first list of Oratorian missionary
appointments. From her sylvan shrine, Our Lady of Madhu liberally
dispensed her favours spiritual and temporal to her children. She
became especially famous as a protestress against the sting of venomous
serpents that abounded in the jungle. At first their sting had no
effect within the church lands. Then people began to take the Madhu
earth to various parts of Sri Lanka as a medicine and found that
it had the same healing power.
Jaffna was the northern vicariate, during the annual festivals,
this shrine attracted tens of thousands of worshippers year after
year. The building of the new church was started by Bishop Bonjean
in 1872 and his successors built a superb facade, the spacious presbytery,
the restful chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the inspiring grotto
of Our Lady of Lourdes.
In 1920, Bishop Brault who had a very special devotion
to Our Lady of Madhu, obtained the Holy Father's sanction for the
historic solemn coronation of the Statue of Our Lady of Madhu. Bishop
Brault with the clergy and the laity had petitioned the Vatican
Chapter through the Apostolic Delegate Cardinal Van Rossam, Prefect
of the S.C. of Propaganda and he personally presented the request
to the Holy Father who in his audience of April 7, 1921, granted
this extraordinary favour of coronation of Our Lady.
made elaborate preparations to have the statue crowned and thus
in 1924 a hundred years after the statue of Our Lady had been given
a permanent habitation at Madhu, it was solemnly and officially
crowned by the Papal Legate who came in the name of Pope Pius XI.
It fell to his successor, Bishop Guyomar, another great lover of
Mary, to inaugurate his episcopate with the coronation of Our Lady
of Madhu and to expand, embellish and organize his sanctuary into
the splendid state in which it is today. It was Bishop Guyomar who
on June 25, 1944 in the presence of numerous priests and the vast
throng of people, consecrated the altar and the Church. An important
ceremony that took place was the enclosing of the relics of the
martyrs in a small silver casket officially sealed by the Bishop
of Jaffna and deposited in the cavity carved inside the altar. The
relics of SS Fabian, Sebastian, Agnes and Grata were enclosed in
this casket. Because of this consecration of the Church large numbers
of pilgrims attended the festivals thereupon.
One of the reasons why people make a pilgrimage to this
sacred shrine from various parts of this island is for the reception
of the Sacrament of Penance. Many a sinner who has not confessed
in his own parish church for years, makes a good confession and
begins a virtuous life at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Madhu.
Lady of Madhu is the 'Health of the sick' and the 'comfort for the
afflicted'. People spend hours in prayer at the feet of this compassionate
Mother. It is known that any one who fled to her protection has
never been left unaided. Hundreds of votive offerings and thousands
of candles lit are testimony to the unfailing answer of the Loving
Mother of Madhu to the outstretched hands and the tearful eyes.
associate Madhu with miraculous favours, healing of long-standing
ailments, family reconciliations, recovery of lost properties etc.
So Madhu has always drawn Catholics for its sacredness. To safeguard
the sanctity of this sacred spot, and in order that the pilgrims
may live here an intense Catholic life, and to breath the pure air
of prayer, the ecclesiastical authorities have been continuing to
maintain the sacredness of this shrine. It is the ardent desire
of all people that it should be a place of worship, a common prayer
home for all people.
The penitential tour
In 1948 from March 15 to May 5 the statue of Our Lady of Madhu was
taken in procession to every parish in the diocese of Jaffna for
a call to a more Catholic life. Non Catholics vied with Catholics
in welcoming her. In 1974 in order to commemorate the Holy Year
proposed by the Holy Father viz Renewal and Reconciliation, the
statue of Our Lady was taken to the different parishes for the second
2001 to encourage Catholics of Sri Lanka to pray for peace in our
land the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph decided to take the statue
of Our Lady of Madhu on a peace mission tour to the north and the
south of Sri Lanka. This Mission of Our Lady worked miracles and
thus brought forth the ceasefire MOU. The relative peace our people
experience now is by the miracle of grace of Our Lady of Madhu.