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Basilica of Our Lady of Vallarpadam

 
Place : Vallarpadam Island, Ernakulam district, Kerala
Significance : Declared as a National shrine and Basilica in 2004
Best Season : September to May
Mass/Novena Timings : Saturday - 6.30 am, 10.30 am, 4.00 pm, 4.30 pm, 6.00 pm (English)
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A major pilgrim centre for Christians, Church of Our Lady of Ransom is one of the oldest European Churches in India built by the Portuguese Missionaries. The church dedicated to the Holy Mary of Vallarpadam popularly known as 'Vallarapadath Amma', is located in the middle of Vallarpadam, a small idyllic island on the Vembanad lake, 1 km north from the mainland Kochi (Ernakulam), Kerala. Today the church elevated to the status of a Basilica as well as a National shrine attracts more than five lakh people including pilgrims and tourists, annually. One of the three Basilicas in Kochi, the Church is under the diocese of Verapoly (Varappuzha). The church earlier accessible only by boat is now linked to the mainland Ernakulam, and the islands of Bolghatty, Mulavukad and Vypin by three adjacent bridges called the Goshree bridges. Vallarpadam island, about 3.9 km in length and 1.5 km in width is located between the islands of Mulavukad and Vypin, and to the east of Bolghatty island. Vallarpadam container Terminal, a proposed project here could make this small island one of the best hub ports in the world.

There is no concrete evidence as to when the original church was built. But it was believed to be the first church in Asia dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Later the Portuguese missioners who settled in Kochi, rebuilt the old church which was almost in ruins and installed an image of the Blessed Mother and Infant Jesus (39 inch high and 26 inch wide) at the top of the altar of the Shrine. But this church was completely destroyed by a heavy flood in the late 17th century and it is believed that Paliyath Raman Valiyachan, the Diwan of the Maharaja of Cochin recovered the image from the flood waters. He handed over the image to the then parish vicar and it was  installed in a temporary made up shed which was known as 'Panampu Pally'. A wooden flag staff (160 ft) was also installed at the place where he exchanged the holy picture, which was replaced much later in 2002, by a steel flag staff (102 ft). A beautiful church was then built in the land donated by the Diwan in 1676. Subsequent renovations were made to the church in 1888,1931 and 1947. The church alter is adorned with the miraculous image of the Holy Mary and Infant Jesus, and the 'Kedavilikkku' (sanctuary lamp) which he donated on the day the new church opened, burns at the altar even today. Paliath Valiachan also promised to supply the oil for burning the lamp from his palace and this practice continued till 1947. In 1994, the Paliyath family, visited the shrine and rekindled the sanctuary lamp.

There are many legends associated with this church, the most famous was in 1752, a Nair lady Meenakshiamma hailing from a noble Nair family of Palliveetil who along with her infant son, were believed to have been rescued miraculously from the bottom of the backwaters near the church after they went missing for three days. The then parish priest, Fr. Miguel Correa had a dream where the Lady of Ransom appeared and gave him instructions to rescue the drowning mother and son. After this miracle, Vallarpadam became a famous pilgrim center. In gratitude, all the members of the Palliveetil family vowed to remain loyal servants of Our Lady forever and Meenakshiamma and her son spend the rest of their lives in and around the church.

'Adima' a ritual practice - submitting one's lives to the protection of Our Lady of Vallarpadam was thus established and now this ritual is the popular offering in Vallarpadam Church. During this ritual, the priest lays his hands on the head of the devotee, says a prayer and sprinkles holy water. It is believed that once the ritual is performed Our Lady protects the person from all dangers and grant favors in abundance. In memory of this miracle, the picture of Meenakshiamma and her son seeking blessings, was added to the original holy picture of the Blessed Mary and Infant Jesus. Even today, the members of the Palliveetil family, the house of the Nair lady, bring their children to perform the practice of 'Adima' and also supply curd water to devotees during the festivities of the church. Taking into consideration its spiritual importance, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII elevated the main altar of Vallarpadam Church to the status of 'Altare previlegiatum in Perpetuum Concessum' in 1888. In 1951, it was declared a major pilgrim centre by the government of India.

The Govt. of Kerala declared the shrine a tourist center in 2002. A request was submitted by Archbishop Daniel Acharuparampil of Varappuzha to make the church a Basilica. The Church was declared a National shrine on September12th 2004 by the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI) and the same year on December 1, His Holiness Pope John Paul II elevated the Shrine to the status of  'Basilica'. It was officially declared by the Archbishop on February 12, 2005.

Our lady here is hailed to be the protector of people who travel, especially through water. Local fishermen usually come to this church to get their new boats and nets blessed, before they are taken out to sea for the first time. A 100m wide canal has been constructed from the backwaters to the church for their access. Our Lady is also known to bless childless couples with kids. Besides the popular ritual of 'Adima' another prayer practice done by the devotees at Vallarpadam, is to sweep the church compound to convey their gratitude. Novena is conducted every Saturday at the church.

Rosary Park - VallarpadamNow there is a new Rosary park in front of the church with a walkway which has sculptures and paintings featuring the four Mysteries of Faith celebrated by Catholics all over the world. 

Every year the Feast of Our Lady of Vallarpadam is celebrated from September 16 to 24, and thousands of people irrespective of cast and creed from different parts of the country visit this Holy Place of Worship. Along with the Blessed Mary's feast, the festival of the Holy spirit / Pentecostal festival is also celebrated with great enthusiasm.

Reference : 'Vallarpadathamma' by Father Shyju Thoppil







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