Wondrous legends surround the church-the most famous being that of the ship-wrecked Portuguese sailors, who in the 16th century, vowed to build a great shrine for the Virgin Mary, for saving their lives in a terrible storm. The Velankanni festival attracts thousands, clad in orange robes to the sacred spot where the ship landed. Equally famous are the Virgin Mary's miraculous healing powers- earning for the church the name 'Lourdes of the East'.
Flag- Hoisting Festival
Large concourses of devotees witness the flag hoisting on the 29th of August every year. The flag of our lady is hoisted every day during these nine days of the novena the feast. During this ceremony an intense feeling is aroused leaving behind rapturous eyes and
murming lips, proclaiming her praises.
Another important and crowed pulling event of those festive days is the car procession that takes place at 8 p.m. every day. This follows the liturgical service of the evening. Since
Velankanni is the coast, the people from the beginning carry the "Chapparam"(cars) as pulling will be next to impossible.
People in the east consider that participating in the festival, pulling the cars or witness the flag hoisting are scared and sacramental. These are all symbolic expression of their love and commitment to god. When the cars and the big chariot are brought in front of the main church, prayers are offered for world peace and for the motherland for universal church and for the national leaders.
Cultural Programs During Flag Hoist
Every day after the car procession, there will be cultural items like musical concerts, plays,
Bharathanatyam performances, etc in an open auditorium near the shrine itself. Artists and other professionals from various fields deem it as a singular privilege to give performance in the virgin's land. Most of them also are deeply devoted to our lady here and come to fulfil their vows as gratitude.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air : The nearest airport is the Chennai airport, at a distance of 90-km.
Rail : The nearest railway station is at Nagapattinam, at a distance of 10-km.
Road : Buses are available for Chidambaram, Chennai, Madurai, Pondicherry, Trichy, Thanjavur and for many other parts of the state.