National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom, Vallarpadam.
Brief history of Vallarpadam
The National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Vallarpadam is popularly known as the Lourdes of Kerala. It belongs to the Archdiocese of Varapoly. People all parts of Kerala and outside, irrespective of cast and creed come here to seek the blessings of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, traditionally known here as Vallarpadathamma. Kochi the “Queen of Arabian Sea” has got a number of small Islands in the backwaters and Vallarpadam is one such island having an area of only six kilometers. On it stands the magnificent Basilica of Our Lady of Vallarpadam. Till 2004 the access of Vallarpadam was only by the regular boat service, of course, though the breathtakingly beautiful backwaters. After the construction of the Goshree bridges make the access a lot easier and faster.
Christianity of Vallarpadam
It is with the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries by the end of 15th century the mass conversions and Latinization started in India. The Portuguese were both colonialists as well as strong Christian specialized in Church architecture. No doubt they formed colonies in Kerala especially in Christian dominated areas but more than that they built beautiful churches, they built was the one at Vallarpadam. It was actually a reconstruction of the damaged church at Vallarpadam, the first church ever in Asia to be named after the Holy Spirit. On the Pentecost Day in 1524, the Christians of Vallarpadam were accepted in to the Latin rite, en-masse, and to commemorate that event the Portuguese missionaries dedicated an altar to Our Lady of Ransom venerating it with the portrait of Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, which they had brought from Portugal. Many people experienced miraculous healings, others a strong sense of protection after praying at this altar. From that day onwards the Holy Spirit as well as that of Our Lady of Ransom is being celebrated with much solemnity.
Paliyath Valiyachan and Our Lady’s Portrait
In 1676 a heavy flood destroyed the church at Vallarpadam, devastating the area almost totally. The Portrait of Our Lady of Ransom was seen the swollen river. Many tried to retrieve the Portrait but in vain. Then the Divan (Prime Minister) to the King of Cochin, Paliyath Valiyachan Succeeded in retrieving it from the water. He was surprised to find that the picture was not wet! His surprise gave way to piety as he heard about the many miracles experienced by the devotees. Getting down at Vallarpadam and realizing the need, he donated a sizable area of land on the waterside to build a new church enshrining this portrait. When the new church was blessed the generous Divan also donated Sanctuary Lamp which has been burning day in and day out from 1676 onwards. The oil for burning the Sanctuary Lamp was regularly supplied from ancestral palace of the Divan. The flag post at the church courtyard marks the place the Divan landed. As a symbol of unparalleled devotion to Our Lady of Ransom the Pontifical high mass on 24th September begins with the pouring of the oil in the sanctuary by the Royal family members and lighting it.
The Miraculous Rescue from the Deep Back-waters
On 23rd May 1752, a Nair lady, Meenakshi-Amma and her son of Palliyil House, Vallarpadam, were going to the family temple Mattanchery. When the boat reached the deep waters the gales blew and the boat was tossed up and down by the towering waves. Immediately boat capsized in the heavy storm. Meenakshi-Amma seeing that there is no way to escape, implored Vallarpadathamma to save them and vowed that they would be her slaves (Adima) for rest of their lives. Those who escaped catastrophe reported the whole thing to others and people came in boats with nets to rescue the mother and the child. In the bad weather they couldn’t continue much longer. The next day they searched again but had to abandon the efforts due to the storm.
Meenakshi-Amma’s faith in Our Lady was indomitable and so her prayer with deep faith was readily heard. She was miraculously found on the third day and saved by the local people who cast nets across the river as per the instructions of the Vicar of the church, Rev. Fr. Miguel Correa. It was recorded by the priest that Our Lady appeared to him for consecutive nights in the dream and on the third day he could not but instruct to search for the lost mother and her son. The news reverberated across the land of Kerala and people from all walks of life flocked to the church not only to pray but also to see Meenakshi-Amma and her child and to hear the very mouth of her the encounter with Our Lady.
To the crowd who came to her, Meenakshi-Amma recounted her experience. “Just I prayed to Vallarpadathamma for help and vowed our allegiance by becoming her servants, the boat capsized and I, together with my son sank into the deep. We went straight to the bottom of the sea and found ourselves at peace in the presence of Vallarpadathamma. We were in such a serene and beautiful place that we did not feel the passing of time. We were just gazing at the face of Our Lady and her Son. Now we find ourselves at the feet of the same Vallarpadathamma”. All those who heard it glorified God who saved her and praised Vallarpadathamma for her powerful protection. Meenakshi-Amma and her son used to sweep the church and entire courtyard every morning and evening with broom. Even now, the devotees bring brooms and sweep the church floor and courtyard clean as a sign of their commitment and their gratitude to Our Lady of Vallarpadam.
It was real rebirth to Meenakshi-Amma and her son and they expressed their indebtedness by not only baptizing themselves as Mary and Yesudas (Servants of Jesus), but also becoming staunch devotees of Our Lady of Vallarpadam. Faithful to her promise they lived the rest of their life at the church-yard praising God who has done marvelous things for them. According to the elders Yesudas expired at the age of 16th and Meenakshi-Amma lived her full life and went to receive her eternal reward at the ripe age of 72. In order to make this miracle ever fresh in the minds of the people a local painter, with the permission of the Church authorities, added the picture of Meenakshi-Amma and her son to the Portuguese portrait at the shrine. The portrait of Vallarpadathamma was thus made complete. The generations of lineage, most of them even now Hindus, surrender their new born babies as adima of Vallarpadathamma and offer buttermilk or samba ram in a wooden boat to the devotees on the day of the annual feast of Our Lady of Ransom.
The beginning of ‘Adima’
Devotees flocking to this shrine day in and day out started to perform this ritual to receive Our Lady’s protection. Those who would like to surrender themselves as servants of Our Lady of Vallarpadam have to come with deep faith in God and be ready to live a life total surrender to the will of God, closely imitating the life of Mother Mary. They would kneel before the priest who lays hands of their heads, makes the prayer and sprinkles Holy water and thus accepting them as “Adima” (slaves or servants) of Our Lady of Vallarpadam
The devotee offer themselves as Adima for various reasons, some to receive certain favors and some to show their gratitude. Just Our Lady’s powerful protection miraculously saved Meenakshi-Amma and her son from catastrophe as they vowed to her servants; people those who sail and are engaged in hazardous works, surrender themselves at the feet of Our Lady. Pregnant mothers and childless women seek special protection and blessings from her. Countless families believe in the powerful intercession of her especially in marriage crisis. Hundreds of couples come here to thank her for the happy marriage they were blessed with. Many are childless parents who come to the feet of Our Lady ardently praying for the gift of parenthood, and indeed, they are blessed with children through her intercession. It is here that fishermen and boat owners bring their boats, to be blessed, with strong faith in the protection of Our Lady, they sail secure ever after. Again, it is here, that the babies are brought to be given their first solid food the Mother of good health keeps them always in her maternal care. It is here, at the sanctuary of the seat of Wisdom, that the young children are brought for their initiation in to the letters and academics. The Mother of good counsel always guides them in their growth in intellect and wisdom. And it is here that those who lost their kith and kin seek relief and consolation through her prayers in concert with the sorrowful mother, Our Lady of Vallarpadam.
Inspired and prompted by these divine experiences so tangible, Pope Leo XIII elevated the churches main altar to the status of ALTARE PREVILEGIATUM IN PREMIUM CONCESSUMA in1888. On September 12th 2004 the Catholic Bishops Conference of India raised this pilgrim center to the status of a ‘NATIONAL SHRINE’. The crowning point in the history of the Shrine of Our Lady of Vallarpadam was not very much delayed. On 1st December 2004 Pope John Paul II granted the honorific title of Minor Basilica to thischurch.The decree forwarded by the ‘Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments’ was received by Arch Bishop Daniel Acharuprambil on 29th January 2005 and the official declaration of it was made by him on 12th February 2005 during the thanks giving Eucharistic at the sanctuary of Vallarpadam.
The church is one of the oldest European built church. Vasco da Gama installed a picture of the Holy Mother, and this picture was believed to possess magical powers. The church is dedicated to Mother Mary and Infant Jesus. The locals pray to the deity to protect them from floods, and it is believed that the deity can protect the seafarers against storm and shipwrecks.
How to Reach
Vallarpadam church is located at 1km from the container road. If you have a car or private vehicle, you can reach there quickly from Ernakulam. It’s a 5 minute drive from the high court junction in Ernakulam.
The bridges from Ernakulam connects Vallarpadam to other island places like Ernakulam, Bolghatty, Mulavukadu and Vypin.
If you are planning to come by bus, then board a bus from Ernakulam to Vypin. You can get down in front of the church. There is a 5 minute walk through the church road from the bus stop to reach the entrance of the church.
Airport: The nearest airport is Kochi International Airport. From the airport, you may need to hire a taxi since there are not many buses from airport. If you are on a tight budget and like to save some bucks, then you may wait for a bus from airport to Aluva or Ernakulam.
Bus: From Aluva, there are frequent buses to Ernakulam Highcourt junction and from there you can board a bus to Vypin. If you are coming from Thrissur, some of the buses go to Vyttile Bus Terminal and some other buses go to Ernakulam Town bus stand. Talk to the bus conductor and ask where to get down to go to Marine Drive/High court junction. That’s where you will get the buses to Vypin which goes via Vallarpadam.
By car: If you are coming by private car from Thrissur/Aluva/Perumbavoor side, then you need to take a diversion at Kalamassery through the “container road”. At Bolghatty junction near Ernakulam, turn right towards Vypin for Vallarpadam church.
There are ample parking area and place to relax. In addition to praying inside the church, you can climb the steps to the top of the church to enjoy the beauty of the backwaters around the church. If you can’t climb the steps, then you can pay a small fee and use the elevator to the top of the church.
The famous Bolgatty Palace is just 2km away from Vallarpadam church.
Timings & Season
September 16 to 24 is the main festival (Feast of Vallarpadathamma) in the church. Thousands of devotees visit the church and pray to Vallarpadath Amma during the festival season. If you don’t like the crowd or have kids and like to avoid the busy days, then skip these days and any other days are fine to visit the church.