Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, Chetpet, Thiruvannamalai
Our Lady of Lourdes Church is a beautiful shrine located on top of a hill in Chetpet Town in Thiruvannamalai District of Tamilnadu. There are about 300 narrow steps offering a panoramic view of stunning lush vegetation. This church is more than 100 years old.
The Mission of Chethupattu, under the zealous missionary Priest, Jean Francis Darras, rightly called the Apostle of North Arcot, dates back to 1876. He was born to Mr. Francois Joseph and Marie Josephine Dowey on 16th March 1835. He was ordained on 18th June 1859 along with eight of his companions. He came to Pondicherry as a missionary; from there he came to diocese of Vellore. When he was preaching the Gospel round about Chethupattu, 12 non-Christians from this place approached him with an earnest desire to enter the True fold.
He went to Chethupattu and had the great happiness of baptizing not less than 1000 people. He started instructing the people untiringly and preached them the Good News of Jesus. He prepared them well for the baptism, stood by them in times of crisis and in dangers. He attended patiently and cared for thousands of children and adults dying due to various reasons. He practiced penance, fasting and renunciation and prayed for the welfare of the people. Within five years, he converted 1700 people. Chethupattu was made a separate Parish on 11.3.1878.
Fr. Darras had taken a vow to build a shrine in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes and built it on a hill top about 2 ½ miles away from Chethupattu. Since this Church was too small to contain the vast number of pilgrims Fr. Darras built a grand Church and dedicated it to Our Lady of Lourdes. It was blessed on 1st May 1896, by His Lordship, the Rt. Rev. Gandi. Its imposing structure with pointing towers irresistibly draws the people of all faith towards God. From his time onwards the Chetpet has become the center of devotion and pilgrimage. The legacy of Fr. Francois Darras still remains alive in the minds of the people.
From then on, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is being celebrated during the first week of March every year. Pilgrims numbering more than 40,000 flocks to the Shrine of Our Lady from all parts of South India. It was in 1948 the then Parish Priest and later the Bishop of North Arcot, Rt. Rev. S. David Marianayagam, S.D.B., built the present Hill Chapel to replace the old one. Chethupattu has a population of 4000 Catholics with 21 mission stations. It can boast of two High Secondary Schools one for boys and another for girls and five Elementary Schools. Sisters of St. Anne’s Madavaram manage the Higher Secondary School for Girls.
More than 2000 children receive secular, moral and religious education. Another great blessing of this Parish is the establishment of St. Thomas Hospital and Leprosy Centre. Zealous missionaries have enriched the mission by their activities. Rev.Frs. A. Fernandes, F. Capiaghi, M. Arockiasamy, F. Schlooz, Maria Arul, Peter Mathew, S. Susai and the Present Fr. Thomas George all have contributed their mite in the religious, social and economic up-lift of this Parish. The Centenary of the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes was celebrated with the customary Pomp and solemnity in March 1978.
The pilgrim centre of Chetpet attained a new phase when Fr. Kuriakos on 26th January 2002 started Marivalam in the hill chapel. Most Rev. Chinnappa Sdb, the then bishop of Vellore diocese, encouraged him to care for the spiritual needs of the people. People come in thousands on the full moon day to the hill chapel. Confessions are heard, prayers are conducted. Competent preachers are called to break the word of God. Fr. Octavius and Fr. John Durai took efforts to keep the momentum. It is very consoling to see people go back home with much joy and happiness after the pilgrimage.
Most Rev. Dr. Soundararaju bishop has a vision for the centre. He has already put up a structure for the retired priests. The presence of Fr. Antonyraj draws thousands of people to the shrine. People come every day and pray to the Lord through our beloved mother Mary. At present Rev. Dr. A. Stephen, as the parish priest, desires a new push to the development of the parish and the shrine as well.
The Hill Shrine
The Hill Shrine has a Grotto which is an exact replica of the Grotto found in the town of Lourdes, France and a shrine is constructed on top of the Hill.
Girivalam (Going around the hill on foot):
Girivalam is a pious pilgrimage undertaken by the devotees around the holy hill chanting the praise of the Lord and of Our Lady. Here the devotees of Our Lady come around the Madha Hill on foot reciting the Holy Rosary culturally Indian first was inaugurated by the initiative of Rev. Fr. Kuriakose in the year 2002. Since then people flock to the hill to participate in the mass and night prayer, healing service and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Sacred Spring / Grotto:
It was completed in the year 2011, since then the diocesan way of the cross has taken a different turn; tens of thousands come for the way of the cross on the 5th Sunday of lent lead by the Bishop. Hearts of the people, irresistibly captivating the pilgrims to participate in the suffering of Jesus.
Stations of the Cross:
The hill has the stations of the cross with astonishing figures evoking devotion and piety in the Water springs from the Sacred hill has a divine prowess to heal the people who use it with ample faith. Thousands of pilgrims rendering witness to the healing effect of this Sacred Fountain, something unique to our shrine.
The grotto located at the foot of the hill has a bewitching effect on the pilgrims. People who pray are mysteriously healed and consoled and are filled with deep joy as and our Lady of Lourdes grants them after their petitions.
It serves as a Spiritual power house to the pilgrims and to the entire community stationed on the hill. The silent adoration continues throughout the day. The sisters of St. Anne's help all spend time in prayer.
Spacious prayer hall constructed by Fr. Octovious accommodates thousands of pilgrims offering them a pleasant and spiritual atmosphere.
Retired Priests Residence:
The Retired Priests are housed on the hill in the Residence built by bishop Most Rev. Dr. P. Sounderaraju, SDB. They look after the spiritual need of the pilgrims, and their presence ads divineness to the Hill and the pilgrims.
St. Lourde's Shrine
The magnificent church with the twin towers reminds the elegant French design & artifacts. The miraculous Statue of Lady of Lourdes brought from France is installed inside the glass gloriously crowned and wonderfully carrying the twelve Stars praying for all who approach her. Every week masses and prayers are offered daily in the chapel and every year a 10 days of annual fest takes place in the month of May which attracts thousands of people from all over Tamilnadu and nearby states.
There were numerous stories of miracles been told related to the church where recently people have reported that Mother Mary has shed her blood in tears. This indefatigable and determined missionary from France belonging to the congregation of Foreign Missionaries of Paris baptized nearly 3000 people in the year 1876. Fr. Darras turned his sight in a small hill, 3 Kms away from the Shrine gracefully, gently shedding its light on the people of Chetpet. In spite of stiff resistance from the local people he could construct a small chapel on this hill.
In 1880, the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was carried in procession on foot and thus the hill became known as 'Madha Hill', 'Hill of Mother Mary', which was once upon, called Satan Hill. This procession became historical as a lakh of people participated in it. This tower figure, having put his energy, heart and soul at service of The Lord and for the people breathed his last on 30th October 1916. By the time he died the Christians increased to 8000. It is said; he baptized more than 30000 people and is proudly and worthily called the Apostle of North Arcot (presently known as Vellore district.).
Grotto of Calvary really depicts the Scene of the Passion and Death of our Lord. People pray there. Twice a year masses offered in front of the grotto attended by hundreds of people. A dream has come true as the miraculous Statue of Our Lady of Lourdes brought from France is installed inside the glass gloriously crowned and wonderfully carrying the twelve Stars praying for all who approach her. The altar is ingenuously carved with multiple designs in Burma teak wood serving as columns for it.
Liturgical Events and Timings
Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine
Chetpet – 606801
Polur Taluk, Thiruvannamalai District
Phone: +91 4181 252367
Chetpet is located 130 Kms south west of Chennai and 40 Kms away from Thiruvannamalai. Chetpet connects four important towns, namely Vandavasi, Gingee, Polur and Arni. People can have easy access to it from all these towns and from any part of the country. Nearest Railway Station is located at Thiruvannamalai and Nearest Airport is located at Chennai.