Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Lady of Snows Basilica, Thoothukudi

Our Lady of Snows Basilica, Thoothukudi
Our Lady of Snows Shrine Basilica is located at ThoothukudiTamilnadu, India. It is one of the Catholic pilgrimage centers in India dedicated to the Our Lady of Snows, a title given to St. Mary. The Shrine name refers to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Our Lady of Snows Basilica in Thoothukudi is one of the biggest Catholic Churches in Tamil Nadu. In this church Mary who is the Mother of Jesus is worshipped as Our Lady of Snows. The Lady of snows is believed to have come to the rescue of her followers several times by performing several miracles.

The congregation of this church is about five hundred years old, though the present building had been constructed only in 1713. This church was provided with the status of minor Basilica in the year 1982. Our Lady of Snows Shrine Basilica in Tuticorin is located at 8°47'58.0"N 78°09'23.5"E or 8.799458, 78.156532.
Paravars of the Pearl Fishery Coast:
The history of Shrine Basilica is closely connected with the history of the conversion of the Paravars (Tuticorin), the indigenous people of the Pearl Fishery Coast. In fact, Our Lady of Snows was fondly called in Portuguese Nossa Senhora das Neves which means Our Lady of Snows. She has been given the unique title of Yelu Kadalthurai, Yega Adaikala Thai in Tamil which means the Mother of Refuge for the seven major coastal villages, viz Vembar, Vaippar, Thoothukudi (Snows Basilica, Tuticorin), Punnaikayal, Virapandianpatinam, Thiruchendur and Manapad (Thoothukudi District).

Mass conversion:
Once, the Paravars of Pearl Fishery Coast had a sharp dispute with the Muslims of this area regarding the right of Pearl Fishing. The Pattankattimar (The leaders of Parava villages) requested the Portuguese to rescue them form the cruelties of the Muslims, Portuguese expelled the Muslims. As a token of gratitude to their redeemers (the Portuguese), the Paravars from about 22 villages numbering about 30,000 embraced Christianity in the year 1535-37. In October 1542, St. Francis Xavier arrived on the shores of the Pearl Fishery Coast to catechize them and strengthen them further in their faith.

Soon there arose a great religious persecution by the Nayak of Madurai who had by this time taken control of the Pearl Fishery Coast. They set fire to churches and houses of Catholics. Hence the Paravars left Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) and fled to a nearby Island named Raja Theevu (known as Hare-island today). They took along with them the statue of Our Lady of Snows and solemnly installed it in a newly built church there. It was there till the Jesuits returned to Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in 1610.

Another tradition says that during the war, the church of Our Lady of Snows at Raja Theevu was destroyed and therefore, the people removed the statue from there and installed it in a small chapel of St. John the Baptist at Sivanthakulam near Thoothukudi (Tuticorin). When the Dutch occupied that area, they carried away the statue to a church at Korkai. And it was brought back to Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in 1699.
The beautiful statue of Our Lady of Snows has always been looked upon as a miraculous one, as many miracles are said to have occurred in the Shrine from the time of its installation at St. Paul's Church, Tuticorin.
Saved from a thunderbolt:
The first miracle is narrated by Rev. Fr. Vigilius Mansi himself who built the present Church of Our Lady of Snows. In a letter dated 24 September 1708 addressed to one Father Maria Ignacy in Rome, he narrates how on 4 April 1707 at mid-night, a sonorous and fierce thunderbolt fell in his residence where he had kept the miraculous statue for a short time and how he was miraculously saved by Our Lady herself.

Other miracles:
The Jesuit report of 1709 by Fr. Francis Vaiz mentions the following miracles.
A newly converted Dutch Officer was attacked by a serious disease. Neither doctor nor medicine could cure him. The condition became worse day by day. On his death bed, he had recourse to Our Lady drank the water that washed the feet of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Snows. What a surprise! He began to get well from that moment and he totally embraced the Catholic faith latter.
Two people who were paralyzed and lost all hope of cure, vowed in front of the miraculous statue that they would pray the Rosary daily till the end of their lives and drank with faith the water that washed the feet of the statue. Slowly they were relieved of their paralysis and soon got completely healed.
A supposed to be barren woman with faith drank the oil from the lamp kept near the miraculous statue and was conceived and became a mother of a child.

Once, a pious woman had gone to the Shrine to participate in the Novena Service. At that time her hut caught fire by a piece of cloth that fell on the oil lamp. The whole hut should have been burnt to ashes but surprisingly, only that piece of cloth had got burnt!
Even the Hindus, who come flocking to Our Lady of Snows, acknowledged that they had experienced miracles after praying to Our Lady. Even today we find Hindus and people of other faiths flocking to Our Lady of Snows Church especially during the annual festival days. There are a few sincere devotees who visit the shrine throughout the year.

The holy custom of drinking the water that washes the feet of Our Lady in the statue and using the oil from the lamp are still followed by some devoted people.
History of Snows Basilica:
As the whole race of Paravars became Christians, they were badly in need of a place of worship. Fr. Pedro Gonsalves, who had baptized these people, built the first church in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in 1538 and dedicated it to his own patron St. Peter; this was the Parish Church for the Parava Christians in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) for many years. It is also said St. Francis Xavier, during his stay at Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), used to celebrate the whole Mass in this Church. Today, a street named, St. Peter Koil Street, Tuticorin exists in the Parish area (Tuticorin).
Church dedicated to Our Lady:
Then in 1582, through the efforts of the Jesuits, a church dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy (Nossa Senhora da Piedade) was consecrated by the Bishop of Cochin Msgr. De Evora on 5 August, the feast of Our Lady of Snows. It was in the Jesuit headquarters in Keracope Street. It was also called St. Pauls Church, Tuticorin. Every year the annual feast was celebrated on 5 August. In 1610 when the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Snows reached Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), it was solemnly installed in the church of Mother of Mercy and thereafter gradually it came to be called the Church of Our Lady of Snows Basilica.

New church history:
Wishing to build a beautiful church of Our Lady of Snows Basilica, Fr. Vigilius Mansi whole heartedly took great efforts. He had to face lot of difficulties from the side of the Dutch as well as that of his own people. He obtained permission from the Dutch Government (at Ceylon) to construct a new church for Mother Mary of Snows, Tuticorin; swimming against the current, he laid the foundation for the new church on 4 April 1712 and within a year he was able to complete the church. On 5 August 1713, the new church was opened and blessed and the first feast in the new church was celebrated in a very grand scale.
Problem of double jurisdiction:
From 1857 onwards, the so-called Double Jurisdiction caused a great problem among the Parava-Christians of Pearl Fishery Coast. In the same diocese and sometimes within the same parish at one and the same time the Portuguese government (Padroado Goa Mission) and the Propaganda Fide (French Mission) had their jurisdiction. Accordingly, the following five coastal parishes came under the Padroado Diocese of Mylapore: Our Lady of Snows Basilica, Thoothukudi, Holy Ghost Manapad, St. Michael’s Punnaikayal, Our Lady of Assumption Vaippar and St. Marys Kooduthaai. This condition continued till the new diocese of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) was erected in 1923. Pope Pius XI through the Apostolic Brief Quae Catholico Nomini dated 12 June 1923 amalgamated the above parishes into the newly created Diocese of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin). Accordingly, the Church of Our Lady of Snows came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) on 11 April 1930.

Raised to the status of Basilica:
In 1982, when the Church of Our Lady of Snows celebrated the 400th anniversary, Pope John Paul II raised it to the status of Basilica through his apostolic letter Pervenute illa Dei Beatissimae Genitricis Effigies dated 30 July 1982.
It is the greatest honor for a church to be raised to the status of a Basilica. The Greek word Basilica signifies a Royal Hall. In course of time, this word has come to mean a large and beautiful hall. In ancient times, the whole world in general and Rome in particular, erected large halls for administrative purposes. The first hall bearing the name of Basilica existed in Athens. But after the fall of Greeks, the Romans popularized it. It was Julius Caesar who artistically constructed the hall of Basilica Julia for administrative purposes. They are somewhat similar to the Durbar Halls in ancient Indian places.

Christ being the king and his Church being his Audience the larger Christian Churches in Rome came to be called Basilicas. Naturally these Basilicas were large, roomy, bright and ornamental. Today, for a church to be raised to the status of Basilica certain conditions are to be fulfilled:
The Church usually is built with the altar facing the east. Generally it is constructed in one of the classical styles of architecture. It should contain some works of art or house the body of a Saint or a celebrated statue venerated in the land or it should be a place of pilgrimage.
Our shrine of a true basilica:
The Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Snows is facing east; constructed in the Portuguese architecture; it houses the celebrated and miraculous statue of Our Lady of Snows, most beautifully carved out of wood and hence it is a great piece of art. Thus the Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Snows deserves to be called a Basilica in the true sense of the word. In Rome itself there are 13 Basilicas and of which 5 are major and 8 are minor ones.

Basilicas are usually under the supervision of Cardinals and accorded special privileges. In India there are several minor basilicas, like Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Bandra in Mumbai, the Basilica of Born Jesus in Goa, the Basilica of San Thome in Chennai, the Basilica of Our Lady of Health at Velankanni, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes, Poondi.
Mother Mary Statue:
There are various traditions in vogue regarding the origin of the beautiful wooden statue of Our Lady of Snows in the Basilica (mother Mary statue). According to one such tradition the statue of Our Lady of Snows was kept in a Chapel in a Convent of the Augustinian Sisters in Manila, Philippines. St. Francis Xavier, on his way to china had to spend a few days in Manila. He was very much attracted by the Beauty of the Statue (Mother Mary Statue).
In the heart of hearts, he wished that the statue be sent to the newly converted Paravars of Pearl Fishery Coast as his gift for he had noticed that great attachment of those Paravars towards the Hindu Goddesses, such as Madurai Meenakshi and Kanyakumari Bhagavathi Amman.

He thought this beautiful statue of Our Lady of Snows (mother Mary) would be the best substitute for them. But when he expressed his wish to the sisters, they first turned down his request, Later, when they came to know of the death of St. Francis Xavier on Sancian Island in 1552, they remembered his request and immediately sent the statue to Thoothukudi by a ship named Santalena and the ship arrived on 9th June 1555.
The beautiful wooden statue of Mother Mary was received by Very Rev. Fr. Michael Vaz, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Goa and was solemnly installed in the Jesuit church of San Paul at Keracope Street, Thoothukudi.

Golden Car
The Star:
Instead of a Cross, we find a star at the top of the car. It signifies the name of Our Lady as the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris). The name given from heaven to the parents of Our Lady through the Angle was Mirjam (in Hebrew) meaning the Star of the Sea. It was the name selected by God the Father to his favored Daughter. In this world of turbulent waters, she is the guiding Star showing us the true path. St. Bernard says that there cannot be a better name to our Divine Mother. For just as the star spreads its rays of light without losing its own light, the Virgin Mother brought forth her Divine Son the Light of the world (Jn 8:12), without losing her virginity. This Star illuminates the whole world. It warms the minds, increases virtues and destroys wickedness. It is the shining example for us all to emulate and its light exhibits the graces and prerogatives enjoyed by Our Lady.
This star has five points to signify the five extra-ordinary prerogatives of Our Divine Mother, viz. (i) her Divine Motherhood (ii)) her Immaculate Conception (iii) her perpetual virginity (iv) she is the channel of Divine grace and (v) she is the Gate of Heaven. The nine gold fishes circulating under the great Star indicates the circulation of the nine planets around Our Lady, the Head Star, thereby signifying that God has appointed Our Blessed Virgin as the Sovereign ruler of the whole universe. The seven rays coming out of the Star indicate the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Golden Crown:
The royal crown, whereon rests the big Star, is the most wonderful workmanship of art that adds beauty to the Golden Car. It signifies the fact that Our Blessed Virgin was crowned as the Queen of Heaven and earth. Thus it signifies that all men are under her sovereign rule and as such they belong to her. It also indicates her power to drive away Satan’s armies as well as heresies.
God the Father:
Just below the golden crown is the throne of God. God the Father stands there in the figure of an aged person. This reminds the faithful that the Blessed Virgin is the well beloved Daughter of God, the Father. The liturgy of the Church addresses Our Lady as O Virgin, first conceived in the Spirit of the Creator (Hymn, First Vespers, and The Feast of Assumption: The Breviary). Let Heaven and earth rejoice, for Mary, the Byzantine Liturgy (Sept 8). St. Peter Damian says: God dwelt in Mary in a kind of substantial union, because He Himself is the Mother. Hence a prominent places to God the Father in the Golden Car.
The Holy Spirit:
We can see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove with shining rays, placed in between God the Father and Our Blessed Virgin. Our Blessed Mother is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Between Mary the Immaculate and the Holy Spirit, there is a deep union not only, because Marys will is absolutely conformed to that of the Holy Spirit, as a dutiful spouses would be, but also because she was always conscious and free instrument in His regard, a true handmaid, but more precisely because the Holy Spirit, dwells in her as in His privileged sanctuary. (Immaculate Conception and Holy Spirit The Marian Teachings of St. Maxi Millen Kolbe, by Fr. H. M. Manteau Bonamy, O. P. 197, p.51)
God, the Son:
Jesus Christ was born in the Jewish Race founded by the twelve sons of Jacob, the patriarch. Hence, in the central and prominent place of the car, there stand twelve pillars with strong basements and in their midst and in the holy hands of our Blessed Mother who is surrounded by the Angels, Kings, Prophets and the Evangelists, is the incarnated Redeemer of the whole world.
Thus the car may be described as the Heavenly abode of the Holy Trinity coming on earth as the Heavenly Jerusalem. (Ref. Rev: 21:2)
The Basement of the Car:
This New Jerusalem, viz, the Immaculate City of the divine Mother was built on twelve foundations: And the wall of the city had twelve foundations and in them, the twelve names of the apostles of the lamb (Rev: 21: 14).
And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones (Rev: 21:9). The Twelve precious stones remind us of the twelve special prerogatives of our divine Mother.
The heads of the four parrots found on the four corners of the basement tell us that the Parava people were the heirs of Pandya Kings. Besides, to show that this Golden Car is made in thanks giving of the sea-faring people, four mermaids, with human heads and bodies of fish are erected. The four stand on the four borders with folded hands.
To signify the rosary of fifty three beads of Hail Marys first uttered at Annunciation which was the result of Immaculate Conception, the car is made in the height of 53 feet. To show that the Divine Mother is the Mother of the Church, the car rolls on Six wheels signifying the six precepts of the Church and instructing the faithful that the car should be taken round only on the guidance of the spiritual leaders of the Church.
The City of God:
If we view the Golden Car with the above descriptions and explanations, it will be seen that it is not merely a chariot take in procession the Divine Mother to honor her. Rather, it will be seen that it is a temple of art and architecture, the Mystical City of God, constructed by God the Father from all-eternity, coming down to present to our naked eyes the glory of the Immaculate Conception of Our Heavenly Mother.
Mr. Navis Fonseka, the Catholic architect who designed and made the Golden Car, must not have been a mere architect but he must have mastered the Catholic dogmas and Scriptures besides being inspired from above. This is seen in every figure he has carved and in their minute details. For, the structure, the number of ornaments, the length, breadth and height all agree to the inspired explanations of BL. Mary of Adreda, written in 1650, to chapter 21 of St. Johns Apocalypse (vide Mystical City of God vol. ch. 17, 18 and 19).
The Golden Car was first taken in procession on 2nd February 1806 and then on 5th August in the years, 1872, 1879, 1895, 1905, 1908, 1926, 1947, 1955, 1964, 1977, 1982, 2000 and 2007. It was taken along usual routes on the roads of Thoothukudi on August 5th led by 25 Catholic Bishops, and presided by the Apostolic Nuncio in India.
Mass Timings
All days:
·        05:30 a.m Mass
·        06:30 a.m Mass
·        05:30 p.m Mass
·        05:30 a.m Mass
·        06:30 a.m Mass
·        11:30 a.m Novena Mass
·        05:30 p.m Mass
·        06:30 p.m Novena & Benediction
·        Note: 05:00 p.m Confessions
·        05:00 a.m Mass
·        06:30 a.m Mass
·        08:00 a.m Mass
·        09:30 a.m English Mass
·        10:30 a.m Baptisms
·        04:30 p.m Benediction of BL Sacrament
·        05:30 p.m Mass
First Saturdays
·        05:30 a.m Mass
·        06:30 a.m Mass
·        11:30 a.m Novena Mass
·        05:30 p.m Mass
·        06:30 p.m Our Lady’s Procession, Novena & Benediction
Our Lady of Snows Basilica
41, Beach road, Tuticorin – 628 001
Tamilnadu, India
Phone: +91 461-2320854
The shrine is located at the border of the Tuticorin bay. Nearest Railway Station and Airport are located in Thoothukudi itself.

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