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Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu

  Province Northern
  District Mannar
  Nearest Town Mannar
  Period 16th century
  Ruler Dutch Period


The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka. With a history of over 400 years, this shrine acts as a center for pilgrimage and worship for Sri Lankan Catholics. The site is considered as the holiest Catholic shrine in the island and is a well known place of devotion for both Tamil and Sinhalese Catholics alike. The church has been a symbol of unity not just between Tamils and Sinhalese, but also between people of different religions, including Buddhists, Hindus and Protestants. Attendance for the August festival at times touched close to a million people before the out break of the Sri Lankan conflict. Situated in the heart of the conflict zone, pilgrimage to this shrine has been dramatically affected in recent years with the presence of refugee camps around the shrine complex. As part of the conflict it has been shelled number of times.



Christianity in Sri Lanka is not well known before the 16th century although some local traditions claim that Saint Thomas the Apostle was active in the island. The Portuguese missionaries from India, especially under the authority of Saint Francis Xavier are known to have brought Roman Catholicism to the Kingdom of Jaffna, which comprised the northern peninsula of Sri Lanka. The newly converted Christians were under persecution under both the king of Jaffna and the Dutch. During this time the Catholics regrouped to form a church in Mantai installing a statue of Our Lady of Good Health in a shrine.

The Shrine in Madhu

The Dutch invasion and the persecution of the Catholic Church in 1670, led to 20 Catholic families fleeing from Mantai, along with the statue of Mary in that church to a safer locale of Madhu. About the same time another 700 Catholics migrated from Jaffna peninsula into Wanni forests. When these two communities met in Madhu they installed a new Shrine with the statue.


With the revival of Catholic faith by missionaries such as Blessed Joseph Vaz, Oratorian priests expanded the small shrine in late 17th century. With the arrival of British to the island, the persecution ceased, but the number of Catholics remained small, with just 50,000 members in 1796. With such a small community the Shrine at Madhu started to attract pilgrims from all over the country. The stifling of Jesuit authority which had started in 1773 in the subcontinent built-up as a problem and eventual suppression of the Congregation in Madhu by 1834. The building of the new church was initiated by Bishop Bonjean in 1872 and his successors built a facade, the spacious presbytery, the restful chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Papal recognition

In 1920, Bishop Brault who had a very special devotion to Our Lady of Madhu obtained the Pope's sanction for the historic solemn coronation of the Statue of Our Lady of Madhu. Bishop Brault with the clergy and the laity had petitioned the Vatican Chapter through the Apostolic Delegate Cardinal Van Rossam, Prefect of the S.C. of Propaganda and he personally presented the request to the Holy Father who in his audience of April 7, 1921, granted this favor of coronation of Our Lady. In 1924 it was officially crowned by the Papal Legate who came in the name of Pope Pius XI.

The Consecration of the Church

The Church was consecrated in 1944 during World War II. In preparation for the consecration ceremony, a marble altar replaced the old wooden structure and the whole sanctuary was covered with white and blue marble. In spite of travel restrictions and difficulties finding conveyance, more than 30,000 people came to the jungle shrine.

The penitential tour

The statue of Our Lady of Madhu had been taken for procession thrice to the parishes in Sri Lanka, in 1948, 1974 and in 2001. The latter was as a spiritual effort to encourage Catholics in Sri Lanka to pray for peace and an end to the civil war.

Feast day at Madhu

In the year 1870 the new Bishop arranged an annual festival to be celebrated on the 2nd of July.But in recent years the August 15th festival draws the biggest crowds because it is one of the most hallowed days for Catholics celebrating the day of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven and also because the school holidays facilitate entire families to make the trip. "demilitarized zone".