happyplaces

Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu

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By Bhagya Alwis

This church is Sri Lanka’s most hallowed Christian monument (though it’s thought to be have been constructed over an ancient Hindu shrine). Its walls shelter Our Lady of Madhu, a diminutive but revered Madonna-and-child statue brought here in 1670 by Catholics fleeing Protestant Dutch persecution in Mannar.


The statue rapidly developed a reputation for miracles – it was particularly revered as offering protection from snake bites – and Madhu has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The vast Madhu compound also served as a refuge for those fleeing the civil war when refugee camps ringed the complex.

The present church dates from 1872 and is quite plain but has soaring central columns. Outside, the most striking feature is the elongated portico painted cream and duck-egg blue. The church attracts huge crowds of pilgrims to its 10 annual festivals, especially the one on 15 August.

Our Lady is 12km along Madhu Rd, which branches off the Vavuniya–Mannar road at Madhu Junction on the 47km marker. Vavuniya–Mannar buses (and trains from Medawachchiya, a station on the Jaffna–Colombo main line) both stop at Madhu Junction.

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