As far as the eye could see there were no other vehicles, neither were there many people on the road. The heat arose from the tar, playing little tricks on the eyes. The once lush paddy fields lay fallow, and occasionally a solitary cow sat ruminating under a tree. We were up in the north. As we rumbled along the dusty road the excitement of actually being there was palpable. Many in Sri Lanka then didn’t have the opportunity we had to visit the north. A little detour, after a sweltering day out on the field to a cool sanctuary of a church seemed justifiable. Except for two of us, others in our group were devout Catholics. But all of us were full of glee like kids out on their first school trip for the first glimpse of this most hallowed place of worship.
This Church had played its own role during the the long drawn out Sri Lankan civil war, but today there was only one man who sought refuge.
The Madhu shrine traces its origins to the invasion of the Dutch in 1670, which led 20 Catholic families to flee from Mantai, along with the statue of Mary in that church to a safer locale in Madhu. During that time around 700 Catholics from Jaffna peninsula too migrated to Wanni forests. These two communities met in Madhu, and built this new Shrine to install the statue, that is most revered to this day.
As the afternoon cooled we wandered around admiring the beauty of the church, but were careful not to disturb the lone man praying earnestly.
Past the nuns to the left is a marble plaque commemorating the Consecration in 1944. Papal recognition came with the historic solemn coronation of the Statue of Our Lady of Madhu in 1924, when it was officially crowned by the Papal Legate, who came in the name of Pope Pius XI.
The history of the church says “in preparation for the consecration ceremony by Bishop J. A. Guyomar, the old wooden structure and the whole sanctuary was replaced with Blue and White Marble. In spite of travel restrictions and difficulties finding conveyance during World War II, more than 30,000 people came to the jungle shrine of Our Lady of Madhu for the Consecration in 1944.”
The shrine is a place for pilgrimage, miraculous healings and worship.
Evening shadows had lengthened by the time we left. Candles flickerd, the young soldiers outside were busy photographing their comrades with mobile phones.
Reference: A Look at Madhu Church from its Inception to date: http://madhuchurch.org/