Sunday, October 16, 2011

Poondi Matha Basicilica

Our final place of pilgrimage in Tamil Nadu was to the small village of Thiruvaiyaru Taluk. Amidst the emerald green paddy fields rose the large basilica known as Poondi Matha (meaning mother in Tamil). Erected in the late 18th century, this white structure of Gothic and French style was elevated to the status of minor basilica by Pope John II in 1999.

Like other churches along the pilgrimage path with Velankanni, Poondi Matha attracts large numbers of visitors around the time of the festival in Velankanni. The basilica has been enlarged due to donations and even contains an upstairs room that is air conditioned - a definite incentive to meditate!  Masses were held on a rotating basis in multiple languages, accommodating the various places of origins for these Indian visitors. More housing and eating facilities have been erected to try to accommodate the swell of visitors. Some still elect to cook and/or sleep outside - which is fine until the downpours come!

The Poondi Matha houses a tiny fragment of what it claims to be a piece of the cross of Christ. People kissed the glass in front of the relic as they walked by, then spending more time in front of the large statue of Mary and infant Jesus. Once again, Mary was clad in a silk sari (several more were draped in front of the display - gifts of devotees), gold chains given by people, and floral garlands. More garlands were tied in front of the display, constantly refreshed by people. Off to the side, a worker took off some still-fresh garlands and began (much to my horror) ripping them apart and tossing the roses and other flowers in what looked like a waste basket.

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