Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 27th: Sri Lanka - Our Lady of Madhu

Best known shrine of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). When the Dutch conquered Ceylon and began to stamp out Catholicism, a small band of native Catholics converted by the Portuguese took to the jungle, carrying a statue of the Madonna with them. Eventually a church was built to house it. As no one can live in the jungle during the wet season, Mary is alone for months, but when the rains pass, Moslems and Hindus as well as Catholics journey to Madhu. The pilgrimage is planned to take a month. They sing hymns, chant the Rosary as they trudge through the deep tangled growth. The statue is of Our Lady of the Rosary. There is a custom that the sick must remain outside the church and chant their entreaties loud enough for Mary to hear them. The dust outside the little church is a proven cure for poisonous snakebites. During World War II daily prayers were effectively offered at Madhu that Ceylon would be saved from a Japanese invasion. (Fr. John A. Hardon)
Our Lady of Madhu has recently been in the news as the area has been at the centre of fighting between the Sri Lankan military and insurgents. As recently as last month (April 2008) the statue of Our Lady has had to be moved from the shrine for safe keeping, and a local priest was killed in an ambush. The shrine is now back in government hands, but there is controversy over the failure of the local bishop to return the statue. In 2001 the statue was taken on a peace tour of the country. Although fighting lessened for a time, the civil war between the Sinhalese majority government and the Tamil Tigers resumed and has now lasted for 25 years. BBC News gives a Sri Lankan Timeline that includes a history of the conflict.

The shrine website does not seem to have caught up with current events, and shows the shrine still looking pristine. In fact it has been severely damaged in recent fighting.

Don't miss the rules to be observed by visitors to the shrine, which are rather different to those of the typical Marian shrine in the west. They include: "In the interests of hygiene, avoid rearing ducks, dogs and cattle. You are requested to keep your poultry in cages and the cattle tied in the allotted places."


Anonymous said...

I can't believe the countries you are finding. This would make a lovely book.

The Bookworm said...

Thank you - but I think it would be too difficult to do, as I am relying heavily on links. I couldn't believe how many different countries there were to find either. I think it would be possible to do another thirty without duplicating countries.