Our Lady of Madhu Church
Star Guest House
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Lonely Planet review
This church is Sri Lanka’s most hallowed Christian 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, notably as a protector against snakebites. Madhu has been a place of pilgrimage – and, in modern times, refuge – ever since. During the last round of fighting, the statue was removed from the church and taken further into LTTE territory, apparently to protect it from damage. It was reinstated in August 2008.
The present church dates from 1872 and has soaring, if unembellished, central columns apparently fashioned from hugely long tree trunks. Outside, the most striking feature is the elongated portico painted cream and duck-egg blue. The church’s spacious grounds attract huge crowds of pilgrims (and superstitious non-Christians) to its 10 annual festivals, especially around 15 August. The church is 12km north of the Vavuniya–Mannar road. Turn at the 47km post, a lonely spot nicknamed Madhu Road. Until July 2008 this was ‘LTTE country’.
If the road has opened, ask in Medawachchiya or Mannar for direct public buses (two hours) or buses to and from Vavuniya that would allow you to get off at Murunkan or the Madhu Road junction, and then take a three-wheeler (Rs 800 return from Murunkan).