Saturday, April 1, 2023


Built between 1951 and 1960, this church, Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, Perambur, was designed as a replica of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Haute Pyrenees in France. The Grotto of Massabielle  is the place in Lourdes where Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year old girl, later to become St Bernadette had 18 visions of Mother Mary between February 11 and July 16, 1858. 

It was around 1935 that the parish priest of Perambur, Fr. Michael Murray had the idea of establishing a shrine of significance in the parish. His zeal in collecting funds for this led the then Archbishop of Madras to put his weight behind the project; it seems to have been his suggestion to the architect Chevalier Davies KSG, that the shrine be modelled on the Lourdes church. There is not much to be found about Chevalier Davies, possibly because his first name has been supplanted by the title, which in my fancy was conferred on him for his work on this shrine. 

Fr. Alfred Mariotta, succeeded Fr. Murray in 1947. He seems to have been cut from a slightly different cloth than his predecessor, for the church's website says that Fr. Mariotta used up as much energy as Fr. Murray, but gave off noticeably less heat. The quiet way in which he worked to get land for this church seems to have mystified everyone. The website says, "..with what process of cajolery, reasoning, bargaining or persuasion he secured the different slices of land, no one will ever know!", but one day, the parishioners woke up to find the land was ready. And then the church was built; it echoes the three spires of the Lourdes Sanctuary, but replaces their sharpness with gentle domes. Like the one at Lourdes, this one too has a lower basilica, the Basilica of the Rosary and an upper basilica, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Lourdes also has an underground basilica, the Basilica of St Pius X - as far as I can see, that wasn't built into the design here!


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