Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, Chetpet is one of the well-known shrines in South India, with its centenary being celebrated in 1978. The parish is one of the important parishes in the Diocese of Vellore, Tamilnadu. People from the district and all nearby districts, without any distinction of caste or creed, pay their homage to Our Lady of Lourdes at Chetpet, especially during the nine days of festivity in March, every year.
The mission work in Chetpet (Chethupattu) was started in the year 1876 by Rev. Fr. J.F. Darras, a priest of Paris Foreign Mission Society. He was preaching Christ’s Gospel in a nearby village, Kil-Kallur when some 12 Hindus of Chetpet village approached him, expressing their desire to be baptized and become Catholics. With great pomp they brought him to Chetpet on 25th February 1876. Fr. J.F. Darras has written in the parish Chronicle that his entry in Chetpet was llike the triumphant entry of Our Lord in Jesrusalem. There, Fr. J.F. Darras found 1000 Hindus ready to embrace Christianity. In four years’ time about 17000 people in Chetpet and in the surrounding villages embraced Christianity. Thus, Chetpet Parish was established on the 11th March 1878.
With great enthusiasm and deep love to Our Lady, Fr. J. F Darras has vowed that should God be pleased, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to bless his missionary labours with numerous conversions, he would show his gratitude by erecting in her honour a magnificent Shrine. Evidently his prayer was heard, for such a movement of conversations had never been seen in these barren places.
Fr. J.F. Darras, therefore began by obtaining from Government the so called ‘Satan Hill’ a hill situated a little away from Chetpet. After changing its name into ‘Matha Hill’ (the Hill of the Divine Mother), he erected on the top a small Shrine, which was blessed by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Louvanan. Addressing the big assembly of devoted children of Our Lady of Lourdes, the bishop said that the small Shrine on the hill, beautiful though it was, would not suffice. A huge magnificent Shrine only would be an adequate expression of Fr. J.F. Darras’ gratitude and love to the Heavenly Queen.
Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine
Building a Shrine for Our Lady was indeed Fr. J.F. Darras’ great desire. Yet only in 1884 could the collection of funds be started with a sum of Rs.50/- offered by an unknown man. But the Blessed Virgin saw to it that the donations are multiplied. Before long, the Rs..50/- increased to Rs.80000/- and the work of construction was started. The gigantic Church rose slowly, but steadily, until completion in 1896. On the 1st 1896, His Grace Msgr. Gandi, Archbishop of Pondicherry, solemnly blessed the imposing structure and dedicated it to the service of God and the honour and glory of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since that day, it stands as a magnificent token of tat gratitude of thousands of Mary’s Children and in a special way of Fr. J.F. Darras and as a monument of her blessings.
Our Lady of Lourdes Annual Pilgrimage
Renewal of Matha Hill
Little by Little, the small Shrine of Matha Hill was damaged until in course of time, it practically became a heap of ruins.
It was in 1948, the then parish priest Rev. Fr. S. David Marianayagam, S.D.B., who afterwards became the Bishop of Vellore Diocese, with a collection of about Rs. 15000/- built the new hill Shrine which welcomes the pilgrims like a beacon, when they are several miles away.
Feast of Our Lady
In the beginning, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes at Chetpet was held in May for some years. Later, on account of heavy rains and wind during summer monsoons, it was celebrated on the 4th of March. Then, to avoid first Friday and Sunday, the feast was fixed and is still kept on Wednesday following the 1st Sunday of March, from 1939. Year after year thousands of pilgrims flock in multitude to Our Lady’s Shrine to pray and to thank the Mother of Christ, especially during the annual Festival.
Our Lady of Lourdes Annual Pilgrimage