The Basilica of Our Lady of Vallarpadam, Vallarpadam is a famous centre of pilgrimage. People from all parts of Kerala and outside, irrespective of caste or creed go to the church to seek the blessings of Mary, the mother of Jesus, popularly known as "Vallarpadathamma".
This is an ancient Christian Church which accepted Latin rite after the arrival of Portuguese. In 1524, Portuguese merchants headed by Vasco da Gama enthroned this miraculous picture of Our lady of Ransom at the shrine. The church was dedicated to the Holy Spirit, which was the first of its kind in Asia. The beautiful church was however destroyed by a heavy flood in 1676. The church was re-established in 1676 and the famous picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected by Portuguese who brought it from their native land. The picture is believed to have miraculous powers. The Portuguese built the first church on the site of the present church in 1524. It was destroyed in a flood in the late 17th century and a new church was built on the same spot in 1676. It was declared a special church by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 and in 1951 the Union Government declared it a major pilgrim centre.
Vallarpadam is situated next to Bolghatty Island on the west, and linked to the Ernakulam mainland via the new Goshree bridges. It is about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) in length in the north-south direction and hosts a population of 10,000 people. Vallarpadam is about one kilometer (½ mile) away from the Ernakulam mainland.
A short history the magnificent and miraculous picture of Mary and Infant Jesus, installed at the top of the main altar of the Vallarpadam Church, was brought by Portuguese merchants under the leadership of Vasco Da Gama in 1524. In 1676 the old Church, which was known as the Church of the Holy Spirit, founded by the Portuguese missionaries, was destroyed by the heavy flood and the picture of Our Lady was found floating in the backwaters. Nobody except Paliyath Raman Valiyachan, the Prime Minister of Maharaja of Cochin, could recover it. The beautiful church at Vallarpadam which you see now is built on the land which was donated by Paliyath Raman Valiyachan. He is gratefully remembered in Vallarpadathamma and his generosity towards the church, by lighting the Sanctuary lamp, which he himself donated and which has been burning day and night from 1676 onwards.
In May 1752, there occurred a great miracle which made Vallarpadam a famous Pilgrim Centre. In Vallarpadam there was a young Nair Lady named Meenakshiyamma, who was a member of a noble family called Palliyilveedu. Together with her son, she was going to Mattancherry in a non-mechanised boat. There arose a storm and the boat capsized. Meenakshiyamma and her son went deep down into the backwater. While they were in danger Meenakshiyamma promised Vallarpadathamma that if they were rescued by her they would be her Adimas (servants) until their death. On the third day, as per instructions in a dream, the parish priest asked the fishermen to cast net in the river, and Meenakshiyamma and her son were rescued. This incident is depicted in the picture mentioned above. From that day onwards, people, especially those who travel by boats and ships, come to Vallarpadam and pray for their safe journey. Meenakshiyamma and her son received baptism and became Christians and were named Mary and Jesudas respectively. They were living in the Churchyard itself adoring the Lord and thanking Our Lady and proclaiming the "good news" to all those who came here. Her family is still living, which is quite near to the church. Due to its spiritual importance, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII elevated its main altar to the status of Altare Privilegiatum in Perpetuum Concessum in 1888.
The Feast of Vallarpadathamma is celebrated from 16 to 24 September every year. Pilgrims, thousand in number, come to Vallarpadam to participate in the Feast, especially on 24 September.