By M. Felix V. Cooray
“She came again, over the waves…
Back to her people in Matara,” unchaperoned
The Church dedicated to Our Lady of Matara celebrates its annual feast on the September 6, 7 and 8, 2013. This church has become famous due to the Miraculous Statue of our Heavenly Mother enshrined within it and stands as a beacon light to visitors, pilgrims, foreign visitors and to the entire Southern Province. This year the feast falls on Her birthday, September 8.
The Miraculous statue
The 18 inch miraculous statue with Mother Mary standing with the child Jesus upon a pedestal features three ocean waves. Three times the statue of our Heavenly Mother was taken by the sea and each time she has returned to Matara.
The last time was the result of the tsunami when the statue was found three days later.
How the miraculous statue was found
The statue belongs to the Portuguese type of sculpture of the early 17th century and was in Sri Lanka when the Portuguese occupied the area almost 400 years ago.
According to the story passed down through generations, a huge wooden crate was pulled up by fishermen off the coast of Weligama, near Matara early in the 17th century and the statue was found inside, untouched by the sea water. The fishermen handed over the statue to the Parish Priest, which was then placed in the original church of Matara. This was the first time that the Statue returned from the sea. Some time later, the statue had to be hidden due to the religious sanctions imposed by the Dutch, but again it returned to Matara.
The Cholera epidemic
A cholera epidemic swept through the entire southern district and claimed hundreds of lives and the people rallied around the statue and prayed for an end to it. After a few days the area was declared safe by the health authorities.
In the early 1990’s, the First Bishop of Galle, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Van Reith, a Belgian had the statue sent to Europe to be restored by a famous sculptor Zeus of Gehent. After restoration, the sculptor placed the statue on the ship ‘Beachy’ to be sent to Matara, which had then been caught in a storm in the North Sea and most of the cargo was destroyed. The ship arrived in Colombo without the statue. The Bishop of Galle wrote to friends in Belgium to try to retrieve the priceless item. The statue was traced by a man in Middlesborough, who demanded money in exchange for it. When the sum was refused, he damaged the face of the statue and threw it away, which was then recovered and returned to Zeus for repair.
The Matara church was affected by the waters of Tsunami
On December 26, 2004 the congregation was less than usual. During communion around 9.10 am the entire church went under water. With the second wave, the valuable jewellery presented in 1918 to the Blessed Mother went missing. After the water receded Fr. Charles with a few parishioners happened to visit the main road and found a man carrying a bucket normally similar to the one used for church collections and found the entire jewellery within it.
A pleasant surprise
Fr. Charles took refuge in a room in the building and with a small congregation, kept on praying for the statue to be found.
On December 29, quite unexpectedly, Fr. Charles had a visitor who informed him that the statue had been washed ashore, 400 metres away from the land. The Infant Jesus carved on the statue of Our Lady of Matara had not lost His crown during the sea voyage. The gold chain which was on the Infant Jesus was also recovered.
Every first Saturday, devotions to the Heavenly Mother followed by Holy Mass is celebrated at 7 a.m.
"Three times the statue of our Heavenly Mother was taken by the sea and each time she has returned to Matara."
At the University of Milan
A new chapel to Our Lady of Matara was blessed within the university premises in Milan.