This church on the mainland is Sri Lanka’s most hallowed Christian monument (though it’s thought to be have been constructed over an ancient Hindu 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 – it was particularly revered as offering protection from snake bites – and Madhu has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The vast Madhu compound also served as a refuge for those fleeing the civil war when refugee camps ringed the complex.
The present church dates from 1872 and is quite austere but has soaring central columns. Outside, the most striking feature is the elongated portico painted cream and duck-egg blue. The church attracts huge crowds of pilgrims to its 10 annual festivals, especially the one on 15 August.
The grounds now boast huge golden statues representing the stations of the cross.
Our lady is 12 km along Madhu Rd, which branches off the A14 at Madhu Junction on Madhu Junction on the 47km marker. Vavuniya-Mannar buses stop Madhu Junction. From here three-wheeler cost Rs.900 return, including waiting time. A partially paved road runs east from the church and eventually joins the A30, giving a shortcut to Vavuniya.