Northwest of Vavuniya lies the remote village of MADHU, the most important place of Christian pilgrimage in Sri Lanka. The large, nineteenth-century Portuguese-style church here is home to the allegedly miraculous statue of Our Lady of Madhu. The image was brought to Madhu in 1670 by Catholics fleeing Dutch persecution in the Mannar area, and subsequently became revered for its magical qualities, particularly its supposed ability to protect devotees against snakebite. The shrine is revered by both Sinhalese and Tamil Catholics and, in characteristic Sri Lankan fashion, has also become popular among non-Christians, offering a rare beacon of religious and racial harmony in the troubled north. A festival in honour of the statue held here annually in August draws huge crowds – an estimated 500,000 pilgrims visited in 2011.
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