Shrine of Our lady of Good Health – Chinna Malai (History)
This Holy Shrine may be said to have had its origin in about the year 68A.D. when the Holy Apostle received the first stroke of Martyrdom. Tradition confirms and the ancient writers from the first century give testimony of this fact.
This place was precious in the sight of those who had a great devotion towards the glory of our Lord Jesus. This unfailing veneration was rooted in the heart of the ancient Rajahs and great men of this country.
Before the Portuguese held sway over this part of the country the early Rajahs and Nawabs of the Place were sympathetic protectors of this Holy Shrine.
The Portuguese first settled in the neighbourhood in 1503 A.D. when Albuquerque founded a settlement at Mylapore. At that period the whole of this part of the country was subject to the Hindu Kind of Vijianagar whose capital after 1556 A.D. was at Chandragiri, 70 miles.
The Little Mount and its suburb lands were outside English territory in 1646 A.D. which is proved by the conditions offered by the French after their capture of Madras.
At this period of Nawab of Carnatic was the ruler of this part who had also acknowledged the possession by the mission of the Hill and adjacent lands. This acknowledgement was influenced by an Armenian merchant Sulamier who was living till after 1767 A.D.
Just after the treaty of Paris in the year 1763 the East India Company acquired a jaghir consisting of a large extent of land near Madras from the Nawab of Arcot. The Church authorities held in possession, however, long before the East India Company acquired the Jaghir from Nawab of Arcot, extensive lands besides the Hill at Little Mount.
On this consideration Lord Clive, the then Governor of Madras recognized the possession of the Hill at Little Mount and suburb lands by the mission by the official Grant No.933 dated 28th October, 1803; in favour of the Right Reverend Fr.Jose de piedade Ag, Bishop of Mylapore as religious endowment under the classification of religious service Inam without any restriction whatever. The situation of the Inam land as given in the above said Grant No,933 of 1803 is the following.
North bounded by Saidapet Road,
South bounded by Venkatapuram Road,
East bounded by Venkatapuram Road.
West bounded by the Bridge (containing the whole)
It was, as the tradition tells us, the place where St. Thomas preached frequently.
In spite of what has been said to give an earlier origin to the Church at Little Mount, it does not seem to have been built earlier than 1551.
Fr.Guy Yachard, S.J. who was in Mylapore and Little Mount in 1710 writes. “From the Church of Our Lady one climbs to the top of the mount, where our Fathers have erected a small building. It is built on the rock, which needed much labour to level in order to make this small hermitage somewhat comfortable. At the southern end of the hermitage, which is squarebuilt, is the Church of the Resurrection. A cross, one foot high, is to be seen there, in a small hollow made in the rock, on which the altar of the Church rests. This little cross, which is in relief and cut in the hollow of the rock, entirely resembles that of Great Mount except in size…
About 1551, Little Mount, which was till then only a steep rocky elevation, began to be cleared and leveled for the convenience of the pilgrims. The fact is stated on a big stone, which has been fixed at the top of the steps towards the north of the hill. The Church of Our Lady was built the small hermitage which is on the top of the rock, and the Church of the Resurrection, where the cross engraved on the rock is to be found.
Fr. Tachard also mentions two other monuments at Little Mount. One is the cave and the other is the miraculous spring. Of the cave he writes: Seven or eight steps lead to the altar, beneath which there is cave about 14 feet broad and 15 or 16 feet long…One enters it with some difficulty through a crevice in the rock… It has not been thought fit to embellish this entrance, or even to change anything in the whole cave, because it is believed that St. Thomas often retired into this solitary place to pray. Our Missionaries have put up an altar at the eastern end of the cave. There is a tradition among the people that a sort of window on the southern end of about 2 feet, which throws a very dim light into the cave, was miraculously made and that it was through this opening that St. Thomas escaped.
Of the miraculous spring Fr. Tachard has left us this record. This is called St. Thomas fountain. There is a rather common. Tradition in the country that the Holy Apostle who lived at Little Mount, being moved to see that the people who came in crowds to hear his preaching suffered much from thirst, as water could be had only at a great distance on the plain, knelt in prayer on the highest part of the hill, struck the rock with his stick, and instantly there gushed forth a spring of clear water, which cured the sick when they drank of it trusting in the intercession of the Saint. The stream which now runs at the foot of Little Mount appeared only at the beginning of last century. It was formed by the overflowing and bursting of a distant tank owing to heavy rain. This formed the little canal which in times of drought contains saltish water, because at 2 leagues from Little Mount it communicates with the sea. There are yet people alive who affirm that more than fifty years ago(Fr. Tachard was writing in 1711) they saw this hole in the rock just as I have presently described it, and they add that, heretical women having thrown dirt therein to oppose, they said, the superstition of the populace, the water receded immediately, and that these women died that very day of an extraordinary colic in punishment of their audacity. The water is continually being taken and drunk. Missionaries and Christians affirm that it produces sudden cures even to the present day.
Fr. Tachard also speaks of the devotion in which these two Mounts were held, “ I must say, Reverend Father, that this Little Mount is a regular sanctuary of devotion. Everything there breathes of recollection and piety, and it would be impossible to go over its monuments without having one’s heart touched with ardent desire to give oneself to God… During the two months that I spent at Little Mount last year, a day hardly passed by without my seeing horsemen, carriages, and palanquins going to Great Mount and returning, and I was told, that, when the steamers for Europe have left Madras, almost half of the wealthy people of that great city go and spend entire months at that rural place”.
On the occasion of the 19th centenary of St. Thomas in 1972, a big (round) church was built and consecrated, for the benefit of the increasing parishioners and pilgrims.