The 16th century in particular was known for the atimagests made by European merchants to establish trading centres in India. The Portuguese were devout Catholics with a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother Mary, the 'Star of the Sea'. In the 17th century a Portuguese merchant vessel was sailing to Colombo. While it was cruising towards the west to reach the Bay of Bengal, it was caught in a violent storm. The gale grew furious and the waves rose high and lashed violently at the ship and the fate of the vessel, with everyone on board was all but sealed.The helpless sailors instinctively fell on their knees and with all the fervour, their sinking souls could muster, besought Mary's help.
They vowed to build a church in her honour wherever she helped them land safely. Their earnest petition was instantly heard, for all on a sudden, there was a miraculous lull in the winds; the waves subsided and the sea became calm. Soon the battered ship was pushed to safety to the shores of Vailankanni. On landing, the first thing the sailors did was to fall on their knees and thank God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for having saved their lives. They set about immediately to remodel the thatched chapel. Remarkably, all these extraordinary events took place on September 8, the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.