- The front view was in the shape of an Indian temple and the twine towers, for that matter any of the Twine Towers of any church symbolize the two great commandment of Christianity, the love of God and the love of our neighbor.
Shade for the pilgrims
- The foliage in front of the Basilica and its arrangement are unique. The Cardinal was a very good botanist and knew much about plant life. He always went around the country with his eyes wide open in search of plants. The trees are planted in rows like ‘fingers of an outstretched palm'. This enables one to see the dais in front of the basilica during ceremonies without obstruction.
Cross on the Dome
• The top Cross is made of aluminium and has the usual three horizontal bars of any Greek Oriental Cross. It rests on a triple pedestal.
• The front Cross has the figure of Christ in bronze sculptured by the renowned Sri Lankan artist Mrs. Leila Peiris. The Cardinal was insistent that the face of Christ should be the same face as that of the figure in the shroud of Turin .
• The camping area had to be continuously enlarged because of the Concourse of pilgrims especially on sick day and provision had to be made for parking as the years went by.
Right view of basilica
• From the front steps of the right wing of the Basilica one could view the beautiful sight of Adams peak in the early morning. The view has now been covered by the growth of trees.
First children's Day
• A new development at the shrine was the introduction of the ‘Children's Day'. The first such day was cerebrated in 1947.
Basilica 6 pillars
- There are six pillars in front as one climbs the steps leading to the basilica. These six pillars represent the six dioceses at the time of the war viz. Colombo , Chilaw, Galle , Jaffna , Kandy and Trinkomalee. These six dioceses were expected to contribute the cost of a pillar each.
• The basilica will have an added luster which is not just an embellishment of the building, but a vital feature to catechize the pilgrims, especially children, about our catholic past and our Sri Lankan Christian heritage. It is expected to be enriched with tablets depicting our ancient Christian beginnings, the Christian contribution to the country's culture and heritage.
- The Archbishop was keen to keep the shrine always as a place of prayer. For this reason he has brought in these two Religious Congregations of contemplative life to the shrine, and was very concerned about their spiritual welfare.
Poore Clares Convent
- The poor clares Colletines came in 1955 They were a group of Sisters from York . Housed in the same location where they are now, they had no proper buildings; and were using an old railway compartment for their dormitory. The Rosarian sisters followed in 1957, occupying an old house also in the same location where they are now. That house is said to have been a dispensary originally, but at the time it was the residence of a priest.
- Both these congregations were brought to the basilica complex to make it a ‘power house' of prayer. It was the Cardinal's desire to get the Rosarian Sisters to pray daily, at least during the day time, also in the basilica. This is the reason why their convent was extended uphill towards the basilica, providing easy access.
• The original mission house was handed over to the sisters of providence. Who were originally serving in the chest hospital, Welisara and were displaced by then Government. The superior of the community at time was a French nun. She and her community were given this convent and requested to take care of the Retreat House which they do up to date.
Mary immaculate convent
• The sisters of Mary Immaculate are the latest additions to the basilica complex. Having come here as a new group in the year 2003, they occupy the former Rubber Factory which has now been refurbished to be their house of formations. The specific mission of these Sisters is to teach and catechize. They nurture a special devotion to the holy Eucharist observing long periods of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
- The Museum and the Jubilee Hall on the eastern valley of the basilica are two other buildings that adorn the complex. These were also built by the Cardinal's successor Archbishop Nicholas M. Frenando ; the latter being on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee as Archbishop of Colombo in 2002
- One of the very important buildings that the Cardinal added to this complex was the Retreat House. This two-storied building comprising 55 rooms was built to provide for the spiritual enrichment of the clergy, religious and laity.
- The Retreat house chapel has architecture of its own. Even though it may not be ideally suited to the climatic conditions of the place, and not readily approachable for nocturnal prayer, being detached from the main building, it gives a sense of ‘community' to gathering inside. This was built a few years after the main building. The contractor Stephen Baas himself, was amused at the architect Frank Peiris' imagination and described as a “Wattakka gediya”.
- Since of the pediment and the walls are made of dressed stone it was decided that the alter be made differently. Hence in contrast to block of undressed White stone was brought from a quarry at Kirimatiyagara. It was brought with grate difficulty and was consecrated at the same time as Basilica. The relics of saints were enshrined in the altar and was brought ceremoniously in process on by four deacons from the chapel of the Rosarian Convent.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel - Crypt
- The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, very recently set up, is one of the very meaningful additions to the devotions here. The chapel situated in the crypt, where the Cardinal lie buried, has been beautifully refurbished and decorated for the purpose. It is now open throughout Saturdays, Sundays, Poya days and public holydays for Eucharistic adoration.
Grotto of our lady of lourds
- the grotto of our Lady of Lourdes was carved out of a natural rock quarry that belonged to the government. this was exchanged with a quarry on the other side of the rear of the basilica which had a quarry belonging to the church. At the entrance to the alter there is enshrined the piece of rock from the original grotto of the Lourdes presented by the Bishop of Tarbes . the Cardinal who was the water diviner found a spring which began under the main altar of the basilica and ended at that far end of the grotto. this was opened up for the pilgrims.
The new grotto
- The construction of the basilica was now in progress. Granite for the gigantic building was being quarried from the site of the new grotto. It was a large rock as one could see even today. This rock was blasted and hewn to its present shape of the grotto. The huge boulders were turned into stones for the basilica. With the blasting a little spring was discovered. It is the spring giving water at the right side of the grotto, as in Lourdes . The Archbishop got a small tank build there for drinking water.
- The new grotto was completed and blessed on 11 th February 1959 by the Papal Nuncio for India and Delegate for Sri Lanka at the time - Archbishop James R. Knox. The Oblate General Very Rev. Fr. Leo Deschatelets OMI offered the first Mass the same day.
- Once the new grotto was completed the ceremony of the Blessing of the Sick began to he held there. So were the other religious ceremonies including the Children's Day.
- The archbishop's sole intention was to create a replica of Lourdes here, but with devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Lanka as a mark of our gratitude. Our Blessed Mother helps him very much to achieve that end. The Archbishop often compared the physiognomy of the two places. For this reason he was delighted when like in Lourdes the basilica got a located on the top of the hill while the grotto was down below it. In front of the rock
The bathing ponds and the Lake
- It was the cardinal who planed the whole lake with Mr: kahawita and another priest who was also water diviner. The original bund was to have been where the Branch road from the main road comes down to the lake. Later it was decided to build the bund at the present site and the water automatically flows into the bathing tanks just by opening the sluice gate. The lake was to be out of bounds as the water had to be clean and hence the species of mimosa was brought down from Haputale and planted around the lake because the mimosa was very thorny occurring.
- The lake is made up of a natural spring. A bund has been built around the lake which runs between the old and the new grotto. Steps have been taken for the rain water to flow into the lake. Conservation methods have been built devised to prevent water from evaporating.
Famous Trees at Basilica
- For some reason or other even before the na tree (mesua ferrea) was declared the National tree, The Cardinal who was reputed botanist planted rows of Na-tree in the vicinity of the national basilica. Besides the Na-tree there are the Kohomba (Azadiracate Indica), Muruta (Lagrestroemia Flos regina), Swetenia Magoni, and Sweetenia marophylla Mahogony both large and small leaf introduced to Sri Lanka from tropical America in 1840, Terminalia Galabara (Kubuk) especially planted near the wells as these trees are supposed to sweeten and purify the water.
- Jacaranda Mimosafolia as the smallest leaf of the fig family, Agethis Australis (New Zealand Kauri) called the incensed tree, Phimbia (Filicum Decipiens), Amherstia Nobilis named after lady Amherst wife of the governor of Buruma, These trees were planted near the mission house, Cassia nodoa and Cassia Javanica (pink flowers), Tabebuia rosa and Tabebuia alba, Durian, a row of Memeycylon Umbellatum with deep blue flowers interspersed with the idda (white flowers) these are planted around the grotto
- It is not only the esplanade in front that matters, but the whole surrounding area needs to be preserved with its foliage and cleanliness, to provide an atmosphere of peace, serenity and sanctity. Danial says in his Canticle – “And you, all plants of the earth, O blessed the Lord” (Dan 3:57-). The great Indian poet Ravindranath Targore wrote – ‘Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven, but also to all of us who go there.
Heritage Center (Museum)
- The heritage centre was the former meeting centre which was converted in to heritage centre. The Moonstone to depict creation. The two statues one-of St.Joan of Arc was from Kandana and the other statue of the good Shepherd was from Kongodamulla. This is a work of Fr. Anselm Croos.
- A hall of Reconciliation which provides for penitents, who wish to make their confession, has been added during the period of the Cardinal's successor Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Frenando. This provides the much desired privacy for the penitents and prevents them from being disturbed by the pilgrims often engaged in loud vocal prayer inside the basilica.
- Priests are readily available here for counseling, guidance and the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to visiting pilgrims.
- The origins of the shrine at Tewatta date back to 1911 when a few Catholics together with the parish priest of Ragama Fr. A. Kieger OMI, erected a small chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, This area was then a part of the parish of Ragama. On 11 th November 1917, a small grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes was added by Fr. Collorec OMI, with the assistance of some catholic workers from Colombo . The chapel was later enlarged to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims and a larger grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes was built by the side of the church with a “Holy Well” by its side and the shrine gradually become a place of pilgrimage for the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Colombo.
Way of the cross
- The Stations of the Cross begin form the left of the old church and the path winds along side the bathing ponds, the grotto and the mission house. Finally it ends were the special dais is reached in front of the Basilica and this is the twelfth station to remind us of the death of Christ on the cross.
Holy of Holies
- The holy of holies contained the tabernacle which had the same measurements of the tabernacle in the Old Testament with two shares of cherbims on either side. The ceremonial entrance door was of a kandyan design and is made of rosewood from a tree that grew at the national Seminary at Ampitiya. The same wood was used to line all the walls of the room. The curtain that were hung at that time were made from the first silk produced by the sisters of the good Shepherd at Maha Halpe and was a gift from Reverend Mother Good Counsel the provincial at that time.
Statue of Our Lady of Lanka
- When the figure for the statue of our Lady of Lanka was being considered, various suggestions were put forward. Was our Lady to wear a saree. ? Various models were made to pose for the statue. One young girl was from Pitipana on the initiative of the very Rev Monseigneur Wettasinghe the parish priest. The young lady was the relation of Fr Harold Pandithratne. However just at that time the statue of our Lady of Fatima from Portugal was brought ceremoniously to Sri Lanka and Archbishop Cooray seeing the great devotion accorded to the statue decided that the statue take on the lineaments of the statue from Fatima. Besides it was decided not to drape the statue in a saree because it had to appeal to all different races of Sri Lanka . The statue deferred from the statue of Fatima because it had the infant jesus in our Lady's arms our Lady pointing to jesus and jesus pointing to our Lady with one hand meaning “to jesus through marry” and it had the rosary in the other hand which later on became the golden rosary gifted by Pope paul VI the infant jesus has the star of the orient on his breast. There is a branch of the natree with the flowers at the base of the statue to symbolise Sri Lanka although at that time the natree had not been declared the national tree of Sri Lanka . Tha large statue was placed in the National seminary for safekeeping till the basilica was built. However on the 24 th of December 1957 there was an advent wreath which caught fire and singed the statue with out much damage
- Both Statues Were carved in Portugal by the same sculptor who carved the Fatima statues the sculptor demanded a reasonable sum of money but through the effort of rev Fr D.FORTIN O.M.I a reasonable sum of live lakhs was agreed upon. The small statue was ceremoniously brought to sri lanka accompanied by Rev FR Claude Lawrence O.M.I and was blessed by Pope Pius xii. The gold crowns were designed by the artist Mr Relex Ranasingha under the guidance of REV Fr Poruthota. The Crown of Jesus has six branches meeting at the top which according to laws of heraldry symbolist the fullness of power. The crown our lady has no branches as she is queen only by delegation of her son. it has a row of golden Na flower and at the base of the forehead their hangs the beautiful stone, the lanka thilaka.
- The arrival of the (Smaller) statue of our Lady of Lanka from Fathima via Rome and Goa . The statue which was carved by one Tedium of Fathima (the very sculptor of the first Cardinal Cerejeira, on his journey to attend celebrations connected with the Nineteenth Centenary of the arrival of St. Thomas in India (A.D.52) and the fourth Centenary of the death of St. Francis Xavier (A.D. 1552), brought the two statues on board the vessel “N/M India” and handed them over to our Archbishop Thomas Cooray on 06 th December 1952 in S. Pedro's Church, Goa.
- The Archbishop brought the smaller statue with great joy and devotion to Sri Lanka on board - “Safina-e-Arab”, the vessel which took a contingent of Sri Lankan pilgrims to Goa for the celebrations including the exposition of the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier.statue of Our Lady of Fathima in Portugal), was taken to Rome by Fr. Claude J.V. Lawrence OMI to be blessed by Pope Pius XII, on 05 th November 1952. it was then handed over to Cardinal Cerejeira of Lisbon who was traveling to Goa , as Papal Legate.
- the Ivory cross that hangs over the tabernacle is a gift from the parish of puttalam and the diocese of chilaw with the generous initiative of Rt. Rev DR frank Marcus fernando the Bishope of Chilaw at that time and Re. Fr. Anslem de Croos. It is unique in the sense the image is hand hand carved by one of our local craftsman.
- One may wonder at the shape of the Tabernacle in the basilica. It is a perfect replica of the ark of the convent, which symbolized the presence of God among them, to the Jews-the Chose Race. He took its measurements from the Holy Bible and got this perfect copy made. The two angels on either side are also as of the biblical description.
- The two elephant tusks on either side of the tabernacle also have a connection with the war. When the Japanese occupation of the Island was considered imminent the value of currency began dropping very low. The Government began issuing paper currency to the extent of two, three and five Cents being scraps of paper. At this juncture people began converting their liquid currency into objects of value. The Archdiocese at the time had purchased two precious stones converting some of the liquid cash it had. When the basilica was being built the Cardinal sold one of these and purchased two elephant tusks which he kept in his private chapel until the basilica was completed, and placed them there, in gratitude for the protection the country received.
- The crucifix of the main alter was designed by Rev Fr Priyantha silva on the occasion of the visit of pope John Paul II for the beatification of blessed Joseph Vas 25. 1970
The altar rails are made of all the different types of hardwood found in Sri Lanka .The altar railing in the basilica something symbolic. The Cardinal Wanted it to be out of solid and durable wood representing the arbori-Culture of Sri Lanka . Since the Basilica was to be a symbol of Lanka, he wanted to include all valuable varieties of Sri Lankan timber in it as if to sing – “all plants of Lanka, O bless the Lord” (Daniel 3.57-) thus in the railing one could see included a variety of timber in different shade and colour like teak, mahogany, iron wood, jak, white and red sandalwood etc.
- There were two crowns used at the coronation – the crowns of Our Lady and the crown of baby Jesus. Both these crowns were made of gold collected from the chains donated by the pilgrims at shrine of St. Anthony in Kochchikada and other little objects that were kept in the Archdiocesan coffers.
- The two crowns were designed by artist Ralex Ranasinghe (incidentally a student in my Art class in the Minor Seminary) instructed by Frs. Ernest Poruthota and Anselm de Croos. It is interesting to note the difference in the two crowns. The crown of Our Lady has only three sides with 12 lamps in oriental design replacing the 12 stars mentioned I Apocalypse and a Lankathilaka at the Zenith. The crown of baby Jesus has four sides designating his royal kingship over the four directions of north, south, east and west.