HISTORY OF GUNADALA MATHA SHRINE: GUNADALA MARY MATHA – THE BEGINNINGSIN 1923 Msgr, Pezzoni, a PIME Italian Missionary, a man who was held in high esteem by the local residents of the town, obtained a site of 25 acres of barren and bushy land at the foot of a hill of Gunadala -which was then outside the town -from the Government, where he opened an orphanage and school for boys. The Gunadala site was partly donated and partly bought, Msgr. Pezzoni moved to Gunadala on 15 June 1923, with 30 orphans of the Mission School at Bezwada (One – Town). This was the humble beginning of many institutions at Gunadala.
Fr. P. Arlati, the first Manager of Gunadala Institutions, from the very outset of his taking charge engaged 50 workers to clear the jungle: it took few months to complete the work. The official date of opening the orphanage was 15th June 1924. He started the Industrial school too in the same year.
THE SHRINE – ORIGIN & DEVELOPMENT
In 1925 Fr Arlati PIME. The then Rector of St. Joseph’s Orphanage at Gunadala cut a small pathway to the hill top and placed a small statue of Our Lady in the cut niche. This was the starting point of the local devotion to Our Lady on the Gunadala Mary Matha hill. Very soon a winding pathway to the grotto was slowly and painstakingly cut on the hill. It was since then, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes become an annual feast for the inmates of the institutions and the local Catholics, with a procession to the top of the hill and Mass at the grotto.
In 1933, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to celebrate the Decennium of the foundation of the Gunadala institutions an 18 feet high iron cross was erected on the summit of the hill. The Grotto at half way up on to the cross beautifully symbolized the truth: To JESUS THROUGH MARY.
By 1937 it had become a Diocesan festival. In that year, Fr. Arlati placed a new statue in the Grotto i.e.in the middle of the hill and the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Good Health began and the annual celebration was shifted to September 8th. An altar in front of niche was also built so that Masses could be celebrated on different occasions.
The widening of the winding pathway and deepening of the Grotto and levelling of the ground in front of the Grotto was done as it was so necessary. Though it was a Herculean task the great Fathers like Msgr. A. Bianchi, the Vicar General, Rev. Br. Bertoli and Rev. Br. Cripp ebut finished it with great patience and hard work a. In 1947 after Msgr. Bianchi left for Italy, Br. Bertoli took up the job and continued the work. As the rains in the month of September caused so much inconvenience to the pilgrims, the feast was shifted back again to February 11 as the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Pictures of the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary were set up along the pathway leading to the Grotto. These pictures were in kaolin paint ware and were gifted from Busto Arsozin of Italy. In 1951 a beautiful Arch was erected above the grotto and a staircase leading up to the Statue to enable the pilgrims to pray ,touch the feet of Our lady and place their offerings. This new Arch facilitated to install a new statue of Our Lady presented by Msgr. Battista, then the Vicar General of the PIME, and later the Bishop of Vijayawada. This beautiful statue of white cement weighed 300kgs and with great difficulty it was shipped to Madras and then to Vijayawada. The statue was taken in a solemn procession through the town and was carried up and installed in the grotto by the pilgrims.
When His Lordship Bishop Joseph Thumma, the third Bishop of Vijayawada took charge of the Diocese, he further extended more facilities to the pilgrims like sheds to rest, electricity and water supply on the top of the hill. A stage was built in the Bishop Grassi grounds for the celebration of Mass and cultural Programmes . More roads up the hill then paved to help the pilgrims reach the grotto and Cross easily. A series of 14 stations called “Way of the Cross” had been installed from grotto to the Cross-at the hill – top. Several rest houses for pilgrims were also build for the convenience of the pilgrims.
POPULAR RITUALS OF THE FEAST
The festival also acquired certain ritual practices. Most notable among them are the offering of hair by pilgrims. Theologians see offering of hair as the sacrifice of beauty and blessing. It is estimated over 100,000 pilgrims of all religions offer hair during the three-day festival. The hill is believed to possess because of Mother Mary powers of breaking the curse of barrenness and so they tie UTTI to the trees closer to the Grotto. Coconuts and flowers are offered to MaryMatha. Our Lady of Lourdes has been declared as the Health of the sick and Mother of Good health. This is mainly due to the numerous miraculous of healings that took place at Lourdes in France. True to the name, Gunadala Lourdu Matha has become synonymous for the healing graces. She showers to the devotees in the tradition of Our Lady of Fathima, Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Velankanni. Our Lady of Gunadala never forsakes those who pray to her with real faith and hope. Thousands of people visit Gunadala Matha throughout the year as they firmly believe in her merciful heart and are convinced of her blessings. Devotees come not only from all corners of the state but from the neighboring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka visit the shrine during the festival in February, every year. The festival organizing committee is looking into all the arrangements for the pilgrims. Concelebrated high masses are arranged on all the three days of the festival.
Keeping in mind the rush of the pilgrims and foreseeing the heavy traffic a beautiful road was laid from the entrance of Eluru road to Gunadala Matha Shrine. As an invitation to the pilgrims a big Arch was built at the entrance, The other areas like renovations , cement flooring and fixing of the railings are very well taken care off. The major areas of drinking water , sanitation ,electricity and medication are being monitored attentively. An ambulance and a fire Engine too are at the service.
As 9th,10th and 11th are the most important days of the festival a beautiful temporary cloth pundel is arranged for the convenience of the pilgrims in the Bishop Grassi grounds for the celebrations of Prayers,Mass,worship and other cultural activities.The main Church is always open throughout the day for the devotees and pilgrims. Special prayers and blessings are conducted during these three days in the main Church.
Aaradhana Mandiram is another place for adoration.
“NITYA ANNADHANAM”: 100 people are fed every day through Nitya Anndhanam.
Today cutting across the Religions Gunadala Mary Matha Shrine is a Multi –Religious Center.
Rev. Fr. EW Jayaraju, The Rector of Gunadalamatha Shrine is ensuring for the smooth proceedings of the festival.
Rector & Parish Priest :Rev. Fr. Eleti William Jaya Raju