The remarkable thing about St Lawrence Shrine annual feast commemoration is that, it is not just a one day celebration but a total of 3 days. There is no written narration of when actually the celebration of St Lawrence Annual feast originated. It is believed that the feast of Attur has been ongoing for more than 100 years now. This shrine has actually two feasts in a year. The one Titular feast of St. Lawrence is celebrated on 10th of August. This feast is also celebrated with 9 days preparatory Novena followed by the feast on 10th August. Even though many devotees come for this celebration, the crowed is limited. This could be due to the fact that the timing of the feast usually falls in the rainy season. The annual feast is kept for the last week of January, for the convenience of pilgrims, as the weather in January is pleasant with enough water available all around. This may be the motive for our ancestors to fix the first month of the year for annual feast. The annual feast celebration starts in the last week of January, commencing on a Tuesday and concluding on a Thursday.
A very elder member of this parish (90 years old) narrated his memories about the feast when he was a young lad (Born in 1918). Those days the annual feast preparation used to begin one-two months in advance. A huge pendal (muntap) would be built with the help of the parish ward people by way of shramadan (voluntary service).
The actual beginning of the feast starts with the holy mass on confraternity Sunday (Sunday before the annual feast week end of January). After that officially the feast will start. The vendors would bring their goods either on bullock carts or by head loads and position their stalls on the side of the road leading to the church from west and north side. There were vendors who sell religious articles on the side of steps leading to the church from west side. There used to be Mangalore Lunch hotels run by a few young energetic local parishioners and also one hotel by the famous Ignatius Pereira of Mangalore (Inasam’s hotel) that used to serve delicious sanna and pork meat, chicken and also simple rice, vegetable curry and pickles. The aroma food used to spread in the surrounding area acting as an appetizer to a large number of hungry people! These hotels were in business only for two days, from Tuesday night to Wednesday noon.
On both sides of the road there were stalls, including watermelon stalls. The sugar-cane juice extractor known as ‘ghano’ powered by bulls, used to sell sugarcane juice and do boisterous business for 3 days. There were wooden giant wheels made of wood (unlike present giant wheel, these swings/wheels used to be about 10-12 feet high!) The coffee, tea lemon juice joints were numerous. There were no present type ice cream joints but people used to sell colorful ice-candy sticks which used to attract young children with its colour and low price. A great number of skilled people used to sell utensils of clay, sickles, knives and other items used mainly for agriculture purposes. There were no cars or buses then. The narrow single road was dusty with lots of flying red soil all over. People used to come walking long distance just for this feast. Some group of well-to-do people would travel with their near and dear ones on bullock carts bringing along with them provisions and cooking utensils. They used to park their carts under the shade of trees and cook their own food by fetching fresh water from the nearby church pond. The people who came for the Vespers (besph) on Tuesday used to sleep under the pendal in the night. To make people cheerful and to maintain the festive mood, there were fireworks lasting from 1 to 2 hours and the youth and old alike used to enjoy this spectacle show.
Fr. Arthur Pereira – Director of Shrine
Today this custom has changed according to time. However, the memories are still fresh in most of the elder people’s minds. People returning after Attur feast used to carry special items of Attur feast like oversize chakkulies (murkus), water melon (Kaling) Mingit (the holy thread), holy water and oil from the shrine altar, Catholic Panchang (new years calendar), rosaries, scapular, dates, sweets etc. It was a well acknowledged fact at that time, that people who do honest business during the feast days would not loose but make a decent profit.
What has changed now compared to those olden days?
Well, like time has changed, everything else has also changed. To start with, the number of people visiting this shrine now during the feast days are approximately 3-4 lakhs compared to a few thousand those days. The devotion towards St Lawrence Shrine has also gone up considerably to far-off places in India and abroad. This itself is an indication that even in this contemporary space age the Saint does not refuse those who approach in faith to God, through his intercession with belief and confidence.
If we observe special Novenas on Thursdays throughout the year, we will perceive church full devotees come to visit the Shrine and participate in adoration and prayer services followed by Mass and Novena service which lasts about 2 hours. After the novena, free meal service was introduced for devotees coming from distant places, a couple of years ago and with the help of well wishes devotees and parish volunteers this facility is going on very competently.
Now visiting this Shrine throughout the year is very easy. The roads are reasonably good and it does not take very long to come from Mangalore or Udupi towns. However during the feast days the numbers of big and small vehicles coming to Attur increase considerably and its movement is restricted on 3 days of the feast. The vehicles had to follow certain set traffic rules and had to be parked at special parking area arranged at school ground and walk the remaining distance to go to Shrine. Both sides of the road are occupied by shops, selling toys, bags, cloths and also sweets, flower plants, water melons, ice-cream and other varieties of items. Like good-olden days, still we will find some shops selling tools and other metal and clay fry-pans etc used for cooking purpose.
In bygone days devotees used to stay for a day or two either at their relatives house nearby or close to the shrine after offering their offerings etc. However, now all that is changed. Devotees, who come on the holy visit, kiss the relic and the miraculous statue and light candles. The majorities of the Christians who come here make it a point for good confession and join in Holy Mass and return reconciled with God and with peace and satisfaction.
After going around the shopping malls to pickup some local sweets or other mementos. Some people who have close relatives and invitation from their dear ones nearby pay a visit to their house and return back by their vehicles within few hours.
For many years, hundreds of beggars, maimed, handicapped and lepers used to come during the festivals evoking sympathy from the pilgrims. Even though now the Government has banned begging, they are not allowed to come and meddle with the crowd all the 3 days of the feast. Devotees who make vows that they would distribute some amounts to the beggars at Attur can do so by depositing their alms for the beggars in specially marked two huge boxes kept near the entrances of the Church compound. People do donate a substantial amount in these boxes. Whatever amount is collected is distributed to our less privileged brethren on the very next day of the feast.
During the feast days and also throughout the year the ‘Miraculous pond’ or pushkarani near the church attract large crowds to touch its water. It is said that this is the only church in India having a ‘Pushkarani’ near the Shrine. This similar type of ponds one can see near Hindu, Jain and other religious temples.
The old Shrine building Altar which was built while the church was constructed in 1901 but later modified also attracts large crowds just to have a glimpse of the old Altar. Mothers lay their babies on the steps of this altar. During the January feast we see a lengthy queue to visit this old church. All those who visit this church testify that they get a spiritual and divine experience there.
The St. Lawrence Shrine at Attur has a history of more than two centuries old. Christian people as well as people of other faith have great devotion to St. Lawrence. Known as ‘St. Lawrence the miracle worker’, people pray to him, seek his intercession, make vows and those who gets favours, small and big followers of various faith do visit this Shrine and show their gratitude to the Saint. In recent years, we see there are better facilities to travel to Attur and all the necessary facilities to the pilgrims are provided during the feast and also to those who visit this Shrine throughout the year.
Author: Peter Noronha- Attur