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No matter what religion you follow, St. Anne’s Church in Talawila is one of the most ancient and wonderful of all Christian shrines in Sri Lanka. Founded in the epicentre of tradition and holiness, thousands of pilgrims flock during the Christmas season, in March and August to this amazing place of solitude and solace. Close to Kalpitiya, the St.Anne’s Church is easy to access with the roads in good condition and offering some stunning views of the Talawila Beach in peace.
There are two accounts of its origins in which the first one is about a European trader, travelling in a ship dedicated to St. Anne, was shipwrecked off the coast of Talawila in the early half of the 18th century. As the place where they landed wasn’t very hospitable, they sought a place to rest their aching limbs and souls. They spied a large banyan tree at a distance and they approached it with the statue of St. Anne which they had in their possession. This image, they placed in the tree with the captain of the ship vowing to return again and build a church if his business prospered. The European trader obviously met with success as he desired, and kept his word by building a church at the place where the statue of St. Anne stood in its glory.
The other account is that in the 17th century, a poor Portuguese man journeyed from Mannar to Colombo in order to seek a livelihood. However, he failed to do so and was returning by the coast, when he happened to fall asleep under a large tree at Talawila at the site of the present church. He dreamed that he saw an image at the foot of the tree, with lighted tapers burning on each side. Waking up from his sleep, he saw with astonishment that the image was actually there.
In this confusion, he prayed loud and at that moment was suddenly dazed and awestruck by the ‘great awakening light’, which illumined the form of St. Anne herself. The mother of the Holy Virgin in her glorious presence stood before him and told that the image he had seen was intended as a representation of herself and that he should build a church there, christen it after her, and preserve in it the relic that had so graciously been revealed to him. Impressed and moved with this experience, the poor man set out to build a small Chapel.
St. Anne appeared to him again and left him some gold coins which enabled him shortly to return to his country where he raised funds for the construction of a permanent church at Talawila. He then had a third vision of this beautiful saint, upon whose instructions he built a larger one in its place.
“The image” now exhibited in the church is said to be the identical statue discovered by the Portuguese man in the manner narrated here. In 1943, by some strange coincidence, exactly a hundred years after the erection of the present church, there appeared the hull of a wrecked vessel for which the present generation has no recollection whatever. The crowds of people who flocked to view it, in the pious belief that it was the vessel which had once borne the image of St. Anne, testify to the persistence off the tradition.
from the internet