Speaking Words of Wisdom, Let It Be
The Byzantine-style icon in the Black Madonna Chapel is a focal point at the Marian Valley near Tamborine Mountain, in the Gold Coast Hinterland’s ‘Scenic Rim’ of South-East Queensland. Marian Valley is recognized as a sacred place and the visitor gains an impression of it being what is sometimes called a ‘thin place.’ Wandering through several acres of well-maintained gardens, one is struck by the diversity of nations to which shrines are dedicated.
I chose to visit on the 13th of the month, as I knew that each month on that date, they hold a procession from the Black Madonna Chapel down to the Grotto of Our Lady of Fatima. It’s a long walk into the Valley and they have a few of those electric carts, of the type used at airports and golf courses, for those who need assistance. Various nationalities were represented among the attendees and parts of the rosary and chanting were conducted in Maltese and Filipino (Tagalog). A couple of families who were evidently from Vietnam stopped a while at the La Vang shrine.
The phenomenon of ‘apparitions’ features repeatedly at these chapels. While the most famous historical cases are those of Fatima and Lourdes, both the reported appearances of Mary and the incidences of Black Madonnas occur worldwide. Many of these come from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia – notably the Philippines and Japan. Events claimed as miracles often involve Mary in conjunction with the Sun, and I wrote about this in my blog last October, titled When the Sun Spins in the Sky.
The Marian Valley Shrine is under the care of the monks of the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit (the Pauline Fathers), who reside in a monastery on the grounds. The Monastic Order to which they belong was founded in 1215 in Hungary by Blessed Eusebius, under the patronage of St. Paul the Hermit – aka Paul of Thebes – who had lived a solitary life in a cave in the desert of Egypt in the third century.
For the present-day Fathers and Brothers, two obvious influences are highly revered: Pope John Paul II, and Mary. These in turn connect them to the icon of the Black Madonna – for which the Pauline Monks were first given guardianship by the governor of Ruthenia in the 14th century. It was brought to Jasna Gora (Hill of Light) in Częstochowa, where they founded a fortress monastery that held out against many raiders over the years, to ultimately became the beacon of a Catholic Poland. This was the spiritual home of John Paul II who, as Pope, visited Czestochowa six times.
The term Black Madonna refers to statues or paintings in Western Christendom of Mary and the Infant Jesus, where both figures are depicted as black. This type of icon is in the Byzantine Style and called a Hodegetria, meaning one who shows the way, as the Virgin points with her right hand away from herself and towards the Christ Child. According to legend, the original is said to have been painted by St Luke the Evangelist on the very table that the Holy Family used in Nazareth – and which was actually handcrafted by Jesus. Further, while he was painting the portrait, his subject – Mary – recounted the events in the life of Jesus that would eventually be used in his Gospel. In 326 AD St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, found the painting in Jerusalem and gifted it to her son, who then built a Shrine and hung it in Constantinople.
Here is how the Order describes it. “The Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa:
It was painted on a wood panel measuring 1222 x 822 x 35mm. Mary’s face dominates the painting and observers find themselves immersed in her eyes. Regardless of the angle they look at Mary, she looks back at them. The face of the Child is also turned towards the pilgrim, but his eyes are looking elsewhere. The two faces have a serious and thoughtful expression adding to the emotional tone of the painting. There are two parallel slashes and a third horizontal cut mark our Lady’s right cheek. On Mary’s neck there are six scratches, two more visible than others. Jesus, dressed in a scarlet tunic and supported by his Mother’s left arm, has his right hand raised in a magisterial gesture, of sovereignty and benediction. His right hand holds the Bible. The right hand of the Virgin rests on her breast, as if she were indicating the Child (Hodigitria type icon). The Virgin’s blue robe and mantle are decorated with lilies, symbol of royalty. A six-pointed star is featured on Mary’s brow. Important features are the auras around Virgin and Child since their brightness contrasts with the dark facial tones. The background is dark green.”
A few apparitions of Mary in particular are mentioned in the most recent printed news issued by the Pauline Fathers. Japan: Akita-shi, where a nun received messages – as well as the stigmata – and a wooden statue of Mary was observed to have wept more than a hundred times; a new chapel was opened to honour this in September last year, with Japanese devotees in attendance. East Timor: In January 2020 a chapel was dedicated to Our Lady of Aitara in commemoration of an appearance by Mary to several women near the Banyan tree on Aitara Hill in the late 19th century. PNG: Also in January this year, a chapel shrine was opened to mark the 25th anniversary of the beatification of the catechist Blessed Peter To Rot, who was executed by lethal injection during the Japanese invasion New Guinea on 07 July 1945 at Rakanui.
The sensation I experienced at the Marian Valley was calming and, at the same time, grounding; these impressions sprang in equal measure from the natural beauty of the environment and the profound dedication and sincerity I observed in the other sightseers, worshippers and devotees. Words such as faith and belief have lost some of their currency in this modern era, yet there must always be a place for those who follow their hearts; always room for Mystery and Miracles.
I am grateful to planetary-healer Paulina Howfield, who graciously allowed me to publish her account of how she unintentionally came across the Marian Valley, in my Australian Esoteric magazine a couple of years ago. (I have been meaning to visit it ever since that time). I will finish by quoting two comments from Paulina: “I like to think that it [the Black Madonna] was gifted to help bring the energy of Mary into the local environment and assist in raising our awareness of the Divine Feminine. But what do I know?”; and, “The atmosphere was serene and peaceful and the intermittent birdsong coming from the trees suggested it was a place filled with harmonious interactions with all of God’s creatures in the natural world.”