Ta Pinu Shrine, Bacchus Marsh
a place of Wind and Meditation.
A multicultural pilgrimage place.
- Catherine Schieve / Christmas day, 2017
We've been driving the Western freeway from Melbourne to the Victorian highlands on almost a daily basis for some years. After sunset, snaking up the busy multi-lane road full of roaring trucks and evening commuters, we would frequently see an illuminated cross on a small grassy mound near the town of Bacchus Marsh. Sometimes the cross would be lit, and sometimes (to our disappointment) it would be quiet; dark for the night. We imagined that it would be a fairly large cross, given the scale of the volcanic hill that it appears on. We also wondered who installed it out there in the thinly settled grasslands. One day my husband Warren decided to go on a detour and find the cross; he reported back "hey, it's a Maltese shrine, we must visit!" So, on Christmas day (almost 6 months ago as of this writing) we took an exit from the freeway on our way home and went to see the Our Lady Ta' Pinu Shrine. What was initially a "go look-see" turned out, for me, to be an unexpectedly profound experience.
It had to do with the wind. The shrine is an array of modest buildings - or sheds, even - gathered on top of a barren hill, that is (in the summer) brown with dried grass, with an exposed slope that catches strong, whistling winds moving through the sweep of the landscape from lowland to highland. There is a larger sanctuary building that was closed on this visit, so we hiked up to the smaller Chapel of Mercy shrine that sits right on top of the hill. When I stepped inside I joined what appeared to be a multigenerational family group, people who looked to be of South Asian descent, all in deep prayer and meditation. It's a small space, just a simple rectangular building containing a few rows of chairs, facing from the glass-door entryway toward the back which essentially frames a centrally placed large blue orb that glows with reflected light. Over the orb is inscribed in large gold letters: JESUS KING OF THE UNIVERSE. The orb —or more accurately, a disc, suggesting almost a torus shape— is striking and appears to be suspended in space. It has the appearance of an eye, complete with an "iris" around the open "pupil," or central point. I was so taken with the sculptural orb and its blue glow, that I later googled "Malta, blue orb, Holy Spirit" - following my imagination, trying to find out it's significance. There is a complex symmetrical cross embossed in gold with equal-length arms. On the walls are paintings and bas-relief plaster sculptures; Mary crowned by angels; the birth of Jesus; biblical scenes in white and gold; loving, tender pastoral shepherd imagery roughly sculptured - all created in a contemporary, Europeanised, slightly sentimental design aesthetic. The faces protrude from the bas-relief to converse with you. It's all very clean and welcoming. And silent.
Except there is no silence; the space is filled with the presence of the wind. Soon the family (who had set a deep tone of prayer) stood up and moved on; I was left with the reflected light from the outdoors, the orb, the sculptures, and the wind. I shot a couple of minutes of video, to capture this meditative moment. The movement of the trees and grasses outside the shrine bring the feeling of the wind indoors. The sound of the wind permeates the shrine, too, giving the whole space movement and life. I imagine in the kinds of storms we get in the highlands, the wind must absolutely pummel this small, exposed worship space. I also imagine people coming to pray and think, sporadically, in all kinds of weathers, from pounding rains to cold fogs, bushfire smoke and fierce heat waves. Because of all the reflective surfaces, and the glass, I found that everywhere I look in this chapel, I see not only the sacred imagery, but also the movement of trees outdoors, enveloping and permeating everything. I also see myself, reflected as a part of the whole.
Below is a small piece of video I captured on Christmas 2017 in the Chapel of Mercy at Ta' Pinu Shrine. There are also photos, showing its location on the hill, and the other artistically created shrines, sculptures, and crosses scattered about the site. It is all very sensitively created and positioned to speak with the Australian landscape. Urban life in the form of the Western freeway is clearly present, yet it seems not to intrude. The whole Ta Pinu complex is designed as a pilgrimage walk. A walk down the hill through the extended site shows the shrine that I visited, the Chapel of Mercy, to be the uppermost of a whole series of tiny, exquisite chapels, each created by different multicultural Roman Catholic communities resident in Australia. These jewel-like chapels were mostly closed on the day I visited, and so I huddled on the doorstep outside the Slovenian chapel, fending off swarms of large Australian ants, telling myself to wear boots next time. It would be a delight to visit all the multicultural chapels one day when Ta Pinu is fully open for pilgrimage. Find out more about Ta Pinu Shrine of Australia, All Nations Marian Centre on its website: http://www.tapinu-australia.org/
The slideshow below explores Ta' Pinu Shrine and its landscape; click photos to enlarge...
All photos by Catherine Schieve / visit Christmas 2017
With thanks to the founders and communities of Ta' Pinu Maltese Shrine in Australia