A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Ko Hāta Maria, te Matua Wahine o te Atua – Holy Mary, Mother of God

To celebrate the rededication of Aotearoa New Zealand to Mary, Mother of God, Assumed into Heaven, the Bishops of New Zealand commissioned a new artwork.

They wanted a depiction of Mary that connects her to our country. The piece challenges us to see her as a woman of incredible strength and the place she holds in our hearts and our community today. 

The artist, Damien Walker, worked with Anthony Kemp, the Māori advisor, to develop something that highlighted the journey of the Catholic faith to the Māori, via the first French missionaries. The image presents the fusion between a traditional Māori outlook, built around marae (place of belonging), whanau (family), whakapapa (ancestry) and kaitiaki (carers/guardians), and the Catholic faith, centred on the whanau of God, with its own marae, whakapapa and kaitiaki. The duo wanted to capture and share the theme of unity. The artwork itself aims to encourage a shared desire for us all to live in harmony together. 

The Overarching Marae

For tangata whenua (people of the land), the marae is our home – it is where we belong. It is where our whakapapa is, our past, present and future.

It is an expression of our whole being and a fulfilment of our journey, bringing us back to our whanau as a whole. By framing the image within a marae, with the Holy Spirit at the top, and the evangelists on the side, we are reminded of the deep truth that our ultimate spiritual home is the house of God, expressing the depths of our being and our radical connection to all in the whanau of God across history. The four evangelists are the enduring witnesses of the Good News of Jesus, and here they are seen as stylised kaitiaki, the traditional carvings of guardians and protectors, for they guard the truths of faith and point us toward the heart of the mysteries of God.

The Lion: one of the four kaitiaki

The four creatures that symbolise the four gospels are taken from the book of Revelation. They are four spotlights on the mystery of Christ: the Lion, shows Christ’s victory of love on the cross; the Ox evokes his sacrifice; the face reveals the merciful gaze of Christ incarnate; and the soaring eagle portrays Christ’s contemplation of the Father. The Evangelists are depicted here in a ghostly light. They are ever ancient and yet shine anew in every age, thanks to the mysterious ‘holy breath’ of the Holy Spirit. 

The Four Whare Rūnanga 

At the base of the painting there are depictions of four locations, represented by four houses of meeting or whare rūnanga.

The first is the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican showing the unity of the universal Church, where Christ is the cornerstone and Peter the rock on which the Church is built. This spot also marks the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, who have pride of place in the whakapapa of the Church at the beginning of her mission. The second is the basilica of Our Lady of Fourvière in Lyon, from where Bishop Pompallier, Saint Peter Chanel and the early Marist missionaries dedicated their mission to Oceania. Mother Aubert, whose mother was healed at this shrine, would join Pompallier in a later journey and dedicate her life to the same mission. The third location is Te Tii, Waitangi. Here Bishop Pompallier, during the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, would insist upon the rights of Māori to remain Māori in their religious freedom, and not have to adopt a religion in order to be in partnership with the Queen. We also see the chapel of Motuti, where Bishop Pompallier set up the first mission and where his remains now rest. 

Mary and Jesus - the central figures

Mary and Jesus occupy the foreground. Mary is honoured with a great korowai, in the magnificent colour of the pukeko, reflecting also the great oceans that were traversed by those who settled in New Zealand. Her cloak is rimmed with the poutama, the ascending pathway to heavenly knowledge, for she is the seat of wisdom, leading us to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The golden band at the top of her korowai represents the flax that was traditionally used as the base of these cloaks. It reflects the fact that she is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, wrapped in charity as one ‘clothed in the sun.’ For this same reason, her dress is a royal red. It is decorated by the fleur-de-lis, a French royal symbol, which is one of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary, and also reminiscent of the Holy Trinity who dwells in her.

Korowai and fleur-de-lys

This symbol has been stylised to evoke the koru (fern frond), which commonly represents New Zealand. The pattern on Mary’s belt mixes the traditional weaving pattern that represents family, with twelve smaller triangles inside the central diamond, to show the twelve apostles of the Lamb. As Queen of the Apostles, she holds a twelve-pronged fern in her hand. Hanging from her belt is the mere (a short, broad-bladed weapon), next to the rosary, which is the spiritual weapon she offers her children in the battle against evil. She also wears a tiki (stylized sculpture of a person), a symbol of her divine motherhood, for she conceived the Word within her womb and her heart, and brought Him to birth. Jesus is wearing the very rare kahu kiwi, or kiwi-feathered cloak, to show his unique mana. He is the eternal Word, which is symbolised by the lectionary He carries, whose cover is based on Pompallier’s own prayerbook.

Manaakitanga - hospitality/showing love

Mary stands in front of the central marae, calling us on. Her karanga (a formal chanted call of invitation) and her hand raised in wiriwiri (trembling of the hands representing the world around), beckon us to approach Christ her Son. Her penetrating gaze is unashamedly fixed on the viewer. Each person entering this marae by contemplating this painting is her child and invited to personally encounter her divine Son. Christ’s hand is raised in blessing, with His two fingers indicating His two natures: divine and human, and the other three showing the Holy Trinity. His gesture is one of haere mai, welcoming us into the heart of His divine life, in which we find our true home.

Te Hīkoi Wairua mo Te Ara a Maria

Ko Hāta Maria, te Matua Wahine o te Atua (Holy Mary, Mother of God) was  unveiled in Wellington on Sunday 15 August 2021. The artwork has toured New Zealand as part of Te Hīkoi Wairua mo Te Ara a Maria. At the conclusion of the tour the artwork is to be permanently housed in a shrine created at St Mary of the Angels, Boulcott Street, Wellington. The shrine will be accessible to the public. It will make an excellent destination for anyone contemplating a pilgrimage in New Zealand.

Thanks to Catholic Discovery NZ. www.tearaamaria.nz. Photos: Joe Serci

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