my most recent painting of the Virgin Mary’s Annunciation
story and painting by Ali Hale Tilley
THE BACKSTORY FOR THE COMMISSION
The person racing across the tarmac was a minute late for the expected departure of the Intercity bus from Wellington Airport to Whanganui. “You’re very lucky the driver waited for you,” I said, as he dropped into the adjacent seat. He told me he had just returned from a Catholic gathering in Brisbane and had nearly missed the departing plane too but for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Our conversation quickly fell upon deeply religious themes. We shared narratives of the Virgin Mary, ecstatic dreaming, and wild dance.
We shared narratives of the Virgin Mary, ecstatic dreaming, and wild dance.
This young man, an Austrian by the name of Andreas, said he was a “Fellow” working at a Benedictine monastery beyond Woodville. When he mentioned the monastery’s name was ‘Southern Star’, I reached into my bag and pulled out a medallion of Mary holding a star. I had bought the brass pendant from a coin collector at the Alicante Town Square market a few years before. He examined it closely.
I told him that although I was not a Christian, I had done many pilgrimages to Virgin Mary shrines and basilicas around Spain. I also mentioned I loved painting the Virgin Mary, and that I had offered my services to Father Peter, the Catholic priest in Marton, to repaint the faded Mary statue in the church’s outdoor grotto. At the time, Father Peter had someone else in mind for the restoration.
After a short time Andreas said, “What is your bank account number?” Not being in the habit of giving my bank number to relative strangers, I declined his request. He then asked if he could commission me to do a painting of the Virgin Mary for Father Peter. Finally, I agreed and he transferred money into my account somewhere before Foxton.
When the bus pulled into Palmerston North and Andreas got off, I smelt the distinct scent of church incense lingering in the air. That is how I knew the transaction was legitimate, authenticated by some sort of divine sanction.
A few weeks went by and I popped into the Catholic Church in Marton to check out the colours of the stained glass, and to get a feel for the interior. Father Peter was there in his white robes. Not being Catholic, I kicked off my shoes and approached the Virgin Mary statue prostrating as I would at an Indian temple.
A few days later Father Peter came by the Yoga Centre and we chatted in the garden about deep and meaningful topics including the commission. I kept as much as I could a surprise. However, our talk echoed what Andreas said that the work I was doing at the Yoga Centre was a type of ministry.
I started the painting the picture using influences from the medallion, and of a sketch I had done of a painting in the Santa Maria Basilica, Alicante.
A few weeks later, on another Intercity bus trip out of Wellington, we stopped for an hour at Wellington Central. I popped over to the Anglican Cathedral to get some inspiration from the stained glass and sit in contemplation at the small chapel of Mary. Soon an American woman entered and we engaged in conversation about Mary’s Annunciation. She joined me a close reading of Luke 1: 35 (King James version)
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God
I talked about the Holy Ghost’s part in the inception and the notion of Mary being overshadowed by the “Highest”. I wanted to find a way to express that exact moment when Mary first conceived “that holy thing.” She told me she was an art history major and that in Renaissance art of Mary’s Annunciation the Holy Ghost was portrayed as a flying dove. At that time, I had already painted a dove sitting in Mary’s left hand. This conversation confirmed the significance of the symbol I had chosen.
I wanted to share this story and a copy of the painting of Mary’s Annunciation commissioned for Father Peter of Marton. I hope this painting inspires you to make time over Christmas for deeper contemplation of life’s mysteries.
NEW ZEALAND YOGA CENTRE
20 Stewart Street, Marton 4710
Phone: 06 327 4108 // Facebook: NZ Yoga Centre
SOUTHERN STAR ABBEY KOPUA TAKAPAU NEW ZEALAND
Southern Star Abbey / Kopua Road.
Hawke’s Bay 4287.