1. Our Lady of Public Transport
In theory it was the train station, but the train was out of service due to a landslip and messy derailing on the tracks a couple of days earlier. So instead I took the replacement bus, stopping off to explore the seaside suburbs of Mana and Plimmerton. I eventually arrived in Paraparaumu without any plans, but from the train/bus platform I spied her in the distance – the Mary Statue, Our Lady of Lourdes. I had a destination.
2. Our Lady of the Sleeping Bag
The first and last time I visited the Paraparaumu Mary statue was in 1985, on a family holiday. We’d gone to Paraparaumu due to the overall theme of family holidays being places my mum lived in or visited when she was young, including Stratford. I’m sure this accounts for 90% of why I am the way I am.
3. Our Lady of the Selective Memory
I have three specific memories of the Mary. I remember looking up at it and being in awe of how huge it was. I remember asking Dad what “diameter” was, as mentioned on an information sign. I remember also asking Dad what the statement “I am the immaculate conception” meant. He said it meant that Mary was perfect. I didn’t understand why this was such an important statement to make.
4. Our Lady of the Sense of Direction
I wasn’t sure how exactly to get to the Mary, and Google Maps didn’t have her listed. So I just started walking towards her, eventually finding the block she lived in, the street (Tongariro – another tall white landmark), and soon enough a black plinth with a boldly handpainted “STATUE” and an arrow pointing the way up a narrow alley.
5. Our Lady of the Suburban Explorer
It seemed like an ordinary enough alley, which made me wonder if I was on the track. Maybe I was going to see some other sort of statue, like one of those globetrotting garden gnomes. Then suddenly an outcrop of short fat concrete crosses appeared. The pilgrim’s path had begun.
6. Our Lady of the Modern Calligraphy
Hiding around a corner was the old information sign I remembered from the ’80s. It was hand-lettered in a very ’50s style, but had also had some ’00s-style tagging all over it, which had probably necessitated its removal. Under the adolescent scribble, the sign informed that the concrete crosses along the path represent the 14 Stations of the Cross, and that “they carry full indulgence and may be said on the upward climb by thinking for a few moments on each scene of the Passion of Our Divine Lord the Son of GOD.”
7. Our Lady of the Social Engineering
As I made my way up the steep, uneven path, I realised the genius of marking out the 14 Station of the Cross. If you’re constantly pausing and reflecting on the passion of the Christ as you trudge up the hill, it’s forcing you to take little breaks along the way and it’s pretty much removing any excuse to complain about the path. Oh, you found it a bit tricky having to walk around the muddy bit in your Converses? Yeah, well, Jesus had to walk up a hill wearing a crown of thorns and carrying a heavy-arse cross on his back, so shut up and count your blessings.
8. Our Lady of the Wear and Tear
It looked like the crosses had each previously displayed a mosaic depicting each station of the cross. A couple still had remnants of the scenes – chipped, busted mosaics – but the rest were bare, painted in grey anti-graffiti paint. I’m not about to blame vandals for the state of the crosses – they’ve been up for over 50 years, on a damp hillside. It’s not surprising they’re falling apart.
9. Our Lady of the Hotter Son
The Mary was erected in 1958 to comemorate the centenniary of the Miracle of Lourdes (apparently not the time Madonna got pregnant to her hot trainer, but some mystic carry-on in France). This was 27 years after Christ the Redeemer was unveiled looking over Rio de Janiero. I like to think that the sleepy seaside town of Parap’ra’m’ quite fancied themselves as New Zealand’s answer to Rio. If the Brazilians could have a giant Jesus, then New Zealand can have a giant Mary.
10. Our Lady of the Best Laid Plans
Except the Mary statue was only ever meant to be up there for a few months in the centennial year, a quickie construction in timber and plaster. But Our Lady of Lourdes proved so popular that it was decided to keep her up for good. Besides, it would be difficult to dismantle a giant holy statue, to take a crowbar to Mary’s kind, benevolent face.
11. Our Lady of the Short Arse
Finally I reach the top and Mary’s benevolent face is still smiling kindly. The first thing I realise is she’s much smaller than I had remembered. She’s only 14 metres tall – shorter than Christ the Redeember at 39.6 metres, but still taller than the average New Zealand woman at 1.65m. The ground is soggy from the previous day’s heavy rain. It feels a little uneasy.
12. Our Lady of the Easter Egg
Mary still claims to be the immaculate conception. Somehow I’d remembered that writing as being engraved in stone, but it turned out to just be painted on the statue. The declaration isn’t visible from the street – it’s like a special treat, a bonus for all who know the difference between the immaculate conception and virgin birth.
13. Our Lady of the Props Department
Another thing that had escaped my memory – that the statue is held steady by guy wires. She was never given a secure foundation because she was never thought to need one. It gives the statue the effect of being a film prop, yet its lightness and impermanence doesn’t matter. She’s still holy.
14. Our Lady of the Highway
I tweeted a photo of Mary and had a surprising number of replies from people who have massive affection for the old girl. She’s a shrine for members of the Kapiti Catholic community, but she’s also a symbol for locals, commuters, travellers. She smiles down over Parap’ra’m’, over the mall, the train, the highway.