The Virgin Mary Tree Stump

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 17, 2009 | Categories: Faith, Humor

Thousands of Irish people have flocked this week to a County Limerick church to pray at the stump of a recently cut willow tree that many observers say has the silhouette of the Virgin Mary.   virgin111-420x0

The phenomenon at St. Mary’s Church in Rathkeale, population 3,000, harkens back to decades when Catholic devotion and pilgrimages were part of life in rural Ireland.

“People have been crying out for something good to happen. And this is all good for the soul,” said Noel White, who has been supervising a church project to cut down trees in the parish cemetery dangerously overhanging the neighboring school playground.

When one willow was felled near the church entrance Monday, he said, a major branch cracked off and made “a funny shape.” One worker cut through the stump at a near vertical angle, revealing a wooden relief that inspired some to see the Virgin Mary.

“One of the lads said, ‘Look, our Blessed Lady in the tree,” said White. “One of the other lads looked over and actually knelt down and blessed himself, he got such a shock. It was the perfect shape of the figure of Our Lady holding the baby.” vision_rathkeale12_114166d

Anthony Redden was clearing trees when he spotted what his saw had produced from the willow. “There were only two limbs and it’s just the way the grain of the two limbs came out,” he said.

“You can depict what you want out of it. It was another man who noticed it and just said it was the image of Holy Mary. I see it as a grain of a tree.”

Nevertheless, word of mouth brought about 100 people to inspect and pray at the stump that first night. Numbers swelled to several hundred the next night. By Wednesday, more than a thousand came and went as a makeshift shrine of candles, rosaries and miniature statutes of Mary grew.

Fr. Willie Russell, the summer replacement for the regular pastor of St. Mary’s Church, had mixed feelings about the stump. “It’s just a tree. You don’t worship a tree,” Russell said.   The priest said he saw no harm in saying Hail Marys at the spot—so long as the faithful don’t actually find themselves praying to the stump itself. “I don’t believe in idolatry. That would be the danger,” he said.

The County Limerick diocese said it viewed the stump with “great skepticism.”

“While we do not wish in any way to detract from the devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition,” the diocese said in a statement.

White said he didn’t understand the church’s distinction between its love of statues and this natural discovery. “We pray in front of statues which are marble and chalk. What’s the difference if it’s timber?” he said.

Rathkeale shopkeeper Seamus Hogan is leading a petition drive to deter village authorities from uprooting and removing the stump, as they originally planned to do Wednesday. More than 2,000 people in the Rathkeale area have signed a petition to prevent the removal of the stump. “We won’t be removing the stump,” White said. “We’d remove it at our peril.”

“Nature has a funny way of showing things up and let it be a freak of nature or something else but whatever it is, surely it is a wonderful thing to see so many people coming out to pray, especially young people who have been saying the Rosary in the church for the past few nights,” he added.

The Virgin Mary stump news has prompted comments from wags around the globe.   Here are two from New Zealand:

Ian: “Looks like a ten pin bowling pin to me. Clearly I haven’t been spending enough time in church.”

Ness: “How nice to see the Irish returning to their pagan roots after that long Catholic experiment! About time.”