Yankalilla is a resort community in the Fleurieu Peninsula, some 25km from Adelaide's suburbs. Christ Church, Yankalilla, Diocese of The Murray, is nothing unusual, though the building is situated close to an ancient corroboree ground.
In Advent 1994, some parishioners noticed an image on the white plaster wall, some four metres above floor level, in the sanctuary area to the right of the east windows. They describe it as like a Madonna and Child.
Bishop Graham Walden is close to Anglican Marian societies, but is reticent about the appearance. "It is quite clear that there is something there," he told the Church paper - Church Scene, but he describes it as an "impressionistic" image of Mary and Jesus. He explained that the young woman in the image is looking beyond the child at her breast, in the direction of the aumbry, where the communion elements for distribution to the sick are kept. This would be consistent with an image of Mary. He reports that checks have been made on plumbing and damp courses, and there seems to be no obvious explanation for the image.
Massacre of Aboriginals?
Bishop Walden says that for himself, when he stands at the back of Christ Church, there appears another image, below the mother and child, which is "much clearer" to him. "I see the face of an Aboriginal man, with an expression of immeasurable sadness, holding what seems to be a dead child," he said.
About the same time as the mother and child image was first noticed, he explained, a Delamere woman had a dream, in which the image was linked with an Aboriginal elder, but she did not understand its significance. Bishop Walden believes that a massacre took place in the past - Wild Dog Creek is one location named - with the apparition linked to it. Older families in the district deny any massacre, but he thinks the distinct valleys mean that killings could have occurred without others knowing.
'Our Lady of Yankalilla'
It is the mother and child image, however, which has attracted more attention. "Over succeeding months, the image seemed to grow stronger and become more pronounced," writes the Rector, the Revd Andrew Nutter, in June's The Murray News. He describes the image as "an eruption of plaster," and "a convincing image of a Madonna and Child. She is kneeling in a crouched position, and holds the Child in her arms."
In 1995, the Parish Council - "decided to 'honour' the apparition by placing a tastefully designed metal frame around the Madonna and Child," reports the Rector. "We are calling this Madonna, 'Our Lady of Yankalilla', and the name seems to fit".
Since The Murray News article interest has blossomed. A growing number of visitors have come, some looking for relief from acute diseases, others sceptical.
Response: seek reconciliation
Locals appear to be taking a laid-back approach, says Bishop Walden - "a very Anglican attitude, with no-one going overboard," he told Church Scene. "Nice of her to be here" would sum up their response.
However, it is the grief of the Aboriginal elder which the bishop sees as speaking most directly to Australians. "The message I hope we take from this is the need for reconciliation between all Australians," he said. "That is what Christ comes to bring."