Trailing the Trappists

2017-11-07 06:00
Joan Martin – Ana’s Child, mixed media. PHOTO: Supplied

Joan Martin – Ana’s Child, mixed media. PHOTO: Supplied

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A COLLECTIVE of 16 artists including those from the Upper Highway Area, working in various media, will be hosting an exhibition, Trailing the Trappists, at St Anne’s Hall, in Mariannhill from November 5 to 13.

The exhibition, which will include photographs, paintings and multimedia artworks, will open at the St Anne’s Hall at 11.30am on Sunday, November 5. Archbishop Emeritus Khumalo, CMM will be speaking at the opening.

Respected historian, conservation architect Robert Brusse will give a talk at St Anne’s Hall at 11.00 a.m. on Saturday November 11, ahead of an exhibition walkabout presented by artist Joan Martin.

Brusse has worked on a number of significant projects relating to the history of the Trappists in KZN including Centocow (Creighton), Maria Ratchitz, Maria Liden (Matatiele district), Emaus (Umzimkulu), Kevelaer (Donnybrooke) and Reichenau (Underberg).

The exhibition is a paean to the extraordinary pioneering spirit, tenacity, resourcefulness and unflinching faith of the small group of 31 monks under the leadership of Father Franz Pfanner sent to establish a religious colony in south-eastern Natal in 1879.

In 1882, the Trappists established a cloister on a farm near Pinetown, eventually building a towering red-brick monastery that Father Pfanner named Mariannhill, after the Virgin Mary. In an amazing burst of energy, the Trappists not only built Mariannhill, but 21 outstations between 1882 and 1900.

Controversy, however, courted every early move that Father Pfanner made. In order to respond to the wishes of local chiefs who wanted the missionaries to “teach the book” to their people, he had to disobey the contemplative order’s strict rules of silence and also ignore its prohibition on teaching.

He also went against a ruling that the order was to have no contact with women, introducing a group of them as teachers at Mariannhill. Eventually they would become the Sisters of the Precious Blood. When the general council of the order discovered the nature of the missionary activities being undertaken in Natal, they removed Father Pfanner from office and effectively exiled him to one of the outstations – Emmaus – where he spent the last 15 years of his life before he died in 1909.

By then, however, his life’s work had been vindicated as the Trappists, having been expelled from their order, now became a new entity, the Missionary Congregation of Mariannhill, whose priests are still active today.

The group of artists was first made aware of the Trappists about five years ago. Since then they have enjoyed regular excursions to outstations such as Centocow, Lourdes and Emmaus, and been inspired in different ways by what they have experienced. Members of the group have also visited the archives at Mariannhill and based their artworks on the architectural drawings of Brother Nivard as well as a series of fascinating early photographs taken of the priests working with the community.

A few of the group are Catholics but most of the group have been spiritually stimulated in other ways - the wonderful architecture, inspiring personalities and the beautiful natural environment.

The group exhibition is the result of these trips.

It’s a little known fact that Mariannhill was visited by Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Twain and Peter Ustinov with one of the monastery’s famous students being Steve Biko.

The exhibition, which will include photographs, paintings and multimedia artworks.

Entry is free and all are welcome.

For more information, visit the Facebook page, Trailing the Trappists.

- Supplied.

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