Our Lady of Yankalilla




1857:  The Christ Church was established at Yankalilla, South Australia.

1994:  The image of the Virgin Mary appeared through plaster at the front of the church.

1995:  The image was framed.

1996:  The shrine was blessed by the Bishop of The Murray [South Australia], Bishop Graham Walden; a pump was installed to access holy water.

1996:  The first shrine Mass held.

1997:  Changes to the image were noted; Christ Church was listed as a heritage building.

2000:  A vision of Mary was seen at the Church.

2000:  The Retreat Centre opened.

2001:  The first Assumptiontide Pilgrimage was held.

2002:  A rose was named after the shrine called Our Lady of Yankalilla Rose.

2003:  An icon was painted of the pieta.

2005:  Christ Church became a pastoral district; the position of parish priest became redundant.

c2010:  Healing masses ceased and instead were held on the fourth Sunday of the month following regular services.


Yankalilla is a small country town south of Adelaide [South Australia]. The foundation stone for Christ Church, an Anglican Church at Yankalilla, was laid on November 8, 1856. In 1857, the church opened and became a heritage listed building in 1997. The church is significant as it reflects religious traditions brought to South Australia by early colonists (South Australian Heritage Places Database 2015).

In August 1994, an image of the Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus, seemed to appear through plasterwork on a wall at the front of the church to the right of the altar. A parishioner first noticed the image and eventually commented on it to the rector at that time, Father Andrew Notere (originally Nutter), a native of Canada whose father was an Anglican archbishop (Lloyd 1996a:3). There was a waiting period to see if the image remained, and when it did, it was discussed at a church council. The Australian media took up an article that had been prepared for the local diocesan paper by Father Notere (Morgan 2007:32).

It has been suggested that the image is a result of either salt damp or bad plastering; “although an apparition need not be judged authentic in order to deepen the faith and devotion of individuals” (Jelly 1993:50). Changes to the image have been reported since it first appeared. For example, some viewers could discern a rose appearing at the bottom, which others linked to local indigenous events or the possibility that an “image of a third person, possibly Mary Magdalene or Mary MacKillop was emerging” (Pengelley 1996:3). Saint Mary MacKillop [1842-1909], the first Australian saint [cannonised 2010], was a member of the Josephite order that established a school at Yankalilla.


Contemporary Anglicanism in Australia has its roots in the Church of England, commencing with early settlers from England in the late eighteenth century.  The Anglican Church in Australia follows the Old and New Testaments, the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer, which has since been supplemented by An Australian Prayer Book and later A Prayer Book for Australia (Frame 2007: 128-29). The Church organisation is made up of Bishops, Priests and Deacons (Anglican Church of Australia n.d.). There are twenty-three Anglican dioceses in Australia that have developed in a state-based fashion under a national umbrella. Unlike some other parts of Australia, the South Australian colony was based on the ideal of religious equality, without state financial contribution, and each religion establishing itself (Hilliard 1986b:3).  This was later changed, and in 1847 the Adelaide Diocese was formed (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod:4). The Church of England was established with the view being that “if provision for religion was left to the will of the people, nothing at all would be done” (Hilliard 1986b:5). Indeed, South Australia has a history of settlement by non-conformists, in particular Methodism, and this may have contributed to Anglicanism in South Australia being more ritual-based to make it more distinctive (Hilliard 1994:11).

The Province of South Australia has three dioceses and The Diocese of The Murray, which has oversight of Yankalilla, has particularly had a history of Anglo-Catholicism since the mid-nineteenth century (Hilliard 1986a:38; Frame 2007:12, 57; Anglican Diocese of Adelaide n.d.).  Clergy, after the establishment of the South Australian colony, were sourced from England (Frame 2007:207) and operated under the auspices of the Bishop of London then later the Bishop of Calcutta (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod n.d.:4). In 1962, the Church of England in Australia was established, thus creating a self-governing body separate from the legal ties with England (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod n.d:5), and in 1981 it became The Anglican Church of Australia (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod n.d:6).

Thus the early years of Christ Church Yankalilla were heavily influenced through the English clergy by Anglo-Catholicism and the Oxford Movement. This was seen in the type of services, the frequency of communion, and the church interiors (Morgan 2007:13). In addition, there was a greater use of ritual, the wearing of vestments, and stress on the importance of fasting prior to communion (Hilliard:44-46). Anglicanism in Australia has been labelled with “High, Broad or Low Church affiliations, or Anglo-Catholic, Liberal or Evangelical parties” (Frame 2007:213). South Australian country areas in particular were conservative (Hilliard 1994:12), and in this respect, Christ Church Yankalilla could be best described as being of a high church orientation (Morgan 2015).
The 1844 census found that country areas in South Australia, such as Yankalilla, had a large number of Anglicans (Hilliard 1986b:11, 25).  However, more currently Anglicanism in Australia has suffered a decrease in attendances with the population perhaps less interested in church settings (Frame 2007:132).  It could be argued then that the type of services that incorporated a mixture of worship styles, used when pilgrimage services were started at Yankalilla following the emergence of the image, might bring both Anglicans and non-Anglicans to the church and encourage them to engage with Anglicanism and the parish.  While in the early twentieth century there have been instances of promotion of the Virgin Mary, this activity was considered to be un-Anglican (Hilliard 1994:14). Frame notes that criticism of pluralism or diversity in Australian Anglicanism would be solved by “a renewed embrace of the Reformed Catholicism” (Frame 2007:229).

Christian pilgrimage shrines can be viewed in terms of local history and current social trends as well as previous religious culture. When the images first appeared links were suggested to an Aboriginal corroboree (dance ceremony) site where Aboriginal massacres occurred, although there does not appear to be any evidence to confirm this. In respect of Saint Mary MacKillop, this may be attributed to a reconciliation of “the colonial past and colonial present” (McPhillips 2006:149). McPhillip’s view is that this link could be attributed to the fervour that surrounded the saint commencing with her beatification, while the indigenous link is of a pilgrimage centre to pre-Christian sacredness and connected to Aboriginal reconciliation (McPhillips 2006:149).

This site has become known as The Shrine of Our Lady of Yankalilla. This pilgrimage centre developed spontaneously and has continued to the present day. Many common Marian pilgrimage motifs are present such as miraculous events, healing and messages. This traditional, high Anglican church has accepted the image in its Church despite the general “Protestant view [which] tends to limit the communion of saints to the living and does not look favourably on the possibility of supernatural intervention by deceased saints” (Turner and Turner 1982:145). At the Shrine of Our Lady of Yankalilla visitors have the chance to observe, and to have experiences, that they do not have in their home parishes. Interestingly, the initial rituals at the shrine were drawn from Charismatic, Catholic, Anglican and Buddhist practices (Jones 1998). These rather New Age practices could attract visitors who may not necessarily be drawn to an Anglican church (Cusack 2003:119). McPhillips considers such a mix “in effect releases Mary into new realms of enchantment” (McPhillips 2006:149). It did however cause conflict at a parish level (Jones 1998).

Pilgrim masses to Anoint the Sick were held for a number of years at Yankalilla on Sundays at 2:00 PM, and it was estimated that “1000 pilgrims have gone to Yankalilla” ( Lloyd 1996b:4). In approximately 2010, these dedicated services were discontinued, and the practice was incorporated as part of the normal church service every fourth Sunday. This occurred as a result of Christ Church ceasing to be a parish and becoming a pastoral district and because there was not a priest who lived in accommodations adjacent to the Church as had occurred previously (Gardiner 2015).

Holy water became available at the Shrine for purchase after a pump was installed during 1996. Streams were reported to run “under the apparition wall, and a number of streams converge under the altar to form three crosses” (Chryssides 1997: 16). There have been reports of the curative powers of the holy water; however, the water now available is for anointing purposes only and is labelled “Not for human consumption.”

A number of other common Marian motifs have been present at Yankalilla, such as moving statues, photographs of Jesus, photographs of mysterious figures only seen on a photograph but not by church visitors, and figures in the Church surrounds. In addition, messages were reportedly received from Mary; some of those messages referencing Diana, Princess of Wales, indicative of a combination of ideas both traditional and New Age ( McPhillips, 2015). A sculpture has been placed in the rose garden near the church celebrating the “site of Our Lady’s Apparition, Easter Monday, April 24, 2000 at 6.40 pm.” More recently, no messages or images have been reported by current members of the local congregation.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was set up within the Church grounds, and in recent years this statue has been tended by a number of visitors originating from India, most notably from Kerala and Goa, while others are from the South Australian Indian community (Gardiner 2015). The visitors’ book indicates pilgrims are local, interstate as well as from Europe, South America and Asia. These visits may just be curiosity; however, “a tourist is half a pilgrim, if a pilgrim is half a tourist” (Turner 1978;20)

Imagery within the Church initially emphasized the Virgin Mary. The reorganization at the front of the church was a stumbling block for parishioners (Jones 1998). Banners were placed near the altar, a white banner draped over the cross above the altar forming an “M,” and the priest wore vestments that reflected the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje. The altar area has now been simplified and is plainer. There remains a holder for votive candles and a book in which pilgrims can write prayers.

At the inauguration of the site as a shrine, a large section of an interior wall of the church was set aside for pilgrims to place notes asking for the Virgin Mary’s assistance. This area has since been reduced to a small board. Pilgrims may also write messages in a book placed adjacent to the message board. These notes are revealing of Mary’s curative powers, and it has been reported that “around 100 people have been healed” (Connolly 1997: 29). The messages are also related to help and assistance with everyday issues, such as examinations and requests for attaining permanent residency.

Initially, many items were available to pilgrims such as postcards, medals, holy water and a pilgrim newsletter. These materials have currently been reduced to holy candles and water.


On December 15, 1996, the Bishop of The Murray, Bishop Graham Walden, blessed the shrine “with holy water from an Anglican international shrine” (Smart 1996:6 Innes 1996:4). This blessing would appear to indicate that at the time of the emergence of the image there was official Anglican support and acceptance. It is important for miraculous events to fall within the boundaries of the traditional religion with which it is associated. T he Virgin Mary can be found in Anglican shrines, such as at Walsingham [United Kingdom], a site visited by many pilgrims each year, and Christ Church Yankalilla is high Anglican, which accepts veneration of the Virgin Mary (Kahl 1998:257). To link these shrines, an icon dedicated to Walsingham hangs on the Church wall. Such an icon, a pieta (a statue depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus) image, may assist visitors in seeing the apparent image on the wall (Morgan 2007:31).

During his incumbency, Father Notere embraced the shrine enthusiastically, despite local opposition (Mullen 1999; Jones 1998). In 2005, the position of priest at Yankalilla ended and Father Notere left the parish (Allison 2005:3). Following his departure, media attention has waned considerably; however, local parishioners have maintained the shrine and ensure that the church is open daily for those who wish to see the image or to meditate and pray.

A religious community initially to be known as the Oasis of Peace but later named the Servants of the Humility of Jesus and Marywas formed but since disbanded. The aims of the community were to work with pilgrims and foster a healing spirit at the shrine (Kahl 1998:50). A Retreat Centre next to the church was established in 2000, but the space is now utilized for general parish purposes (Morgan 2007:33). A Maori group of singers was reportedly considering moving to the area, drawn by the image. The group joined a local choir to make a CD dedicated to the Virgin Mary appearing at Yankalilla (“Choirs Combine” 2002:14).


Christ Church Yankalilla lost the services of Father Notere in 2005, and, having become a pastoral district (Morgan 2007:1), it has been served by part-time and locum priests who are challenged by the travel distances required (Gardiner 2015). There have been other challenges within the Diocese relating to the position of Bishop of the Diocese of The Murray. One of those issues was a three-year vacancy until 2013 when a Bishop was appointed (Strathearn2013:6). In addition, like many other mainstream churches, Yankalilla has experienced a decline in attendance.

The image has assisted the parish financially through visitors, donations and purchases of candles and holy water (Morgan 2007:33). However, a major challenge for the local church members has been the time spent in dealing with the shrine. The emergence of the image meant the parish council had to attend to a number of issues, such as access, visitors, security and attention of the press (Morgan 2007:32). Many local parishioners considered this time was being taken from the parish generally and the local community, and, as a result, there was a division within the parish.The local parishioners are not intensely involved in the shrine, and those who do not agree with the shrine attend other parishes (Jones 1998).

The shrine has experienced fluctuating numbers at the pilgrim services. At present, pilgrims attend of their own accord at pilgrim services held in conjunction with regular services or at the annual pilgrim service held annually in September. This service held in September is popular with pilgrims and attracts many members of the Adelaide Indian Catholic community (Gardiner 2015). Despite Father Notere’s 2005 prediction that the church would be closed (Notere 2005:5), it is open every day for reflection and prayer and attended by enthusiastic local volunteers.


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Janet Kahl

Post Date:
4 October 2015



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