“Cottage industries come and go in Bell – but the art has always stayed,” says Megg Cullen, one of the most extraordinary and self-effacing people you will meet.
This is not about me,” Megg Cullen assures when we meet. “It’s about the Our Lady Help of Christians Community Group.” That is, the group of dedicated Catholics who worship regularly at the 100-year old Bell Catholic Church and have between them created a miracle in this small town.
Neil McGuire is the president of the group. Megg is “just a parishioner”, one who happens to be a gifted artist, a devout Christian and a fearless worker, and who happens also to live next door to the Catholic Church. Megg has lived in Bell for about 20 years. Amongst the many passions that occupy her time (including her art), she has taught religious education for more years than she cares to admit. Her knowledge of the Old and New Testaments is encyclopaedic; the story as it rolls off her tongue is a captivating rendition of the history of civilisation.
For some years now, Megg, with the support and assistance of the other parishioners of Bell, has combined her biblical knowledge with her artistic skill to play a major role in the creation of two extraordinary things – a small-town church decorated inside with elaborate, colourful murals telling the stories of the Bible, and a church garden illustrating the 14 Stations of the Cross. The centrepiece of this miracle, the church itself, stands out bright yellow against a backdrop of brilliant blue Darling Downs sky.
Inside, Megg’s huge murals (like Michelangelo, she stood on a ladder to complete them) depict the six covenants between God and Man, and all the major Christian events. By the time you have absorbed this pictorial bible stories whose repercussions still resonate loudly in the Middle East today the final covenant, the Last Supper, gives rise to the final work of art – the garden below the church.
The parishioners began the Biblical Garden four years ago. It was a community effort underpinned by several grants (the Australian Open Garden Scheme, the RADF, Powerlink Queensland’s Environmental Program and the Western Downs Regional Council). Here too, biblical reality shines through. Mosaics and sculptures by Megg Cullen, Ron Lloyd, Wayne McGuire and Michael Walsh adorn the nooks that honour the Stations of the Cross. There are olive trees (the garden of Gethsemane), a carob tree (the prodigal son), wormwood (sin), hyssop, a date palm, grapes, bay, fig, pomegranate, apple, almond and mulberry trees, even the cedars of Lebanon.
‘Lillies of the Field more beautiful than Solomon and all his glory’ and indeed here, they are. All combine in a lovely symbiosis to tell a story as old as time; the one at the root of the Christian faith.
The church and garden are open all year round. However, an Open Garden Day this coming Mothers’ Day is an invitation to all to make the pilgrimage to Bell, to wonder at the devotion that produced this remarkable aggregate work of art.
Words by Jane Grieve | Images by Janine Waters