At Home: Hallowed ground — Building a backyard shrine

Spaces are testament to beliefs, memorials to loved ones

Backyard shrines can be very personal, especially when made out of meaningful objects. (Maureen Gilmer/Tribune News Service)

When does a garden become hallowed ground? When we have created a space for spirituality or remembrance there.

 

Traditionally called shrines, these amazing spiritual nooks in nature remind us that peace can be found in this chaotic world. You’ll find shrines in the ruins of every ancient civilization, proving desire for expression is intrinsic to human nature.

Shrines are a testament to our beliefs, loves, memories and values. That’s why they were so common in Catholic family home gardens. Many were first constructed as memorials for fallen soldiers from many wars. Others were dedicated to beloved parents and lost children.

Most featured Mary, the mother of Jesus, often perched in an upturned bathtub grotto, but St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and nature, is even more common.

Today, the many spiritual pathways are coming together in the garden, so it’s natural to rekindle this form of artistic expression to lend meaning to our favorite spaces.

There are two ways to create these elements, depending on your personal preference. Images and figural statuary can reflect Mary, Buddha and other religious icons. Another option: a photo of a loved one in a weatherproof case or glazed on a ceramic tile.

Where no images are used, then the shrine becomes an altar for expressing ourselves with offerings, more esoteric symbols and objects of meaning. This can reflect a reverence for Earth with a beautiful natural space, petroglyphs, mandalas, minerals and plants along with other natural elements.

It is the space you deem the center of your landscape’s spiritual universe, be it a nook in the side yard or the focal point of your view-shed.

To create such a space this summer is a great way to refocus the mind from current events to the inner spirit that truly matters. If you practice yoga or other spiritually based disciplines, this is a great way to create an appropriate outdoor space. This is why the space you choose is directly related to the way you practice your own brand or blend of spirituality.

Spaces for shrines dedicated to prayer and meditation shouldn’t be close to sources of neighbor noise. They should be designed with respect to the weather during seasons of use, so you’ll always be comfortable there. Where privacy is needed, the space needs room for a screen hedge or partition.

Within the space, you’ll need a comfortable place to relax and let your mind wander its spiritual corridors. A comfortable outdoor chair with a high back takes the least amount of space. For larger areas, a chaise lounge or a budget recycled futon. Pay attention to your ground treatment if you do yoga for a clean, smooth surface for the mat.

Once created, these spaces tend to evolve as you do. Items gathered there may change from time to time as your path grows and diversifies. Virtually all spiritual spaces are beautiful, so the final item — and the most important — are plants and flowers. These give your shrine life and change as the days pass. By fall, make sure you have bright leaves there before it all goes to bed before winter.

Make it a delightful place to look at and one pleasing to spend time in so your shrine becomes a place of genesis, rekindling the fading fires.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, Calif. 92256.

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