Garden shrines turn backyards into hallowed ground, places to recharge
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, 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 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 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 brand or blend of spirituality.
Spaces for shrines dedicated to prayer and meditation should not 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 recycled futon. Pay attention to your ground treatment if you do yoga, as you will need 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 most importantly — are plants and flowers. These give your shrine life, and change as the days pass with one blooming and then the next.
Where shrines are seasonal, let yours be re-created each year in a fresh way. Include all your favorite colors, or perhaps a composition of hues, for visual excitement. 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.
In difficult times, the garden has always offered respite because it never changes. The circle of the seasons and cycles of nature are a manifestation of a higher power unaffected by our human conflicts. It is why human beings have brought their spirituality into nature, and nature into their spirituality by creating shrines in gardens. When nature and spirit are no longer separated in part of your yard, that is all it takes to make hallowed ground.
Shrines made out of gathered things and meaningful objects are very personal.
Bury ashes of cremated pets beneath meaningful and often ancient spiritual figures.
Niches in architecture are traditional places for garden shrines integrated into the existing material palette.
A simple gathering of riverstones from travels evokes memories as we perpetually rearrange them.
Shrines can be very simply created to suit the user and the space.