The History of Kevelaer
Official Pilgrimage Shrine of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted in South Africa
KEVELAER IN GERMANY
At Christmastime in 1641, a tradesman named Hendrick Busman, on his daily journey from Weeze to Geldern, heard a mysterious call on three separate occasions while praying at a crucifix that stood at a crossroads near Kevelaer, “Here you should build a chapel for me.” These requests caused him great anguish because he was a man of small means and circumstances. Nevertheless he started to put away some little savings for the building of the sanctuary.
His testimony to these events was recorded when an ecclesiastical examination was convened at the Synod of Venlo in 1647, which gave unusually rapid approval to the Kevelaer pilgrimage.
Then one night, a month before Pentecost, his wife, Mechel, had a vision in which she saw a great shining light with the image of a holy house, and a picture similar to those she had seen in the hands of two soldiers.
They had brought two paper pictures of Our Lady of Luxembourg and tried to sell them to Mechel. She did not buy them because they were too expensive.
These soldiers were engaged in the Thirty Years War between France and Germany and had visited the shrine of Our Lady of Luxembourg to pray for the safety of their captain who had been captured. Before leaving, they had purchased the small prints of the picture, known as “Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted”.
On hearing this, Hendrick sent his wife to those soldiers to look for the pictures. They had given them to their captain who was in custody in Kempen at the time, and when he was released, Mechel asked him for one of the pictures.
In May 1642, the priest of Kevelaer placed the picture in the little shrine that was built by Hendrick Busman according to the vision his wife had seen.On the same day a large crowd of people gathered and some miracles happened which are recorded.
KEVELAER IN SOUTH AFRICA
In 1932, the then missionary at Kevelaer, Fr. Vitalis Fux of the Congregation of the Mariannhill Missionaries was allowed by his Bishop, Mgr. Adalbero Fleischer, to go to Switzerland to raise funds in order to build a larger church at his mission station. The ever growing number of Christians necessitated this. When Fr. Fux thought he had fulfilled his task, his superiors asked him to stay on and help build up his Congregation in that country.
During a break from this task he made a pilgrimage to Kevelaer in Germany in order to place before “Our Lady, Consoler of the Afflicted” all his worries, and especially his people and the station of Kevelaer in Natal. There he saw for the first time the miraculous picture of Our Lady and he also had a chance to preach to the pilgrims about Kevelaer in the mission lands. He got to know the history of this shrine and also that the second picture was still in the possession of the descendants of the soldier.
Because of the wonderful and miraculous cures wrought at the shrine, this other picture was much treasured and was handed down through the family for nearly 300 years. The last owner, an elderly lady in her seventies, was approached by Fr. Fux in August 1933 and asked to donate the picture for a shrine that he wished to erect at Kevelaer in Natal. She refused, however, as after the First World War their family business had been brought to ruin and this picture was her only treasured possession.
After a visit to Our Lady’s shrine in Lourdes in France, Fr. Vitalis Fux received a considerable sum of money from a lady to whom he had shown kindness during this trip. Her intention was to support him in erecting a shrine in honour of Our Lady in South Africa.
Thereupon he once more visited the elderly lady and showed her and her husband a series of coloured slides of the missions in Natal. Their hearts were touched and the lady brought out the treasured picture. With a last kiss she gave it to Fr. Fux to take back to South Africa. The family’s name was Struckenbaur, living at Suchtelen near Kevelaer in Germany.
In October 1933 the happy Fr. Vitalis on returning to his Mission house in Brig, Switzerland, paid a visit to the famous visionary Therese Neumann in Konnersreuth, Germany. She was completely unable to see, as two streams of blood were coursing down her face from her eyes. However, as soon as the picture was held in front of her she placed her finger on the spot where 1640 was printed and then slowly moved to the face of Our Lady, saying: “This is the Mother of Our Redeemer, Consoler of the Affiicted.” With this the priest felt a certainty, without doubt, as to the authenticity of the picture.
Before Father started his return journey to South Africa, he was again approached by another kind lady who wished to fund an ornate frame plated with gold and silver and studded with precious stones in memory of her husband who had been killed in the First World War. For at least two years artists and craftsmen worked on this beautiful frame at the firm of Kosters and Seegers in Kevelaer. After hundreds of hours of work it was completed – an exact replica of the original at Kevelaer in Germany, and ready to come to South Africa. Another benefactor, Franz Hof, paid for the expenses of the wooden altar and the sepulchre under the altar. This was made by the sculptor Anton Mussner in Ortisei, Southern Tyrolia.
In the meantime work was going on to build the new church at Kevelaer. The successor of Fr. Vitalis Fux, Fr. Felix Seeger, was working with his own hands and the help of some African builders on this structure while Fr. Fux was still in Europe. But the Lord demanded a great sacrifice. The zealous missionary, Fr Seeger, responded to a call to visit a sick man. He came back home drenched to the skin. He contracted pneumonia and died as a result of this in the year 1938.
But the return of Fr. Fux was hindered by the outbreak of the Second World War. Only in 1947, after an almost 14 year break in his missionary work, could he go back to South Africa. With the precious picture in his luggage, his homeward journey was very eventful. He survived several serious accidents, but Our Lady was looking after her image. One of the accidents was an air crash over the jungles of the Congo basin, when flying on the final stage home to Natal. The engines failed and the plane had to make a forced landing. Providentially a clearing appeared in the sea of green which stretched as far as the eye could see. The pilot was able to land successfully with no injury to any of the passengers or crew. After camping near the wreck for several days they were rescued; and so a final chapter was written in the travels of the picture to its new home.
Back in Mariannhill, the precious picture was solemnly transferred to the new church at Kevelaer and installed on the wooden carved altar.
Since 1947 pilgrims from all walks of life and every racial group of South Africa began to make their way to this shrine of Our Lady and place their petitions before her. The number of pilgrims increased year after year – so much so that the Bishop of Mariannhill, Rt. Rev. Alphonse Streit, thought of declaring Kevelaer an official place of pilgrimage.
The many plaques adorning the walls in the chapel of the shrine have been placed there by grateful people and families – a visible testimony to the graces received.
The actual picture of “Our Lady, Consoler of the Afflicted,” which came to us from Kevelaer looks inconspicuous and insignificant. It’s size is 75mm by 110mm, dated 1640, and probably made in Antwerp. Yet it has been the object of countless pilgrimages.
In the foreground the Madonna is in a wide, open cloak, with the Baby Jesus, and a crown and globe on her left arm; a sceptre in her right hand, and a crown on her head. In background is the town of Luxembourg on the left, and on the right is the Chapel of Luxembourg which is outside the walls of the town. Above the picture is the inscription: “Consolatrix Afflictorum ora pro nobis – Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us.” The following words appear on the prints: “True copy of the picture of the Mother of Jesus Comforter of the Afflicted – as it is well known through the many miracles and venerated by many in the neighbourhood of the city of Luxembourg.”
However, a further statue of Our Lady as Sorrowful Mother and Consoler of the Afflicted is situated beneath the altar. It is this image which also inspires many pilgrims to pray and to offer their gifts.
The church also houses an image of Jesus tied to the pillar during his scourging. This too is an object of much devotion and veneration. It was carved for Kevelaer by the Swiss sculptor, A. Payer.
Outside the church a beautiful fountain can be seen, above which is enthroned the figure of Our Lady of Kevelaer as seen on the actual picture of the shrine. People love to take home some of the water which pours into the basin of the fountain from the mouths of four figurines. The whole fountain is the work of the Munich artist, Fischer.
Kevelaer is now known far beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of Mariannhill and Kwazulu Natal. Pilgrims come from all over. They love to come together as a great family of God, loved by Him and taking refuge under the mantle of “Our Lady, the Consoler of the Afflicted”.
Our Lady of Kevelaer, Pray for us!