Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bathtub Madonnas

About a year ago someone on the listserve asked what a "bathtub madonna" was. I was surprised there was someone out there who didn't know about the tradition of burying a bathtub upside down in the yard and turning it into a Marian shrine. I'm not sure where I first saw one, maybe in Southern New Jersey with relatives, but I certainly saw a lot of them in Chicago neighborhoods. In answering the person's question, I went to the Wikipedia site, where I was shocked to read this:

"Bathtub Marys in actual bathtubs are frequently found in the Upper Mississippi River valley, including western Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and are an important part of the visual folk culture of Roman Catholics in that region. A noteworthy concentration of bathtub madonnas occurs in Stearns County, Minnesota, an area heavily settled by German Catholics in the 19th century."

Right here in Stearns County is a large concentraiton of bathtub Madonnas? I had to keep my eyes open for that. I haven't done much driving around since then, but I had already taken note of some unusual Marian shrines in my neighborhood. My favorite was a mass-produced Mary in an overturned boat in front of one of the houses on the golf course. Fishing is big in the "Upper Mississippi River valley" as well. Of course, down the Shore in New Jersey I'd seen the popular "Mary in a conch shell" shrine, also mass-produced and in front of many shore homes. One of the best things about Marian apparitions is that they can happen anywhere, in any context, and the bathtub Madonnas had also adapted as protectors of all sorts of homes and people.
The two I see most often are really great Stearns County examples. Stearns County is known for its granite quarries, and this first example is in front of a house on a little frontage road for Hwy 75 in Waite Park, the main artery into St. Cloud. It has a great hewn granite cross on top and is "sided" with granite strips. This second one is at the end of my block, so I see it every day when I drive home. It has lost it's original Mary, and now houses an angel. It too is plastered with pieces of granite and concrete. These bathtubs aren't going anywhere. I also saw one that was empty, though maybe Mary will be put back now that the weather is nice, plastered with fieldstone, which is also the material our church is built from. I'd like to take more pictures of them, so if anyone has any good locations for Stearns County bathtub Madonnas, please let me know.

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