Some years ago, my Beloved gave me a silver coin with a simple cross on it, from a sunken Spanish galleon discovered off the coast of Key West Florida. The ship’s name was The Nuestra Senora De Atocha, commonly known as The Atocha. I was curious about this ship and began to search for information about it. Although the story of the sunken ship was fascinating, it was the legend behind the name of ship, The Atocha, that drew my imagination.
Legend goes that the devotion to Our Lady of Atocha and her Wonder Working Child began in Antioch. St. Luke the evangelist is said to have sculpted a statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus, which began the devotion. The devotion spread rapidly and by 1162 a beautiful medieval statue was in Toledo, Spain. The image of the Divine Child was detachable, and devout families would borrow the image when a woman was about to give birth.
Once, in Atocha, a suburb of Madrid, men were imprisoned because of their Christian faith. The prisoners were not fed by their jailers, so food was taken to them by their families. Until the caliph issued an order that no one over the age of 12 could feed the prisoners. Only those prisoners with young children were then allowed to have food brought to them. The women of the town prayed to Our Lady of Atocha to feed their imprisoned husbands, sons and brothers.
Soon a curious story began to be told of a young boy dressed like a pilgrim who was bringing bread in a small basket (that never seemed to run out), to feed the prisoners. He came only at night, always slipping past the sleeping guards, undetected. As to the child’s source: the women of the town noticed that the shoes on the Infant de Atocha would continually wear down no matter how often they replaced them. This legend stirred my heart.
Spaniards brought the legend and image of Santo Nino De Atocha with them to the New World. It is a devotion that has endured in Latin and South America even today. For years, I have seen images of him on the front of Mexican devotional candles and have been curious about where this image of the Child Jesus came from.
I have my own Mary and The Child statue, bas-relief really, in the rock garden next to our house. My Beloved gave it to me for my birthday many years ago. We had it in our backyard for many years, and one spring as a surprise, my brother and his friends moved it into the rock garden. I now face the statue everyday, from the window next to my side of the family room table, where we eat every day.
In fall, I always bring and red, purple and yellow mums for Mary and Jesus to enjoy. And sometimes, they end up with brilliant red maple leaves delivered by the wind, as boutonnieres. In winter, Mary often wears a crown of snow studded with ice diamonds and her Son a soft snow-white blanket. In spring, I like to think they both are delighted watching the fiddlehead ferns unfolding magically around them.
But it is in the summer that the rock garden enchants the Beloved and me, and I like to think Mary and her Son, too, are enchanted. I plant impatiens everywhere: in front of Mary and Jesus and all around them in the beds in the garden’s corners. Red, fuchsia, orange, yellow, pink, salmon and a just a sprinkle of white. The riotous, vibrantly contrasting color everywhere makes the garden come alive! I never tire of the beauty.
This year the most amazing thing happened. Tiny impatiens of pink, red and orange began to reseed themselves in the rocks leading up to the statue. Every morning, I would find new ones blooming in a mysterious path from the bridal veil shrub bordering the garden, up to the place where the Child is resting in Mary arms. I have planted impatiens for 40 years and never once did the flowers reseed themselves. A friend who is a gardener told me they can reseed, but usually they reseed white because the colored ones are hybrids. “Up until now,” she said.
Watching my miracle bloom each morning filled my heart with delight. And in my delight, I imagined Mary’s Child climbing down each night, secretly and mysteriously planting a path to His Mother and Himself, just as the Santa Nino de Atocha had strewn the bread for the prisoners. I began to wonder what message He had for me in His flower-strewn path. Impatiens, I learned, are also called Mary’s Ears. I wondered then, if the message was to listen as Mary did to so many daily “miracle messages” in my life, the surprises that are given to me without even asking. I began to wonder if Jesus was inviting me to stay on the path, to listen to all the messages He sends to me and to ponder their meaning. And to daily, one by one, step by step, flower by flower, follow His rocky path that somehow will lead me mysteriously to Him.