This Holy Place is situated to the south of Jerusalem, in Bethlehem not far from the Carmel Monastery, the Church of Nativity and the Mar Elias Monastery. This place was filmed by the team of 360HolyPlaces™ for you in Virtual Reality 360°.
Solomon’s Garden today is a sacred monument dedicated to the Mother of God. It is rightly a Shrine since it is the first church built here in honour of Mary, and, in this classic place, it is a biblical figure of the Virgin. It is even more a Sanctuary because of the special privileges it enjoys. I The Shrine of Our Lady of the Garden, built by the generosity of Catholics in the Republics of Argentina and Uruguay, is a project blessed and applauded by the wise Leo XIII, as well as a glory for her Institute and a homage due to Mary under the title of the Garden. She wanted it and required it, because the delightful paradise, called Hortus Conclusus of Palestine, is afigure of Mary as taught by the best interpreters, such as St Jerome and St Bernard. This figure was so well known that already in 1605 St Toribius of Lima included the invocation, Hortus conclusus, in his litanies of the Blessed Virgin. In that same period, in the Shrine of Chiavari, Solomon’s words, Hortus conclusus, were used to designate Mary of the Garden. Moreover, if the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel originated in the tradition that the copious little cloud, contemplated by Elijah on the top of Mount Carmel, was a symbol of the Virgin, is it strange that Mary, prefigured centuries ago by Solomon in Hortus conclusus, has on this very site a Shrine that recalls this biblical figure? Rather, it should surprise us that it was not built earlier. So, when I first visited Solomon’s Hortus conclusus, symbol of Mary, I was overwhelmed by the sudden thought of the Shrine to Mary of the Garden, for I was used to hearing the Institute’s antiphon, “Hortus conclusus, oh Maria, etc.” And then I exclaimed, “This is the classical setting, the appropriate and natural place, for Mary of the Garden.
This place proclaims her as her most beautiful Symbol.”2
The Daughters of Mary of the Garden have owned the new Shrine Hortus Conclusus since 1901, and since then the Institute of Our Lady of the Garden has considered it as its Shrine par excellence, as the true Titular Shrine. For if the Shrine of Chiavari has “Hortus Conclusus” engraved over its portals, it is by symbolic appropriation. The true Garden, the image and figure of Mary, is in Palestine, in Wadi Artas. I would now like to add something that will draw out the full meaning of Mary’s Shrine.
Hortus Conclusus is a place in Palestine. It is the most picturesque and pleasant place in Judea, and is so renowned for its exuberant beauty, like a sacred oasis, that the Bible points it out and sings its praises. It is also called Solomon’s Paradise, because its beauty delighted the great King, since he spent the early morning hours there, inhaling the air perfumed by plants and flowers which gave out aromas of paradise. He wanted to immortalize their singular beauty in that divine idyll of the Canticle of Canticles, which he composed in this place. It has inspired all mystics and has enchanted all generations. The “Enclosed Garden” was described by one of the most inspired pilgrims to the Holy Land, who is also one of the greatest mystical poets of our times: the priest Hyacinth Verdaguer. He says, “Returning from the Hebron Valley to Bethlehem, or, you might say, from the tomb of Abraham to the cradle of Jesus, we pass by Ras-el-Ain (Fons signatus) where the image hovers of Solomon, a worthy rung in the ladder of divine history … In the valley we see carved out of the living rock and surrounded by walls, the Ponds or Pools of Solomon. The highest blows into the second the waters that it has received from the Fons Signatus, and the second into the third. Their builder himself describes them in Ecclesiastes, “I made myself gardens and orchards, planting every kind of fruit tree in them. I had pools made for watering the plantations … ” (2 :5-7). The wood or park, which is the Hortus Conclusus, is found further down tucked between two parallel mountains, and it deserves the name that the Arabs call it, “Solomon’s Garden.” According to Josephus, “Solomon, mounted in his carriage and robed in white, used to come here from Jerusalem at the break of day, escorted by armed guards.”
Here he had IDS summer palace, winch Ecclesiastes (2:4) seems to mention, and here also he composed the mysterious Canticle of Canticles in an moment of divine inspiration that has never been equaJled, before or since by anyone on earth. It is the lack of the earth’s love poems, that lack wings to fly so long or so high. It is the inexhaustible source of the mystical poetry of all literature. All nuptial songs, all idylls, all the incomparable poetry of the East lives and sings in these verses, which seem to have been dictated to the Earthly Paradise or better still to the true Paradise, to celebrate the eternal betrothal of the soul to Jesus. The Garden’s perfumes sung by Solomon still flourish, even after three thousand years, and pervade all the convents and monasteries, all the temples and chapels, all the cells, all the oratories, where a soul in love with Jesus prays. St Gertrude and St Teresa anointed their pure souls and their writings in this Garden. The Canticles of gentle St. Bernard and those of the enlightened Raymond LulIe preserve its perfumes; and St John of the Cross, in his heavenly lyrics, has given us its flowers, the same that pilgrim priests carry pressed between the pages of their breviary.
Today, these orchards are gardens divided into small plots that are watered on either side by a rivulet from Solomon’s Pools and by the Art’s spring. The apple trees, the pomegranates and other fruit trees that fill up this narrow and delightful valley, display their beautiful flowers, and a pinkish whiteness covers the fields, as though to celebrate the approaching Easter, they desire to put on the garden’s ancient and long forgotten garment. The murmur of the waters, the rustle of the leaves, the concert of birds, where I only regret the absence of the nightingale, the gentle solitude, and the sum of divine images that fill it, make this place the most delightful corner of Palestine. And so, Mary of the Garden has her Shrine raised in the most delightful spot of the Holy Land.
But, if these classic memories give the Enclosed Garden an immortal celebrity, to the extent that it has been preserved among the Arabs, who still call it Boustan Souleyman, which means Solomon’s gardens, and call the closest village, Artas,3 which name possibly comes from Hortus, then for Christians there is the incomparable value and sacred merit of its being a figure of Mary, as the Heavenly Garden, as we have said. This delightful Garden is truly the image of the gracious and lovely Virgin. She is a Garden by her fecundity as Mother of the Redeemer; but enclosed by her immaculate virginity. Again, she is a garden because she has the fullness of all virtues, represented by the flowers and fruits of this garden of paradise. It is also the symbol of her Immaculate Conception since M~ry is the Enclosed Garden, because the serpent tempter could not enter at all as he did into the earthly Paradise, which was open; where, having seduced Eve, he introduced original sin, from which Mary was exempt.
The symbolic meaning of the Enclosed Garden is best explained by one of the great Italian mystics, “The Enclosed Garden directly represents the Virgin Mother; because the Lord wanted to tell her, ‘No corruption will enter you. I alone will be in you; because you are as a garden enclosed, my sister, my promised bride, and because you are as a sealed fountain (Cant. 4: 12). An enclosed garden is one where the serpent does not enter at all, as in the first garden; and you are a more beautiful garden than the ancient Eden … Every sweet-smelling plant, every rare and exquisite flower is found in this garden, that is, every virtue, every beautiful and sublime action.” This is also the language of St Jerome and St Bernard. And that is why, when I, almost beside myself, saw for the first time, that pleasant and lovely place, I seemed to see the image of Mary of the Garden floating over the lovely flowers of that Eden that called for the building of a Shrine in the place which was her biblical figure, since the Church calls her Hortus conclusus in the Office of the Immaculate Conception, adopting the interpretation of St Jerome, as also in the proper Office of Our Lady of the Garden. Moreover, who should be asked to establish such a sanctuary but a religious Institute, the only one in Christianity which bears the glory of her name, the Institute of Mary of the Garden? And who but the Sisters of Mary of the Garden were to be as the vestal virgins of this Shrine, to attract the blessings of Mary on their Institute, seeing herself honoured by her own Daughters in the very Eden which symbolizes her fruitful virginity, and such a divine Garden of heavenly virtues?
To venerate, honour and intone praises to Mary in the very Hortus Conclusus, produces in the soul an incomparable, sovereign emotion. Thus, when I visited that enchanting place in 1905, the beautiful words of the great mystic Verdaguer assailed my mind and heart, “If the eagle had lent me its mighty wings, if I had possessed the golden inspiration of the great poets, with such pearls I would have fashioned a Sultana’s necklace, and with them and with choice flowers I would have crowned her queen ‘s brow.” Because, truly Mary now reigns as Queen and Sultana of Solomon’s Gardens. And what will I say of the consolations and spiritual delights which I saw the privileged Sisters living there experiencing? They seemed to be living and residing in paradise, enjoying the maternal caresses of Mary of the Garden, perfumed by the fragrances of that delightful place. But all that this means is that there Mary of the Garden is most attractive; that there is her true Shrine and her paradise on earth. There the glory and honour of Mary of the Garden is symbolized. And I realized then that even when the religious, the Daughters of Mary of the Garden, would have no other work than to offer prayers and sing sacred hymns in honour of Mary of the Garden, as the vestals had the duty to guard the sacred fire, this alone would justify the building of a Shrine in that place,4 which repeats the eternal echo of the divine verses of Solomon, “a garden enclosed, Oh Mary, a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain; your shoots are paradise.” tanzas that one seems to hear repeated in the flowers and plants of this garden.
And I suppose that this Shrine will be very pleasing to Mary of the Garden, because it will constitute in this place a monumental apotheosis of one of her loveliest titles, of the most meaningful figure of her divine motherhood and of her Immaculate Conception. I believe that if Solomon could rise from his tomb and walk again in his gardens, he would tremble with utter rapture on seeing the building of a Shrine to the divine Spouse, whom he first sang about; and that the Eden would be reputed most honoured, where he used to walk, to see it dedicated to the glory of the Virgin whom he proclaimed fruitful and beautiful as that Enclosed Garden and a Sealed Fountain. Here, then, is the reason why from the first happy moment when I came to know Hortus Conclusus, I could not lay aside the idea and the intention of building a sacred monument to Mary of the Garden. This idea pursued me until I saw it realized. I was convinced that Mary had inspired in me a pious and, at the same time, a patriotic endeavour. “To the glory of Mary and to the honour of the Republics of River Plata, I should promote, she told me, the building of a monument to Mary of the Garden in the Holy Land, in the Hortus Conclusus, thereby giving honour to her virginal motherhood.” In fact, it seemed to me that this idea of the Shrine of Mary of the Garden developed as an honour and glory that the most holy Virgin herself claimed. Ought not Mary be venerated there in a temple built with her title, if that place designated her, for more than thirty centuries, with the beautiful figure of the Enclosed Garden, according to the teachings of the Doctors and interpreters of the Bible? Ought not her public cult take place in her own Garden? Thanks be to God that it is finally built and that her own Daughters form the guard of honour.
All the more, I cherished the idea of the Shrine to Mary of the Garden as a glory and a token of gratitude for the Argentinians and Uruguayans. A glory, given the attraction of Catholics throughout the world to the Holy Places, to build a religious monument in the Holy Land that would also give honour to the name of our country. In a Christian way, it would make the honour of both the contributing Republics, Argentina and Uruguay, resound with a glorious and lasting echo across the generations. At the same time, this monument signifies and is a token of gratitude, since it would be known that they had contributed to the building of that Shrine because of the benefits received from the Institute of the Daughters of Mary of the Garden. And all this is engraved there in marble for all the pilgrims of the Holy Land to read.6 I declare, then, that in this work only the love of Mary, the honour of my country and gratitude to the Institute of Mary of the Garden have inspired me.
I not only believe but I am convinced that in this enterprise I have been a providential instrument. In fact, one may ask, Given that Palestine is endowed with monuments erected in honour of Mary, why did the Hortus Conclusus, which is a figure of the Virgin, come through thirty centuries without a monument being raised there? Here is the explanation. No religious institute named after Our Lady of the Garden had existed in the Church until in the Institute founded by the Venerable Gianelli in Chiavari appeared in recent times. And at its appearance it consciously carries the symbolic title of the Canticle of Solomon, since it invokes by its motto Hortus Conclusus – Fons Signatus, Enclosed Garden, Sealed Fountain, which were not at Chiavari but in Palestine. Who does not see, then, in this Marian Institute the one predestined to build the Shrine of Palestine as its titular? So that is why it had not been built before. Now, something admirable and providential! The Shrine of Chiavari, the prelude of the one in Palestine, was converted into a Cathedral, while it appeared that it should be the titular property of the Institute of Our Lady of Artas. Why so? Without doubt, so as to signify that the true Shrine of the Institute had to be in the original Garden of Palestine, in the Hortus Conclusus of Solomon.
Someone may ask, why was the Shrine of Our Lady of the Garden not built in another place in Palestine rather than in the Hortus Conclusus of Solomon? I want to recall that during an audience with His Holiness Leo XlII, in which I gave him the reason for the projected Shrine, not only did he bless and applaud the idea,? but he also approved the choice of the place. In fact, I said this to him in that audience, “Holy Father, while I was travelling through Palestine, I came to the delightful garden of Solomon called Hortus Conclusus, mentioned in the Canticle of Canticles which, as Your Holiness well knows, is a figure of the Blessed Virgin. Seeing that no monument dedicated to Mary was there, I conceived the plan to build one there. But, since among all the Institutes consecrated to Mary, the only one which recalls by its name that figure of the Hortus Conclusus is that of the Religious of Our Lady of the Garden, I believed that place was destined for a Sanctuary to the glory of their titular Patroness .” At the same time I reminded the Pope that Saint Toribius, Archbishop of Lima, had been the first to introduce into the Litanies of Our Lady composed by him and approved by Paul V, and to recall this invocation: “Hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis” (“Enclosed Garden, pray for us”).
Leo XIII replied, “If Saint Toribius was the first to honour Mary in the Litanies with the symbolic invocation of Hortus conclusus, you will have the honour of being the first to provide for raising a Shrine in that same symbolic place of her virginal motherhood, in Hortus Conclusus, and the Virgin of the Garden will be found in no better place.” With that it seemed that the Pontiff declared that a Shrine to Our Lady of the Garden could not be erected in any other site in Palestine better than that very place which is her symbol and figure. This is the answer to the criticism that is made of me without reason, that I erected the Shrine of Our Lady of the Garden in that place in preference to any other in the Holy Land. Here is its place and no other place could be more suitable than this.
Moreover, when the Holy Father declared that Our Lady of the Garden was found in no better place, does it not perhaps mean that that should be her Shrine par excellence?8 Truly, nowhere else can we invoke Mary more appropriately with the symbolic title of the Garden. Chiavari was the happy cradle of the Institute of Mary of the Garden, but the Institute has been the providential instrument destined to spread the cult of Mary under the biblical title of Mary of the Garden. Its classic and proper centre is therefore Hortus Conclusus of Palestine, which Providence and Blessed Mary have reserved for them. For that reason she has placed in their hands the property and the ownership of the classic Shrine. Glory and honour to Our Lady of the Garden and to the Republics of Argentina and Uruguay!
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