“Tabernacle of the Most High”
NGOME, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA (1955-1971)
Sr. Reinolda May was born on October 21, 1901, at Pfahlheim, a small village in the Diocese of Rottenburg in the south-western part of Germany. On March 1, 1922, she entered the convent of the Missionary Benedictines Sisters at Tutzing. Her religious profession took place on February 10, 1925. A few months later, she received the mission cross and left for South Africa on June 21, 1925. There she pronounced her final vows on February 12, 1928. She had not had any secondary education, was already in her mid-thirties, had only worked in the sewing room and her knowledge of English was rather scant. But she worked hard and achieved very good results. She was a very self-disciplined and level-headed person, who did not panic in moments of crisis, but always remained calm and composed. People who knew her well frequently remarked that she had “both feet firmly on the ground.” Sr. Reinolda was at the same time a very humble person who never put the spotlight on her own achievements.
Sr. Reinolda experienced the first unusual appearance on December 8, 1954, at the end of the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I saw two figures at the table where everything had already been prepared for Mass. At the end of the table was a woman, dressed in white with a long white veil. In her right hand was something covered. It could have been a shield. Opposite her was a monk, dressed in black with raised hands, as at the consecration, holding something like an offering. Then something ascended towards heaven like incense. The figures disappeared as the priest took off his vestments. I could not see any meaning behind it all, but I also could not forget what I had seen. Not long afterwards, during holy communion, it became clear to me, as though somebody had told me: it is a veiled monstrance.”
Sister Reinolda May had her first experience in the presence of the Blessed Virgin on August 22, 1955, during Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Shortly after Holy Communion, Sister Reinolda felt herself drawn “into another atmosphere” where everything was viewed in a “spiritual manner.” Blessed Mary stood very near to her “in a wonderful light more beautiful than the sun.” The Virgin was robed all in white with a flowing veil from head to toe. Upon her breast rested a big Host surrounded by “a brilliant corona radiating life.” She was like a “living Monstrance.” Mary stood upon a globe; her hands and feet were not visible. Sister Reinolda remarks,
“I felt like I was entering a cloud, drawn by Mary, away from the earth. I had my eyes closed, but I saw so much light that for several days I was very much dazzled by the beauty and light that I had seen.”
She recalls Blessed Mary telling her:
“Call me ‘Tabernacle of the Most High.’ You, too, are such a tabernacle — believe it. I wish to be called upon this title for the glory of My Son. I wish that more such tabernacles be prepared. I mean human hearts. I wish that the altars be surrounded by praying people more frequently. Don’t be afraid. Make it known.”
When Sister asked to whom she should tell, Our Lady replied to “not be afraid” and “tell your priest.”
In October of 1955, Sister Reinolda had two more similar encounters. Immediately following Mass, the Blessed Virgin appeared in the same place in the same manner and with the same requests – but with these additional words:
“Make these words known to everybody. Do not be afraid. You are God’s tool.”
Then Sister Reinolda May reports that “Christ came out of this big Host and was in union with me.”
Her fourth encounter occurred on March 15, 1956. After Holy Mass the Blessed Virgin stood before Sister Reinolda with a more serious look upon her face. Mary said,
“My child, I know about your anxiety. (She bent down and drew Sister near to her) You asked for a sign?”
Sister Reinolda replied,
“Not for me – for the others, that they may believe. They do not believe me.”
Our Lady answered,
“I wish that a Shrine be erected for Me in the place where seven springs come together. There I will let my Graces flow in abundance. Many people shall turn to God.”
When Sister Reinolda asked where that special place was, Mary silently made a movement with her hand and pointed majestically upwards in a certain direction. Sister felt great happiness and reassurance afterwards. Blessed Mary remarked as she left,
“Do not be afraid. Make it known. It is My work. I shall see you again.”
The fifth encounter occurred on June 5, 1956. On the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Sister Reinolda had another vision. Mary came out of the Monstrance and approached as “a living Monstrance.” No message was given, but her method of appearance was profound, simple, and memorable.
The sixth encounter happened on March 15, 1957. The Virgin relayed this message:
“I come to strengthen you. I will make use of your nothingness. Be totally humble. (Mary paused and drew Sister closer) I want to save the world through the Host, My Fruit. I am completely One with the Host as I was One with Jesus under the Cross … Fearful things are in store for you unless you convert. … Yes, if the religious do not convert, and if the world does not convert.”
Again, Sister Reinolda May asked for some kind of sign so that others could believe also. The Blessed Virgin replied,
“You be all Love and readiness. All people who hear and believe these, My Words, are going to receive a sign from Me. Make all these Words known.”
Sister’s seventh encounter occurred on May 24, 1957. The Virgin appeared to her in a consoling and comforting manner. Mary told her quite clearly,
“Do not lose heart!”
In December of that same year of 1957, while visiting Ngome, Sister Reinolda May received a strong urge or “internal confirmation” that she had found the special location where seven springs meet. Now she was certain where Blessed Mary desired her Shrine to be erected.
Sister’s eighth encounter took place on April 17, 1958. Mary commanded her:
“Go to your place. Hurry up, the hour is advanced. I must keep back the streams of Grace with force because you do not make any effort to help Me. I am asking for help from you, My chosen ones.”
A bewildered Sister Reinolda responded immediately,
“What are we supposed to do?”
Our Lady replied,
“Be hosts. Prepare hosts for Me. Hosts who put themselves completely at My disposal. Only a flaming sea of hosts can drive back the hate of the godless world and retrain the angry Hand of the Father. Do not get tired. I find consolation in revealing Myself to you. I shall never abandon you.”
Sister Reinolda May inquired, “Where is the place of the springs?” Mary replied,
“On your property, on the mountain.”
With a movement of Her hand in the very same direction again, Blessed Mary indicated where that location would be.
“Do not be afraid. Make haste to make it known.”
On the Benedictine’s farm, the classroom of the school was used as the Chapel. A picture of “Mary, Tabernacle of the Most High” was painted, and it hung in the classroom until a chapel had been erected. On Pentecost Sunday, 1966, a ceremony was held to open and bless the Chapel. After the eighth encounter, twelve years passed before Our Lady brought another message.
The ninth encounter happened on March 23, 1970. Sister Reinolda describes the “horrible appearance of the devil” for two nights in a row. On the second night, she was awakened from her sleep. A bright light was all around her. Sister saw “Mary. Tabernacle of the Most High” standing beside her now. Blessed Mary took Sister Reinolda May into Her arms and consoled her. The Virgin said to her,
“I know about your anxiety. I stand by you. I shall not abandon you.” Before she disappeared, she said, “Look to the other side.”
There, standing on the other side of the room, was St. Michael in armor with a lance in his hands. On his right stood a cherubim robed in white with his arms folded. After about two minutes, they disappeared and so did the brilliant light. This was a great consolation for Sister Reinolda May.
The tenth and final visit occurred on May 2, 1971, while visiting Ngome. Before departing, Sister Reinolda made a last visit to the Chapel with a small group of women. A catechumen had complained that she was in trouble because she wanted to believe. One of her neighbors had called her names; they were quarreling. Sister prayed aloud with the women and asked Blessed Mary to help this woman and convert the man who had been a troublemaker.
“Suddenly I noticed that the picture (of Mary) was very much alive. She stepped forward and Her Face was immensely beautiful. In my excitement I shouted, ‘Look at Mary.’ I am convinced that the women saw Mary, too! I personally was so moved that I walked away silently. The same troublesome man asked the priest for pardon, and since then there has been peace.”
A chapel was built, and as it happened the site was also a place held sacred by the local Zulu population. It was consecrated at Pentecost 1966. The picture of “Our Lady the Tabernacle of the Most High” was placed in the chapel. Pilgrimage to the site began in March 1966, but soon afterward they were stopped by Bishop Bilgeri. From the first vision on, Sr. Reinolda shared her experiences with the local priests, who showed reluctance and referred her to the bishop, to whom she wrote a number of times in the next decade. He did not want the visions to be publicized, and while he consented to the painting and the small chapel, he refused to have a bigger church built; he maintained this attitude until his death, in 1973. Popular veneration at the shrine continued unabated; people traveled from far and wide to pray at the chapel and collect water from the springs. A 1976 commission headed by two Benedictine priests decided that the use of Ngome as a site of pilgrimage would bring great benefits, and that pilgrimage and veneration (though not the use of the spring water) should be allowed. Then-Bishop Bisaye, however, would not allow organized pilgrimages.
When Sr. Reinolda died in 1981, interest again increased. In 1984 a new church was built at the site; it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary without any specific or additional titles. In 1988, the Ngome Shrine committee was formed from priests of the diocese. By that time, Bishop Bisaye was wavering, saying he could and would not suppress the veneration. In 1989, the committee published a booklet, and postcards featuring the shrine were being printed.
Finally, in 1992, Bishop Bisaye blessed an open-air altar, part of a bigger chapel that replaced the little shrine, and allowed for the Marian Shrine to be designated a place of prayer, so that organized pilgrimage was now actively promoted. There are reports of miraculous and spontaneous healing at the shrine, and comparisons with Lourdes are drawn. The water from the spring is still collected, and visitors dip their feet in the water during prayer. The shrine is one of the most popular Christian pilgrimage sites in Africa. Sister Reinolda May’s apparitions were the first in a series of Marian visions in Africa.