Spiritual Long Beach: The Catholic Shrine to Mary Cared for by Buddhist Monks

Mary Shrine
When we first arrived in Long Beach two years ago, early one evening as Jan and I were driving along the coast on Ocean Boulevard, as we came to the intersection at Redondo, we noticed a large Mary shrine. I’ve mentioned it in this blog before, it is a ubiquitous part of that drive. And as we drove by Ocean and Redondo yesterday, I thought it really is wonderful, and a subject worth revisiting.

Yesterday, the shrine like that first time we saw it, was adorned with flowers and candles already lit and maybe half a dozen people there, most standing, a few kneeling, all offering prayers. It was all quite wonderful. I also noticed the ethnic mix of people there, a healthy combination of folk whose ancestors came from, it sure looked, every continent.

And at the time what was most confusing was that it seemed attached to a Buddhist monastery. It left me wondering what was what. Why did it seem Buddhists were taking care of a Catholic shrine?

It was hard to say if the building to which it was attached had originally been a mansion, like most of the buildings on that stretch of Ocean Boulevard, and which looks unobscured across the street and over the bluff to the harbor. A million dollar view. At least. Startlingly beautiful.

Mary Shrine 2Or, I wondered, whether it had been a religious institution originally. Later I did a little research. Turns out the building originally served a Carmelite convent, a cloistered community of nuns informed by the mystical tradition of St Theresa of Avila and St John of the Cross.

When the nuns decided to relocate to a less public area the property was purchased by the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a very traditional Chinese Buddhist monastery.

Apparently the nuns requested that the shrine be kept intact. And from the official notice at the monastery’s website, they immediately agreed, stating they saw Mary as the Western version of Guanyin. In Buddhism Guanyin is the manifestation or archetype of compassion. And interestingly many of her images looks surprisingly similar to those of Mary.

As good as their word, the monastery has kept the shrine in beautiful condition. And, today Christians and Buddhists both pay homage at the shrine. As I was digging around the web one commentator added in how as the image is Mary Star of the Sea, it includes a gigantic clamshell as a background, introducing a hint of another sacred feminine image, Aphrodite. It is enough to make a Jungian swoon…

While I’m not a Jungian (although some friends have called me a pseudo-jungian, I think they meant kindly), me, I love it. Love it! If you’re in the area you really should visit. And, if you’re a native and it has become part of the background, stop some time and try to look at it with fresh eyes. It is something wonderful.

And bring some flowers.