A brush with faith - Madonna Magazine

A brush with faith

Emilie Ng 15 November 2019

One parishioner’s artistic dedication has resulted in a country Queensland church and garden becoming a tourist attraction.

Megg Cullen might be the only person who walks through the doors of the local Catholic church in Bell, Queensland, and doesn’t gawk at the mesmerising religious murals adorning the walls.

That’s because she painted them.

‘I go over and try to get in for a prayer session a couple of times a day, but I don’t always look at the paintings,’Megg laughs.

‘I do check that the spiders haven’t gotten on too many of them.’

Bold and colourful murals

Megg’s modesty and humility lie in stark contrast with her enormous, bold and colourful murals that offer worshippers and tourists alike a panoramic view of the history of Salvation.

It took Megg more than two years to paint the murals, which she did on a ladder.

One of the paintings, an interpretation of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, shows a Jewish priest lifting the Child Jesus to God as per the religious custom of presenting every first-born male for purification and redemption. Directly above this, a billowing cloud of smoke from the menorah and burning incense forecasts the future – God the Father will offer this child, his Son Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for the purification and redemption of the world.

Mary kneels at the foot of the scene, clutching a cross in one hand and resting the other on her heart, in humble acceptance to the will of God.

As you cast your eyes on the magnificent paintings, you can’t help but wonder if the great Michelangelo was whispering advice to Megg at each brushstroke.

‘I’m not quite up there with Michelangelo but what I do know is, when you travel overseas, not all artists were Michelangelos,’ Megg explains.

‘But the art serves the purpose and that gives you courage.’

Art and faith

Art has always been a part of Megg’s life, and the same is true of her Catholic faith.

She always drew ‘from the time I could hold a pencil’ and has spent a large portion of her life teaching religious education in schools.

But the two passions never met on a canvas or wall until roughly 15 years ago when Megg read a story on Fr Albert Yelds, a Marist priest ministering in Kiribati who wanted a picture painted in his church.

Megg immediately wrote to Fr Yelds and told him he had found his painter.

‘It was a chance to serve in a mission area,’ Megg said. ‘I just thought it was wonderful, as mostly the missions only want teachers and nurses. There’s no opportunity for lay people to go to those places.

‘I was there for a month the first time and then for a couple of weeks the next time. I had to paint fairly quickly to get it all done.’

Her gift to the Kiribati islands was a culturally appropriate depiction of the nativity, complete with local chieftains as the wise men and a Polynesian Mary.

‘And with the bay in the background – you get magnificent sunsets over there and sometimes the whole bay turns gold and the whole light flicks across the water,’ Megg recalls.

After that first mission trip, Megg saw another opportunity to use her God-given talent, and this time the canvas was right next door to her home.

Good neighbour

For around 25 years, Megg has been the good neighbour beside Our Lady Help of Christians Church, a bright yellow but unassuming timber building that’s stood in Bell for more than 100 years.

‘I had been to places in Canada called interpretive centres,’ she said.

‘I thought it would be great if a church was like an interpretive centre and that started me thinking about doing paintings in our own church.

‘Ours was always pretty boring and plain.’

She pitched the idea to the parishioners, who agreed to let Megg beautify the church.

Megg said the paintings are artistic representations of a series of talks by Catholic theologian Scott Hahn, which she owns on cassette tape.

Megg’s murals are Bell’s number one tourist attraction, pulling in hundreds of visitors each year, and many of them outside the Catholic Church. As well as the beautiful murals, she has planted the Bell Biblical Garden which features artworks of Bible scenes and includes all the trees that are named in the Bible.

Tourist attraction

‘I never anticipated it to be a tourist attraction but it sort of has developed into that way,’ she says.

Megg believes one of the reasons people are so drawn to the murals is they invite the viewer to learn more about God.

‘Basically that’s what the art in churches is all about, before they could read or write, the stories were on the walls, and anyone trying to teach religious education knows if you’ve got pictures it makes it a lot easier,’ she said. ‘If I could paint better I’d be very happy to (paint more),’ Megg said.

‘Some of the most beautiful art the world’s ever seen is what’s been done in the churches.’