The History of the Area
In 1926 the Benedictines had opened a mission station at Nongoma in Zululand. In 1944, they bought a 338-hectare farm called Langewacht at Ngome which was intended as a source of income for the mission station at Nongoma with its school and hospital.
The Benedictines, who called their new property at Ngome simply the “Ngome Farm“. A small school was erected on the farm around 1946 to enable the children in the area to get a basic education. It became known as the Mayime School.
Sr. Reinolda May
Sr. Reinolda May was born on 21 October , 1901, at Pfahlheim, a small village in the Diocese of Rottenburg in the south-western part of Germany.
On 1 March, 1922, she entered the convent of the Missionary Benedictines Sisters at Tutzing. On 21 June 1925 she came to South Africa and pronounced her final vows on 12 February 1928. For the first ten years she worked as a seamstress at the Emoyeni Mission, at Mbongolwane and for a while at Inkamana, where she learnt Zulu.
In May 1938 she was awarded a diploma as midwife from Greys hospital in Pietermaritzburg. When the Benedictine Mission Hospital at Nongoma opened in June 1938, Sr. Reinolda was put in charge of the maternity section.
In June 1976, at the age of seventy-four, Sr. Reinolda retired from her position as matron of the maternity section. She moved to the St. Alban’s Convent, about one kilometre away from the hospital.
In June 1980, she was diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the colon. In August 1980, she was transferred to the infirmary of the convent at Inkamana. She died on 1 April , 1981
The Alleged Apparitions
On 22 August 1955 Sr. Reinolda experienced an “encounter” with Our Lady. The first encounter took place during Mass in the sisters’ chapel at Nongoma immediately after Sr. Reinolda had received holy communion. Our Lady revealed herself to Sr. Reinolda as “the Tabernacle of the Most High” and expressed the wish to be venerated under this title, emphasizing that more people should become tabernacles of the Most High. Sister was ordered to tell her priest and others about it.
The second (on 20 October 1955) and third (on 22 October 1955) encounters had a similar message for Sr. Reinolda, but, in addition to it, Our Lady allegedly urged Sr. Reinolda to tell everybody about it.
At the fourth encounter on 15 March 1956, Our Lady pointing in a north-westerly direction (Ngome is situated north-west of Nongoma) allegedly asked Sr. Reinolda that “a sanctuary be built at a place where seven springs well up and meet.” Graces would flow from that place and a great number of people would be converted and return to God.
There were further encounters between Sr. Reinolda and Our Lady on 5 June 1956, on 15 March 1957, and on 24 May 1957.
After consulting Fr. Ignatius Jutz, the parish priest of Nongoma, a number of wells were found in the forest below the Ngome School.
The eight encounter between Sr. Reinolda and Our Lady took place on 17 April 1958. Sister then began to feel the need for a picture of “Our Lady, the Tabernacle of the Most High”. With the consent of Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri of Eshowe and the support of Archabbot Suso Brechter of St. Ottilien, a Munich artist, Joseph Aman, painted the picture according to the instructions given to him by Sr. Reinolda.
Urged by Fr. Ignatius Jutz, Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri allowed Bro. Jacob Riedmann to build a tiny chapel at Ngome. Fr. Ignatius Jutz blessed the chapel on Pentecost Sunday, 29 May 1966. The picture of “Our Lady the Tabernacle of the Most High”, which had been put up in the church at Nongoma first and then in the Ngome School, now found a permanent place in the little chapel.
The first pilgrimage to Ngome took place on 15 March 1966. The people who participated were mostly from Nongoma. Afterwards Bishop Bilgeri did not allow any more pilgrimages to Ngome.
Sr. Reinolda wrote about her ninth encounter with Our Lady in her journal: “It was at night on 28 March 1970. During the previous night I had a terrible apparition of the devil. It was all light when I was woken up. Who was at my side? It was Mary, the Tabernacle of the Most High. She took me in her arms and comforted me saying: ‘I know how you suffer. I am at your side.’ Before she disappeared she said to me: ‘Look over to the other side.’ There was (the Archangel) Michael wearing a breast-plate and carrying a lance in his hands. At his right side was a cherubim dressed all in white with hands folded over his chest. After one or two minutes they disappeared and the bright light was gone, too. It was a great consolation for me.”
The tenth and final encounter allegedly happened on Sunday 2 May 1971, at the little chapel at Ngome. After Mass, she went back to pray with a few women in front of the picture of Our Lady, the Tabernacle of the Most High. “Suddenly I realized that the picture was alive. She moved a bit forward and her face was unbelievably beautiful. I was so excited that I shouted: ‘Look at Mary!’ I was convinced that the women, too, had seen Mary. I was so overwhelmed that I left without saying anything.”
The Reaction of the Church (Bishop Bilgeri)
Sr. Reinolda May talked about her experience with the priests of Nongoma, who were at first rather reluctant to see these visions as anything other than the intense emotional experience of a deeply religious person. When she related the whole incident to Bishop Bilgeri, he adopted a similar attitude. He wrote to her: “As far as your personal experience is concerned I have thought a lot about it, but I cannot give you any other answer than the answer I have given you earlier. If the whole thing is genuine then Our Lady will assure its success. Keep your great love in your heart and keep your secret then you will gain great spiritual benefit through it. By submitting the matter to your spiritual director and to me you have done what you needed to do. Everything else you can leave in Mary’s hands.” (Letter of Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri to Sr. Reinolda, 14 November 1956).
Sr. Reinolda kept on asking the bishop to believe in her alleged encounters with Our Lady and to do give permission “to tell all the world” about the message she had received The bishop remained cautious and did not want the “Ngome Affair” to become public. However he did allow a picture of Our Lady to be painted in 1962 and a small chapel to be built in 1966. But Sr. Reinolda wanted him to do more. She was thinking of building a proper church where the Blessed Sacrament would be perpetually exposed.
After Bishop Bilgeri’s died in 1973, the matter became a lot more public.At a Priests’ Council meeting on 7 March 1976, it was decided to establish a commission which was to investigate the Ngome Affair. The commission, consisting of Fr. Michael Mayer O.S.B. and Fr. Richard Multerer O.S.B, who recommended that Ngomi be developed into a spiritual centre which could influence and shape people’s devotion to the Holy Eucharist and their devotion to Our Lady. A first step towards this goal would be to allow the veneration of Our Lady the Tabernacle of the Most High and to permit pilgrimages to that place. This would not necessarily mean that the visions, miracles etc. receive the official approval of the Church. Bishop Mansuet Biyase did not support the above proposal and therefore did not allow any pre-arranged group pilgrimages to be undertaken to Ngome.
In 1984, Bishop Mansuet Biyase gave permission for a bigger chapel to be built at Ngome. The church, built in an sixagenal shape, is situated on a solid rock overlooking the Ngome Forest, about fifty metres away from the tiny chapel erected in 1966. Bishop Biyase blessed the church on 31 August, 1985. The painting showing our Lady as the Tabernacle of the Most High was taken from the little chapel and put up on the wall behind the altar in the new church.
On the 3rd of October 1992, Bishop Mansuet Biyase blessed the open-air altar and declared the Marian Shrine at Ngome a place of prayer.
(This article comes from the Fr Godfrey Sieber’s book on Inkamana)