Yankalilla on the SA Fleurieu Peninsula attracts pilgrims from all over the world.
One of the delights of travelling is the way you keep discovering that every town is unique. Many places look similar at first glance, but then each turns out to have something special that sets it apart.
Take Yankalilla, for example. This small town is on the Fleurieu Peninsula about 75km south of Adelaide. The first thing you notice about Yankalilla is its unusual name. Even the locals seem to find all those syllables a bit of a mouthful. The Yankalilla Hotel in the main street calls itself The Yank and the café down the street shortens the town name from the other end, calling itself Lilla’s.
But if you take the time to explore Yankalilla in a bit more depth, you soon find that the town’s unique character lies in a different realm altogether. This is a mysterious and mystical town, with more than its fair share of paranormal and otherworldly phenomena.
On August 24, 1994, an image of the Virgin Mary appeared on the wall of Yankalilla’s Anglican Church. This apparition occurred in what looks like a patch of uneven plasterwork on the wall above the church’s altar. It has remained there over the intervening years and has grown to incorporate other features such as a rose at her feet and the word “Peace”.
In 1996 the church was officially declared a shrine. It was named Our Lady of Yankalilla, and the image was declared to be “an icon not made with human hands”. Today Australia’s first Marian shrine attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. However, the tiny church still has a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. In fact the day we visited, there was only one other person around.
Even though it is known as the Australian Lourdes, the church superficially seems no different from any other small historic church in a country town. There are no guided tours and only a few souvenirs on display in the porch.
The small stone church, built in 1857, is very peaceful inside where quiet background music blends in with the sound of birdsong. Outside under the gum trees there is an equally peaceful atmosphere.
For a small town, Yankalilla has a large number of churches. Opposite the shrine is the Fleurieu Assembly of God which calls itself the Church of Miracles. Further down the road, in behind the RSL hall (which was previously a Methodist church), is an old cemetery with the gravestones of many pioneer settlers.
St Peter’s Catholic Church on the main road further south of the town at Lady Bay also has some historic tombstones in its graveyard. These include the tombs of John and Catherine Clarke, who arrived in SA from Ireland in 1836 and 1838, making them some of the state’s earliest pioneers.
Another saintly Mary is associated with Yankalilla. Mary MacKillop founded a religious order in Adelaide in 1867 called Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Her mission was to provide an education for Catholic children regardless of whether or not their parents could pay. By the end of 1869 more than 70 sisters were educating children at 21 schools in SA including one at Yankalilla.
The cottage which was the school house and home for the Sisters of St Joseph still stands in the town and can be viewed from the outside. To see the chapel and former schoolroom, you have to be a guest of the B&B that now occupies the building.
A booklet, Walking in Yankalilla, is available at the visiting centre. It details a two-hour “Town and Country walk through Yankalilla” which takes in the shrine, the Mary MacKillop schoolhouse and some peaceful rural scenery. This is a slow and relaxed way to take in the spiritual atmosphere of this unique place.
Yankalilla is on the Fleurieu Peninsula about 75km south of Adelaide and 32km west of Victor Harbour.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Yankalilla, Christ Church, is open daily from 10am to 6pm. There’s a Shrine Mass for the sick each Sunday at 2pm.