restricted access 5. The Missionary who Cursed the Village
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116 There was once a French priest called Fa who brought a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes to the village. Some years later he was transferred to another parish and wanted to take the statue with him. He got a wooden box ready to pack it in, but the Christians prevented him: they blocked the church door with stones and refused to let him in. The priest became very angry. He called the villagers Judeans, and as he left he took off his shoe, shook off the dust, and prayed to Heaven to punish them with seven years of bad harvests. The next year, as the fields were ripening, black clouds came from behind the mountain and hail fell, destroying the standing crops. But the Christians did not believe, so the following year it happened again, and then the next year again, until the villagers were so poor that they had to go to nearby Christians and beg for food. Then they remembered the priest’s words so they built a chapel to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows on the mountain. After that there was no more hail.1 This is the best known of all the Cave Gully folktales and the one that is most strongly associated with the village. Like other tales the villagers tell, it has a familiar plot: the story of the outsider with dangerous powers who must not be offended. People used to tell similar stories about the skilled foremen employed to direct the work in the coal mines, who could destroy the whole mine if they were offended.2 But the story of the missionary’s curse is also shaped by Cave Gully’s Catholic history . The statue whose theft is prevented is Our Lady of Lourdes and chapter 5 The Missionary Who Cursed the Village 9780520273115_PRINT.indd 116 9780520273115_PRINT.indd 116 27/04/13 3:46 PM 27/04/13 3:46 PM The Missionary Who Cursed the Village | 117 help is granted by Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, both of them important figures of the Virgin Mary in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Moreover the priest’s dramatic gesture comes directly from Jesus’ words as he sends out the first missionaries, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet” (Matthew 10:14). For the Cave Gully people today, the story explains the magnificent shrine to Our Lady of Seven Sorrows on the mountain and its purpose is to demonstrate her great power. The shrine caretaker tells it alongside other miracles: causing snow to fall, bringing about the conversion of two women, and curing an AIDS patient in a distant city. Elsewhere in central Shanxi the story is used to illustrate the character of Cave Gully and its people. For these Catholics the point is not the power of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, but the comparison of the Cave Gully people to the Judeans, who they explain are “the people who killed Jesus.” Similar stories exist about other villages: the people of Nine Springs are also labeled Judeans and the Newtown people are compared to Peter, who denied Jesus three times, because they were never attacked by the Boxers. Thus local Catholics condemn the people of these dominant villages, with their longstanding close relations with the church, for disloyalty and disobedience. When non-Catholics tell the story of the missionary ’s curse they skip both the Judeans and the power of the Virgin Mary, but emphasize the curse, which to them explains why the Cave Gully villagers are such strong Catholics and so obedient to the church. This can be used to compliment them on their morals, but it also expresses the widespread hostility and fear that has existed since the Boxer fighting. Underlying all versions of the story is tension between the power of the missionaries and the poverty and dependence of the villagers. This tension reached its height in the early twentieth century when the Boxer Indemnity gave the missionaries of central Shanxi great wealth at a time of growing Chinese nationalism. The overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the 1911 revolution motivated by republicanism and nationalism caused these tensions to blow up into a series of disputes between the villagers and a bad-tempered Italian missionary, Francesco Fazzini. These disputes (in which Fazzini is remembered as a Frenchman because his Chinese surname, Fa, is the word...


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