Sydney March 2014 (5 photos)
In the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here
“Angel” (sometimes mis-titled as “In the Arms of an Angel” or “Arms of the Angel”) is a song by Sarah McLachlan that originally appeared on her 1997 album Surfacing. As McLachlan explained, the song is about the Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin, who overdosed on heroin and died in 1996.
I was photographing this interesting memorial when I saw a guided cemetery tour approaching. I was certain they were coming to this memorial so I moved away. Indeed, the group stopped at this memorial and having stayed close enough, I was fortunate to overhear the guide state that this was the most photographed memorial in the cemetery. He also mentioned a few other facts that offered an interesting perspective into this memorial, and which I’ve since been able to research.
The memorial is in remembrance of an Irish woman who was orphaned at an early age, of devout religious parents. Sent to Australia to live with an aunt, as per her parent’s wishes she became a nun with the Sisters of Charity at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. Whilst at the hospital as a nurse, she met and fell in love with a young doctor. The doctor had actually been sent far away to Australia by his parents, apparently being the black sheep of his family. They decided to elope and she escaped the convent at nightfall by climbing the walls as the Mother Superior exclaimed “This woman is married to God!”. The very next day this Catholic couple married in a Protestant ceremony. A major scandal in its day, they were shunned by the establishment and ex-communicated from the Catholic Church. Temporarily, they left for the doctor’s place of birth, Italy.
The young doctor later went on to become a surgeon, a war hero, a pioneer of cancer surgery, a president of the British Medical Association in NSW, and one of the fathers of the Australian wine industry. He served in both the Italian and Australian armies at different times.
It is said that the former nun occasionally “helps out” in the wards of St Vincent’s Hospital. Although it’s been years since the Grey Nurse was last sighted, nurses used to recall that things would mysteriously get done while they were on night duty such as adjustments to drips. Many patients have also told of the calming presence of the Sister in Grey by their bedside which gave them much comfort.
“The Grey Lady. She was really a nun. Our saying was she leapt over the wall and married a doctor. And she came back in reparation. She has done remarkable things in this building.” source
The depiction of the angel and the boy are quite remarkable. The larger than life statue is quite open to interpretation and conjecture. I’ve read that viewing the statue from different sides can convey different meanings. I hope this little background perspective helps your own interpretation.