I was in a gift shop with a cafe, having a coffee, when I spotted the above Maria & Jesus salt & pepper grinders for sale. I went over to the counter with “Maria” and asked the young woman working there:
“Who is this?”
She paused, hesitated, looked at the box (“Maria”, it says). “Mary Magdalene?” she ventured. Immediately I sensed that her knowledge of Christianity clearly had one source: Dan Brown.
“Well, Mary Magdalene isn’t normally shown holding a crucifix, is she?” I suggested.
“Do you know the Christian story?” I asked with, I hope, a friendly smile.
She admitted, a little – translation: not much, not really.
It’s not her fault.
It’s illegal in New Zealand State primary schools to present religious instruction. Some primary state schools allow their premises to be used once a week for a half hour of religious education prior to the school being legally open, and parents give permission for their children to attend such classes. It’s run by volunteers – and you are lucky if your school has it.
In State secondary schools religious education is legal. But I only know of one school in the country that has it as an option.
Only about 15% of Kiwis receive their education in faith-based schools with religious education. So Jesus’ mum’s name can be as difficult a question for some people in NZ as Siddhartha Gautama’s mum’s name might be elsewhere.
And identifying the “Maria” statue above can be a real struggle.
Clearly it was for the creator of this grinder.
Faith and meaning aside, it must be such a struggle to make sense of Western art, history, religious allusions in literature, music, films, etc. When it comes to encountering the Christian story for the first time some might argue that such people arrive without prejudice, presumptions, or particular baggage. It’s another interesting option for a thesis research.
[ps. my closest guess - I think "Maria" looks like a poor representation of Thérèse of Lisieux - any better guesses?]