A four-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary is being restored after people gathered to pray near it in the parking lot of a Phippsburg antique store. (Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record)

PHIPPSBURG — An improvised shrine to the Virgin Mary has appeared in the parking lot of a Phippsburg antique shop, and some faithful are using it as a prayer stop. 

A few weeks ago, David Cooke, the owner of Maggies Bygones, an antiques store at 165 Main Road in Phippsburg, noticed people pulling into the far end of his parking lot and getting out of their cars to pray in front of a 4-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary, a venerated figure in the Catholic Church. 

“People come and stop to reflect, meditate and do their thing,” said Cooke, who is not Catholic. “It has just taken on a life of its own.” 

The statue came from the home of an elderly woman. Cooke took it in the hopes of eventually selling it. He placed in a grassy area next to his store and at the top of his small parking area because he didn’t have room for it in his store. 

After passers-by noticed the statue, a shrine of sorts began to grow around it. A pair of rosary beads, a prayer aid in Catholicism, was left on the statue. 

In the Christian tradition, Mary is the mother of Jesus. 

David Guthro, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said people venerate Mary, among other saints, because they “trust that if we turn to the saints in prayer, they, because of their closeness to God, will intercede with God on our behalf.”

“Because of Mary’s unique role in the plan of salvation, meaning she freely agrees to and cooperates fully with God’s plan for her to be the Mother of our Savior, she is the first to share in the redemption offered by God to all human persons,” Guthro said

According to Guthro, statues, photos and other depictions of religious figures are used to assist in prayer. 

“In some ways, this is no different than the photographs we take of the people we love or the paintings and statues that are made of our great political leaders or war heroes,” said Guthro. “These images are all created to help us remember and recall certain persons, often of significant importance.”

Cooke said one woman offered to purchase the statue — on the condition that stay exactly where is it now. 

“I asked her why, and she said, ‘It would inspire people. Someone might be having a hard time or lost their way, but this might be uplifting them,’” said Cooke. 

Moved by how much it meant to her and others, Cooke declined her offer and instead promised to keep the statue in place and took it off the market. 

Instead, the woman arranged to have the statue repainted and repaired, according to Cooke. The statue had a few large cracks through the plaster and the paint was flaking, as it hadn’t been weatherproofed for outdoor display. 

An artist volunteered to give the statue a fresh coat of paint suitable for the outdoors. The artist painted the belt on the statue purple as a nod to Cooke’s late wife, Maggie, who died in October 2016. 

“It’s a nice touch for Maggie because she was Catholic and her favorite color was purple,” said Cooke. 

A stone base for the statue to stand on and a wooden arc to accentuate the statue were later donated. Cooke also installed a light to illuminate the area at night. 

Cooke, who is not religious himself, said the statue is worth keeping in place because of what it brings to the people who stop to pray or simply take a moment of silence in their otherwise busy lives. 

“The happiness I feel inside all the time, because of all these nice people who are helping restore her, it’s all positive energy,” said Cooke. “I feel guilty to feel so happy.” 

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