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Holy Scriptures come to life in St. Pauls courtyard
Left to right: St. Pauls United Methodist choir director Tobi Clarke and choir members Margie Jay-Bolan and Joyce Finnen admire the alstroemerias blooming at the foot of the wooden cross in the Biblical Well built and designed in 1987 by the late Dr. Clair Weast. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The Holy Scriptures literally come to life in a small courtyard at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Manteca.

It’s called the Biblical Garden. Nestled in a quiet area behind the sanctuary, with the church office and preschool classrooms on the opposite side, the garden is like an oasis in the desert during the hot summertime. Despite the sun’s oppressing heat, the array of plants that were selected for their Biblical connections, are either profusely blooming like the pomegranate tree or, like the thriving fig tree, are laden with fruit that will soon be ready for picking in the fall.

Each Biblical plant or tree in the garden has an identifying small placard accompanied by the scriptural chapter and verse numbers where they are mentioned in the Bible. The pomegranate tree, for example, has a marker that reads “Song of Solomon 4:13.” That line in the scriptures read, “You a park that puts forth pomegranates, with all choice fruits.” The fig tree’s name tag refers to Matthew 24:32 where Jesus speaks about the “coming of the Son of Man.” The passage in the Bible reads: From the fig tree learn a lesson. When its branch grows tender and sprout leaves, you realize that summer is near.”  The bulrush, or papyrus plant, refers one to the story of Moses as a baby who was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter in a papyrus basket floating on the river bank. The plant is mentioned in Exodus 2:3 in the Old Testament: “When she (Moses’ mother) could him no longer, she took a papyrus basket, daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and putting the child in it, placed it among the reeds on the river bank.”

The chosen scripture inscribed on the wooden marquee of the Biblical Garden is Genesis 1:11. That part of the scriptures reads: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth ring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.’ And so it happened.”

Etched on the wooden marquee of the Biblical Garden is the following prayer: “Help us to achieve in living, O God, the same harmony and loveliness that we strive for in gardening.”

In the center of the free-form courtyard is a raised planter where a large wooden cross is planted. It is called a Biblical Well and was designed and built by the late Dr. Clair A. Weast in 1987. The Biblical Well refers to the passage in Numbers 21:17 – “Then it was that Israel sang this song: ‘Spring up, O well! – so sing to it –.”

On April 6, 1995, the Memorial Biblical Garden was “gratefully dedicated” to Dr. Weast’s late wife, Elsie Orr Weast “for her untiring efforts in planning, researching, building, planting and maintaining, this Biblical Garden,” according to the inscription on the plaque in the courtyard.

Some of the plants in the garden do not have tags but they add color to the garden. These include the blushing pink and yellow alstroemerias, snow-white gardenias and jasmines, hibiscus, and begonias. The alstroemerias are blooming at the foot of the wooden cross in the Biblical Well. The red begonias are among the flowering plants at the base of a large statue of St. Francis of Assisi.

Tobi Clarke, a longtime member of the church, said she remembers when there was no garden at all in this part of the church property.

“Twenty years ago, it wasn’t like this,” she recalled. She said many people have made contributions and memorial donations through the years which kept the garden growing.

Margie Jay-Bolan who is a member of the church choir said the Biblical Garden is in bloom year-round. “Things are blooming all year. The camellias in the winter are beautiful! Just glorious!” she said.

A small group of dedicated volunteers – their numbers average between 5 and 8 or 9 – make sure the garden is in tip-top shape year-round. According to a church office staff member, these volunteers show up faithfully every Friday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. to make sure the Biblical Garden remains a living Scriptures.