Surrounded by dense forest, the St Anthony’s Catholic Healing School established by the legendary healer and reputed obeah woman Mother Cornhusk lies in ruins 16 years after her death.
The school and an adjoining chapel at Edward Trace in Basse Terre, Moruga, used to be frequented by people seeking help for personal and spiritual problems.
It was where Lennie Catherine Brizan, better known as Mother Cornhusk, practised her medicinal arts and, according to popular local legend, mastered the witchcraft which made her one of T&T’s most feared personalities.
This month marked 16 years since Brizan died. Her abandoned estate was inherited by her nephew Noel Borneon who lives in the United States.
Many believe that Brizan was Orisha priestess because of her reputation for delving into the occult. However, up to the time of her death in 2003, she considered herself a devout Roman Catholic and spiritual healer who used a mixture of Hinduism and Christianity to help the many people who visited her healing school over the many years.
These days, however, not much is left of the buildings. Thick vines cover the roof of the chapel named after the Roman Catholic saint, Anthony, whom Mother Cornhusk claimed appeared to her in a vision. Part of her house has collapsed and her famed medicinal garden was partially destroyed when natural gas pipelines were installed in the area.
Nearby residents are reluctant to speak about Mother Cornhusk. One villager who was tending a goat near the site of the healing school, went into the forest trails when the Sunday Guardian tried to talk to him.
Those who did not think the site or its legendary occupant was worth the attention.
John Braveboy, who was driving past in his vehicle, said he did not think Mother Cornhusk deserved any more fame.
“What she do for Moruga? All she ever did was for herself and her own fame,” he said.
Another man who gave his name as Lazarius said: “I don’t think this is worthy of saving. She did a lot of bad things to people.”
Pointing to the shells of three vehicles which Brizan once owned, Lazarius said after she died at the age of 84, a caretaker Roland Braveboy took care of the premises. He died years later and her legacy fell into ruins.
Marva Cooper, who cared for Brizan up to the time of her death, said young people who lived with Brizan went their separate ways after her funeral.
“Leslieann, Angela her niece, Christine, Natalie…all of them left one by one,” she said.
Braveboy was the only one who stayed and when he also died, Brizan’s estate went into ruins.
Cooper said she first met Brizan at the Princes Town market as a child many years ago.
“Mother used to go there every other Saturday. She always looked very outstanding. She wore a long brown dress. The first time she saw me she told me I was a very obedient child.
“Years later I went to New York and met a nephew of hers named Hillary who asked me to take back something to her,” Cooper said.
She said when she got to Moruga, the house was filled with people who had gone to Brizan for help. Cooper said even when Mother Cornhusk could no longer walk, she continued helping people.
“She was very spiritual and led a very humble life. Before she died she made her own arrangements for her funeral. She did not want any fanfare,” she added.
Told about the state of the chapel and healing school, Cooper said it was sad to see how such a vibrant place like the St Anthony’s Healing School could go to waste. Cooper said she would welcome restoration of the facilities where orphans and other depressed people could get help.
Reesa Molino said her father, Baccelo Molino, was one of the hundreds healed by Mother Cornhusk.
“People would come from far to see her. Her home was always open to others. She did a lot of good and helped many people,” Molino said. Saying Brizan was the mother of Moruga, Molino said she was hoping that the government could name the dilapidated chapel as a heritage site. Herman Cross also agreed that her legacy should be preserved and all the remaining artefacts at her home and chapel should be given to the Moruga museum.
Preserving her legacy
At the Moruga Cocoa and Chocolate Museum, Brizan’s history can be traced through a display of some of her personal items. They were donated to the museum by her relatives.
Curator Eric Lewis, popularly known as the Merikin Prince of Moruga, is eager to preserve Brizan’s legacy.
According to Lewis, Brizan got the name Mother Cornhusk because of her slender figure.
“She used to come and visit us when I was a child. We had a service for battery charging, fabrication and agricultural advice as well as mechanical repairs so . . . she came by us and sometimes she would send her mister to have the battery charged,” he recalled.
“Mother loved being around people. She took in orphans. Entire families would live in her property. There was a carat house ajoupa where people could come and meditate. She was known for miraculous healing which people thought was obeah.”
Lewis said Brizan cured his aunt, who had a painful menstrual problem, with a concoction of common fowl eggs and herbs
“I think society gave her a bad name because of a lack of knowledge of herbs. She always said her real power was in the church. Every feast day of St Anthony she would be in church,” Lewis said.
He said Brizan’s vast knowledge of herbs has been kept “alive and documented.” He added that she was feared and respected throughout T&T and her legacy should be handed down to future generations.
Who was Mother Cornhusk?
Born in Grenada in 1919, Brizan came to Trinidad at the age of seven. By age 14, she had been married off twice. She eventually settled in Moruga after moving there from La Brea.
As a teenager, Brizan got a vision of the Roman Catholic patron saint of lost things St Anthony who told her she had to spend the rest of her life helping others. Before she moved to Moruga, Brizan had been wandering the streets and some people believed she was mentally challenged. When she moved to Moruga, she and a female friend k began working the land. They grew cocoa which they sold to earn a livelihood. A cocoa house was built and Brizan began to make use of her skills as a healer.
She cured many ailments, including infertility but was herself unable to conceive.
“She always said she was not meant to have a husband because she outlived all of them,” Cooper said.
Her healing powers were said to be rivalled only by Papa Neezer, who died several decades before Brizan.
Photos by Kristian De Silva
1- The ruins of the St Anthony’s Healing School
2- Rotted furniture inside the St Anthony’s chapel at Edward Trace, Basse Terre, Moruga
3- Eric Lewis stands inside the chapel.
4- a pole decorated with cloth used for spiritual cleansing.
5- Mother Cornhusk’s home in ruins.
6- Some of her vehicles are now shrouded in vines.
7- Curator Eric Lewis stands outside Mother Cornhusk’s home.
8- Reesa Molino and Herman Cross calls for Mother Cornhusk’s chapel to be preserved.