The Shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupre
By Tonia Long
Just north of our country’s border lies a treasure of European proportions. The oldest pilgrimage site in North America, the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec City, Canada, has been welcoming people from all walks of life for over 350 years. Welcoming over a million visitors annually, the shrine has also been the site of many miracles.
The first reported miracle happened during the shrine’s construction in the late 1600’s.
A man named Louis Guimond was hired to help build the shrine even though he suffered greatly from rheumatism. After placing three stones upon the shrine’s foundation, Guimond was cured of all his ailments. This was followed by other testimonies of healed people, and the shrine soon grew in popularity.
Because of the popularity of the shrine, the building was enlarged several times to accommodate all the pilgrims.
In the late nineteenth century, a Basilica was constructed around the shrine. In 1876, the first Basilica opened for worship.
A terrible tragedy befell the Canadian Catholics of Quebec in 1922. Fire. The first basilica was destroyed in a fire on March 29, 1922.
Here is how the local newspaper at the time recounted how the tragedy occurred:
Quebec, March 29. — Fire today destroyed the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, famous for its shrine, but the statue of Ste. Anne, with the historical relics to which miraculous cures have been ascribed, were saved.
The flames which started in the sacristy, spread rapidly to the monastery of the Redemptorist Fathers, to whose care the shrine had been entrusted, and then to the Basilica.
Apparatus sent from this city to the most famous mecca of religious pilgrims in North America, was able to do little to check the blaze.
Monastery officials estimated the property damage at $1,200,000. That a greater toll of church relics was not taken and was due to the heroic efforts of the brothers who risked their lives in saving what they could from the interior of the Basilica.
Seeing that the great Basilica was in danger, the brothers decided to remove everything of value, Rev. Brother Broneau, at the risk of his life succeeded in carrying out the precious relics and the statue of St. Anne.
The flames soon attacked the Basilica through the roof, which the fire fighters could not reach with a stream of water. In a few moments the structure was ablaze from end to end.
In an incredibly short time, the two 160-foot towers comprising the facade of the cathedral crashed. The Quebec firemen on their arrival did their utmost to save the structure, but they were handicapped by the fact that the local water works could not supply enough water for their engines. They were compelled to lay a line of hose 3,000 feet long to the bank of the St. Lawrence river, which was at low tide when the flames were at their height.
The whole village for a time was in terror. At one time it seemed as if destruction faced the little community which lives for the most part from selling souvenirs to pilgrims during the summer. Just as the villagers had abandoned hope, the wind turned.
The only part of the entire group of buildings connected with the Basilica which was saved was the old chapel, which housed the shrine before the church was erected. The statue of St. Anne will be removed to this chapel pending the reconstruction of the Basilica.
St. Anne de Beaupre, the most famous shrine in the new world, each year has attracted hundreds of the lame and blind, who flocked there from all parts of Canada and the United States to be cured by miracles of their afflictions. Every householder in the village that could offer shelter leased all his spare rooms at exorbitant prices and sometimes the throng of unfortunates was so dense that the church had to be thrown open at night.
Ste. Anne de Beaupre, a village of a few thousand inhabitants, is located a few miles from this city. In addition to the thousands of pilgrims who annually visited the shrine, there flocked to the village thousands of tourists to gaze upon the famous pile of crutches cast aside by those who declared themselves miraculously cured.
A new basilica needed to be built
The architecture of the Basilica was inspired by Roman-style cathedrals and the building is as stunning as any of the grand cathedrals that one may see in their travels in Europe.
The 328-foot Basilica was built in Romanesque revival style with some gothic elements and in the shape of a cross. Architects Maxime Roisin, Louis N. Audet and Joseph-Égilde-Césaire Daoust collaborated on the project from 1923-1931.
After the end of the Great Depression, work on the interior resumed in 1937, and was finally completed in 1946.
Discovering Our Sacred History
To enter a Basilica is to enter a sacred place where an atmosphere of peace reigns. It’s the House of God. Let us discover this place just north of our country’s border, whose decoration is like a great book of our sacred history.
The “Scala Santa” is the staircase that Jesus ascended to Pilate’s praetorium. It is therefore a precious reminder of the Passion. This staircase, sanctified by the footsteps of the Saviour, still exists. It is venerated in Rome, facing the Basilica of Saint John of Lateran. In the last century it became more customary, in several places of the Catholic world, to build staircases that exactly replicate the Scala Santa of Rome.
This example is followed at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, where in 1891 the first monument of this type in America was erected. In each of the staircase’s risers a souvenir from different shrines from the Holy Land was inserted. The Holy Stairs themselves are located inside the building, on the second floor.
The Memorial Chapel is a souvenir of the third church which welcomed pilgrims from 1676 to 1876. The chapel was built in 1878 on the foundation of the transept of the third church (1676-1876). The material, the decor and the steeple were all retrieved from the old church and incorporated into the construction of the Memorial Chapel. A rooster weather vane, a symbol of Peter’s denial as a follower of Christ, pivots on top of the steeple.
In front of the basilica, a beautiful fountain welcomes pilgrims. Installed in 2008, for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Shrine, this fountain reaches a height of 33 feet. Water flows over the scalloped lips of a bronze basin of some 13 feet in diameter. At the summit is a statue representing Saint Anne and her daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary. This statue is the work of Canadian sculptor Mr. Émile Brunet. It represents Saint Anne teaching the Virgin Mary, with Mary holding a scroll with the word “Caritas,” which is Latin for charity. Mr. Brunet once shared that the expression on Saint Anne’s face is one of “meekness and kindness.”
By far, what draws the greatest number of pilgrims is the relic of Saint Anne, the grandmother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Kept in a beautiful reliquary made by a master Architect, the graces that flow from the remains of the woman in whose womb was borne the Immaculate Conception are truly priceless to any believer who passes through the doors of the basilica. The relics consist of a finger of Saint Anne and two pieces of her forearm donated to the Basilica by two popes. The discovery of the sacred relics took place during the reign of Emperor Charlemagne and is told in detail below.
Pilgrims are attracted to this breathtaking shrine from across Canada and the United States. Miracles are still occurring at the basilica. In silent testimony to this fact, two pillars near the entrance are filled with racks of crutches, canes, braces, and other signs of disabilities. Each item has been left by a pilgrim who reports being healed at the basilica. Reminiscent of the shrine at Lourdes across the Atlantic, the basilica is a reminder that the graces of God know no boundaries.
Treasure Beyond Telling
On Easter, in 792 AD, Charlemagne discovered the relics of Saint Anne with the help of a deaf handicapped boy. It’s a wonderful tale for the feast day of Saint Anne.
Below is the account, preserved in the correspondence of Pope Saint Leo III, concerning the mysterious discovery of the relics of Saint Anne in the presence of the Emperor Charlemagne.
After Our Lord’s death, Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Martha, Saint Lazarus, and others of the little band of Christians were piled into a boat without sails or oars and pushed out to sea to perish. They were careful to carry with them the tenderly loved body of Our Lady’s mother, Saint Anne. When, by the power of God, their boat survived and finally drifted to the shores of France, the little company of saints buried Saint Anne’s body in a cave, in a place called Apt, in the south of France. The church, which was later built over the spot, fell into decay because of wars and religious persecutions, and as the centuries passed, the place of Saint Anne’s tomb was forgotten.
The long years of peace, which Charlemagne’s wise rule gave to southern France, enabled the people to build a magnificent new church on the site of the old chapel at Apt. Extraordinary and painstaking labor went into the building of the great structure, and when the day of its consecration arrived [Easter Sunday, 792 A.D.], the beloved Charlemagne, little suspecting what was in store for him, declared himself happy indeed to have journeyed so many miles to be present for the holy occasion.
At the most solemn part of the ceremonies, a boy of fourteen, blind, deaf and dumb from birth — and usually quiet and impassive — to the amazement of those who knew him, completely distracted the attention of the entire congregation by becoming suddenly tremendously excited. He rose from his seat, walked up the aisle to the altar steps, and struck his stick resoundingly again and again upon a single step.
His embarrassed family tried to lead him out, but he would not budge. He continued frantically to pound the step, straining with his poor muted senses to impart a knowledge sealed hopelessly within him. The eyes of the people turned upon the emperor, and he, apparently inspired by God, took the matter into his own hands. Charlemagne called for workmen to remove the steps.
A subterranean passage was revealed directly below the spot which the boy’s stick had indicated. Into this passage the blind lad jumped, to be followed by the emperor, the priests, and the workmen.
They made their way in the dim light of candles, and when, farther along the passage, they came upon a wall that blocked further advance, the boy signed that this also should be removed. When the wall fell, there was brought to view still another long, dark corridor. At the end of this, the searchers found a crypt, upon which, to their profound wonderment, a vigil lamp, alight and burning in a little walled recess, cast a heavenly radiance.
As Charlemagne and his afflicted small guide, with their companions, stood before the lamp, its light went out. And at the same moment, the boy, blind and deaf and dumb from birth, felt sight and hearing and speech flood into his young eyes, his ears, and his tongue.
“It is she! It is she!” he cried out. The great emperor, not knowing what he meant, nevertheless repeated the words after him. The call was taken up by the crowds in the church above, as the people sank to their knees, bowed in the realization of the presence of something celestial and holy.
The crypt at last was opened, and a casket was found within it. In the casket was a winding sheet, and in the sheet were relics, and upon the relics was an inscription that read, “Here lies the body of Saint Anne, mother of the glorious Virgin Mary.” The winding sheet, it was noted, was of eastern design and texture.
Charlemagne, overwhelmed, venerated with profound gratitude the relics of the mother of Heaven’s Queen. He remained a long time in prayer. The priests and the people, awed by the graces given them in such abundance and by the choice of their countryside for such a heavenly manifestation, for three days spoke but rarely, and then in whispers.
The emperor had an exact and detailed account of the miraculous finding drawn up by a notary and sent to Pope Saint Leo III, with an accompanying letter from himself. These documents and the pope’s reply are preserved to this day. Many papal bulls have attested, over and over again, to the genuineness of Saint Anne’s relics at Apt. The relics found at the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre are bone fragments of Saint Anne’s arm, that same arm that held Mary and Jesus.
DAILY QUOTE for January 21, 2021
SAINT OF THE DAY
One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian.