The shrine was founded by construction of a small chapel in 1658 and, after a miracle cure was witnessed that same year, it quickly grew in prominence under Quebec’s first bishop, Francois de-Montmerency de Laval. He recognized the special devotion by French colonists to the Holy Family, and particularly St. Anne, a devotion prominently shared by Canada’s native peoples as well.
In 1670 Laval brought relics of St. Anne, the mother of Mary, to the little village of Beaupre from the Cathedral in Carcassonne, France, as well as a wooden statue still displayed at the shrine. In future years, Leo XIII and John XXIII also donated relics of St. Anne.
People of all faiths visit the shrine. Naturalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who trekked on foot in 1850 from Quebec City to St. Anne’s, was astonished at the impressive number of crutches left by cured pilgrims in the shrine. The first healing took place during the shrine’s 1658 construction and, today, there is a huge collection of crutches, walking sticks and other healing aids as a testament to those who have returned home healed after praying to St. Anne.
A second church was built in 1661, and a third erected 15 years later. In 1876 St. Anne was declared patroness of the province of Quebec and a new church was opened and designated a basilica in 1887. Following a fire in 1922, the present basilica was erected. It was consecrated by Quebec’s Cardinal Maurice Roy in 1976.
Located 35 km northeast of Quebec City, the shrine inspires an almost constant outpouring of prayer and devotion by pilgrims. It is a marvel of architecture and symbolism that expresses humanity’s noblest strivings and spiritual journey.
Almost every inch has been carefully fashioned by master artists and woodcarvers from not only Quebec, but across Canada and indeed the world. This breathtaking beauty can be found throughout the shrine and on the lower floor and its several chapels. The upper basilica is marked by a stunning tribute to the Immaculate Conception among its 75 stained glass windows, marvellous mosaics, 326 columns and revered statue of St. Anne and her precious relics.
The main area holds 1,500 sitting pilgrims plus 3,000 standing. Every nook has been devoted to some detail of artistic endeavour. For example, the capitals on top of the columns depict an entire history of Jesus from birth to resurrection. Another group of stained glass windows show all the shrines in the world dedicated to St. Anne. In the upper basilica, the ends of 260 pews each have a unique carving of nature’s animal and plant kingdom by master wood carvers.
The splendour is best appreciated with a guided tour. In addition to staff, volunteers and clergy are available for continuous meetings with pilgrims.
A museum traces the shrine’s development from simple chapel to magnificent neo-Romanesque structure. A fresco of 180 square metres, painted on the museum wall, depicts in an architectural trompe d’oeil five large, coloured postal-card style paintings that illustrate the history of St. Anne de Beaupre’s town and sanctuary — the rural religious, artistic and First Nations influences. A one-of-a-kind collection of small antique pictures and holy cards, some dating back to 1860, is displayed to stir the viewer’s memories.
On the grounds, pilgrims can visit a small commemorative chapel, the Way of the Cross and the Scala Santa (representing the steps Jesus ascended to meet Pontius Pilate which many visitors choose to ascend on their knees). A separate building, The Cyclorama, recreates the city of Jerusalem, as well as a realistic recreation of the Crucifixion scene. Brunet’s nine- metre-high fountain of St. Anne adorns the Basilica gardens.
Those who come to seek the healing powers, both physical and spiritual, of the grandmother of Jesus at Canada’s oldest pilgrimage shrine will find peace and solace that is truly God’s gift to His faithful.
For further information visit the web sites www.quebecshrines. com or www.ssadb.qc.ca, or call (418) 827-3781.
(Williams is a freelance writer in Markham, Ont.)