The shrine to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, is the oldest pilgrimage site in North America. In 1620, a group of sailors who had survived a shipwreck established the shrine and dedicated it to St. Anne. In 1658, a chapel was erected and since then several churches have been built on this site. The fifth and present one, which dates from the 1920s, receives 1.5 million visitors every year, including those who come for the annual pilgrimage on St. Anne’s feast day (July 26). The collection of crutches inside the basilica’s entrance bears witness to its reputation for miraculous cures. Inside, the dome-vaulted ceiling is decorated with gold mosaics portraying the life of St. Anne. She is also represented in a large gilt statue in the transept, cradling the Virgin Mary.
ST. ANNE MUSEUM
The shrine’s museum displays works of art that attest to the early Quebec settlers’ devotion to St. Anne, with wax figures, paintings, and educational artifacts, illustrating her life and cult in North America. One of the most important pieces is an 18th-century sailor painting, which depicts the French mariners who prayed to St. Anne to save them from a storm; when they survived, they built a shrine in her honor on the banks of the St Lawrence River.
IN AND AROUND THE BASILICA
There are two chapels on the lower level: the blue-painted Immaculate Conception Chapel and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Also on the lower level is a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta, and the tomb of Venerable Father Alfred Pampalon (1867-96), patron saint of alcoholics and drug addicts. The main church is on the upper level, where hundreds of crutches, braces, and artificial limbs attest to miraculous cures. The earliest healing here, in 1658, is said to have been that of Louis Guimond, a crippled man who insisted on carrying stones for the construction of the first church despite his affliction, and who was cured before the other workers’ eyes. Pilgrims gather on the wooded hillside beside the shrine to follow the Way of the Cross and to ascend the Santa Scala, or “Holy Stairs,” a replica of the staircase that Jesus climbed to meet Pontius Pilate.
THE LIFE OF ST. ANNE
Although the Bible makes no mention of the mother of the Virgin Mary, early Christians had an interest in knowing more about Jesus‘ family, especially his mother and grandmother. A 3rd-century Greek manuscript called the Revelation of James tells the story of Jesus’ grandparents, naming them Anne (from Hannah) and Joachim. According to this account, Anne of Bethlehem and Joachim of Nazareth, a shepherd, were childless after 20 years of marriage. Each cried out separately to God, asking why they were childless, and vowing to dedicate any offspring to his work. An angel came to Joachim and Anne, and they learned that they were to have a child, Mary, who became the mother of Christ.
In 1876, St. Anne was proclaimed patron saint of Quebec, and in 1887 the existing church was granted basilica status. The Redemptorist order became the guardians of shrine in 1878.
The oil wood painting Three Shipwrecked Sailors from Levis (1754) is one of a collection of marine ex-votos (a votive offering made to a saint) on display in the St. Anne Museum.
The present basilica was built by the Canadian architect Napoleon Bourassa. He based the design on a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque principles.
Great Rose Window
This beautiful stained-glass window was designed by the French artist Auguste Klabouret in 1950.
Statue of St. Anne
Located on the upper floor, this sits in front of one of the three relics of St. Anne donated to the shrine over the years.
Illuminated by light streaming in through 214 stained-glass windows, the cream and gold interior is divided into a nave and four aisles by large pillars topped with sculpted capitals.
This splendid mosaic was created by the artists Auguste Labouret and Jean Gaudin in 1940-41. God is shown overlooking an infant Jesus, flanked by Mary and St. Anne.
A faithful copy of the original by Michelangelo in St. Peter Basilica in Rome (search the related post), this depicts Christ at his death being held by a seated Madonna.
In ancient Rome, a basilica was a public building supported intern ally by double colonnades and with a semicircular apse at one end. Later, the Catholic Church began to use the term as a title of honor for important churches, especially those of great age, or an association with a saint. The title gives a church special privileges, principally the right to reserve its high altar for the pope.
1876-1922: The first basilica, built in honor of St. Anne, is used for worship.
1922: A devastating fire destroys the basilica.
1923: Work on the current Neo-Romanesqe basilica begins.
1976: The basilica is consecrated by Cardinal Maurice Roy.