by Phyllis K. Kennemer
To enter a Basilica is to enter a sacred place where an atmosphere of peace reigns. It is the House of God. Let us discover this place, whose decoration is like a history book, a sacred history, our history. From the website of the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre www.sactuairesaintanne.org
Entering the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre transports the individual into an inspiring atmosphere of art and beauty. Magnificent sculptures, carvings, tiles, and windows all combine to lift the spirit and touch the soul. I wandered around, absorbed in the exquisite splendor of the place. Then I sat in a back pew for the beginning of the mass, which was conducted in French, so I didn’t understand a word, but I felt a part of the glorious energy of this sacred space.
I knew that this cathedral would be special when our guide told us of its miraculous beginning as our bus traveled through scenic countryside along the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec. She told us that we were heading toward a treacherous part of the river which had been the site of devastating ship wrecks during the colonization of what was then New France. In 1658, a ship was caught in a severe storm. The crew cried out to Sainte Anne, the Saint of Sailors, to come to their rescue. In their prayers they promised that if they survived, they would construct a church in her honor. They were thrown onto the shore and they fulfilled their promise by building a church where they landed. The original building, completed in 1676, has been replaced several times and is now the site of a magnificent cathedral built of cut stone.
Another miracle occurred with the building of the present church. Louis Guimont, an inhabitant of Beaupre, who suffered from a debilitating form of rheumatism, came forward and placed three stones in the foundation of the new building. He was suddenly and completely healed of his ailment. Since that time, thousands of diseased and disabled people have traveled to the Shrine of Sainte Anne. Many have added their crutches, walking sticks and bandages to huge piles of similar items as they have walked away fully healed. It is estimated that about a half-million pilgrims visit this holy place every year.
Although little is known about the life of Saint Anne, the Church has recognized and worshiped her for centuries as the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. The entire ceiling mosaic of the Basilica tells the story of her life, depicting a Jewish woman living in that era. It shows her as a woman of many virtues and illustrates her glorification. The life of Jesus is represented in beautiful stained glass windows and carvings throughout the sanctuary. The lower chapel, painted and decorated in shades of the color blue, is devoted to Mary.
Dedicated and talented architects and artists spent many years of their lives creating this magnificent shrine. They filled it with symbols, metaphors and history for all generations.