A Miraculous Place for Pilgrims and Peace: The Shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré
Editor Elizabeth Herzing interviews Fr. Paul Bombardier to learn about the history and mission of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, the oldest pilgrim site in North America.
q. Please give a brief history of the shrine and its mission.
a. It all started in 1658. There was a ship full of Breton fishermen who were caught in a fierce storm. They prayed to Saint Anne, an important patroness in Brittany. They promised that, if she saved them, they would build a chapel in her honor. They were saved through her intercession, and they built the chapel. There’s a historical marker close to the front of the basilica that shows where it’s believed the first chapel was built. During construction, the first miracle took place. Louis Guimond, one of the townspeople, had been suffering from back problems and couldn’t help with any heavy lifting. So, in simple devotion to the saint who had saved the fishermen, he laid some small stones in the foundation and experienced a miraculous healing. This was the simple beginning to what is now more than 350 years of experiences of prayers and miraculous healings. Sainte Marie de l’Incarnation, a French widow who was sent to “New France” to establish the order of the Ursuline Sisters, chronicled the miracles in letters to her son. Pilgrimages started after that first cure, making Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré the oldest pilgrim site in North America. In or around 1678, another parish church was built. The Memorial Chapel across the street from the monastery is all that remains of the original structure. It’s built on what is thought to be the location of the transept of that third church. As devotion continued to grow, so did the need for another, much larger church. It was built in 1876 and given the title of Minor Basilica by Pope Leo XIII. He also gifted the new basilica with a major relic, part of the wrist of Ste. Anne. In March 1922, the first basilica burned down, leaving only the façade and some of the walls behind. The cornerstone for the current church was laid on July 26, 1923; the basilica opened in April of 1934 and the consecration and dedication occurred on July 4, 1976.
q. What are some highlights of the shrine and its grounds that visitors should see?
a. The art and architecture of the basilica are among the interesting things to take in: the lower church; the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception; the family set of statues of St. Joachim, St. Ann, and the Blessed Virgin as a young girl; the semi-circular insets around the sides of the chapel are paintings of those who are regarded as the sacred founders and/or pillars of the Catholic Church in Quebec; the mosaics in the capitals of the pillars; the Stations of the Cross on the hillside opposite the basilica; and the building of the Scala Santa. The sarcophagus of Venerable Alfred Pampalon, CSsR, is near the sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception Chapel; opposite is a replica of The Pietà by Michelangelo.