Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 21, 2003
In search of St. Anne
Spectactular mosaics adorn Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre church
St. Anne -- Feast Day -- July 26
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Magnificat anima mea Dominum
Long after the candlelight processions have ended and participants have dispersed into the warm darkness of a summer evening, these words and the compelling tune of this dramatic Marian paean subtlety reverberate in their heads.
The hymn paraphrases the scriptural account of Our Lady's response to her kinswoman Elizabeth - "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord" (Luke 1:46). And, in many ways, has become the anthem of this shrine which honours both St. Anne and her daughter.
Attending devotions at the great Basilica of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre is a not-to-be forgotten experience. Even approaching the shrine, its stupendous, 100-metre twin towers are visible for many kilometres.
After St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, Ste-Anne is the most popular religious site in Canada and the best-known internationally, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually. It's situated on the great St. Lawrence River just east of Quebec City in an area also noted for spectacular Montmorency Falls and the Ile-de-Orleans.
St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is venerated in many shrines throughout Quebec and is the patron of the province and Canada as well as of homemakers, women in labour and cabinet makers. She is the revered grandmother of Jesus and is honoured as the wife of St. Joachim, who shares her July 26 feast day. Many cures at Beaupre are attributed to her intervention.
Visitors attending one of the many Masses celebrated daily at the church might be excused if, during the homily, they find their eyes wandering across the fantastically decorated central arch of the nave, high overhead. There, 26 mosaic panels, accompanied by texts in French, record the life of St. Anne as a model wife and mother. Ideas for the scenes are taken mainly from the apocryphal Protevangel of James, a second century work, and from the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria.
A shrine of St. Anne has existed here since a miraculous cure was reported during construction of the first church in 1658. The present basilica dates from 1934 after an earlier church was destroyed by fire in 1922.
It's an impressive structure that features neo-Romanesque architecture with a plan in the shape of a Latin cross. Visitors approach the central entrance via a long flight of steps and a wide porch. Overhead, a frieze depicts the saint welcoming people from various historic periods to her church - seamen, clergy, ordinary people. And the mother of Our Lady dominates the front gable of the basilica, high overhead, as a more than four-metre-high 1885 sculpture.
Once inside, visitors between Masses have the options of just absorbing the sacred milieu, of paying homage to the famous miraculous statue of St. Anne, or of examining the d‚cor and architecture of the building, a study in itself. Entire guide books are available that describe, for example, elements of the central arch, the church's mosaic pavements and the subsidiary arches.
The Shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre is well set up to accommodate the thousands that daily converge on the site. Hostel-style lodging and meals are available on the grounds as well as the usual townsite motels and restaurants and a large campground. The well-staffed Welcome Centre provides information on the many Masses and devotions taking place at the basilica.
And, in between times, some may simply wish to meditate beside the great tidal river, enjoy the wildlife there, and contemplate the hymn, still playing in their heads.
"Magnificat anima mea Dominum"