Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 28, 2006
Our Lady graces Saint-François
Seamen's recovery from killing scurvy is attributed to Our Lady's intercession
Our Lady of Rocamadour – September 8
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
This statue of Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour is one of several in Saint-François-d'Assise Church.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Visitors to Quebec City will find Canada's oldest Christian religious site north of the old city walls. The Church of Saint-Fran‡ois-d'Assise and adjacent Cartier-Br‚beuf Park are closely associated with the first western explorations of the area and a revered image of Our Lady.
In the fall of 1535, St-Malo explorer Jacques Cartier and his crew established a winter camp on the little St. Charles River, tributary to the St. Lawrence on the site of the future provincial capital.
Midway through Cartier's first Canadian winter, unusually severe to him, the men began to suffer from scurvy. He had lost 25 of his 110-man contingent before local natives identified a cure for the malady - tea made from the white cedar tree.
Amazed at the sick men's recovery, he stated in his ship's log that "It has been a true and evident miracle"and assembled his men for prayers and a thanksgiving procession to install a statue of Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour in a special bower constructed in the forest.
Our Lady's intercession had been sought through the image from her shrine at Rocamadour in France, an ancient pilgrimage site over the tomb of first century hermit St. Amadour.
Widely travelled Breton seamen such as Malouin Cartier, were familiar with the popular shrine, so it's not surprising that this statue of Mary would be carried on the voyage.
The year 1625 saw the arrival of other noteworthy historical figures in the form of a group of Jesuits.
They built the first mission in the St. Lawrence Valley here and included Father Jean de Br‚beuf, destined 24 years later to become one of Canada's first martyrs for his faith.
When the Church of Saint-Fran‡ois-d'Assise was built nearby in 1919, Cardinal Begin thought that it would be appropriate to recall the events of 383 years earlier by establishing a shrine in the church to honour Our Lady of Rocamadour.
Today's pilgrims are greeted outside Saint-Fran‡ois by a life-size image of a seated Mary holding the Christ Child on her knee. Both wear crowns and a book of the Scriptures is held by Jesus.
Inside, the focal point of the softly lit house of God is a painting behind the main altar of the patron, 13th century founder of the Franciscan order.
Elsewhere in the church, the presence of Our Lady is unavoidable. She and the Christ Child are portrayed in at least three sculptures, all showing the seated pair, crowned and clothed in rich, gold-trimmed garments, Jesus' right hand raised in blessing.
Cartier-Br‚beuf National Park was established on the banks of the St. Charles to preserve and memorialize the site of the early navigator's fort and the later Jesuit mission.
Visitors can tour a small museum, which among other artefacts features a very old icon of Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour, buy books and souvenirs or visit a replica native longhouse.
Prominent on the manicured, riverside grounds is a large cross, a replica of that placed here by Cartier.
Saint-Fran‡ois and its shrine became incorporated in 1998 with four other area churches, into the new parish of Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour with offices currently at St-Fidele Church on 4e Avenue.
At Saint-Fran‡ois, Masses are celebrated on three weekday evenings and twice on weekends.
And each year on the Saturday evening following the feast of Mary's birth on Sept. 8, a statue of Our Lady is carried in a candlelight procession from the memorial cross in Cartier-Br‚beuf Park to the shrine in the church dedicated to Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour.