Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Romantic Canada
Chapter XIV Saint Anne L'Eglise

"SAINT ANNE DE BEAUPRE, Saint Anne l'eglise!"  Thus, the car conductor on the "Electric" between Quebec and Saint Anne de Beaupre on the arrival of the car at the station-gate to the great Shrine.

He pronounces the name of this station with an air not expended on any of the other stopping-places along the line. The people in the car receive it in a different manner, as if with the baited breath of assurance that now "something is going to happen", something they have long waited for, a miracle perhaps.

And so, daily, come and go the thousands of Pilgrims who have come and gone since those early years running back to 1658 when occurred here at this spot in the meadows "The First Miracle". It was out there on the river, the Saint Lawrence, north of lie d' Orleans, on a small bateau, ancestress of the wood-boats that now go upward with the daily tide with their cargoes of firewood to Quebec, that Saint Anne first discovered herself to the crew of hard-pressed mariners, as habitant of this particular bit of shore. It was Saint Anne who snatched them from a watery grave in the treacherous river. And what a sea that bit of the river can make up! Only navigators in these parts can have any idea of the way that river, out there beyond the pier, can make up a sea! Old-timers and scientists say "There's something about the gaps in the mountains back yonder," pointing beyond the Cote, "that does it. They've got an awful spite in 'em when they brew a storm in their old cauldron."

So, watching one of these storms and seeing the old-timers alongshore, from Visitation to Cap Tourment, shaking their heads, one is impressed by the fact, that nothing Sainte Anne could have done would have so firmly established her authority and power in the popular mind as the fact that she was not afraid of the river; that, never mind how hard a cross-sea were lifted up to the tide and the wind crossing swords for supremacy out here in this narrow passage beset with mud-banks and rocks, residue of the ice-age, she could, and did, guide that little boat to a safe landing here, and the sailors to the terra firma they had never expected to feel underfoot again.

Sailors are grateful. They belong to the Big-hearted. They promised Saint Anne an A.B.'s share of the voyage. And they kept their promise. They built her first church in these parts—a seamen's church be it remembered.

And from that day to this Saint Anne l'Eglise has held true to her course. Every church that has been here erected has suffered the fortune of a ship at sea. The foundations of that first church were, as it were, laid in a gale. But staunchly it weathered the same and came to port all spars standing.

The little old Church still stands against the hillside, sheltered in an honoured old age in the arms of the Cote, anchored in its own little haven under the hill.

Soon the old church became too small, and the foundations of a new church were laid and, in time, the beautiful Basilica reared its two spires tall against the sky with the statue of Ste. Anne high between them, still in the "Crow's Nest," en garde. The Basilica became enshrined in the hearts of people far and near. Yearly its hold on public affection broadened until Saint Anne de Beaupre became a "Shrine" to a continent.

Five, six, seven thousand pilgrims in a day became the order and still they came, overflowing the pensions, spreading out on the benches in the yard, eating lunches under the maples in the garden and washing down the big slice with copious draughts of water from the big Fountain—Saint Anne's fountain.

"Saint Anne's" became as well known in the land as Ottawa, Quebec or Montreal, more popular than Halifax, Saint John or Vancouver. Why? It is the Capital of Faith, the Place of the Miracle. And faith lies very close to the human heart. Hence the Pilgrims by the thousands.

And each of these Pilgrims goes away to talk about and tell to others what he has seen and heard at this Canadian Lourdes. And the following year sees a wide increase in the number of people coming here and a greater geographical range of the pilgrimages, like spokes in a wheel narrowing to the hub. In the foundation stones of the Basilica were set forth in letters, deep-cut in the granite on the outside so that all the world might read, the characteristics of Saint Anne and the departments of life entrusted to her protection. They read like a splendid chapter out of some epic—La Protectrice de Pecheurs—de Navigatenrs—du Canada.

Inside La Basilica, the same air of bigness; people coming and going; benediction in French or in English; the great altar at Mass, a concentration of flowers and —light; the sun itself throwing through the beautiful stained-glass windows a rich amethystine ray on the priestly robes, on the altar linen, on the purple and white Campanulas.

A thousand votive candles burn in the side chapels. Processions of the lame, the halt, the blind, creep faltering in step though bold in spirit to kiss the relic. Till ten o'clock at night the great doors stand open. In the Sacristy are the gifts that came dripping like dewdrops from the hands and hearts of the Pilgrims of the Ages and of the day. Things of inestimable intrinsic value rub edges with the intrinsically valueless—the gift of a poor servant girl with the handiwork of Anne of Austria. La Basilica! La Basilica!

Habitants of the Cote looked down upon it with the utmost satisfaction. If La Basilica were the Shrine of all America, to them it was intimate—their dear Parish-Church, the Church where Mass for the Parish was said every Sunday morning. When any of them were sick, out of its great doors came the Blessed Sacrament in the hand of their Priest, heralded through the streets of the village by one of their boys, an acolyte with the bell. When any of them were to be married so early in the morning almost before the sun was up, was it not to La Basilica Cecile or Angelique, Henri or Frangois repaired with their families for the ceremony? And when the Angel of Death flew low over the Cote was it not to La Basilica that all that was mortal of Madame or M'sieu went out to the last Mass?

Built in 1876 it was woven deep into the hearts of people widely scattered in habitat, widely removed from each other in wealth and social standing, antipodal in learning. It was the Mecca of the faithful, the objective of many an idle sightseer.

Built in 1876, for forty-six years it had been a landmark of the Beaupre countryside. Its tall shining towers were as channel-marks to the wood-boats a-wash on their way to Quebec. Chevals of distant farms knew the road to its door almost by heart. Old women from 'tite de Cap and Saint Fereol coming in to sell their quarts of wild framboise, or the new pommes des terres crossed themselves, passing hurriedly to supply the hungry tables of les Pensions.

The blind beggar who lost his sight in its building gathered his pennies in his little tin cup at the gate. The old fellow with the row of empty bottles by the Steps of Scala Sancta eked out a living and sent a wave of cheer to many a poor sufferer in remote villages who wiping his face with a dash of water from Saint Anne's well felt in body and soul a little—refreshment.

Then one morning a short while ago, a little tongue of fire, out-of-bounds, caught up in the palm of one of those gales brewed in the cauldron of the mountains to the north and northeast, as it played with wild fierceness down over the Cote and licked up the Saint Lawrence from the east, threw its lurid veil through the sacristy. Inch by inch, then suddenly, foot by foot, the servant, that was Light, became a master of destruction. The Brothers did their best from the first. But the fire driven by the gale was soon out of hand.

It swept into the church carrying all the great building before it. The fire department came with apparatus from Quebec. But in a few hours the Basilica was but a heap of smouldering ruins.

All that was fundamental, of course, remains. Saint Anne is still "Saint Anne de Beaupre", the Saint of the beautiful Meadow.

Her first miracle was wrought here long before there was any church. She saved the storm-tossed sailors of the Seventeenth Century on just such a night, from just such a gale.

Saint Anne is a character and must ever remain so, one of the very real personalities of Canadian life. An image of her rides in every fisherman's pocket out of Perce, Baie de Chaleur outports, and in the mackerel-boats of Les Madeleines. A bisque or plaster figure of her stands above every habitant mantelpiece from Mon- treal to Tadousac.

But La Basilica belongs to a page of Canadian history, too. It was a part of a Canadian landscape for nigh on half a century, in which time it was the scene of many a miracle. Optimists encouragingly say "But it will be restored, or a better and larger church built. Anyway, that was even now almost too small for convenience. So many thousands of Pilgrims! Oh yes, a bigger church was needed."

Thus the young folk look forward and plan. But the old, what of the old?

Aged men of the Cote feel that with the destruction of la Basilica something spiritual passed out of their lives. They felt it a gallery wherein were stored the life-pictures that they treasured. Memories of mothers and fathers in the old pews, themselves as boys by their side; memories of their own wedding, memories of first masses and of christenings ... of requiem masses.

What of the people who have received spiritual and physical aid here? Did not Saint Anne's l'eglise fill a page in their life, a page licked up in the flames, and not to be re-written, as when an Hour-Book, finely illuminated, was lost in Time?

Who can restore the mazarene blue to the tablet of Labradorite that stood by the door? Who can bring back the voice of the great organ? Or who restore the exquisite lines of the old pulpit?

But the fundamental remains—the great out-doors, le jarditi. Still the Pilgrims come. Still on calm evenings there will be the long processions through the dusk winding up the hill, faces aglow from the lighted candles in their paper 'sconces.

Still five thousand voices will sing "Magnificat, Magnificat!" Still, on midsummer mornings, the old Brother will go round, watering-pot in hand, among the flowers.

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.