To That Shrine Most Holy: A Photographic Tour of Ste. Anne de Beaupré Shrine, Pt. 1
A brief photographic tour of one of the most beloved shrines in North America, part 1
At the end of July, Pope Francis visited Canada for a few days. On July 28, he offered Mass at the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupré, which is located just north of Quebec City. As an American of close French-Canadian descent, the Shrine of Ste. Anne’s holds a special place in my heart. I have grown up visiting the shrine with my family, and I wanted to share the history and beauty of the basilica with you all in honour of Pope Francis’ visit.
Tradition holds that St. Anne and St. Joachim were the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While we know very little else about them, the Church has always venerated Saints Anne and Joachim for their great privilege of being the parents of Our Lady.
The devoutly Catholic French immigrants and missionaries who settled in New France brought their devotion to St. Anne with them. Around the year 1650, some of these settlers began to build a town called Beaupré, located approximately 30 kilometers north of Quebec City along the St. Laurence River. In need of a church in which to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the people of Beaupré decided to build a chapel in honour of St. Anne in thanksgiving for her protection during their arduous voyage across the Atlantic, as she is the patron saint of sailors. The site was blessed on March 13, 1658, the same day on which the first stones were laid.
Countless miracles have occurred at the shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, beginning on the very first day of its being built. The man who laid the first three stones suffered from severe rheumatism, but the moment he laid the stones, he was suddenly completely cured. Innumerable other miracles have occurred at the shrine since then, as we shall see later.
This first chapel was built too close to the river and was soon structurally damaged by the tides. It was dismantled and rebuilt farther back from the shore, and in 1676, a new stone church replaced it altogether.
As the years went by, more and more pilgrims flocked to Beaupré to visit the shrine in the hopes of receiving a miracle. Several wealthy patrons, including Anne of Austria, generously gave monetary donations to the shrine, which had to be enlarged several times to fit all the pilgrims it received.
In October of 1876, the first basilica was opened on the site, this time the efforts of the Catholics of all of Canada, not just the Beaupré area. Increasing numbers continued to flock to the shrine, which was run by the Redemptorist Fathers. Tragically, on March 29, 1922, a devastating fire broke out at the basilica. The church was destroyed, with almost nothing saved.
However, God always brings good out of every misfortune, and He performed another miracle at the shrine during the fire. On the top of the basilica, between the two steeples, was a large wooden statue of St. Anne and Mary painted gold. Despite the steeples having collapsed in the fire, this wooden statue remained standing.
The new basilica, which is the one that stands today, was erected on the site of the old one and completed in 1926. The statue that miraculously survived the fire of 1922 stands atop the shrine once more, taking its rightful place between the two steeples.
With a brief history of the shrine thus given, we can now take a look at the beautiful basilica itself. As one can see in the picture below of the front façade, it is a Romanesque-style church. The Romanesque style began in the 11th century and ended with the introduction of the Gothic style. While the differences between the two architectural styles are beyond the scope of this article, there are several key features of Romanesque architecture that are present in the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupré.
The thick stone outer walls are a hallmark of Romanesque churches. The arches seen throughout the detailing on the exterior are also a feature of the Romanesque. In the center of the front façade of the basilica is a beautiful rose window. While rose windows are primarily associated with Gothic architecture, they were first introduced in the late Romanesque period.
The exterior of the church is in itself a work of art. Above the main entrance is a tympanum, a semicircular space above the door containing figures depicting St. Anne, surrounded by a mandorla or full body halo. Around her are seen angels and people from all walks of life coming to pay their devotion and gratitude to St. Anne.
Walking into the nave of the basilica through the main doors, visitors’ attention is first drawn to the large pillars in front of them. These are lined with canes and crutches, left by grateful pilgrims who have received healing through the intercession of Good Ste. Anne.
Stepping into the nave, visitors are awed by the magnificence and beauty of the church. Even pilgrims, such as myself, who have visited the shrine many, many times still find themselves experiencing a sense of awe when stepping inside.
The high ceiling and tall arches, the stained glass windows and beautiful mosaics lining the ceiling and floor, the candles along the side walls – there is so much beauty that appeals to all the senses and makes one truly feel the presence of God in such a beautiful sacred space. The heavy stone pillars and round arches are very characteristic of Romanesque architecture; they give the basilica a very rooted, grounded feeling inside, reminding the faithful that as heavenly as this church may be, it is still built by human hands and is nothing compared to the splendors that await in world to come.
The ceiling is lined with mosaics depicting the life of St. Anne based on pious tradition. Directly above the altar are seen Mary, St. Anne, and the Child Jesus, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit above them. St. Anne hands her Divine Grandson a fruit, symbolic of His sacred mission as the Redeemer of the world. The holy figures are immediately surrounded by a large halo, or mandorla. The rest of the sanctuary ceiling is filled with mosaics depicting angels and Canadian saints and martyrs.
Please stay tuned for Part II, in we shall finish our photographic tour of the shrine, beginning with a look at the two chapels in the transept of the basilica, including the most well-loved spot among pilgrims.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Romanesque Architecture.” Encyclopedia Britannica, April 9, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/art/Romanesque-architecture.
“History of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada.” Greener Pasture. https://greenerpasture.com/Places/Details/47.
Leclerc, Clément. “Sainte Anne de Beaupré.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. July 5, 2022. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01539b.htm.
Pierre-Deschênes, Claudine. “Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, February 7, 2006. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ste-anne-de-beaupre.
“Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne de Beaupré.” Various articles. https://sanctuairesainteanne.org/en/.
“The Two Miraculous Statues of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.” Histoire Sainte du Canada. http://histoiresainteducanada.ca/en/the-two-miraculous-statues-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre/.