Last July 27, the annual pilgrimage of Tradition to Sainte-Anne de Beaupré took place in Quebec. This pilgrimage was founded in 1984 with a dozen young men one of whom, M. l’abbé Daniel Couture, was then a young priest.
This first pilgrimage took place over two days. The first evening, the pilgrims set up their tents within two kilometres of the basilica, and, all around a campfire, they read the history of the Canadian Martyrs. The next day, the young men, accompanied by M. l’abbé Couture, presented themselves at the sacristy of the shrine where he was granted the privilege of celebrating his mass in one of the side chapels. The following year, sixteen persons met to honour the Good Sainte-Anne, but this time the basilica was refused to them for the mass. In 1993, we celebrated the tenth pilgrimage; one hundred persons entered the basilica in procession. This year, the sanctuary welcomed three hundred pilgrims who, singing the hymn "Vive Sainte-Anne," went solemnly to the statue of the Good Saint Anne.
At the first light of day, the nineteenth pilgrimage began this year. At 6:30 AM, the pilgrims received a blessing in Saint Ignatius Church, in the Robert Giffard district in Quebec City. Then they advanced with piety and good spirits behind the statue of the Good Sainte-Anne, while singing the rosary and religious songs, interrupted with some marching songs to give heart to the procession on this rainy morning. At 11:15, solemn mass was celebrated at the Marist Brothers chapel at Château-Richer. After a picnic lunch, our walkers arrived finally at Sainte-Anne's basilica at about 6:00 PM. The pilgrims then entered in procession into the basilica. There, after the litany of Sainte-Anne, the faithful were able to reverence the relics of the saint and receive the final blessing.
The cult of Sainte-Anne first developed in the East during the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. This Council affirmed the maternity of the Virgin Mary, and, by that fact, highlighted her mother, Sainte-Anne. In Jerusalem, for the first time, this saint was honoured, and from Jerusalem, the cult spread to Constantinople, and then throughout the Orient. In the West, the cult of Sainte-Anne appeared only around the eighth century, under the oriental influence. >From Rome, the cult propagated to England and as far as Scandinavia and from Spain as far as Hungary. In America, the cult of Sainte-Anne arrived at the same time as the colonists. Indeed, our ancestors came mainly from Paris and regions of the Northwest of France, regions where the cult to the Good Saint Anne was already strongly developed. For these regions there were indeed already two places of pilgrimage. The first was for Auray, in Brittany, which became a famous pilgrimage because of the apparitions of Sainte-Anne at Nicolazic (during the year1625) and the second in Paris, which was developed due to the influence of Queen Anne of Austria who attributed the birth of her son Louis XIV to Sainte-Anne.
Due to the Jesuit missionaries, the devotion to Sainte-Anne was an integral part of the French colonization in North America. In Quebec, on September 24, 1647, the construction of the parochial church began. In this church, a chapel was dedicated to Sainte-Anne. Later, in 1658 , at St. Anne de Beaupré, then called Petit-Cap, began construction of a small church dedicated to Sainte-Anne, to provide for the devotion of the sailors, probably the fulfillment of a promise. It was during the construction of this first church that the first miracle took place. A disabled person, Louis Guimond, limped with difficulty onto the construction site to place three small stones in the foundation. Miraculously, he was cured. However the good sailors had not counted on the tides, which could be very high and powerful at certain times of the year. It was necessary to build farther and higher up the bank.
In 1661, a second church was built, vaster, more solid, and sheltered from the tides. On August 22 of this same year, the Bishop de Laval charged l’abbé Thomas Morel with the ministry of Beaupré's coast. It is in this church that we see the miraculous statue probably brought by Bishop de Laval. People came from all over the country to Sainte-Anne of the Petit-Cap. A long series of miracles was about to begin. In a letter written in 1665, Venerable Marie of the Incarnation (now beatified) says to us: " Seven leagues from Quebec, there is a village called Petit-Cap, where there is a church of Saint Anne in which Our Lord works great miracles in favour of this holy Mother of the most holy Virgin. One sees walking there the paralytics, the blind persons receive sight, and patients with every disease recover health." On March 30, 1666, the governor, M. de Courcelles and his household, 30 persons altogether came in pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne. In August of this same year, the lieutenant general, M. de Tracy, accompanied by his wife and Mgr. de Laval came to see the great Saint. On May 17, the lieutenant Talon went in his turn.
On December 3, 1667, Mgr. de Laval decreed the feast of Sainte Anne, July 26, and a Holy Day of Obligation for all of New France. In 1668, he obtained from the chapter of Carcassonne (in Southern France) the first relic, a fragment of bone from a finger of the mother of the Virgin. On March 10, 1670, this relic was exposed solemnly for public veneration.
The first organized pilgrimage was made by the Huron of the Côte Saint-Michel (today Sainte-Foy) in 1671 under the direction of Father Chaumonot. The Indians came from everywhere to honor Sainte-Anne, whom they called the Good Grandmother. Some went on their knees from the plain all the way to the church.
This church rapidly became too small. In 1676, a third church rose. After five years of pilgrimage, it was necessary to enlarge it. In 1882, side chapels were added. In 1886, it was again necessary to enlarge it; the building was lengthened by forty feet and two new towers surmounting the front facade with a statue of Saint Anne in between were added.
In 1759, during the conquest, the church was miraculously saved. Three times the invaders tried to set fire to it, but it extinguished itself after every attempt.
People came from a great distance and at all times of the year to honor the Good Sainte-Anne. She was particularly venerated by the Indians, and by the sailors, who, passing in front of the church, fired salvoes of cannon. Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, our great explorer, had a great devotion to Sainte-Anne. He left two ex-votos in the church. Following this, the cult of Sainte-Anne spread across all of America. In Canada, the church of Sainte Anne de Varennes, near Montreal, was founded in 1693. Five years later, in 1698, Sainte-Anne of Pointe Saint-Charles was established. In 1710 Sainte-Anne de Bellevue was founded in the west of the island of Montreal, and in 1714 Sainte-Anne of Pérade near Trois-Rivières. In the United States, we count today more than three hundred churches or chapels dedicated to Saint Anne. Furthermore, many Americans came and come still to Sainte Anne de Beaupré.
From 1844 till 1890, a long series of pilgrimages by boat began. In 1870, even a regular ferry service was established. On May 7, 1876, at the request of Mgr. Taschereau, the pope Pie IX proclaimed Sainte-Anne Patron Saint of the province of Quebec. At the same time, Mgr. Taschereau confided the shrine to the Redemptorists. Year after year the pilgrimage grew in size. In 1878, the number was forty thousand pilgrims, in 1900, one hundred thirty-five thousand, and in 1923, two hundred fifty thousand persons. On May 5, 1887, Leo XIII gave to the shrine of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré the title of Minor Basilica. On March 29, 1922, the basilica was annihilated by fire; everything was destroyed except the statue of Sainte-Anne. The basilica was quickly reconstructed due to the generous donations of the Catholics of Canada and of the United States and today, we meet every year to go and honour the Good Sainte-Anne.
Next year our pilgrimage will take place on July 26, on the feast of Sainte-Anne. Come in great numbers, Catholics of America. It is necessary for us to enlarge our ranks to render to Sainte-Anne the homage due to her, and to sing the glory of the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. For, as said Mgr. de Laval of the devotion to Sainte-Anne: “We admit that nothing has helped us more effectively to support the weight of the pastoral burden of this growing Church than the special devotion which the inhabitants of this country bear towards Sainte-Anne: devotion, which, we affirm, distinguishes them from all the other peoples.” 1
- 1. Mgr de Laval, June 25, 1680, in the text of approval to the anthology of miracles written by Fr. Morel, first Pastor of Saint Anne of Petit Cap.