Catholic Truth Society – Good Saint Anne, The Mother of Our Lady

Saint AnneGood Saint Anne

Many if not most of the saints have had holy mothers, mothers who understood the tremendous responsibility of Christian motherhood, and who strove to instil into their children’s minds the truths of religion from the first moment of the dawn of reason. We read of the mother of Saint Louis, King of France, that she repeated to him constantly, “My son, I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of one mortal sin.” We read of the mother of the sainted Curé d’Ars that she had consecrated him to God even before his birth, and never allowed him to forget that he belonged in a special manner to the Most High. We read of the mother of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino that she kept repeating the names of Jesus and Mary into his infant ears. We know of Saint Monica’s life-long struggle with Satan for the soul of her son, afterwards the great Saint Augustine, of the saintly mother of the “Little Flower,” Saint Therésè, in our own times, and of hosts of others. What a privilege and what a responsibility is a mother’s! It would almost seem as though she could make her child a saint if she set her mind to it, if she began with the infant, with the tender sapling, training it to grow in the right way while it is capable of being trained. Surely, no commendation is too high for a good mother.

And if the mothers of saints and all good mothers deserve to be praised and honoured, what praise and honour are great enough for her who was worthy to be mother of the Queen of Saints, good Saint Anne, grandmother according to the flesh of Our Saviour Jesus Christ? Devotion to Saint Anne is the spontaneous warm and hearty outpouring of the true Catholic heart which loves Mary. One feels how Mary must have loved and reverenced her mother. The Immaculate Virgin obeyed and practised in their utmost perfection the commandments of the Law. Next to Jesus Christ Himself, none other ever honoured and obeyed parents as she did, and with that honour and obedience went the most intense filial love.

What must have been the holiness of that parent who was made the mother of the only one among the descendants of Adam conceived and born without stain of sin? God fashioned Saint Anne to be the perfect mother of a still more perfect daughter. He trained her in the school of humiliation, of hope deferred, of prayers unanswered, of years of disappointment borne with perfect meekness and resignation, and then, in her old age the miracle was wrought, the prayers of years were answered, and oh! what an answer! The Immaculate Mary was conceived in her womb. She became the mother of her who was to be “the glory of Jerusalem, the honour of our people, the joy of Israel, above all women upon the earth.” In a word, Saint Anne was the mother of the Mother of God. She was not alone to bring forth a pure, beautiful and glorious child, but she was further given the charge of preparing and educating her daughter for the sublime dignity which awaited her.

When one meets a virtuous and amiable girl it is natural to say, “That girl has been well brought up. She must have had a good mother.” But what a girl was Mary! Of her, Saint Ambrose says “What more noble than the Mother of God. She was a virgin in body and mind, whose candour was incapable of deceit or disguise, humble in heart, grave in words, wise in her resolutions, she spoke seldom and little, read assiduously, and placed her confidence not in inconstant riches but in the prayers of the poor. Being always employed with fervour, she would have no witness of her heart but God alone. She injured no one, was beneficent to all, honoured her superiors, envied not equals, shunned vain-glory, followed reason, and ardently loved virtue. Her actions had nothing unbecoming, her gait nothing of levity, her voice nothing of overbearing assurance. Her exterior was so well regulated that in her body was seen a picture of her mind. Her charities knew no bounds, temperate in her diet she prolonged her fasts several days, and the most ordinary meats were her choice, not to please the taste but to sustain nature. It was not her custom to go out of doors except to the house of prayer, and this always in the company of relatives.”

What a model for young girlhood was Mary, and what a testimony to a good mother’s care and example. Of that mother, Saint Jerome says: “Anne is the glorious tree from which bloomed a twig under Divine Influence. She is the consecrated ground which brought forth the Burning Bush. She is the sublime Heaven from whose heights the Star of the Sea neared its rising. She is the blessed barren woman, happy mother among mothers, from her pure womb came forth the shining temple of God, the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of God.”

Mary is the Treasurer of all graces. How great then the privilege and dignity conferred by God upon Saint Anne when God chose her for Mary’s mother? “Blessed, thrice blessed, are you, Saint Anne!” exclaims Saint John Damascene, the great Doctor of the Church, “who did receive from God and bring forth the blessed Child from whence proceeded Christ, the Flower of Life.” Even her beautiful name Anne (grace) signifies gracious, — loving, — and refers to her sublime destiny. She too had been selected from all eternity like her beloved child. To her may be applied the words of Saint Bernardine of Siena regarding Saint Joseph:

“In the Kingdom of God the universal rule is ‘If God elects anyone for a special privilege and a sublime state, He bestows on that chosen person all the gifts necessary for its adornment’.”

“Anne was the most chaste of virgins,” wrote (Venerable) Mary of Agreda in the ‘City of God.’ “From her very childhood she possessed the fullness of every virtue. She was being continually enlightened, and was constantly engaged in devout meditation. Her unceasing prayer was that the Redeemer might come quickly. Had Anne not been adorned with angelic purity she could never have become the mother of the Virgin of Virgins. Without purity the great miracle of Mary’s Immaculate Conception could never have taken place in her womb.”

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich in her visions saw Saint Anne in ecstasy, enveloped in heavenly splendour, and surrounded by hosts of angels at the moment of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. She beheld the Heavens open, and the Blessed Trinity and angels rejoicing. Equally great was the Heavenly jubilation at Mary’s birth. Saint Anne shares in the glory of Mary in a special manner on the great feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Nativity, they are her feasts also, on which her clients should rejoice with her.

Saint Anne’s Life on Earth

All that we know about Saint Anne has been derived from what is called “Apocryphal” literature. There were certain writings of the apostles and other holy people of the early ages of the church, which though not accepted as the inspired Word of God, were yet regarded with respect and veneration, and as of historical importance. They related many details about Our Lord’s family connections, which are not to be found in the Gospels. These writings were called “Apocryphal.” One of them is called the “Proto-Gospel of Saint James” and it tells us what we are here to relate regarding the parents of Our Blessed Lady. Saint Joachim was descended from the great king and prophet David, although at the time of Our Lady’s birth that family had sunk into poverty and comparative obscurity. His wife Anna belonged to the tribe of Aaron, the High Priest, and brother of Moses the great law-giver. The tribe of Aaron had always been set apart for the priestly office. Thus, both parents of Our Lady were of the very flower of the Jewish race. In purity of life and nobility of character, they far exceeded all who had preceded them. But to outward seeming, Joachim and Anna were like their neighbours. They had to work hard, because the family of David had not prospered in the worldly sense; and though they possessed a little bit of land it needed constant labour to wrest a living from it. The women of the East help their men in the fields, and so did Saint Anne help Saint Joachim. She drew water from the well at eventide when the day’s work was over, she helped to grind the corn or grain which she afterwards made into bread, she made butter, and no doubt kept bees and gathered the honey, as all the peasant women did in the little town of Nazareth where she dwelt with her husband. All the garments which she and her husband wore, and all the furnishings of her little home were spun and fashioned by her own industrious hands. The “Lesson” for Saint Anne’s Feast is taken from “Proverbs 31.” It describes a “valiant woman” and is eminently suitable to the mother of Mary.

“Who shall find a valiant woman? From afar, and the utmost bounds is her price. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he shall not want for spoil. She will render him good, and not evil all the days of her life. She has put out her hands to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle. She has opened her hand to the needy, and stretched out her hands to the poor — strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day. She has opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue. She has looked well to the paths of her house, and has not eaten her bread idle. Her children have risen up and called her blessed; and her husband, he praised her. Many daughters have gathered riches, you have surpassed them all. Favour is deceitful and beauty vain. The woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

Such was Anna or Anne, beloved and cherished spouse of Joachim. Surely, these two were happy! They were certainly very happy in each other, but one thing was wanting to complete their happiness to make their home a paradise. That one thing was a child. This virtuous and noble pair were childless. In most cases the lack of offspring is disappointing to a good, happily-wedded couple, but under the Jewish dispensation it was more than disappointing, it was a tragedy — a disgrace. Sterility was considered by the Jews to be a judgment of God on the woman for some sin. Motherhood was a sign of God’s blessing on the righteous, and Jewish women longed for children because each one hoped that the expected and promised Redeemer, the Messiah — would come of her family. For a childless woman there could be no such hope. In such a case, it was even permitted to her husband to put her away. Joachim and Anna had been wedded for over twenty years. All that time they had prayed that God might bestow offspring upon them, but in vain. They beheld themselves growing old. Humanly speaking there was no hope that Anna would become a mother, but Joachim never thought of deserting her. Rather, he loved her the more, and shared in her humiliation. They were both resigned to God’s Will, and prayed together that the Messiah would come quickly. They did not guess that He was to be their own grandson, according to the flesh.

At length the biggest humiliation of his life came to Joachim. He was refused entrance into the temple on a feast-day. The High Priest told him that being childless his sacrifice would not be acceptable to God. But both he and his wife turned to God for comfort, and Anne promised that if the Lord took away her reproach she would dedicate her child to His service. The faith of the pious couple was rewarded by the apparition of an angel who assured them that they would have a child “whom all the world should bless.” The promise was fulfilled when Anne became the mother of a daughter, Mary, known to after ages as “Blessed among women.”

The devout clients of Saint Anne may learn from this brief recital to have confidence in her who lived such a perfect life, and yet experienced humiliation and disappointment for so many years. She will not be deaf to the prayers of those who are still in this Vale of Tears. And as Mary was the great gift sent to Anne to console her for all she had endured, so will she lead us also to Mary, and obtain for us the aid of her Blessed Child. On the day of her purification, Saint Anne thanked the Lord for all His mercies, and promised to bring her daughter to the temple when she should be of suitable age. This done, the pious little family returned to Nazareth. In representations of Saint Anne, we always see her with her blessed child beside her, while a book lies open upon the mother’s knee. It is the book of the Holy Scriptures. According to the Fathers of the Church, Mary’s reason shone forth from her earliest years, and she understood without difficulty all that her mother taught her from the inspired pages, which she soon learned to read herself. With particular reverence and love would the holy Virgin study those passages which spoke of the Redeemer to come, and in her humility she longed to be even the handmaid of the Virgin who was to bring forth the Messiah.

Did Anne guess from the angel’s message to her what was to be the sublime destiny of her daughter? If so, with what reverence and love combined must she not have gazed upon that daughter’s lovely face, how carefully did she not train and teach her. Dutifully and lovingly, the little Mary listened to her mother, drinking in every word, and learning to love her mother more and more as she realized that mother’s virtues. How Anne must have advanced on the Way of Perfection because of this close contact with Mary, the “Mystical Rose”!

The perfect mother and still more perfect child form a beautiful and inexhaustible subject for contemplation and meditation.

At length the time arrived when Anne must fulfil her vow, and part with the treasure of her home. It was the custom of {some} pious Jewish families to have their daughters brought up within the precincts of the temple of Jerusalem, in order that they might benefit by the instructions of the High Priest, and be taught all that it is useful for young girls to know by pious women older than themselves. Joachim and Anne lived at Nazareth. They set out with their daughter to make the long journey to Jerusalem. Great artists have often taken for their theme the Presentation of the youthful Virgin in the Temple. They have painted her as they saw her in their mind’s eye. We see the long flight of steps which the lovely child ascends alone. Her parents stand beneath gazing after her with longing eyes. The High Priest stands above, with hands outstretched, behind him her future companions. But no one can depict the terrible loneliness of the mother and child. Only those who have known such partings can have some faint idea of their feelings. Only the thought that they were doing God’s Will sustained them. It is said that Joachim and Anne in their later days came to live in Jerusalem, in a little house near the Temple so as to be near their daughter Mary. What a consolation it must have been to their declining years to behold her each day increasing in grace and beauty. There is a lovely picture of the youthful Virgin in the Temple, which is venerated under the title of “Mater Admirabilis” (Mother most Admirable). This painting hangs in an oratory in the Sacred Heart Convent of the Trinita dei Monti in Rome. Many wonderful favours have been granted to those who have prayed before it. These, and the interesting history attached to the picture and its title would seem to indicate that Our Lady wishes us to recall those early days in the Temple when she prayed and worked and meditated and prepared herself without knowing it, for the great dignity awaiting her.

Saint Anne often visited Mary in the Temple, and the good pious daughter often went to help and comfort the parents who were growing old and feeble. Joachim died first, in the arms of the faithful wife whom he had so loved and cherished through all the vicissitudes of life, and in the presence of the daughter who was to be the Mother of God. Only the death of Saint Joseph could be more blessed than that of Joachim. As he gazed into the face of his pure and lovely daughter, did God reveal the great secret to his soul? Did he and Anne read the unspoken thought in one another’s eyes? We do not know. The old man blessed his wife and daughter, and gave up his soul in peace. Anna did not long survive him. The best traditions tell us that she did not live to behold Our Saviour. It is supposed that she died in Jerusalem some months after the death of Joachim. We can picture to ourselves the beautiful death of Saint Anne. She had been a holy and valiant woman all her days. In the last years of her life, in the intimate companionship of Mary she had arrived at the most sublime heights of prayer and contemplation. Mary prayed beside her dying bed, soothed her anguish, wiped the sweat of death from her brow. What a union of hearts there was between this mother and child. Who can better help us to draw near to Mary than her mother Saint Anne? The good mother breathed her last sigh, and died, blessing Mary with her last breath, while the tears of the loving daughter rained down upon her face. Surely, Saint Anne must be the Patroness as Saint Joseph is the Patron of a happy death. Those who have to grieve for a loving mother should seek consolation from the Blessed Virgin, reminding her of the sorrow and loneliness she felt at the death of Saint Anne. Mothers who have reason to fear lest they should be called away from their children while these are yet of tender age, should invoke in a special manner the protection of Saint Anne, and implore her, and her Virgin Daughter to protect their little ones.

We may be sure that Saint Anne took care to provide faithful and prudent guardians for her child before leaving this world. The little house at Nazareth where Mary had been born was left to her as a patrimony, and there, a few years later the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the Mother of God.

Veneration of Saint Anne

The body of Saint Anne was buried outside the gates of Jerusalem. There, in the first days of her bereavement we can imagine Mary going to weep beside the tomb, before she retired to her little home at Nazareth. There, in after years she would have come, accompanied by Joseph, and later by Jesus Himself, when they came to visit the Temple. Later still, widowed and childless, she would linger beside her mother’s grave after she had revisited the scenes of her Son’s Passion. We may suppose then that the tomb of Saint Anne was an object of great veneration to all the disciples of Our Lord. They would have been horrified at the idea that those sacred remains should be desecrated by profane hands. Yet they knew, because of Our Lord’s prophecy that the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand. Lazarus, Martha and Mary and some others determined to leave the doomed city before the judgment of God fell upon it, but they would not leave the body of Our Lady’s mother to be profaned by the brutal soldiery of Titus. They carried it away with them, over the seas. They landed in the south of France, and tradition relates that they buried Saint Anne’s body in a cave at a place called Apt in Provence, in the south of France. Later on, a church was built over the spot, but owing to wars and religious persecutions the faithful were so harassed that they could not practise their devotions there, so it fell into decay, and even the place of Saint Anne’s sepulture was forgotten. When peace returned to France and Catholics could breathe once more, a magnificent church was erected on the site of the old one, but the cave or crypt where the holy remains lay could not be found. During the consecration of the new church however, in the eighth century, God chose, by a wonderful miracle, to disclose the resting-place of the grandmother of Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.

At the most solemn part of the ceremonies a boy of fourteen, who was among the congregation, was noticed as becoming very excited. He was blind, deaf and dumb, and usually quiet and impassive. What was the surprise of everybody when he suddenly rose from his seat, walked up to the altar steps, and struck his stick several times upon one of them. His friends and others thinking he had suddenly gone mad tried to remove him, but in vain. He became still more violently excited, and kept on striking on the same spot. The Emperor Charlemagne was present in the church, and all eyes were turned upon him seeking advice or orders as to what to do. He, doubtless inspired by God, gave orders that workmen were to be summoned to remove the steps. This was done, and a subterraneous passage was discovered. The afflicted boy jumped into it, followed by the Emperor, and made signs that they were to break down a wall which impeded their progress. This was done, and at the end of a long narrow corridor, another crypt was discovered, and, in front of a walled recess they saw a lamp burning, which sent forth an unearthly radiance. At that moment, the light went out, while at the same moment the afflicted boy was given to see, to hear and to speak. He called out “It is she.” Charlemagne echoed his words, and the cry was taken up by the crowds who sank on their knees, overcome by emotion.

In the casket, when dug out, they found a winding sheet, enclosing the relics, and bearing the inscription: “Here lies the body of Saint Anne, mother of the glorious Virgin Mary.” The winding sheet was found to be of Eastern design and texture, such as would be likely to be used in the Holy Land. Charlemagne, after venerating the sacred remains of Saint Anne, thus unexpectedly and miraculously brought to light had an exact narrative of the occurrence drawn up by a Notary, and a copy of the same sent to the Pope with a letter from the Emperor. These documents and the Pope’s reply are still extant.

The cathedral built over the crypt holding the remains of Saint Anne is dedicated to Saint Auspice, the bishop who received the saint’s body from the disciples, and who interred it in this place, deep in the earth to save it from profane hands. From the time of the above- mentioned discovery, this cathedral at Apt became the goal of devout pilgrims from all parts of France and Europe, who flocked thither to pay their homage to the blessed “grandmother” of Jesus Christ. The clergy and people of Apt, fully alive to the importance of the charge committed to them by God, have carefully guarded Saint Anne’s relics all down the centuries, and, though some of them have been bestowed upon various churches, et cetera, the major portion of those relics still repose at Apt. Pilgrims to Saint Anne’s shrine in the venerable cathedral will find piles of ex-votos, (offerings made after a cure and in fulfillment of a vow,) which testify to the gratitude of other pilgrims helped by good Saint Anne during the past eleven hundred years and more. Many devout clients of Our Lady and Saint Anne who visit Lourdes and Saint Anne d’Auray (more of this, soon) will be surprised to learn that, not so very far away from Lourdes rests the body of Our Lady’s own beloved mother.

What historical associations cluster around this shrine at Apt! Charlemagne bowed low before it, kings and queens have prayed there since his time. Crusaders have knelt there to invoke Saint Anne’s blessing upon their pious undertaking. Men and women prominent in the history of Europe during the Middle Ages left rich offerings at the feet of Our Lady’s mother. The great King of France, Louis XIV, was a gift from Saint Anne to his mother, Queen Anne of Austria. Like Saint Anne herself, this queen, wife of Louis XIII, had arrived at an advanced age without bearing a child to be heir to France. She invoked Saint Anne, sending chosen messengers to Apt to pray there. The birth of a son and heir was the extraordinary favour granted to her in return. The queen’s intense gratitude added a side-chapel to the Sanctuary, and thither the body of the saint was removed.

Many valuable gifts presented by Anne of Austria and other wealthy clients of the saint vanished during the stormy period of the French Revolution; fortunately the sacred relics remained untouched. Papal Bulls have over and over again asserted the genuineness of Saint Anne’s relics at Apt, and so keen became the demand for them that at length they could only be obtained by permission of the king. An arm of the saint is enshrined in the basilica of Saint Paul’s outside the Walls, Rome; her right hand is venerated in the church of Saint Anne in Vienna. Countless cures and conversions have taken place at Apt, the first, if not the most famous shrine of Saint Anne.

Saint Anne d’Auray

Less ancient than Apt, but even better known and more popular is the Sanctuary of Saint Anne d’Auray in Brittany, chosen by the Mother of Mary herself as a place where she wished to be specially honoured. It was to a Breton peasant that she made her desire known in a series of wonderful visions. The Bretons were always remarkable for their intense devotion to Saint Anne, whom they regard as their Protectress and Patroness, and whom they address with tender familiarity as their “bonne-mere,” the Breton child’s term of endearment for its grandmother. The saint showed her appreciation of this attitude in a striking manner a little over three hundred years ago in 1623 and 1624. She appeared several times to a humble peasant, named Yves Nicolazic, who lived outside the small village of Keranna (named in honour of Saint Anne). There was nothing remarkable about this man. He had reached his fortieth year, and was just a sincere pious Catholic, going regularly to the sacraments, and constantly to be seen with his Rosary beads in his hands. Like every Breton, he was devoted to Saint Anne, speaking of her always as his “good mistress.” One pious habit he especially had, which doubtless was particularly pleasing to his holy Patroness. He was accustomed to visit frequently and to pray upon a certain piece of ground where tradition said that an ancient chapel of Saint Anne had stood. Perhaps as he prayed there he longed that Holy Mass would be celebrated there once more in honour of Our Lady’s mother. His simple pious neighbours neither wondered nor laughed at Yves. He seems to have been generally respected, but taken very much for granted, until Saint Anne picked him out as the person best fitted to accomplish her design of restoring her chapel at Keranna.

One night, in August 1623, he saw in his room a hand holding a lighted wax torch. He was naturally startled, even frightened by this strange experience. It was repeated several times in his own field, called the “Bocenno” where the ancient chapel had stood. There was one part of this field which could never be ploughed, the oxen always refusing to pass over it. The mysterious torch-bearing hand hovered over this spot in particular, and it was seen by many of the villagers besides Nicolazic himself. Saint Anne evidently thought that the poor peasant’s mind needed to be very gently and gradually prepared for his mission. At length she appeared to him in the form of a stately and venerable lady, clad in a snow-white robe, with the now familiar torch in her right hand and a luminous cloud beneath her feet. This happened one evening when he and his brother were driving home their cows, and the men were first made aware of a supernatural presence by the unaccountable behaviour of the beasts, which suddenly stood motionless, and could not be persuaded to stir. Nicolazic and his brother-in-law who saw the vision together fled from it in terror. They regretted their cowardice presently, and returned, but the lady had disappeared.

She came again soon, and after that often appeared to Nicolazic. At last, she spoke to him, and bade him tell his parish priest that she wished her chapel to be rebuilt on the spot in the Bocenno field where she had been honoured long ago. He obeyed very unwillingly, but met with a decided rebuff. The Rector (or parish priest) would scarcely listen to him. The Catholic clergy so far from encouraging superstition as Protestants accuse them of doing, always take a severely critical view of alleged supernatural occurrences, realizing the harm that may be done in a community by one impostor or visionary, and the weakening of faith in the miraculous that may follow on exposure of fraud or insanity. But the Rector and Curate of Keranna carried this commendable caution to excess. Even when an ancient statue of Saint Anne was discovered in the Bocenno field, under the guidance of the heavenly vision, they remained incredulous, and treated Nicolazic with harshness and contempt. In punishment of their obstinacy, they were both afflicted with illness. The Rector on being cured through the intercession of Saint Anne at once ceased his opposition to Nicolazic, did all in his power to hasten the erection of the chapel, and laboured during the rest of his life to spread devotion to the saint who had so generously forgiven his disobedience. The Curate also repented, but continued to suffer until his death a few years later.

The news of the miraculous finding of the statue spread like wildfire through the country. Pilgrims came in crowds to Keranna, which gradually dropped that name, and became known as Saint Anne d’Auray. Subscriptions poured in, and the chapel was speedily erected. Saint Anne had repeatedly told Nicolazic that Keranna would become the most famous of her shrines, and one of the most renowned places of pilgrimage in the world. He lived to see the fulfilment of this prophecy of his “good mistress.” To avoid publicity he retired from Keranna to Pluneret. He received no extraordinary favours himself from Saint Anne, except the gift, after fifteen years of married life of two children, a son and a daughter. Nor was he again favoured by a vision of Saint Anne until a short time before his death, which occurred in 1645, at the age of sixty-three. The Bretons have always venerated him as a saint but it is only recently that his Cause has been introduced at Rome.

Countless miracles have been wrought and extraordinary conversions have taken place during three centuries or so at the shrine of Saint Anne d’Auray, and the pilgrimages thereto never ceased even during the terrors of the French Revolution. Nothing could stamp out the devotion in Brittany, and it is safe to prophesy that it will last as long as the Breton race. A glorious cathedral now replaces the old church in the Bocenno field, and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit it each year.

Saint Anne Beaupre

In addition to Apt and Auray there is yet a third famous Sanctuary dedicated to Saint Anne, that of Beaupré in Canada. The first French settlers in that part of the American continent were chiefly Bretons, and they did not leave their love of Saint Anne behind them in their home country. According to the legendary account of the origin of Beaupré, some Breton sailors when caught in a storm on the Saint Lawrence river besought, as of custom the aid of their Patroness good Saint Anne, and promised, if rescued, to build a chapel in her honour wherever they should land. When after a night of misery they reached in safety the north bank of the river at Beaupré they did not forget their vow. In haste, they erected a little wooden chapel, which was soon enlarged by the generosity of an old mariner resident in Beaupré. From that time, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the usual wonders associated with the devotion to Saint Anne started, and drew the attention of the people of Canada to the spot. The first little chapel had expanded by 1876 into a great basilica, of which the Redemptorist Fathers took charge. It was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1922. The statue and relics of Saint Anne were untouched by the flames, and the speedy restoration of the church was set on foot immediately, owing to the fervour of the French Canadians. Rome sent to this shrine at the end of the nineteenth century the wrist bone of Saint Anne, now venerated as the great Relic of Beaupré. The Church of Saint Jean Baptiste in New York contains a portion of the saint’s forearm, bestowed by Pope Leo XIII. The pilgrimages to Beaupré increase year by year. Devotion to Saint Anne, wherever planted, strikes its roots deeply, and spreads with astonishing rapidity. This is not surprising when we consider how abundantly Saint Anne showers favours on those who have recourse to her. No other saint seems to have more influence at the Court of Heaven than the Mother of the Mother of God.

Devotion to Saint Anne in Ireland

The Cult of Saint Anne was introduced into England by the Normans, and at a later date, these brought it with them to Ireland. In the Middle Ages, devotion to Saint Anne was practised to a degree of which we have no conception nowadays. Her feast was a Holy Day of obligation in England and Ireland, and in both countries innumerable churches were built in her honour, foundations were made under her patronage, and guilds dedicated to her. Devotion to her was closely associated with devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and to her Immaculate Conception. In England of course all this ceased at the “Reformation.” Veneration of both Mother and Daughter died out at the same time there and cannot revive until the day when England becomes once more a Catholic nation. Saint Anne stands always near her daughter, and we may hope that her prayers will avail to bring back to Our Lady the country once known as the “Dowry of Mary.” In our own country of Ireland, devotion to Saint Anne never died out as it did in England, but, though it has revived of recent years, it is not as great as it was long ago. Her feast was observed as a Holy Day of obligation long ago in Ireland and the most important of the Dublin guilds was that of Saint Anne, which had its chantry chapel in the Church of Saint Audoen, High Street. The present church of the same name in the same street stands close to the site of the ancient chapel of Saint Anne which was founded and endowed in 1430 by Henry VI. The guild connected with it supported six priests, who celebrated Masses for the souls of the founders at altars dedicated to Our Lady, Saint Anne and other saints. The guild held property worth about a thousand pounds a year, which was afterwards iniquitously seized and devoted to Protestant purposes, instead of to the Catholic charities for which it was intended by the pious donors. A fresco or wall painting, having Saint Anne for its subject was discovered in old Saint Audoen’s some years ago, on the wall of the chapel of Saint Anne.

If our faith had not been driven underground by cruel and prolonged persecution and penal enactments we might have shrines and great pilgrimages in honour of Saint Anne equal to those of Apt, Auray, or Beaupré. For centuries, all open expression of our religious life was denied to us. Our forefathers held on heroically to essentials, the Mass, the Sacraments and — where these could not be had — the Rosary. They cherished the roots of Catholicity, but, until recently, no flowers could be permitted to appear. Now, however, there are welcome signs of expansion in various directions. A notable revival has begun of the ancient devotion to Saint Anne, its centre being, as is fitting the modern church of Saint Audoen, so close to the site on which Saint Anne was formerly so honoured. The beautiful shrine of Saint Anne in Saint Audoen’s Church draws immense numbers of the faithful to the feet of the saint, especially on her feast-day, and on Tuesdays. The custom of venerating Saint Anne in a special manner on Tuesdays is of very ancient date.

If devotion to Saint Anne’s shrine in new Saint Audoen’s shadows forth an Irish Saint Anne d’Auray on that spot, so close to her ancient chapel, so surely does the exquisite gem of architectural beauty in the picturesque vale of Shanganagh promise to become the Irish ” Beaupré.” Already does the “grandmother” of Christ draw her votaries in numbers to this chaste and beautiful edifice, dedicated to her, and where her picture with her beloved Daughter beside her, hangs above the altar.

The foundation-stone of the Church of Saint Anne at Shankill was laid by His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Byrne, Archbishop of Dublin, July 26th, 1931, and the blessing and opening of this new Sanctuary of Saint Anne took place on July 30th, 1933, the Archbishop again officiating. The materials used in its construction are all Irish, as is its workmanship. When completed it will be indeed a glorious sanctuary. The following appreciation of the new church is taken from the “Irish Independent” of August 5th, 1933: “From the ‘Shan-Kill’ (old church) to Saint Anne’s lovely sanctuary is a matter of 1400 years. How the hermit Dolgan of Carraig Dolgan (vulgarly known as Katty Gallagher) and the sainted dead of ‘ould Rathmichil’ must have rejoiced on last Sunday at the sight of the immediate though remote successor to their own church! “Among the great concourse of people attending the opening of the church the fine body of Foresters forming the bodyguard of the Archbishop recalled the fact that hundreds of years ago a similar company of Foresters guarded the forests of the Archbishop of Dublin from Glencree to Tallaght. In their picturesque uniforms, and with their reverential demeanour, they gave evidence of the faith and piety of old Dublin, so fostered for centuries by the Guild of Saint Anne.

“The vale of Shanganagh rich in beauty and story lends itself to, and requires its church to be, a thing of beauty.

“Saint Anne’s Church is an ornament, a gem set in a rich cluster. Its architects have never set a brighter gem in emerald green.

“The unique site called to their artistic sense for an exceptional facade, they have given one reminiscent of the Rock of Cashel.

“But is all the glory of the King’s House from without? By no means. Without being too critical, one may say that little attention has been paid in the past to the interior by Irish church builders. But it is not so in this case. Father Sherwin has impressed his mind and his taste on the Church of Saint Anne. The interior — what a revelation it is! Unexpected, because of the rich exterior, yet all the more welcome. One can gaze, and return to gaze — which is a proof that it grips and retains one’s interest. Everyone who enters wishes to re-enter to obtain a new view, a new idea. It is full of ideas, new colours, new forms, new perspective. What a glorious sanctuary when it will be complete! The only regret is that it is incomplete. Let us hope Father Sherwin will soon be able to finish this lovely work. All should be proud to lend a hand.

“Let us view it as it is.

“The most striking feature of the building as such, is the artistic arches and chaste columns separating nave and aisle. Here the colour note of the church is struck, the lovely blue of the polished columns blending with the subdued white. That note is carried aloft and expanded in the exquisite windows, reminding one of fleecy cloud in azure sky.

“A bold but very happy thought introduced the Congress Cross to crown the graceful design.

“The furnishings, especially of the altar are chosen with the same regard to chaste designs and artistic execution. The sanctuary lamp, a replica of the Ardagh Chalice, with pendant ring, after the Tara Brooch, the candlesticks and candelabra in form and workmanship of rare beauty, and the rich golden door of the Tabernacle, with its “Cross of Cong” and precious stones. The worshipper is enabled to gaze on the resting place of the King of Kings without being blinded by an offending chancel window. Many other details are well worthy of admiration. In fundamentals and in artistry Saint Anne’s Sanctuary at Shankill is a model.”

Saint Anne, Patroness of Christian Mothers

Saint Anne obtains many graces, priceless graces for those who invoke her, but she grants her maternal assistance in particular to Christian mothers. She preserves peace in married life, restores harmony in discord, and wonderfully changes a husband’s bad disposition. She protects the birth of children in an extraordinary manner, bestows blessings that lighten the task of rearing children properly, brings wayward children back upon the right path, obtains restoration of health for the sick mother, preserves her precious life for the helpless children and prevents the loss of husband and father. Once when Saint Bridget Sweden, who was married, and had a large family, was praying, Saint Anne, to whom she had a special devotion, appeared to her, and said, “Behold me, my daughter Bridget. I am Anne, whom you love. Know how full of mercy, goodness and affection I am for all who love me. Those who live chastely and peacefully in the state of matrimony, I will love and protect in a special manner, I will grant their petitions whenever they take refuge in me.”

How necessary, especially in these days, is Saint Anne’s assistance for mothers in bringing up their children. That great saint obtains the grace for mothers to look upon their children as God’s greatest blessing, and to spare no pains to train them, from their infancy in the love of God. How beautiful it is to see a mother training the baby lips of her child to utter the Sacred Names, and training the tiny hands to form the Sign of the Cross. We see Anne teaching her daughter the sacred truths of religion, and so also should every mother train her child to read and love pious books. Children, too, should meditate upon the example given them by the youthful Virgin, as she stands at her mother’s side, hanging upon each word uttered by the beloved parent. If a picture of Saint Anne with the Holy Virgin beside her were hung in every living-room in Ireland what an incentive and reminder it would be to mothers and daughters so to behave that no word or act of theirs would be unworthy of the presence of Mary and Anne. If it is good mothers who often implant the germs of future saints, it is, alas! equally true that many souls are lost through the indifference, neglect and conduct of bad mothers. A French physician who had witnessed the death of more than two thousand mothers once remarked, “I have always found a Christian mother’s death to be most beautiful and edifying.”

The following example is one of many instances which show us the happiness of a Christian mother’s death-bed.

In the forties of the last century, (the nineteenth,) a Christian mother lay dying in a village of the Black Forest in Baden. Seven of her children had pre-deceased her. Suddenly she raised herself, and with a cry of joy, exclaimed “O, my little children!”

“What do you see?” inquired the priest who was beside her.

“All my seven children are there,” was the reply, as she sank back upon the pillow, and went to join her dear ones.

Saint Anne, Patroness of All Christians

In the glorious ages of Faith, the Middle Ages, Saint Anne was fondly called “Comfortress of the Sorrowing, Mother of the Poor, Health of the Sick, Protectress of Widows, Patron of the Labourer, Patroness of the Childless, Help of expectant Mothers.”

Saint Anne was spared neither trials nor humiliations, for years she suffered, and therefore understands how to comfort the sorrowful.

Saint Anne loved the poor, and she and her husband bestowed a third of their property on them. Saint Anne continues her charity in Heaven. She helps the poor often in a wonderful manner, and she helps the dying, who are poorest of all.

The number of cures wrought by Saint Anne’s intercession is countless, and she has been the Health of the Sick for centuries, and is still the same loving mother.

Saint Anne was long childless, and often obtains the gift of children for those who invoke her, if such be the Will of God.

She also guards mothers in their hour of danger, and obtains the favour from God that their children may not lose the grace of holy baptism.

She helps those who toil for their daily bread, as she was a toiler herself. In a word there is no limit to the beneficent activity of good Saint Anne in Heaven, as all her clients have good reason to know, and having helped us during life, she will not forget us at the hour of our death, as the following experience related by a priest will testify:- “It happened when I was assistant pastor in the parish of N——. One night I was aroused by the ringing of the door-bell. A strange stately lady called up to me. ‘Father, please go quickly, and take the Blessed Sacrament to a servant in a house up on the hill, for she will not live through the night. The sexton is awaiting you in the church.’ The sexton had been awakened by the same person. I took the Blessed Sacrament, and we started for the house to which the lady had directed me. To our surprise, we found the house locked, and when we knocked were informed that there was no one ill there. We concluded that some worthless person had deceived us. In order that I would not need to return with the Blessed Sacrament, one of the servants declared her readiness to go to Confession and to receive Holy Communion. Her pious offer was willingly accepted. During her Confession, the servant experienced a slight indisposition. She finished her Confession and received Holy Communion. Before long, she began to feel worse, and was obliged to take to her bed. Shortly after, it was evident that her end was approaching. I administered Extreme Unction, and imparted the Indulgence for the dying. Scarcely was this done when she died. Above her bed hung pictures of many saints, among which was a large decorated representation of Saint Anne. The inmates of the house informed me that the pious servant had practised special devotion to Saint Anne, and in her honour abstained from milk every Tuesday. “I have no doubt that the woman who called the sexton and me, was Saint Anne herself, as she desired to obtain for her client this last great favour. Without the good saint’s gracious intervention this would not have been possible.”

Let this example move us to practise special devotion to Saint Anne to obtain a happy death, on which depends our eternity.

– from the booklet Good Saint Anne, The Mother of Our Lady, by an unnamed devotee to Saint Anne; published by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, 1937