Devotion to Saint Anne in Many Lands, by Father Myles V Ronan

In Palestine

Tradition tells us that Anne and Joachim had been married twenty years and were still childless. In the eyes of the Jewish people such a condition was regarded as a kind of malediction from Heaven. It is easy then to understand the heart-burnings of this saintly couple at the unhappy result of their marriage in this respect. The pang was all the greater when they pondered that the Messiah of the world was to be born of the royal house of David from which they themselves were descended. According to the prophets the day was not far off when the Messiah should be born into the world. Was the malediction of Heaven to accompany them to the grave; were they to be deprived of the blessedness of knowing that the Messiah might one day be born of their descendant? Though the holy couple bowed their heads to the decrees of Providence, yet in prayer and penance they besought God, if it were His holy will, He might grant their pious desire.

God heard their prayer, and the child that was born to them was Mary, the Immaculate Virgin, Having consecrated her to the service of the Temple, they left their home at Nazareth and chose a residence in Jerusalem to be near her. It is not recorded whether they lived to see the Word Made Flesh of their own daughter, but artists of the Middle Ages loved to group together Anne, Mary, and Jesus. This grouping was, perhaps, more symbolic than real, representing for mediaeval Catholics the ideal Holy Family. When God called the happy parents to their Heavenly Home their bodies were laid side by side in Jerusalem in the tombs that they had purchased for themselves.

About forty years after Christ’s death the prophecy He uttered about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and of its magnificent Temple was verified. Knowing that this would come to pass, the relatives of Saint Anne, namely, Lazarus, Mary Magdalen, Martha, and the two Marys along with some disciples of Our Lord, took her body from the tomb to bring it to a place of safety.

Some centuries afterwards, to mark the devotion of the Easterns to Saint Anne, a basilica was built over the place of her tomb in Jerusalem, and no fewer than three festivals in the year were set apart in her honour. The first of these was the 9th of September (the day after the “Nativity of the B.V.M.”) when her husband, Saint Joachim, was also honoured; the second on the 9th of December, whereon the Easterns, a day later than the Latins, keep the feast of the Immaculate Conception; and the third on the 25th of July, the feast of the “Precious Death (or Sleeping) of Saint Anne, Mother of the Most Holy Mother of God.”

Saint Anne d’Apt

The flight of the relatives of Saint Anne, with her body, must have been taken in haste, as the frail boat in which they embarked was rudderless. After many anxious days and nights, tossed on the turbulent waters of the Mediterranean, their boat came to rest in the ancient seaport of Marseilles. But for better security from the invasions of pirates and Saracens, the holy guardians of the body brought it inland over the mountains to a Roman town called Apt. Like other Roman towns it had its amphitheatre for games and gladiatorial contests. In a disused underground cave not far from the amphitheatre, and connected with it, they placed their precious burden, and confided it to the care of Saint Auspice, the first bishop of Apt. The place was probably a sort of catacomb for the early Christians, for here’ were also buried Saint Auspice and other martyrs and confessors of the infant Church of Apt.

When, after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the year A.D. 312, the Catholic religion was recognised as the religion of the Roman Empire, the Christians of Apt erected a church over the tomb of Saint Anne. But even this quiet town did not escape the invasions of the Saracens from North Africa and of other barbarians. The church was levelled to the ground, but the Christians had taken the precaution of concealing the entrance to the tomb. It was not until Charlemagne, in thanksgiving for his victories over the barbarians, vowed to erect forty churches, that Apt was chosen by him as one of the privileged places. When he came on Easter Sunday in the year 792 to be present at High Mass in this church that he had built, one thing was wanting to complete the happiness of the occasion. It was the knowledge of the place where the body of Saint Anne lay.

As if by inspiration, a deaf-mute, the son of the lord of the soil, proceeded towards the high altar, to the amazement of the worshippers at the High Mass, and beat with his fists on two flagstones. When these were removed it was found, indeed, that here was the entrance to the ancient cave. The cypress coffer, wrapt in an oriental winding-sheet, was found in which were. enclosed the remains of Saint Anne. On the winding sheet were inscribed the words that dispelled all doubt: “Here lies the body of Saint Anne, Mother of the Glorious Virgin Mary.”

The fame of Apt spread throughout Europe, and Popes, Cardinals, Kings, and other illustrious person ages journeyed from afar to visit the sanctuary and venerate the relics. In the year 1338 a Bull of Benedict XII recognized the authenticity of the relics, and in 1404 Benedict XIII declared that the body of Saint Anne, Mother of the Glorious Virgin Mary, lies at Apt from ancient times in an oratory or crypt under the high altar.” So great was the application for relics from all over Europe that the French Parliament, in 1621, thought it well to interfere and forbid their being granted without the express permission of the King. The body of Saint Anne now lies in the Chapel Royal, built in 1660, as an addition to the basilica, by Anne of Austria, the Queen of Louis XIII of France. This price less gift was in thanksgiving to God for the answer to her prayer, through the intercession of Saint Anne, that she might become the mother of a son, who should succeed to the French throne. The child that was born to her became afterwards Louis XIV.

Year after year the seafaring folk of Marseilles come to Apt to lay their offerings at the shrine of Saint Anne and to return their thanks for their protection at sea. She is their patroness, the patroness of sailors, she whose body had been carried safely over the waters in a rudder less boat to their famous port. Apt is the cradle of devotion to Saint Anne.

In Rome

Devotion to Saint Anne was bound up with the devotion to her Blessed Daughter, under the title of Mary’s Conception, or, as we call it to-day, her Immaculate Conception, East and West honoured Mother and Daughter in this respect. But the first striking evidence we have of the popularity of devotion to Saint Anne in Rome be longs to the middle of the eighth century. This is found in no less important a place than the papal chapel annexed to the papal palace, at the foot of the Palatine hill, where the palaces of the pagan emperors stood centuries previously. The evidence is afforded in an ancient fresco or wall-painting in that chapel of the three great exemplars of Christian mothers. The figures consist of Mary and the Christ Child, Elizabeth and the child John (the Baptist), and Anne and the child Mary.

To remove all doubt as to their identity, the words, Mary, Elizabeth, and Anne were painted underneath,

The fresco seems to be the result of a visit of Pope Constantine to Constantinople, in the early eighth century, for the restoration of the sixth century church dedicated to Saint Anne. It would seem that the Pope wished to put on permanent record his own devotion to Saint Anne. Fortunately, this valuable fresco was discovered, in 1912, after the ancient chapel had been overbuilt by another chapel for nine centuries. It is of supreme importance in this that it is a papal recognition of devotion to Saint Anne in Rome at least twelve centuries ago.

Another papal recognition of the devotion to Saint Anne is found in the Archconfraternity of Papal Grooms attached to the Vatican palace. The position of papal groom belonged to those who walked beside the stirrups of the riders, and was instituted about the beginning of the fifth century when the Popes appeared in public surrounded by their noble retinue..

Many emperors, kings, and nobles considered it a privilege to lead the horse of the Pope on such occasions. So, too, was it a great privilege to lead the white horse of the Corpus Domini which carried the Blessed Sacrament in front of the Pope. A certain nobility then sur rounded the persons of those grooms who were the recipients of many valuable concessions from the Popes.

Their guild had Saint Anne as its patroness, and was provided with a special chapel in the old basilica of Saint Peter’s. But when the present basilica was built, Pius IV, 1565, had a new church built for it close to the Vatican. Since the taking of Rome from the Pope in 1870 by the Italians, the position of the grooms has changed. To-day they are the attendants in the papal palace, and these continue the ancient guild, with the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals as their protector.

The same quaint, scarlet livery of the grooms of medieval days is still worn by the attendants in the papal ante-chambers and in the pontifical processions in Saint Peter’s. It is their duty to carry the chair on which the Pope is borne in those processions. Although, since 1870, this guild of papal grooms has been despoiled of all its exterior grandeur, yet it still retains its ancient devotion and activity and is richly endowed with indulgences and special privileges by many Popes. Recently Pius XI has made the Church of Saint Anne the parish church of the new Vatican City.

In Florence

Florence can boast of the unique distinction of having its republic dedicated to Saint Anne. After many vicissitudes the republic chose the Duke of Athens, a French soldier of fortune, as its head on the 8th of September, 1342, In less than a year he had so disgusted all classes in the state that it was decided to depose him. On the feast of Saint Anne, 26th of July, 1343, he was besieged in the Palazzo Vecchio, and, after some days, capitulated. In thanksgiving for this delivery of the republic from the tyrant, “it was ordained by the Commune that the feast of Saint Anne should ever be kept like Easter in Florence, and that there should be celebrated a Solemn Office and great offerings by the Commune and all the Arts of Florence.” So wrote the historian Giovanni Villani who was a witness of those events.

Before the ancient statue of Saint Anne in the church of Saint Michael, the Commune and the Arts yearly made their solemn offerings. On her lap is the Christ Child, and standing at her side is Mary. This is how the Italians loved to represent Saint Anne; the same grouping is found in the altar-piece in the guild chapel in Rome of the Papal Grooms. So popular became the devotion to Saint Anne in Florence that we find the greatest painters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries depicting on the walls of the new churches and cloisters the whole story of Saint Anne, Saint Joachim, and the Virgin Mary.

Saint Anne d’Auray

Through the constant intercourse by trading with Marseilles, it is most probable that England and Wales received in the early centuries of Christianity their devotion to Saint Anne. When the hardy Britons were driven from England by the Saxons in the fifth century they took refuge in Wales, and many of them landed on the northern coast of France. Here they set up a Breton colony, and have preserved to this day their ancient Celtic language and civilization.

Their devotion to Saint Anne, which they brought with them from Britain, has been always fervent and child like, and has made them renowned throughout the whole world. It is their family devotion, and no nation is so conspicuous for Christian family ideals. They attribute the preservation of their nationality and of their primitive fervour and faith to their devotion to * Madame Saint Anne.”

In many places in the early years of their colonization of Brittany they erected chapels in her honour. The earliest of these was that of Keranna (the Cahir or fortified place of Anna), which was destroyed about the year 700 by Frankish plunderers. For nine centuries all trace of the church had disappeared, and only a vague tradition remained to tell of its former existence in a field called Bocenno and that the walls of the barn there were built of the stones of the chapel. Here lived a pious peasant called Yves Nicolazic. There was nothing remarkable about him. He was just an upright, common sense man, who used to say his Rosary as he went to and from his work in the fields, and who had a great love for Saint Anne, whom he called his “Good Mistress.”

To this pious peasant Saint Anne appeared on several occasions in the year 1623, as he was driving home the oxen, or as he returned from Confession, or again as he lay in the barn guarding the newly-threshed corn. After many months she revealed to him: “I am Anne, Mother of Mary.” And she directed him to tell the rector to rebuild the old chapel in her honour which had been destroyed 924 years previously. The rector looked upon Yves only as a visionary, and bade him go home and say his prayers. Even when the ancient statue of Saint Anne was discovered by Yves and his neighbours exactly where Saint Anne herself had pointed out, the rector re fused to regard it as genuine. But the Breton people, true to their traditional devotion to the saint, journeyed even from far-off places to see the ancient statue miraculously recovered, and to lay their offerings before it for the rebuilding of the church.

So great became the concourse of people that the bishop of the diocese considered it imperative to hold an official inquiry into the recent events. After various examinations of Yves and his neighbours before legal and theological experts the bishop was forced to admit that the events told by Yves were indeed realities, and ordered the erection of the church. Thus, the little village of Keranna became “the capital of the cult of Saint Anne,” and under the name of Saint Anne d’Auray, represents what Lourdes is for the devotion to Saint Anne’s Daughter, Mary Immaculate.

According to a Breton legend, every Breton must go once to Saint Anne, namely, either to her shrine at Auray or to herself in Heaven. More than 200,000 pilgrims come annually for the feast of this celebrated shrine. It is one of the most wonderful sights in the world. The peasants come on foot, on horseback, in strange country carts. The wealthy, too, come in their carriages or motors. Even old men and women will walk all through the day and night to be in time for the Pardon of Saint Anne. The favours received are countless, and are subject to a rigid inquiry as at Lourdes. Every square inch of the walls of the magnificent basilica is covered. with slabs of costly marble on which are inscribed, in letters of gold, thanks to Saint Anne for benefits bestowed. It is the national shrine of Brittany, and has been endowed by Popes with signal favours.

In England

Through the influence of the Bretons, their neighbours, the Normans, fostered a fervent devotion to Saint Anne. The Normans were a powerful and prosperous nation, had a great love for elaborate church ceremony, and were the builders of magnificent cathedrals. In honour of their great patron and bishop, Saint Audoen or Ouen, they built the beautiful church of Saint Ouen at Rouen. When they conquered England in 1066 they brought with them not only their wonderful civilization but devotion to their patron saints, among whom were foremost Saint Anne and Saint Ouen. It would be a big task to give even a list of the chapels, chantries, and guilds they erected throughout England in honour of Saint Anne. So, too, would it be to enumerate the holy wells of Saint Anne. The chief feature of this devotion was the institution of the Guilds of Saint Anne. These were associations of men and women for mutual aid, for the relief of the sick and those in prison, for the burial of the dead with suitable religious rites, and for Masses for living and dead brethren. They likewise helped to maintain schools for the children of the members, to perform mystery plays in the public streets, to help pilgrims to visit the holy places in Jerusalem, Rome, and Spain, to maintain bridges, etc. Their chief object, however, was to encourage charity and holy living. But they had also their guild halls not only for transacting business but for their convivial meetings on the feast of their patroness.

Devotion to Saint Anne progressed side by side with devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In fact, after the devotion to Mary, that of Saint Anne seems to have been almost a national devotion in England in the three centuries preceding the so-called Reformation. So important were her guilds that the English kings granted them charters to hold property for the purposes of the guilds, and the privilege of a seal for their transactions. We cannot omit mention of some of the great guilds, at Lincoln, Newgate in London, Norfolk and Suffolk, Chan try chapels were to be found in the principal parochial churches, Shrines, too, to Saint Anne dotted the land. The shrine of Saint Anne of Buxton with its famous well is, perhaps, the most renowned, but that at Caversham, Reading, has more historical associations, and is linked with the memory of the great family of William Mareschal, Earl of Pembroke, who filled many important pages in Irish history.

It was the duty of the chaplain of Saint Anne’s, Caversham, to collect the toll from passengers who used the old bridge here over the Thames. It was from the money thus collected that the bridge was repaired and preserved for the conveyance of pilgrims, scholars and others going to Oxford. Besides fulfilling many other useful functions, the Shrines of Saint Anne thus carried on the work of our present public bodies.

Another interesting feature of the work of these guilds is handed down to us in the annals of the Guild of Saint Anne, Lincoln. A brother of the guild who would make pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rome, or Saint James of Compostella, Spain, must first of all surrender any guild property he may have in his hands. On his setting out, the brethren lead him as far as the Cross on Lincoln Green, and there the Graceman, or Master, gives him 2 pence, the two wardens 1 pence, and every guild brother 1 pence. On his return he is met at the same place and conducted with joy and honour to the cathedral church, and thence to his home. If the officers have certain news that a brother has died on pilgrimage, the bell is tolled, and Mass said as if the dead were amongst them and each brother pays pence for bread in soul-alms. The bread here referred to is evidently the “blessed-bread,” or loaf, which was blessed at the end of Mass, cut into small pieces, and divided amongst the brothers and sisters as a sign of common brotherhood. Besides Masses for a deceased person on the day of burial, Month’s Mind, and Anniversary, free burial was provided for poor members by the brethren of the guilds.

As the possessions of religious houses dazzled the covetous eyes of Henry VIII, so too did the church-plate, ornaments, goods and chattels of the guilds. A searching survey was ordered to be made, and eventually having suppressed the guilds and chantries, Henry’s son, Edward, confiscated the possessions. The desecration of the shrines at Buxton and Caversham by order of Thomas Cromwell, the tool of Henry VIII, is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the sordid history of the so-called Reformation.

At Caversham, Cromwell’s agent reported to his master how he pulled down the images of the twin chapels of Our Lady and Saint Anne, but, Our Lady’s image being plated over with silver, he sent it to Cromwell. A similar procedure took place at Buxton. In both cases: the altars, tabernacles, ornaments, and the crutches of the cured were pulled down so that pilgrims might not frequent the shrines in future. Notwithstanding all the forces of Protestantism, the English Catholics kept their traditional devotion to Saint Anne alive in their hearts. When the storm of persecution had passed, Saint Anne was restored to her honoured place in their public veneration, especially in the places dedicated to her in ancient times.

In Ireland – Youghal

The earliest traces we can find of devotion to Saint Anne in Ireland are met with at Youghal. On the western point of the harbour’s mouth stood from ancient times a. chapel dedicated to Saint Anne, the patroness of mariners. Tradition affirms that it was built of hurdles and was: used as a place of devotion by the sailors who earned their bread on the perilous waters, and by their dependents who came to pray for their safe return. All this points to the probability that this devotion came here directly from Brittany, with which the sailors of the south Irish coast were in constant communication. Around the old chapel was a graveyard in which were: found many early Christian tombs. Years came and went, and brought with them many changes in Ireland. In the twelfth century, Youghal was occupied by the Anglo-Norman adventurers, who colonized it with men and women from Bristol. The Saint Anne Chapel they bestowed on a community of nuns about the year 1190, and erected a lighthouse beside it on the cliff. The religious house was richly endowed by the founders on condition that the nuns should see that the light in the light-house was regularly maintained. The founders. relied on the piety and gallantry of the native Irish that. they would offer no violence to the nuns, and thus the light-house would be of great assistance to the Anglo Norman mariners.

The community shared the same fate as many another in Ireland at the hands of Henry VIII. It was dissolved in 1542, and a lease made of the property to a private individual. The tower, however, remained. In 1644 a French traveller thus mentions Saint Anne’s: “At musket shot from the town (Youghal) there was formerly a con vent of nuns on the seashore, and there remains of it a Tower called the Nunnery, upon which the nuns used to light torches to enable vessels to come into the harbour during the night.” The tower was circular, about twenty-four feet in height, and ten in diameter. The only entrance was a narrow Gothic doorway, and a flight of stone steps, in spiral formation, led to the summit to two large circular-headed windows. One of these windows opened on the middle of the bay, and the other faced Capel Island, thus allowing the light of the torches to show on two important points. From the circular and pointed arches, jointly used in this building, we are enabled to fix its date in the semi-Romanesque, or transition period, at the close of the twelfth and commencement of the thirteenth centuries. The old tower was perhaps the only Anglo-Norman light-tower that reached our day. In the summer of 1848 it was demolished in order to make way for the present harbour light-house. Fortunately, two illustrations are extant which represent the old tower as it was in 1848, and serve to remind us of the ancient devotion of the native Irish here to Saint Anne.

In Ireland – Dublin

After the Anglo Norman Invasion of 1170, Dublin gradually became an English colony. It became a prosperous city, in commerce and industry, and could boast of a large number of trade guilds to protect the crafts. Each of these guilds severally had its chantry chapel, in one or other of the many small churches, and also its patron saint. There were also religious guilds or confraternities attached to some of the churches for the same purposes as in England. The most important of these was that of Saint Anne in Saint Audoen’s Church, High Street.

This church was the first built in Dublin by the Colonists, about the year 1190, and the only one that has survived in anything like its original form, except the Cathedrals, Christ Church and Saint Patrick’s, which in their complete state were somewhat later. It was erected near the Newgate at the ancient city walls, and was dedicated to the patron saint of the Normans, Saint Audoen or Ouen. It is interesting to mention here that it was Audoen’s father, a French nobleman, who entertained our own Saint Columbanus on his missionary journey through France. In return for this hospitality the Irish saint blessed Audoen, who became the celebrated bishop of Rouen (died 683). Such are the ways of Divine Providence that Saint Columbanus became an honoured name in France, and Saint Audoen in Dublin.

There is scarcely any doubt that the devotion to Saint Anne in Dublin was contemporary with the colonization of Dublin. Although the Anglo-Normans were fierce warriors, lusty adventurers, and unscrupulous spoilers, yet they combined with all this an extraordinary regard for magnificent church ceremonial and devotion to their patron saints. Their veneration for Saint Anne they brought with them from Normandy. So popular be came the devotion in Dublin that the Archbishop, in a Provincial Council in 1352, ordered the festival of 26th July to be celebrated as a holiday of obligation. This decree held for the whole province of Leinster. More over, a Proper Mass and Office of Saint Anne were ordered to be said on the feast. From all this it is abundantly clear that the people of Leinster, and particularly of Dublin, had been clamouring for special recognition of the popular devotion to Saint Anne.

It was, however, the saintly Henry VI of England who gave the religious guilds in the fifteenth century due recognition by granting them charters and other privileges. His charter of the year 1430 to Saint Anne’s Guild in Saint Audoen’s granted it permission to support six chantry priests to celebrate at the various altars in the church for the brothers and sisters of the guild. Besides their offices in church these priests, living together in what was called the College of Saint Audoen’s, educated the children of the guild members when education was not as popular or as cheap as it is today. The guild not only combined the advantages of a co-operative and tontine society, by granting loans for commerce at a small interest, but it was above all a Burial Society. Reverence for the dead was a characteristic feature of our mediaeval brethren. The world moved slowly, no doubt, in those days, and the members of the guild con signed the body of a deceased brother or sister to the grave attached to the church with the greatest solemnity. They were bound to attend at the Requiem Mass, to carry torches, and to celebrate the Month’s Mind. Even on the anniversaries the dead were not forgotten.

The guild acquired considerable property in lands in the county Dublin and in tenements in the city, and the property was vested in the master and wardens of the guild. The revenue was devoted to the purposes of the guild, religious and commercial. Thus did the guild fulfil its useful purpose until the so-called Reformation devoted its funds to uses other than the original founders: and benefactors thought of, or would have tolerated. It is beyond the devices of man to establish now in whose hands lies the guild property, so cleverly have the leases been secreted. Even the fifteenth century fresco or wall-painting over the guild-altar of Saint Anne has been allowed by the Protestant usurpers of old Saint Audoen’s to be exposed to the weather, and thus gradually and visibly to disappear. It was the only remnant of the ancient guild of Saint Anne to remind us of its past greatness, its meaning and its influence in the life of the people of Dublin five centuries ago. In this case also: we are fortunate in having a drawing of the quaint painting in which Mary is represented at Anne’s knees, above them God the Father, with the Dove (Holy Ghost) on His breast, and holding the suspended figure of the Crucified Saviour, whilst angels with harps surround the group.

Although the traces of the ancient guild have been allowed to disappear, yet the devotion to Saint Anne in a modern form has been fittingly and unexpectedly revived. In the present Saint Audoen’s, built beside its Catholic ancestor, Saint Anne is honoured not only by the parishioners, and by the Dublin people in general, but by many from various parts of Ireland, so that the shrine has become a veritable place of pilgrimage.” Amends are thus being made to Madame Saint Anne for the lapse of her ancient devotion among the people of Dublin, and indeed of all Ireland. The overdue revival has at last come about, and Ireland will again take her place among the nations in honouring the mother of the Mother of God.

In Ireland – Wexford and Galway

There are traces in a few other places in Ireland of the ancient devotion to Saint Anne: The diocese of Ferns seems to have fostered it in pre-Reformation days, for at least three churches bear her name, at Killanne, Tom haggard, and Ballyconnick, Numerous holy wells, also bearing her name, are dotted over the countryside, and a “Pattern” of Saint Anne was held at Tomhaggard.

Galway can likewise boast of its ancient devotion to Saint Anne. In the north wing of the old Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas stood the chapel and altar of Saint Anne. From this it is clear that devotion to our saint was on lines similar to that in Saint Audoen’s, Dublin, and that this chapel belonged to al guild of Saint Anne, with several priests attached to it for the devotions of the guild. Saint Nicholas was the patron of mariners, and so also was Saint Anne. This double dedication points to a living and very important devotion among the ancient seafaring people of Galway to their patrons of the seas. It would seem that their devotion to Saint Anne came to them directly from Brittany through the Irish mariners, as in the case of Youghal.

It is interesting then to find among the earliest pilgrims, who flocked to the new seventeenth century shrine, at Auray in Brittany, a distinguished Galway man, the Most Rev. Francis Kirwan, Bishop of Killala. This took place about twenty years after the finding of the ancient statue of Saint Anne at Keranna. After a long imprisonment in Galway during the Cromwellian persecution the bishop sought refuge in Brittany, and journeyed to Auray to pay his respects to Madame Saint Anne.

His chaplain, Father Kilkelly, told his biographer, Archdeacon Lynch, the incidents of that pilgrimage as follows: “After a short stay at Rennes, when the winter was advanced, the bishop fulfilled a vow he had made to go on pilgrimage to the Temple of Saint Anne. This church is held in the highest veneration, and is frequented by a perpetual concourse of devout people. Here he spent eight days in retreat, devoting himself to prayer and holy meditation. The festival of Christmas he spent in the convent of the Capuchins of Auray, and thence proceeded to the Carthusians, half a league distant; with the latter he spent nine days, and though over seventy years of age he refused to make use of flesh meat, though it had been prepared for him by the order of the prior.

“One of the religious, a septuagenarian, was then lying ill of a grievous malady, and hearing that the bishop was staying in the convent, anxiously desired to be visited by him. The bishop, in compliance with the sick man’s request, called on him, and after some pious conversation was about taking leave of him, when he signed him with the Sign of the Cross, and bestowed on him his benediction. Next day the sick monk called for the bishop’s chaplain, and after telling him the history of his life before he joined the Carthusians, addressed him thus:-‘I was anxious to speak to you that you might be certified by my lips that owing to the merits of the bishop I am not only relieved, but absolutely cured of my ailment, and snatched from the jaws of death; while the bishop lives keep this fact to yourself, but should you survive him fail not to make it known.'”

It would seem then that Saint Anne made one of our Irish bishops the dispenser of a favour at her celebrated shrine of Auray.

It only remains to mention, in connection with Saint Anne devotion in Galway, that in the Middle Ages be quests were made for the upkeep of the fabric of her chapel in Saint Nicholas’s, and that a Saint Anne Well stood about half-a-mile towards the west of the town near the strand.

In Canada

With the French colonization of Canada, in the middle of the seventeenth century, it was natural to expect that devotion to Saint Anne would be part of the religious life of the colonists. This actually was the case, for it was. the Bretons and the Normans who were the first to emigrate to it. Breton mariners, navigating the treacherous Saint Lawrence river, had almost given themselves up for lost when they turned in prayer to their Good Saint Anne. Their vow to construct a chapel in her honour, if they landed safely, was religiously kept when they reached the north bank of the river at Beaupré. These were the hardy pioneers of the wonderful devotion of Canadians of the present day to Saint Anne, and their little chapel was the forerunner of the magnificent basilica in her honour in 1876. The devotion is a national one, and the basilica was a national monument, and one of the most beautiful on the American continent,

Alas, however, this splendid sanctuary, the centre of Canadian devotion, and the scene of so many favours and miracles, was destroyed by fire in 1922, and even its wooden successor was destroyed a few years afterwards. It is suspected that these fires were not accidental, and that an anti-Christian organization had some part in them. By merciful disposition of Divine Providence, the magnificent statue of Saint Anne and her precious relics escaped unharmed. The new basilica already planned will be even on a grander scale than its predecessors.

What Lourdes is to France, and Auray to Brittany, Beaupré is to Canada. The pilgrimages have assumed enormous proportions, and the numbers who visited the shrine in recent years amount to several hundred thousands yearly. On either side of the main doorway of the basilica might be seen huge pyramids of crutches, walking-sticks, canes, bandages, and even spectacles, which were left behind by the cripples, the lame, the blind, etc., who thus left testimony to their recovery through the intercession of their Good Saint Anne. Truly Beaupré is a marvellous manifestation of the fervour of the devotion of the Canadians to their generous patroness.

In New York

It is only in recent years that New York has taken its place among the peoples of the world in paying special honour to Mary’s mother. The hearts of its people were touched on the occasion of the transference of the famous relic of Saint Anne from Rome to Beaupré in the year 1892, At their request the relic was exposed for veneration in the Canadian Church of Saint John the Baptist on East 76th Street. Instead of a few days, it was exposed for three weeks, so great was the concourse of people. It is estimated that about 300,000 came to venerate it.

When the relic was about to be taken away on its journey to Beaupré a scene of indescribable emotion followed. The people, amid their tears and sobs, cried out, “Good-bye, Saint Anne! Good-bye! Come back to us soon, Saint Anne. Come back to stay!” Good Saint Anne came back – to stay. A few months afterwards a large portion of the original relic of Beaupré was brought to New York. Thus was inaugurated the magnificent shrine in that city which has become, almost a national shrine for the United States, During the annual novena before the feast-day, 26th July, a rough estimate places the number of pilgrims at over 60,000, with 10,000 and more on the feast itself.

To recount further the various places of devotion to Saint Anne would take us beyond the limits of this little book. Suffice it to say that South America, Spain, Austria, Luxembourg, and Switzerland are most prominent in the extent and warmth of their veneration. There is scarcely a church in Switzerland in which there is not a picture, statue, or painting of Saint Anne and Mary, In fact, it is the family devotion of the Swiss, and, with the group of Joseph and the Christ Child, typifies the Holy Family.


Although Saint Anne was descended from the royal house of David, yet her real glory is that she is the mother of the family of the God-Man Himself, the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.. That title is above all praise, and places Saint Anne in a position second only, among mere creatures, to her Daughter, Mary. Mary’s glory is reflected in her Mother, and Saint Anne has co-operated more than all others, except Mary, in the divine work of the Incarnation. She was the final preparation for Our Lady in the carrying out of God’s redemption of mankind. After the Immaculate Virgin, Saint Anne comes closest to Jesus. That is sufficient claim for the veneration and devotion of Christ’s children to the Great and Good Saint Anne.

“Among all God’s gifts,” says a learned Bishop, “a Christian mother is the greatest. It is mothers who implant the germs of future saints. Is it not a perpetual stimulus to mothers to look upon Saint Anne as their protectress so that she may obtain for them the grace from God to bring up their children, especially their daughters, in His holy love? She is a model to be imitated, and a powerful advocate to obtain the grace to preserve for Jesus Christ these tender souls as living temples of sanctity, as she prepared Our Blessed Lady to receive the Son of God into her womb.”