OUR LADY OF THE CAPE
"Do you see it? The statue
has opened its eyes."
Father Frédéric, June 22, 1888
FRENCH CATHOLIC settlers began to arrive in large numbers in Canada in the early seventeenth century. They believed that they had enjoyed Our Lady's protection during the long sea voyage across the stormy Atlantic, so naturally they prayed for her help as they made their homes in a new land.
Three Rivers was a small trading port consecrated to the Immaculate Conception by the Society of Jesus in 1634. As trade increased, the original settlement divided and the newer part was named Cap de la Madeleine. The first parish priest, Father Jacques Buteux, was murdered in a raid by native Iroquois in 1652.
At about this time Pierre Boucher, Governor of Three Rivers, built a church and set up a little shrine to the Virgin, which in 1694 became the center of a local branch of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. The population increased and a larger church was built in 1720, but the original wooden chapel was later commemorated by a small replica set up in 1940 and dedicated to Our Lady of Peace.
In 1855 an anonymous benefactor provided a huge statue of Our Lady in honor of the recent promulgation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This statue is now the center of Cap de la Madeleine, the Church of Our Lady of the Cape, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Canada's national shrine. It is a figure of the Virgin standing barefoot, trampling the head of a snake in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy 'Thou shalt bruise the serpent's head' and of the promise that God will 'finally beat down Satan under our feet'. [See image 2 (NEXT) in the viewing window.]
THE PIG AND THE ROSARY
But in the mid-nineteenth century there was apathy and slackness in Cap de la Madeleine. When Father Desilets went to church, on Ascension Day 1867, his congregation consisted of a solitary pig in the Lady Chapel, chewing a rosary! The priest subsequently preached vehemently on the subject of 'The Pig and the Rosary' to shame his parishioners, and very quickly the congregation increased.
An even larger church was now required, for which the stone had to be brought in winter from a quarry on the far side of the St. Lawrence River. Normally this would have been easily accomplished by using sledges over the ice, but the winter of 1879 was mild and the river did not freeze. Building was brought to a standstill.
Father Desilets prayed to Our Lady for a bridge of ice. Although the winter was almost gone-----it was mid-March-----a tremendous storm blew packed ice from the banks into the middle of the river where it formed a bridge. In thanksgiving, Father Desilets preserved the old chapel by the side of the new church and designated the altar "Our Lady of the Rosary".
THE STATUE OPENS HER EYES
The restored Lady Chapel was dedicated on June 22, 1888. That evening a lame man called Pierre Lacroix was brought into the chapel by Father Desilets and Father Frédéric. The three men experienced an amazing apparition centered on the statue of Our Lady. "She raised her eyes!" Father Desilets later reported. "She looked in front of her as if looking outwards into the distance. Her face was severe and rather sad."
The three men swore an oath that what they had seen had truly taken place, and their statement is stored on parchment in the library of the sanctuary to this day. Pierre Lacroix's testimony reads:
I went into the shrine at about seven o'clock in the evening, accompanied by Vicar-General Luc Desilets and the Reverend Father Frédéric. I was walking between the two of them, helped by them. After praying for a while, I looked up at the statue of the Blessed Virgin which was facing directly towards me. As I did so, I saw most distinctly the statue with its eyes wide open in a most natural manner. It was as if it was looking out over our heads towards Three Rivers.
I examined this closely without saying anything. Then Vicar-General Desilets, leaving his place on my right, went across to Father Frédéric and I heard him say, "Do you see it?"
"Yes: said Father Frédéric, "the statue has its eyes open, hasn't it? But can this really be true?"
I then told them that I had seen the same thing. And I make this solemn declaration believing it in conscience to be true and knowing that it has the same force and effect as if made upon oath.
Pierre Lacroix's testimony was counter-signed by Father Desilets.
After the miracle of the ice bridge and the apparition of the statue, pilgrims started to converge on Cap de la Madeleine from all over Canada. Their numbers increase year by year. Father Frédéric immediately began a mission to preach the name of the Blessed Virgin throughout the nation, and in 1902 he encouraged the diocesan bishop to install the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate to supervise the pilgrimages and to be stewards of the shrine.
THE ONLY CROWNED MADONNA IN CANADA
The shrine of Our Lady at Cap de la Madeleine is one of the most beautiful of all the world's churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. It is set in magnificent gardens: the Garden of the Rosary and the Garden of the Stations of the Holy Cross. The bridge which connects the two is suspended on chains which represent the beads of the rosary. The final Station of the Cross is designed to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The statue's golden crown was a gift of the Franciscans in 1904, and the rosary which she is holding is made from wood from the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. [The rosary is not on the statue image we have.] Some of these trees are at least two thousand years old and must therefore have been in Gethsemane on the night when Our Lord was betrayed and taken to be crucified.
Over the years Canada's national shrine has greatly expanded its missionary functions. The Cenacle of the Queen of the Apostles was opened there in 1937 as a retreat home visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. A journal, Annals, is devoted to homilies and meditations on the person of Our Lady and to publicizing the shrine. First published in 1892, it now has a circulation of more than seventy thousand. In recent times the shrine has been greatly extended and designated a basilica; it receives more than a million pilgrims annually. A novel way for visitors to arrive is by steamboat up the St. Lawrence.
The statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was crowned under the authority of Pope Pius X in 1904 and again under the authority of Pope Pius XII: it is the only crowned Madonna in Canada. Pope John Paul II made his personal pilgrimage on September 10, 1984.
In 1988, the centenary of the apparition, Father Frédéric, one of the first visionaries, was beatified. Many cures and accounts of spiritual blessings have been attested in the name of the Virgin who opened her eyes.
Chaplet of Notre Dame du Cap
O Holy Virgin Mary,
our most merciful Mother and powerful Queen,
we Thy children humbly prostrate before Thee,
implore Thy grace and help.
With confidence we come to Thee,
O Queen of the Holy Rosary;
to Thee do we turn our eyes.
Bestow on us, we beg Thee,
this special favor which we ask . . .
Grant us health of body and purity
increase our faith and love so that
we may know Thy Divine Son
better and serve Him ever faithfully.
O tender and merciful Mother,
intercede for those
who are dear to us. Heal the sick,
comfort the dying, and have pity on the
faithful departed. Protect our families;
guard our country; and keep holy Mother
Church safe from all evil.
Our Lady of the Cape, may we love
more and more, so that one day
united with Thee in Heaven,
we may praise Thy Son eternally. Amen.
10 Our Fathers
10 Hail Marys