Quebec, like a child of mixed parentage, has features of Europe and Canada, with her own distinct French personality. She takes you back to a time where people still valued the art of conversation, and sat at laughter-filled coffee shops that ran into cobbled streets, or worshiped at the famous Notre Dame Cathedral My days spent here were like a stone being skipped happily across the water. Time just slipped through my fingers and the days passed by as quickly as the stone takes the next leap forward.
It was only four days, after all, and we had to make the absolute most of it. Plus, when you’re on a sightseeing tour with a couple of dozen other people, there is a schedule to be stuck to. We did sneak away to explore the unexplored, which left us with less time for both – the exploring and the time-bound itinerary.
CANYON ST. ANNE
Before heading to the miraculous Church of St. Anne De Beaupre, we stopped at the 1.2 billion year old Canyon St. Anne. The short 45 minute trek lets you walk along the falls and cross over to the other side of the gorge on suspension bridges of various heights.
Both sides of the path were lined with lush, dense foliage, still glistening with rain from the morning’s drizzle. Apart from the rumble of the waterfall below and the twittering of birds overhead, there was silence. The road goes on, first uphill and then down, turning and twisting its way around the canyon.
The last of the three bridges is the one that is closest to rapids and to get to it, one needs to walk down 187 steps. At the bottom, we were met with a long, shaky, wooden bridge. It would have been amazing to zipline across the falls. but hey, when you have a bouncy bridge ahead of you, you jump!
The walk back up the steps is easy at first, and then every step gets more painful than the last. After puffing, panting, wailing and countless “five minute” breaks, we get to the top… only to walk back uphill and downhill to leave for the miraculous shrine.
CHURCH OF ST. ANNE DE BEAUPRE
The Church of St. Anne De Beaupre, like the Notre Dame Basilica, is one of Quebec’s priceless treasures. The entrance to the church are through beautiful copper doors made by Albert Giles. The interiors are warmly lit and give out a soft, golden glow. Every inch of the ceiling is covered in words and paintings so fine and regal, that it’s impossible to believe it was done by someone lying on a makeshift scaffolding for days with a paintbrush.
The sombre church captivates every sense from the moment you walk in. One can hear the mutter of prayers, smell the smoke wafting up from burning candles and look at rows upon rows of kneeling people writing petitions on little pieces of paper before walking up to the statue and dropping it into a box at the foot of St. Anne.
St. Anne is the grandmother of Jesus, and the patron saint of pilgrims. The church was named after her ever since sailors were rescued by her intercession. The first known miracle at the church happened during the shrine’s construction when a hired worker, Louis Guimond was cured of rheumatism upon placing three stones on the Shrine’s foundation. Ever since then, thousands have been blessed with miracles and thousands more throng in the hope that their faith will bring them one. In fact, the pillars at the front entrance are covered with crutches, canes, braces and other signs of disabilities left behind by pilgrims who have been healed at the church.
After admiring the ornate ceiling and feasting my eyes on a glittering gold Statue of St. Anne, I make my way to a pew and write down petition after petition. That done, I head to the Statue and kneel with a dozen others around the base. Tied to the armrest is a printed prayer to be said before placing one’s note into the box. With the prayer said and wad of paper stuffed in the box, it was time to wander around some more
Walking around the church is like walking into a fairy tale. The light from the stained glass windows light up the ceiling, while below, dancing candle flames cast shadows on the mosaic, marble and stone.
I come across the Pieta, a replica of Michelangelo’s world renowned statue, and walk along a circular passage that goes behind the altar and comes out the other side. The passage too, has its share of stained glass windows and statues of saints in white marble,
Stairs lead downwards to a wide underground chapel that’s relatively empty, with a gold statue of Mary beside the altar. This shrine is different in style and design, and it’s like stepping into a completely different church altogether. White frilly patterns criss-cross across the ceiling, breaking up alternating the star and floral pattern, all the way to the front altar.
More than spectacular architecture, intricate mosaic and polished sculpture – this church is steeped in history. Prayer mingles with the smoke of a thousand candles, making its way above. That’s what makes it more than just another tourist attraction.
When I’m in Goa, I often visit a St .Anne’s Chapel, a couple of minutes away from my house, to attend Konkani Mass on Sunday. So the next time I’m home, I’ll be sure to follow up with Her on my miracle. It will probably come my way when the time is right.