The Shrine of St. Anne in Waterbury, Connecticut, is an eye-catching sight from the elevated interstate that soars over the middle of the city.
Its Gothic-revival gray stone exterior is monumental in size, the unusual dome is enormous, and the twin towers rise higher than any other structure around.
The church seems to be a transplanted European cathedral.
Originally, St. Anne’s was an ethnic French-Canadian parish. The cornerstone was laid in 1906. Completed in 1922 and dedicated by the bishop of Hartford the same year, it held an exquisitely beautiful surprise — in a bow and curtsy to St. Anne, it was decorated in a unique “feminine gothic” style.
Once, 7,000 parishioners packed the 1,400-seat nave for weekend Masses, but the numbers dwindled years ago. Now, St. Anne’s has breathed new life, as the church was officially named a shrine and restored to its original beauty.
And 1,000 people attended a July 2 Mass inaugurating a new parish of All Saints/Todos Los Santos, which comprises the Shrine of St. Anne and nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Church. These churches honoring the Mother of Our Lord and Mary’s own mother are within two blocks of each other.
Pilgrims, parishioners and visitors get to honor St. Anne on her and St. Joachim’s shared feast day of July 26, and every day.
St. Anne’s is a rare Gothic revival design full of elegant details and in many ways is a reminder of the importance and nobility of the vocation of motherhood. Restoring the original beauty and grandeur highlighted this fact and enhanced devotion to St. Anne.
To begin, church restoration specialist John Canning uncovered layers of paint to reveal the original colors and decorations of pastel salmons and pinks, all richly gilded with silver designs rather than gold. The result saw the delicate appointments sparkling like jewels.
These designs fill the sanctuary around the original high altar that soars approximately three stories high, with its filigree wedding-cake spires. The altar is actually wood and not the marble that it resembles.
Altar niches to both sides of the tabernacle hold large statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Anne and Mary as a child. Medallions of six angels encircle the apse that’s highlighted in elaborate decorations and patterns of silver, salmons and pinks.
Each angel holds a banner that proclaims: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus, Deus, Sabaoth.
Higher still in the apse, which seems to rise into the heavens, is a mural of God the Father with the Holy Spirit. In this depiction, the Father appears to be receiving from on high the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Local architect D.A. Narducci, who once provided tours of the shrine, told the Register that the Father and Holy Spirit also seem to be looking across the nave at the Son, whose face appears in the rose window over the front doors.
The graceful arches and capitols lining the nave are filigreed with exquisite clusters of grape and leaves.
Another rarity for Gothic design is the colossal exterior and interior dome. Medallions of the Four Evangelists are around the interior dome. Narducci pointed out that, on each of the four major columns by the evangelists, trumpeting angels are “announcing the importance of what happens here.”
The side aisles of St. Anne’s are lined with alabaster-like Stations of the Cross carved of wood and stained-glass windows styled like Renaissance masterpieces. They depict the life of Anne’s daughter, Mary, from her betrothal to Joseph to her coronation, in radiant color, rich symbolism and rare details.
These windows, from top artisans in Germany, are worthy to stand alongside paintings of the Renaissance masters.
In the Coronation scene, Father and Son are shown as regal figures crowning Mary, who appears in long golden curls and resplendent white dress with golden stars. An angel gazes at her, his face full of wonder and astonishment.
In the glorious Assumption window, the apostles are shown praying in awe as a radiant Mary rises above, while masses of roses grow from her tomb. The Visitation window takes place in a colorful Renaissance setting, with Joseph and Zechariah seen watching Mary greeting Elizabeth. Shown here are two husbands and wives, a younger and an older couple, both expecting a child in unusual circumstances.
Every window contains an inspiring homily, like the Flight Into Egypt, where Mary is shown cuddling St. Anne’s grandson — Jesus — who is sleeping peacefully while Joseph leads the donkey over rocky terrain at night. Rather than looking down, this image of Joseph gazes heavenward, to convey trust in the Father to guide him.
Below is a serpent, but above Joseph an angel looks to heaven, also receiving guidance and instructions.
Scenes opposite each other show Mary beholding Jesus at his birth and Mary beholding Jesus at his death.
In most windows, the depiction of Mary is shown gazing intently at Jesus. But Jesus Taken Down From the Cross is the only window where only the back of Mary’s veil shows. Her face is turned to focus totally on her Son.
Here, facial expressions tell a story. So do postures and gestures. And from the Marriage of Joseph and Mary window to the Assumption scene, both depictions of Mary and Joseph seem to age — Joseph more than Mary, who ages only slightly.
The window depicting Jesus and Mary comforting the dying St. Joseph is very poignant.
Vivid colors play an important role, too.
For example, Mary appears in blue and white or blue and red in most scenes, while Joseph’s garments are in variations of purple and gold to signify his Davidic royalty.
There’s great detail, too, with meaningful decorations, such as stars in clothing and halos.
Shrine for Mothers
Along with her grandson Jesus and daughter Mary, “Good St. Anne,” as she is often called, is honored as a patroness and intercessor of mothers at her shrine.
A larger-than-life-size image of her with the Child Mary by her side leads the line of statues along columns in the nave. Those near her include St. Joseph, the Immaculate Heart and St. Thérèse.
St. Anne is especially honored in one of the two shrines located on both sides of the sanctuary. The matching shrines, beautifully decorated in pastel salmon and pink colors, with silver accents, have smaller versions of spired, wedding-cake altars that contain reliquaries. Narducci called them the “chapel of sorrow and the chapel of happiness.”
They recognize “the breath of the human experience for women, from the depths of sorrow losing a child to the happiness giving birth offers.”
He said mothers come to be consoled at the first shrine. There for veneration is a relic of the True Cross, as a reminder of what the Blessed Mother suffered at the Crucifixion.
The other chapel dedicated to St. Anne has a relic of St. Anne for veneration and a reminder of the joy she and Joachim had upon the birth of their daughter, which is captured in the mural above the shrine.
From the chapel’s large stained-glass window of Our Lady of Lourdes, Mary looks toward her mother. And upon entering the shrine, Anne and Mary welcome visitors: High in the gable over the main door there is a stone statue of St. Anne and Mary.
The well-detailed book of petitions attests to the number of pilgrims who come here seeking the aid of St. Anne.
Here, her intercession awaits those bringing petitions to her, her grandson and daughter.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
Shrine of St. Anne for All Mothers
515 South Main St.
Waterbury, CT 06706