Amile west along Route 20 from the central tourist hub in Sturbridge, Mass., is the Fiskdale section of town. There, Church Street leads two long blocks up a hillside to St. Anne Shrine. Part of the thriving St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish, this shrine has attracted pilgrims and visitors for more than 100 years.
Through the decades, the quiet, rustic grounds have expanded to include an outdoor Mass pavilion on a rise of sweeping lawn above the church. It accommodates the many visitors who come each year between Memorial and Labor Day. Beyond the pavilion, devotional sites include the Way of the Cross, a Lourdes grotto, Our Lady of Fatima shrine, and Holy Stairs. A large picnic area surrounded by trees offers a shady place to relax. And on the other side of the pavilion is a Russian icon exhibit and chapel.
The modest shrine to Mary's mother was erected shortly after the parish was established. In 1883, St. Anne Church was simply a mission set up by Notre Dame Parish in nearby Southbridge. At the same time, St. Patrick's opened as another Sturbridge mission. Within four years, both united to form a single parish.
In 1887, a woman named Mrs. Houde who lived in the area had been petitioning St. Anne for a cure for her dropsy (edema). She received a partial cure as she went to receive Communion on the Sunday following the feast of St. Anne. A year to the very day, Mrs. Houde was fully healed.
The shrine was founded on that same occasion when parishioners formally processed to thank God for the healing through St. Anne's intercession. The foundation and spread of devotion was so firm that by 1893, the Shrine of St. Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec donated a relic of the saint to the parish.
Today, pilgrims and visitors venerate this same relic of Good Saint Anne mounted before her statue. The statue of the saint with her daughter Mary is enclosed in a glass case and is the focal point in the modest shrine-chapel, an addition to the original mission structure, and located to the side of the church.
Countless favors and healings received over the years are recorded on either side of the statue. From floor to ceiling, there are crutches, braces, and walkers along with rosaries and photos and other ex-votos left by grateful petitioners.
On occasion, “people do stop by and say they've been healed,” says Walter Szyszkiewicz, a worker and spokesman for the parish—though they're not formally documented as they were in the past. He gives an example of a recent thanksgiving for multiple favors received by one family who visited the shrine—the father got a desired job, they sold their home in New Jersey, then-quickly found another in Arizona close to their work.
A major annual event here is the nine-day Novena that culminates on the feast of St. Anne in July. Each day there are Masses, confessions, a rosary procession, and novena prayers. Often too, there is benediction and the anointing of the sick.
In 1955, care of the shrine and parish were assigned to the Assumptionists, an order which has had missionaries serving in Russia since 1906, including at St. Louis-desFrancais Church in Moscow and at the American embassy chaplaincy. Icons brought back by them in the 1970s are displayed at the museum-chapel that is part of a votive shrine and a gift shop building less than a minute from the church.
The octagonal museum-chapel with its natural pine cathedral ceiling is beautiful and is conducive to prayer and reflection. In fact, five Sundays a year, an Assumptionist conducts an afternoon of prayer before the icons.
The Russian works of liturgical art date from the late 18-20th century, with many from the 19th century. They are joined by several Byzantine religious items such as a crucifix with inlaid mosaics. Several icons such as the Mother of God of Vladimir (according to tradition, painted by St. Luke during Mary's lifetime, then eventually transported from Constantinople to Kiev and Vladimir—hence, the name) appear more than once by different iconographers who painted them in different years.
There are 10 icons of Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All) and two moving icons of the “Holy Visage,” which takes its name from Veronica's veil.
The Kazan Mother of God, the most widely known hodigitria-type icon of Mary in Russia, and possibly the most popular, graces several examples. The icon of Feodorovskaya Mother of God looks very much like Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary also appears under various other titles: Our Lady of Unexpected Joy, Mother of God of Joy to Those Who Grieve, Mother of Tenderness, and Our Lady of the Softening of Wicked Hearts.
St. Nicholas, a popular saint among the Russian people, is the subject of several icons in the exhibit. For visitors viewing the icons on the grounds or in the shrine, time can seem to stand still. Nearby, the Sturbridge area is active with tourists, yet has managed to maintain its rustic New England flavor. Another major attraction less than a mile away, not far from the juncture of Interstate 84 and the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90), is Old Sturbridge Village. Situated on 200 acres, the village is the northeast's largest living history museum, where 40 authentic buildings and costumed staff recreate life in 1830s New England.
Lodging, from the name motels to an historic inn with antiques, can be found around Route 20, along with areas for camping and shopping. There visitors will find many of the top chain food restaurants along with individual restaurants such as the quaint, award-winning 1771 Inn.
Midway between Hartford, Conn., and Boston, an hour's drive in either direction, St. Anne Shrine and icon exhibit is a worthwhile journey for both body and soul.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.