Seeking Forgiveness at the Shrine of Saint-Anne in Brittany, Her Only Apparition Site
Every year on the feast of the Virgin Mary’s mother, thousands of faithful flock toward the shrine of Saint-Anne d’Auray, the third major shrine in France, after Lourdes and Lisieux.
Brittany has always had a special veneration for St. Anne, its patron saint, whom the Bretons traditionally call “their grandmother” — Mamm gozh ar Vretoned in local dialect. Devotion to St. Anne is still very much alive in this northwestern region of France, as attested by the thousands of pilgrims who flock to Sainte-Anne d’Auray (in the Morbihan department) on her feast day every July 26. This shrine is built at the place of her only apparition recognized by the Church, which occurred in the 17th century.
As tradition dictates, this annual feast gives rise to a two-day pilgrimage known as the “Great Pardon” (a typically Breton form of pilgrimage), during which the faithful come and gather in prayer to implore divine mercy.
‘God Wants Me to Be Honored There’
The first devotional expressions to the grandmother of Jesus Christ in this region go back to the seventh century of the Christian era, when a chapel was erected in her honor in the village of Keranna (near the city of Auray) by the bishop, St. Meriadec, who commissioned and placed a precious wooden statue inside. The sanctuary, however, was soon destroyed by local raiders who spread panic in the region.
Devotion to St. Anne fell gradually into oblivion over the centuries — until 1623, when she appeared to Yves Nicolazic, a peasant whose land extended to where the chapel that was dedicated to her was built centuries earlier.
As the French historian and academician Edmée Vesco de Kereven relates in her book Saintes Patronnes de France (“Saint Patronesses of France”) — originally published in 1930 and recently republished by Voxgallia in illustrated version — St. Anne appeared several times to Nicolazic in the form of “a beautiful Lady in white” and told him: “I am Anne, mother of Mary. Tell your rector that in the piece of land you call the Bocenno, there was once a chapel dedicated in my name.”
She continued: “It has been 984 years and six months since it was ruined. I desire that it be rebuilt immediately and that you take charge of this care. God wants me to be honored there. Soon you will see miracles in abundance and the influx of people that will come to this place will be the greatest of all miracles.”
To help Nicolazic convince the Church authorities, who were at first cautious, St. Anne indicated to him the precise place where the wooden statue in her likeness, formerly placed inside the chapel, was buried after the first shrine was destroyed.
As pilgrims started flocking to admire the statue of the saint, still clearly recognizable despite the passage of nine centuries, miracles were reported rapidly.
This prompted the bishop of the time, Sébastien de Rosmadec, to instruct the ecclesiastical authorities to examine the validity of these apparitions and of this rapidly growing popular devotion. The investigation, which concluded by recognizing the good faith of Nicolazic and the authenticity of the apparitions, led to the erection of a chapel at the place where the statue was uncovered. It was completed a few years later, in 1628.
In 1864, as the modest 17th-century chapel was falling into ruin, Pope Pius IX had a more majestic monument erected at its place and raised it to the dignity of a minor basilica. To this day, Sainte-Anne d’Auray is considered the third major shrine in France, after Lourdes and Lisieux.
Masses, Concerts and Torchlight Vigil
As it does every year, the shrine is expecting some 20,000 pilgrims for the Grand Pardon celebrations, presided over by Bishop Jacques Habert of Bayeux and Lisieux (in Normandy). Peace will be the theme of this year’s gathering, which is the culmination of a series of torchlight vigils organized every 25th of the month since March to implore the end of the war in Ukraine and the easing of tensions throughout the rest of the world, notably in West Africa and the Middle East.
The celebrations will open in the afternoon of July 25, with first vespers and Mass, followed by a vigil at the World War I Memorial and a torchlight procession with the statue of St. Anne.
The day of July 26 will be punctuated by several Masses, including one in the Breton language, as well as processions in traditional dress and concerts of sacred and secular music.
“We Bretons have a natural and ancestral devotion to St. Anne,” Jean-Noël Toubon, director of the Catholic publishing house Voxgallia and owner of a YouTube channel popularizing French history, told the Register. “What a grace for us to have had among us a pious peasant who, centuries ago, had these visions of St. Anne!”
Inviting all Catholics worldwide to visit Sainte-Anne d’Auray, he highlighted that the basilica is a “unique and world-renowned monument, leaving a lasting impact on visitors from all over Brittany, but also from France and around the world, who come to honor and pay tribute to their grandmother in heaven.”