When the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament first came to Saint Jean’s most members of the community were of Canadian descent and steeped in the traditions of their national devotion to Saint Anne. They fostered the devotion but feared that there might be some conflict between the devotional practices of her veneration and the liturgical worship of the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, through the generosity of Countess Annie Leary, an ornate shrine to Saint Anne was constructed in the lower church of “old Saint Jean’s.” When the present church was erected, the shrine of Saint Anne was transferred to its lower church. When that space was renovated creating the present Community Center, the shrine was transferred to its present place in the southwest corner of the church.
The statue is the original carving donated to “old Saint Jean’s” by Canon Petit. It depicts Saint Anne holding a scroll in one hand and giving her daughter a reassuring touch with her other hand, showing her as Mary’s teacher and guide. The child Mary is pointing to her mother acknowledging the importance of her mother’s place in her life. Luca F. Vescia, an Italian sculptor, labored a full year, under the close supervision of Canon Petit, to carve it from a block of the finest Carrara marble.
The white marble railing embellished with Eucharistic symbols of wheat and grapes in front of the shrine, and the same railing in front of the altars of Saint Joseph and Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament are parts of the original altar railing of the lower church.
The relic of Saint Anne, a piece of the bone of her arm, was brought to New York by Monsignor Marquis from Saint Anne d’Apt in France in May of 1885.
The antique reliquary on the right side of the shrine was newly gilded at the time of the renovation of the shrine. The gold dolphin supporting the relic of Saint Anne was crafter in 1997 by Armand Guior. The theme of the stained glass window in the shrine is the Old Testament. The Paschal Lamb is on the left and the Ark of the Covenant is on the right of the shrine.
Many an inquisitive eye has been lifted at the mention of the relic of Saint Anne. The following lines are written to satisfy this legitimate curiosity.
The largest of the relics of Saint Anne that Saint Jean Baptiste possesses is a half of the relic that was exposed in 1892 by Monsignor Marquis in the “Old Saint Jean’s.” It corresponds to the other half which is venerated at Saint Anne de Beaupre in Canada. Monsignor Marquis had obtained this relic from Saint Paul-outside-the-walls, in Rome, at the personal intervention of Pope Leo XIII. It is a fragment of the wrist of the Saint. The entire arm had been brought from Constantinople around the 7th century. The cultus of Saint Anne was in great honor in Constantinople, for a magnificent basilica had been consecrated to her honor in 550, during the reign of the emperor Justinian.
The cultus of Saint Anne had come to Constantinople from Jerusalem, where there was a basilica dedicated to her honor. It is impossible to determine exactly the date of the construction of this basilica, but we do know from Moslem historians that such a church did exist at the time of their conquest of Palestine in 636, and that it was used by them as a Hall of Science. Incidentally, the name of Anne as a holy person, passed with other Christian traditions into the Koran, the sacred book of the Moslems.
From Apocryphal writings of the 2nd century we learn that Saint Anne was married to Joachim, and that her father, Mathan, was a levite and lived in Bethlehem, situated less than 8 miles from Jerusalem. Anne and Joachim, also, lived and died in Bethlehem.
FROM FRANCE TO ST JEAN BAPTISTE
It seemed only natural for the early Christians of Jewish ancestry to venerate the mortal remains of those who had been blood-relatives of Christ. They turned to the veneration of the grandmother of Christ whose remains were found in Bethlehem in a state of preservation. The remains were transferred to Jerusalem, and thereby inaugurated the cultus of Saint Anne.
Saint Jean Baptiste possesses a smaller relic of Saint Anne, which came from the famed shrine of Sainte Anne d’Apt in France. How the relics of Saint Anne came to Apt has never been satisfactorily settled. Most critical historians frown upon the old legends of Provence, which narrate that Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and Martha, exiled from Jerusalem, and set to drift in a boat, finally reached Marseilles, bringing with them the body of Saint Anne. It seems more likely that Bishop Isoard of Apt, who took part in the first Crusade, brought back to his episcopal see the cultus and some relics of Saint Anne. Other historians hold that the presence of the relic of Saint Anne at Apt may be due to the generosity of Pope Saint Clement: others, that Saint Cassian, a monk, gave it to Saint Castor, Bishop of Apt, these two men being close friends. Others assert Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine, on the occasion of her visit to Jerusalem, and of her work to discover the True Cross and other relics sacred to Christian piety, found the body of Saint Anne. A portion was kept at Jerusalem, another was sent to Constantinople where she had her residence, and another portion was sent to the Bishop of Apt, for she was in constant contact with the Bishops of Provence.
Even though all these conjectures may fail to conform to fact, still, as a most critical historian, Monsignor Duchesne said: “After all, the honors to Saint Anne are legitimate. Whether the location where such honors were given her was fixed by a more or less authentic tradition; whether the relics are genuine or not, this is no way diminishes the sincerity of the cultus of Saint Anne, and in the final analysist, that is what counts with God and men.”