About Saint Anne’s Shrine in Fall River:
St. Anne’s Church, dedicated to the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was built with donations and labor from the French Canadian population in Fall River and has been a national shrine to the mother of Mary since 1892. St. Anne’s was built using local granite and Vermont blue marble. The cost to build such a structure today would amount to $80 to $100 million, according to architect Tony Dias.
Due to needed repairs (a piece of plaster fell off the ceiling one day during Mass), a shrinking congregation and a declining number of priests in the diocese, St. Anne’s Church and the Shrine closed Nov. 25, 2018 and ceased to be a diocesan parish.
Fortunately, due to the efforts of the St. Anne’s Preservation Society, headed by city parishioner Richard Affonso, and with the approval of Bishop Da Cunha of Fall River, the Shrine re-opened on July 4, 2019.
The society oversees and maintain the site as a shrine and it is leased by the society from the Fall River Diocese. There are no weekly Masses scheduled, but a minimum of two Masses will be celebrated at St. Anne’s each year, according to the agreement. The first Mass will be held Friday, July 26, 2019, the Feast of Saint Anne. The society will also schedule recitations of the rosary, bible studies and other special programs.
In the coming years, the society plans to raise funds to repair the upper church that closed in 2015 and eventually open it to the public.
The Upper Church:
Belgian sculptor Maestro Stalzenburg was commissioned by St. Anne’s Church to carve a statue of St. Anne from a single block of wood. It was received in 1893 and sent to Chicago for public display at the World’s Fair.
A marble altar and baptismal font in the sanctuary was imported from Italy in the late 1950’s. The original windows at St. Anne’s Church were made of a simple colored glass to keep costs down when the church was built. They were replaced with stained glass by E. Rault of Rennes, France and set between 1959 and 1961.
The Lower Shrine:
The lower shrine became known as a place of faith healings and miracles. The first miracle took place even before the shrine was opened. Father Adrien de Montaubricq of Bordeau France had come to the city in 1869 to help form the first French-speaking parish. During the blessing of the cornerstone on March 20, 1870, he and some 100 parishioners standing on a platform were injured when it collapsed. He prayed to St. Anne for aid and to help him recuperate so he could carry on building the church. In return, he promised St. Anne his church would be dedicated to her. The church was named St. Anne’s and opened two months later.
The letters D.O.M. carved into the marble church cornerstone are Latin for “Deo Optimo Magnifico,” translated as “only the biggest and best for God.”
Another stone, marked “Pierre De Ste. Anne Jerusalem,” that stands before the statue of Saint Anne in the lower shrine, is from Saint Anne’s Church in Jerusalem.
The Shrine has a wax statue Sainte Concorde, along with relics from the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, both having been brought by the shrine’s Dominican founders who fled France and came here as refugees in 1893. Saint Concorde died a martyr in 258 AD when she was flogged to death for becoming a Christian.
There are three priests entombed in St. Anne’s Shrine: Father Sauval, who arrived in Fall River as a French Dominican on Nov. 22, 1887, at the age of 39, and took on the project to build the church in 1892 ; Father Marchildon, known as the “apostle” of St. Anne’s Shrine, and known to have touched thousands with his kindness and compassion; and Father Terrien.
Those Dominicans brought with them a wax figure of St. Concordia, the foster mother of St. Hippolytus, who was beaten to death in 258 A.D. by order of the Roman Emperor Valerian. The wax statue is interred at St. Anne’s Shrine in a glass case, accompanied by relics of St. Concordia recovered from the Roman catacombs.
A few feet away is a large, faded statue of St. Anne with the Blessed Virgin Mary as a young child, with the original French inscription, “Ste Anne et Marie,” still visible. In front of that statue is a small rock taken from the Crusader Church of Saint Anne in the Holy Land built over the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Saints Anne and Joachim. Just to the right of that statue is a pile of crutches, braces and orthopedic boots that the faithful have left behind in thanksgiving after being healed while touching and praying before the stone from St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem.
Finding Saint Anne’s Shrine in Fall River, Massachusetts:
Address: 818 Middle St., Fall River, Massachusetts