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Our Lady of the Cape Shrine is Canada’s National Shrine to Our Blessed Mother. It is located at Trois-Rivières, in the district of Cap-de- la-Madeleine, half-way between Montreal and Quebec City. The very first church of Cap-de- la-Madeleine was a small wooden structure built in 1659. Father Paul Vachon, its first resident pastor, instituted the Brotherhood of the Rosary in 1694. In 1714 began the construction of the second parish church that was opened for worship in 1720, replacing the first small wooden church. This second church, presently called the Old Shrine, and made with fieldstones, is still the oldest church in Canada in which Mass is celebrated daily.
Following Father Vachon’s death in 1729, there was a period of 115 years without a resident pastor. Consequently, without the guidance of a pastor and the more or less sporadic celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the parish was in great need of a spiritual renewal.
A religious awakening – the power of the rosary:
In 1867 Father Luc Desilets, the pastor at Cap-de- la-Madeleine from 1864 until his death in 1888, had an astonishing experience. Upon investigating a noise he had heard in the church, he found a small pig chewing on a rosary. This was for him a shocking experience. He was saddened by the fact that people were no longer praying the rosary. He remembered the Confraternity of the Rosary that had been established in the parish in 1694. He then consecrated himself to the Blessed Mother and re-introduced the devotion of the rosary in the parish, praying the rosary after each Mass and encouraging his parishioners to pray the rosary at home. Soon more and more parishioners started coming to church; eventually the church was too small and a larger church was required.
The ice bridge – the first miracle :
Permission was granted to build a third and larger church. The stones and building material required for the new church were purchased and were to be brought over in the winter across the frozen Saint Lawrence River. But 1879 happened to be one of those rare mild winters when the river did not freeze over. Parishioners prayed the Rosary all winter in their homes and in the church asking for the Blessed Mother‘s intercession for solid ice to form on the river. Miraculously, in the middle of March, thin pieces of ice floated down the river from Lake St-Pierre, 32 km away (20 miles) and stopped parallel to Cap-de- la-Madeleine. The ice-bridge, commonly called the Rosary Bridge, as it resulted from praying the Rosary, stayed on the Saint-Lawrence River for a solid week, from the feast of Saint Joseph to the feast of the Annunciation, long enough for the necessary stones and building material to be hauled on horse-drawn sleds. With these stones, the third church was built, starting on June 18, 1879. It was blessed as Sainte-Marie- Madeleine church on October 3, 1880.
The miracle of the eyes – the second miracle :
On June 22, 1888 the dedication of the small fieldstone church to Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, took place: this was the inauguration of “Our Lady of the Cape Shrine,” (Le Sanctuaire Notre-Dame- du-Cap). During the dedication, the statue that had been donated to the parish by a parishioner in 1854 was ceremoniously placed on the main altar. That evening Pierre Lacroix from Trois-Rivières, a handicapped man, came to pray and asked for the assistance of Father Frederic Janssoone O.F.M., and Father Luc Desilets to help him into the church. As the three men were praying, suddenly Father Desilets got up to ask Father Frederic if he could see the same thing he was seeing. Father Frederic answered that ‘Yes, the statue has opened its eyes, hasn’t it?’ Pierre Lacroix also noticed this. Both priests got up, moving from spot to spot while still looking at the statue to make sure that they were really seeing this. Father Frederic often spoke of this event saying that the eyes of the statue were wide opened; that they stayed opened for about five to ten minutes; that her eyes were dark, well formed and in perfect harmony with the rest of her face; that she had the face of a living person; that her look changed his life forever. He never stopped talking about this wonderful event of the Blessed Mother.
More info on Santuaire Notre Dame du Cap