Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of Canada - Franciscains du Canada
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
It is difficult for us Catholics from Eastern Canada to celebrate the feast of our Lady of the Rosary without thinking of Our Lady of the Cape Shrine. The Marian devotion became permanent in this place thanks to a Confraternity of the Rosary founded in 1694, and who had built a small wooden Chapel. The building of the current sanctuary began on May 13, 1714. But quickly, the fervor of the early days was no longer there, and the sanctuary, still unfinished, was open to worship only in 1720.
In 1873, the population of Cap-de-la-Madeleine was about 1000 citizens. The Church had become too small; it was necessary to build a new one. Facing a lack of stones on the north shore, it was resolved to fetch them South of the river. The transportation of these stones by boat being too expensive, people relied on a bridge of ice on the River during the winter.
But, however fervently the people prayed, the river remained free of ice, the winter was too mild. Demolishing the chapel, built in 1714-1720 and dedicated to the Rosary, was considered so as to make use of its stones.
But the parish priest had made “a vow to the Virgin Mary: if she obtained for the parish, even at this late date in the season, an ice bridge to transport the stones required to build the new church at least up to the windows, he would keep the old church to dedicate it and make it serve in perpetuity for a cult in honour of the august Queen of Heaven under the name of our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.” His request was immediately granted: frost occurred and the prodigious ice bridge popped up on the Saint Lawrence River.
During the ensuing years, the old church also was restored, according to the promise of the parish priest Désilets, in view of its solemn dedication to our Lady of the Holy Rosary, which happened on June 22, 1888. That day, the statue of the Virgin was installed on the high altar as the little church was consecrated to Mary and now named the “sanctuary our Lady of the Cape, Queen of the most Holy Rosary”.
At the same time, Father Frederick became the first Director of pilgrimages. The evening of the same day, kneeling before the altar, he and two other witnesses saw the statue open its eyes, an incident to be known later as the ‘miracle of the eyes’.
« The statue of the Virgin, which has completely downward looking eyes, had wide-open eyes; the Virgin’s stare was fixed; she looked straight ahead. An illusion was improbable, her face being in full sunlight as the result of the sun shining through a window and perfectly lighting all of the sanctuary. Her eyes were black, well formed and in full harmony with the rest of the face. The look of the Virgin was that of a living person; it had an expression of severity mixed with sadness. This miracle lasted for approximately five to ten minutes. » (Father Frederick, 1897)
The forenoon of June 22, 1888, Father Frederick had prophesied concerning the vocation of the sanctuary of our Lady of the Cape: « From now on, this sanctuary will be that of Mary. Pilgrims will come from all the families of the parish, from all the parishes of the diocese and of all the dioceses of the Canada. Yes, this small house of God will be too small to contain the crowds that will come to rely on the power and the munificence of the gentle Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary. »
Georges Morin, o.f.m.