The Prodigy of the Eyes
The new parish church of Cap-de-la-Madeleine is officially open to the cult on October 3, 1880, and in the following years, the old small church is restored to be dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, as Father Desilets had promised. On June 22, 1888, the small church is officially consecrated to Mary, and thus becomes the “Shrine”. Father Frederic Janssoone, a Franciscan, delivers the appropriate sermon. He will become the first director of pilgrimages until 1902.
After Mass, the statue was taken from the side altar and placed on the high altar, where it has remained ever since. Henceforth, the ancient parish church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine was to be the official Notre-Dame-du-Cap Shrine. By this gesture, thanks were finally rendered for the extraordinary event of the ice bridge. At the end of this day of joy and prayer, the pilgrims went their way. Nothing out of the ordinary had marked the ceremonies… but the day had not yet drawn to its close. In the evening, a handicapped man named Pierre Lacroix arrived at the rectory. Fathers Désilets and Frederic conducted him to the Shrine to pray before the statue. It was then that the “marvel of the eyes” took place. Here is the testimony of Father Frederic, which was published on May 22, 1897 on the front page of the Montreal daily La Presse:
“The statue of the Virgin had been sculptured with the eyes cast down. Now they were wide open, staring. The Virgin was looking straight ahead, Her eyes level. It could hardly be an optical illusion: Her face was clearly visible, illuminated by the sun which, shining through one of the windows, filled the whole shrine with light. Her eyes were black, well shaped, and in perfect harmony with the rest of Her face. The Virgin’s expression was that of a living person, at once stern and sad. This marvel lasted somewhere between five and ten minutes.”
And now, the testimony of Pierre Lacroix: “I went into the shrine at about seven o’clock in the evening. I was with Father Luc Désilets and Father Frederic… Well, I was praying, and then I took a look at the Holy Virgin, just in front of me. I could see clearly that the statue’s eyes were wide open, but it looked natural, as if She was staring over our heads…I didn’t say a word, just went on looking at the statue, when Father Désilets got up — he was on my right — and went over to Father Frederic. I heard him say: ‘Do you see it?’ — ‘Yes,’ Father Frederic answered, ‘the statue has opened its eyes, hasn’t it?’ — ‘Yes, it has. But is this really taking place?’ So I said that I’d seen the same thing, that I’d been watching it for several minutes. And I’m making this solemn declaration because I believe in my heart and conscience that it is true, and I know that it has the same force and binding effect as if it had been made under oath.”
Father Frederic died on August 4, 1916. One century after the “prodigy of the eyes,” he was beatified in Rome by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988.
After having commanded winds and water, snow and ice, so that a shrine could be built in Her honor, Our Lady of the Cape showed Her appreciation for having been installed in Her shrine under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. For Father Desilets, these wide-open eyes of the Madonna meant something special, like what God had said in the past to King Solomon:
“I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, which thou hast made before me: I have sanctified this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever, and my eyes and my heart shall be there always.” (1 Kings 9:3.)
On June 22, 1888, at 7 o’clock, Our Lady of the Cape became, through the express will of Mary, the Madonna of the Canadians. On that day, Father Frederic stated:
“Pilgrims will come from all the families of the parish, from all the parishes of the diocese, and from all the dioceses of Canada. This small house of God will become too small to contain the crowds that will come to invoke the power and munificence of the sweet Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.”
The Coronation of 1904
In 1898, 500 members of the Third Franciscan Order of the Immaculate Conception of Montreal donated to Our Lady of the Cape, on behalf of their Irish fellow countrymen, a magnificent golden heart and a rich crown. The heart and crown will become inseparable, since they mean that Mary is both Mother and Queen. The heart is pierced by a sword, and topped by a lily, representing the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The crown will be used in 1904 for the solemn crowning of the statue of Our Lady of the Cape, proclaimed officially by the Church as the Madonna of the Canadians.
The symbolic worth of this crown, made of gold, platinum, and diamonds from thousands of jewels offered by the Canadians, is infinitely superior to its material worth. The coats of arms of the ten Canadian provinces are displayed around the base, and proclaim Our Lady of the Cape as the patron saint and Protectress of all Canadians.
It is Bishop Cloutier of Trois-Rivieres who crowned the statue in 1904. He officially declared as a miracle the “Rosary bridge” of 1879, and recognized the supernatural character of the prodigy of the eyes of 1888. He then entrusted the care of the shrine to the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate.
The 50th Anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception creates an atmosphere of extraordinary Marian enthusiasm in the whole Catholic world. In Canada, Catholics are overjoyed when they learn that the Pope has decided to crown Our Lady of the Cape.
The coronation of a statue is highly significant. Through this gesture, the Vicar of Christ puts the seal of his apostolic authority on the cult given to this statue, the miracles attributed to it, and the fame and glory that surrounds it. In America, only the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe had received such an honor so far.
The day before the coronation, the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Sbarretti, presided over the candle procession. The next day, he celebrated Holy Mass, accompanied by representatives of all the Canadian Episcopate. Archbishops Duhamel of Ottawa and Begin of Quebec City praised, in English and in French, the glories of Our Lady of the Cape.
The Shrine of Cap-de-la-Madeleine had never seen such a big crowd. Then Bishop Cloutier, dressed in pontifical garments, moves to the statue, accompanied by Father Frederic, who carries the crown on a silken cushion. The Bishop blesses the crown, takes it and, on behalf of Pope Pius X, puts it on the head of Our Lady of the Cape. At the same moment, salvoes and bells resound, and the crowd is cheering. By a decree of the Pope, Our Lady of the Cape has become the Queen of Canada, the national Madonna of the Canadians.
For the next 50 years, the Queen of the Rosary continues to attract ever-larger crowds. The peak of the pilgrimage season is on August 15, for the Feast of the Assumption. In 1947, there is a triumphal tour of the pilgrim statue of Our Lady around Canada. The faithful see the lily on the heart of the statue, begin to understand the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and enthusiastically consecrate themselves to Her.
During the sojourn of the statue of Our Lady of the Cape in Ottawa in 1947, over one million Canadians recited with fervour the prayer of Pope Pius XII consecrating mankind to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, signed the consecration and put it at the feet of the Madonna. The heart of Our Lady of the Cape teaches us the most beautiful love from the most beautiful heart: that of our Heavenly Mother.
The Marian Year of 1954
In 1954, the Marian Year is celebrated with fervour all over Canada, and reaches its apotheosis at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape, where the whole nation gathered at the feet of the Queen of the Rosary. The centenary of the definition of the Immaculate Conception coincided with the golden jubilee of the coronation of Our Lady of the Cape in 1904.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate prepared for a long time in advance the celebrations of this glorious anniversary. Bishop Georges-Leon Pelletier of Trois-Rivieres even managed to obtain from Rome, for this occasion, a new crowning of the statue of Our Lady of the Cape, the coming of a papal legate, and a radio message from the Pope himself to the Canadian people.
In an unanimous voice, all the Bishops of Canada, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, confirmed their presence for this imposing ceremony at the Shrine of Cap-de-la-Madeleine on August 15, 1954. During the ten days preceding the Feast of the Assumption, each of the ten Canadian provinces had a special day of celebration at the Shrine, at the feet of the statue of our national Madonna.
On the eve of the feast, there were 200 priests to hear confessions at the shrine. On August 15, the procession is led by the papal legate, Cardinal Vallerio Valeri, followed by all the Canadian Bishops. At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Valeri gives the apostolic blessing to all the faithful present, accompanied with a plenary indulgence, through a privilege of the Holy Father.
The organizers of this unforgettable day had the idea of a parade of floats before the coronation ceremony. The floats represented the local or national Marian events in Canadian history. The local newspapers mentioned that “no one could remember such a demonstration in Trois-Rivieres.”
The coronation ceremony took place in the Trois-Rivieres’ Exposition Park. The white throne on which the statue was placed was surrounded by a 35-foot arch with the words “Fulgens Corona” (in Latin, “radiant crown,” the name of the encyclical of Pope Pius XII proclaiming the Marian Year) and “A mari usque ad mare” (From coast to coast), the motto of Canada and of the Marian Congress. The procession with the floats and representatives of parishes lasted two hours. After the coronation of the statue by Cardinal Valeri, Cardinals Leger of Montreal and McGuigan of Toronto read, in Canada’s two official languages, the act of consecration of our nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Then, by order of seniority, all the Bishops of Canada came in front of the statue to present their croziers. The two Canadian Cardinals then gave a speech on the social and spiritual scope of the devotion to Mary. The last word was reserved to Cardinal Valeri, the papal legate, who exhorted all to remain loyal servants of Mary, and expressed his best wishes for the salvation and prosperity of our nation. Finally, the float carrying the statue of Our Lady returned to the Shrine of Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
On September 10, 1984, Pope John Paul II celebrated an outdoor Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape, and said: “This Marian pilgrimage is an immense grace accorded to the Canadian people. May the river of the prayerful never run dry here.” May all Canadians return to the recitation of the family Rosary, so that the Church in Canada will recover its splendor and vitality of the past! AMEN.