St. Anne’s Church Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation: Restoration and Reconcili-Action

In 2022 Elder John R. Prosper and Settler Dorothy A. Lander wrote their joint memoir, Mi’kmaw Fiddler Joe Marble Plays to St. Anne: A Etuaptmumk-Two-Eyed-Seeing Pilgrimage for HARP The People’s Press, the healing arts social enterprise based in Mi’kmaki, Antigonish County. HARP allocates the proceeds of this decolonizing memoir to the Restoration of St. Anne’s Church at Walnek (Summerside), Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation, Mi’kmaki, Antigonish County. https://tryhealingarts.ca/books/mikmaw-fiddler-joe-marble-plays-to-st-anne/

When the book was released on the church grounds at Walnek on July 26, 2022, the Feast Day of St. Anne, the patron saint of the Mi’kmaq, John R. and Dorothy had no illusions that book sales would make more than a dent in the fundraising campaign to restore this historic church. Mass had not been held inside the church for several years as it was unsafe—the floorboards were rotting and the walls were bulging from rain damage. As shown on the front cover of the book, the steeple was leaning; pigeons had taken occupancy. The procession to St. Anne’s Grotto led by Chief Tma Francis was confined to the outdoors.

HARP takes some credit for raising awareness and attracting contributions to the St. Anne’s Church Restoration Fund.  HARP also installed a unit of “gently used books” in The Curious Cat Tea and Books on Main Street, Antigonish, entitled the Black Ash Fund with proceeds to the campaign to restore St. Anne’s Church.

This blog entry presents the story of the restoration of St. Anne’s Church, which was jump-started by an Elder and a Settler as Reconcili-action, as outlined in the 94 Calls to Action from the 2015 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Murray Sinclair. By January 2023, restoration work was underway, beginning with installing new flooring on a concrete base and replacing the wall cornices.

By the Feast Day of St. Anne 2023 the ceiling leaks had been repaired, the pews painted and reinforced and the painted image over the altar reworked by Andrew Murray to represent Jesus as a Middle East Jew. The bell rang out to call people to Mass, which was held inside St. Anne’s Church on July 26, 2023 for the first time in many years – and a baptism!

The pigeons have been evacuated from the steeple, which was cleaned out and reinforced before Hurricane Fiona hit in October 2022. A year later in October 2023, the steeple had been repaired and now rises upright into the heavens. A new front door has been installed. New technologies enable the lowering of the chandelier and the incense holder during services.  But now funds are running out and there is so much more to do. The windows have to be replaced before installing vinyl siding and the the existing shingles must be replaced with a steel roof.

St. Anne’s Church has not been able to participate in the annual in-person tours of Doors Open for Churches, presented by Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia with the assistance of community members, which means Elder John R. Prosper in the case of St. Anne’s at Walnek. Virtual tours took place during the pandemic.

https://m.facebook.com/HeritageTrustNovaScotia/posts/2576410726002105/

We fully expect in-person tours of St. Anne’s in the coming years.

The Two-Eyed-Seeing Etuaptmumk Pilgrimage by Elder John R. Prosper and Settler Dorothy Lander takes up the HARP catchphrase “A healthy community knows its history.”   Much of what John R. shared with the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia for Doors Open for Churches appears in the book and expands with each conversation around the restoration project. But with a difference:  John R. names the Mi’kmaw men and women who have been involved in building and maintaining the missionary church built in 1867.  John R. pointed out the painted crossbeams and trim in the interior noting that his Uncle Maurice Marshall and Frank Simon, then chief, painted these to look like marble.

The connection to Mi’kmaw spirituality and Indigenous culture are central themes in the story. As a matriarchal society, the Mi’kmaq cherish grandmothers and their maternal ancestors. St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, is the patron saint of the Mi’kmaq. The veneration of the relic of St. Anne is part of the procession to St. Anne’s Grotto on Feast Day.

The relic of another woman saint, the effigy of the Holy Face on St. Veronica’s Veil, holds a sacred place in St. Anne’s sanctuary. It has long been one of the most prized relics of Christianity. On the occasion of Dorothy’s most recent visit to St. Anne’s in October 2023, John R. told the history of St. Veronica’s Veil, originating with a miracle in 1849 at the Vatican. The predecessor to present-day St. Anne’s Church, which was built c. 1836-1838 under the direction of the French-born monk, Father Vincent de Paul Merle, would have learned of this miracle. According to legend, Veronica wiped the sweat from Christ’s brow with her veil as he carried the cross to Calvary and, miraculously, an image of Christ’s face became emblazoned on the cloth. One of the few images of the Holy Face not made by human hands.

In 1849, at the time of Saint Pius IX, the Veil of Veronica was on display for veneration after Vespers during Lent. All of a sudden, everyone present witnessed a transfiguration: the Face of Christ appeared as though it was lifelike. It was also surrounded with a halo of soft golden light, while the Veil itself glowed with the divine light. The Pope ordered one of the Canons of Saint Peter to draw the Holy Face as it had appeared and to engrave it as an effigy onto linen cloths that would be touched to the original Veil of Veronica, making them precious relics in themselves. The Article as a framed photo in the sanctuary at St. Anne has the Pope’s Ring stamp on the front and on the back with its certificate of authentication. The photo features the stamp as a red wax seal. This relic is among the images that were actually created and touched to Veronica’s veil in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The true effigies of the Holy Face are known to have been distributed for a period of about 75 years.

Today, the waters of Church Cove next to the grounds of St. Anne’s Church are making history.  In March 2023, the Government of Canada announced a major investment to support Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation in constructing a full-scale oyster farm in Pomquet Harbour—a non-repayable contribution of $498,118 as it builds its oyster farm infrastructure and prepares for commercialization. Already, floating oyster cages are part of the view of from St. Anne’s Church.

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