Our Lady of the Cape

Notre Dame du Cap, Marian holy cards collection,

ML.031 Box 22, circa 1675-2018. Marian Library,

University of Dayton Libraries, Dayton, Ohio.




Also known as Notre Dame du Cap, Our Lady of the Cape is located in the former city of Cap de la Madeleine which has been absorbed into the city Les Trois Rivières, or Three Rivers. In reality, there are only two rivers, the St. Maurice River and the St. Lawrence but the existence of two long and narrow islands gave it the appearance of branching off into three separate rivers when it was discovered and settled by the French in the 1500s. Dedicated to the Rosary, the area was consecrated to the Immaculate Conception by Jesuit missionaries around 1634. Small shrines began popping up along the St. Maurice River, and it became a tradition to travel to these different shrines by families or groups to pray to the Virgin Mary. This devotion led to one of Canada’s first Confraternities of the Holy Rosary in 1694, one that is still present in the shrine.

As the region was settled, a small wooden church was built and dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, hence the name of the city Cap de la Madeleine. After the Jesuits left, Fr. Paul Vachon took charge and built the shrine chapel in 1714 which still stands today. Unfortunately, Canada fell upon hard times as control of the country was handed over from the Catholic French to Protestant England. In a time where the faith was extremely low, a statue was donated by Mr. Zephirin Dorval in 1854 as he was leaving to participate in the gold rush. Designed by an Italian sculptor, the statue was one of eleven made in Canada and depicted Our Lady as she appeared to Catherine Labouré in Paris in the apparition of the Miraculous Medal. The statue replaced an older one referred to as “The Golden Virgin”, but that one was lost and has not been seen since.

Fr. Luc Desilets was given the task in 1864 to revive the parish, of which there were only 10 active parishioners. It wasn’t until 2 years later that he was able to make a change. One day, after waiting in vain for hours to hear a confession, he went to the chapel and lament in front of the tabernacle in frustration. When he entered the church though, he saw a pig next to the Lady Alter, grinding its teeth on a rosary that had fallen to the floor. Blaming himself for the desecration, he vowed to devote his life to the Rosary. The next day, Fr. Desilets told the story to the congregation and, holding up the rosary, said, “The people drop the Rosary and the pigs pick it up”. His zeal enlivened the church which also instilled a devotion to the Rosary in the city.

A couple of miracles are attributed to Our Lady of the Cape. When it became necessary to build a larger church because the rise in active Catholics, the plan was to tear down the old church and use its stone in the larger one. When all the stone was ready on the opposite shore, the people waited for the St. Lawrence to freeze over so they could transport it to the new location for construction. That winter of 1878-79 was a particularly mild one though and by the time March came around, any hope for a freeze was virtually non-existent. Fr. Desilets prayed fervently to Our Lady, asking that if she produced a path across the river to carry enough stone so they could build the new church up to the windowsills, the old church would remain standing and be dedicated to her as a shrine of the Holy Rosary. Miraculously, on March 15th, a strong gale picked up and broke up the ice floes against the shore, pushing them together to form a bridge. A few men braved the bridge, often walking only on frozen snow in between the floes. It has become known as the Bridge of Rosaries due to the rosaries said by Fr. Desilets and the men as they worked.

True to his promise, Fr. Desilets renovated the old chapel and the statue of Our Lady of the Cape was enshrined in a formal dedication on June 22nd, 1888. On the evening of the dedication, Fr. Desilets, Fr. Frederick, who was a visiting priest, and Pierre Lacrroix, a sick man the former were assisting, looked upon the statue of Our Lady of the Cape. Her eyes were open, looking westward with sorrow. All three men saw it but guarded against it in case it was an illusion. When looking again, her eyes remained open “with a living glance of sweetness and sorrow that impressed itself indelibly on each of their hearts”. The statue was crowned by Pope St. Pius X in 1904 and the Plenary Council of Quebec made Cap de la Madeleine a national shrine. Many people pilgrimage to the shrine for Our Lady of the Cape’s blessings.

Shaw, James G. Canada's Shrine to Mary: the Story of Our Lady of the Cape. Editions Notre Dame Du Cap, 1984.

Marian Library

Researched by Jillian E. Foster

Popular Devotions

Popular Devotions: The Rosary and Novena

Notre Dame du Cap, Marian holy cards collection,

ML.031 Box 22, circa 1675-2018. Marian Library,

University of Dayton Libraries, Dayton, Ohio.

Hail Mary

Je vous salue, Marie pleine de grâce

le Seigneur est avec vous.

Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes et Jésus,

le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.

Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,

priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs,

maintenant et à l’heure de notre mort.


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