The Mysterious Relics of Saint Anne

I love Saint Anne (she is my wife’s patron) and I love Charlemagne (our dog is named Charlemagne). So the following story is especially dear to me. It’s also one of the best relics story of all time.

On Easter AD 792, Charlemagne discovered the relics of Saint Anne with the help of a deaf handicapped boy. It’s a wonderful tale for this feast day of Saint Anne.

Below is the account, preserved in the correspondence of Pope Saint Leo III, concerning the mysterious discovery of the relics of Saint Anne in the presence of the Emperor Charlemagne.

Fourteen years after Our Lord’s death, Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Martha, Saint Lazarus, and the others of the little band of Christians who were piled into a boat without sails or oars and pushed out to sea to perish — in the persecution of the Christians by the Jews of Jerusalem — were careful to carry with them the tenderly loved body of Our Lady’s mother. They feared lest it be profaned in the destruction, which Jesus had told them was to come upon Jerusalem. When, by the power of God, their boat sur vived and finally drifted to the shores of France, the little company of saints buried Saint Anne’s body in a cave, in a place called Apt, in the south of France. The church, which was later built over the spot, fell into decay because of wars and religious persecutions, and as the centuries passed, the place of Saint Anne’s tomb was forgotten.

The long years of peace, which Charlemagne’s wise rule gave to southern France, enabled the people to build a magnificent new church on the site of the old chapel at Apt. Extraordinary and painstaking labor went into the building of the great structure, and when the day of its consecration arrived [Easter Sunday, 792 A.D.], the beloved Charlemagne, little suspecting what was in store for him, declared himself happy indeed to have jour neyed so many miles to be present for the holy occasion. At the most solemn part of the ceremonies, a boy of fourteen, blind, deaf and dumb from birth — and usually quiet and impassive — to the amaze ment of those who knew him, completely distracted the at tention of the entire congrega tion by becoming suddenly tremendously excited. He rose from his seat, walked up the aisle to the altar steps, and to the consternation of the whole church, struck his stick re soundingly again and again upon a single step.

His embarrassed family tried to lead him out, but he would not budge. He contin ued frantically to pound the step, straining with his poor muted senses to impart a knowledge sealed hopelessly within him. The eyes of the people turned upon the em peror, and he, apparently in spired by God, took the matter into his own hands. He called for workmen to remove the steps.

A subterranean passage was revealed directly below the spot, which the boy’s stick had indicated. Into this pas sage the blind lad jumped, to be followed by the emperor, the priests, and the workmen.

They made their way in the dim light of candles, and when, farther along the pas sage, they came upon a wall that blocked further ad vance, the boy signed that this also should be removed. When the wall fell, there was brought to view still another long, dark corridor. At the end of this, the searchers found a crypt, upon which, to their profound wonderment, a vigil lamp, alight and burning in a little walled recess, cast a heavenly radiance.

As Charlemagne and his afflicted small guide, with their companions, stood be fore the lamp, its light went out. And at the same moment, the boy, blind and deaf and dumb from birth, felt sight and hearing and speech flood into his young eyes, his ears, and his tongue.

“It is she! It is she!” he cried out. The great emperor, not knowing what he meant, nevertheless repeated the words after him. The call was taken up by the crowds in the church above, as the people sank to their knees, bowed in the realization of the presence of something celestial and holy.

The crypt at last was opened, and a casket was found within it. In the casket was a winding sheet, and in the sheet were relics, and upon the relics was an inscrip tion that read, “Here lies the body of Saint Anne, mother of the glorious Virgin Mary.” The winding sheet, it was noted, was of eastern design and texture.

Charlemagne, over whelmed, venerated with pro found gratitude the relics of the mother of Heaven’s Queen. He remained a long time in prayer. The priests and the people, awed by the graces given them in such abundance and by the choice of their countryside for such a heavenly manifestation, for three days spoke but rarely, and then in whispers.

The emperor had an exact and detailed account of the miraculous finding drawn up by a notary and sent to Pope Saint Leo III, with an accom panying letter from himself. These documents and the pope’s reply are preserved to this day. Many papal bulls have attested, over and over again, to the genuineness of Saint Anne’s relics at Apt.

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  • Ron

    Blessed be God!

  • Annie

    My family has been very blessed to find a true relic of St. Anne! My uncle, a priest, had it in his possession when he died (we’re not sure why) and other family members almost threw it away because it looked like just another pyx. My father took it and had it for several years before my sister brought it to Fr. Carlos Martins. He was able to say that it is a true relic and re-authenticated it for us. We even were blessed to have it returned in time to lend to my sister’s church for their St. Anne Novena this year. St. Anne, pray for us!

    • Wow, you have a relic of Saint Anne! You are blessed.

    • ThirstforTruth

      Remember relics fall into different classifications: First class relics designate a body or a
      body part such as the tongue of St Anthony, preserved at his shrine in Padua.
      Second class relics are an article or object used by the saint, such as an article of clothing.
      Third class relics are an objects touched to a first class relic. If a relic is notable in size it
      must be approved by a Bishop to be kept in a private home.

  • Dave H

    Amazing!

  • Denis Saint-Maurice

    That explains why they claim, in Québec City, to have a forearm of St. Ann as a relic. Your story reconciles me with the veracity of the relic. Do you know that the cult to St. Anne was introduced by the French at the very beginning of the colony (17th century). Immediately, it became a hit among the people of the First Nations. Today they have a great celebration, with the rest of the population in St. Anne shrine, at St. Ann-de-Beaupré. Always an amazingly pious feast.

  • mary

    St Anne having been baren all of her life, was still faithful to God; was still certain that His plan for her was right and just. She was willing to live humbly and in service to God no matter what the world thought of her. Oh, that we all could be so loving of God. Her reward was to concieve and give birth to our Lady Mary, Mother of God. What a gift.

  • JMJT

    Thank you , Taylor, this most inspirational historical account, inspired me with prayerful devotion to St. Anne on her feast. I have shared your article this with a few friends and family.
    If you have more of these very interesting and inspiring historical accounts, you may want to collect them and publish them in a book for families to read at prayer time.

    • Wonderful. Changes are being made tot the site. It should allow it to make it easier and more obvious for sharing these posts on Facebook, Twitter, and email.

      Please let me know if it’s not working for you.

  • Allison

    This is a nice story but it is likely apocryphal. I am really dubious of many relics because in the Middle Ages, it was just such a big business. Maybe these are St. Anne’s relics, maybe not. We should not be too credulous. I’m not a big fan of relics and don’t depend on them in order to have faith. Plus I truly dislike the practice of tearing up a saint’s body in order to get a finger or something. eww.

    • JoeAllen

      The Catholic Encyclopedia seems to agree with you:

      “The supposed relics of St. Anne were brought from the Holy Land to Constantinople in 710 and were still kept there in the church of St. Sophia in 1333.”
      “The tradition of the church of Apt in southern France pretends that the body of St. Anne was brought to Apt by St. Lazarus, the friend of Christ, was hidden by St. Auspicius (d. 398), and found again during the reign of Charlemagne (feast, Monday after theoctave of Easter); these relics were brought to a magnificent chapel in 1664 (feast, 4 May). The head of St. Anne was kept at Mainz up to 1510, when it was stolen and brought to Dürenin Rheinland.”

      • stephkst

        In part you make a valid point, yet ecclesiastic terminology in regard to relics at times appears to be a mismomer: Corpus S.cae Annae or other Saints in many cases do not encompass the entire body resp. mortal remains, but often larger parts. Against early roman ‘restrictive’ practice still known and enforced by Saint Gregory the Great when the Empress of Constantinople wanted relics of SS PEter and Paul, possibly their heads, he granted simply ‘brandea’ i.e. cloth touched to their tombs – it was precisely the xpctian east that early on practiced the division of sacred relics. With the invasion of the Lombards in Italy the tombs of the martyrs in the Roman Catacombs were opened for the first time and their relics were transported within the City walls and placed inside the City Churches creating the present day intimate link between martyrs toms and the altar above them, altar and ‘confessio’ beneath respectively. FRom then on the Roman West adopted the Oriental PRactice of deviding relics as well: ‘pars pro toto corpore’. THis practice, to be said positively – has preserved relics of Saints that in their original tomb would have been destroyed by wars and catastrophies.
        As to the mentioned relic of Saint ann in Düren, again ‘pars pro toto’ – it is just a piece of her scull – while the entire city and St. Ann’s Church, a place pf pilgrimage in her honour to this day, was layed in rubber and ashes during WW II, her relic miraculously escaped fire and distruction

  • Jim Wustrack

    The first time hearing of this story touched me deeply, esp. after a novena to St. Anne. Please tell me who are we to believe Pope Saint Leo III or the Catholic Encyclopedia??

  • ThirstforTruth

    This is a beautiful legend supported by the words of Pope Leo III…and most touching.
    Now, I have always been told that the name Ann ( w/o an e ending) is for the saint and
    the name Anne ( with an e ending) is for the early Queen of the Brits! So at confirmation
    those taking the saint’s name spelled it ANN. Just saying…..

    • elliesue

      Our parish is St. Anne’s with an e – just saying….

  • Tom in South Jersey

    I might have a relic of Charlemagne.

  • joxxer

    I’ve always loved that marvelous and inspiring account. Thank you for putting it up. Poor France, from what I read about that country– I pray she returns to the Faith and ask that St Anne pray for them. (Of course, that goes for most countries today).
    Many protested the passage of a homosexual marriage law– they are on the right track–bless them.

  • MPR

    What a wonderful miracle! I loved reading about this!
    Thanks, Dr. Marshall!
    +God bless
    +JMJ+
    MPR