This Old Florida Shrine Celebrates the Mother of the Virgin Mary

L. Cane

When you think of old shrines made with stone and tile, you likely conjure images of shrines in Europe, Jerusalem, or Thailand. But, you might be surprised to know that Florida has a religious shrine, and it was dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary, St. Anne. Of the shrine, the Lakeland Ledger has written:

"Historically speaking, it might be one of the most unique religious sites in Central Florida."

The History of the St. Anne Shrine: In 1920, Catholics from Canada came to Florida to escape Canada's winters. These visitors decided to build a shrine to St. Anne de Beaupre, the mother of the Virgin Mary, on a piece of property east of Lake Wales. They built an elaborate chapel, a pedestal, and a grotto with a moat using native Florida rock.

Approximately six years later, a French artist named Francies Marsollier brought his young son, who had tuberculosis, to the shrine. He promised to use his talents to beautify the shrine if his son could be saved. And his son was saved, so Francies made good on his promise, painted murals in the shrine's chapel, and made sculptures for the shrine's grounds.

Tourism to the Shrine: During the late 1920s and early 30s, people flocked to the shrine for pilgrimages and to celebrate St. Anne's feast day. When some of these visitors began to report healing in the St. Anne's Lake behind the shrine, more visitors began to visit the shrine in search of healing.

However, as World War II began, the pilgrimages slowed, locals expressed concern that the shrine was becoming too commercial, and the crowds began to lessen.

The Tearing Down of Parts of the Shrine: The Catholic Diocese of Orlando desanctified the church and began deconstruction in the 1960s. In the 1980s, the site was almost sold so a house could be built on it, but the community saved the shrine, which now sits in a neighborhood.

The Shrine Today: There are only a few portions of the shrine that remain. Parts of the arched bridge, pedestal, and grotto can still be seen. Locals try to keep the area mowed.

Rick Smith, who lives close to the shrine, told the Lakeland Ledger:

“It was built so long ago. I want my grandchildren to enjoy the monuments that are still there. That's part of my motivation for helping out at the shrine, so others can appreciate and enjoy it.”

Common words used to describe the shrine by people who have seen it are "peaceful" and "serene," perhaps because it's a bit of ancient Florida history in modern times.

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