Saturday, July 7, 2018

There's Something in the Woods: Hope and Faith

If you take I-4 to Hwy. 27 and follow it south a couple dozen miles or so, you'll come to an “Old Florida” small town by the name of Lake Wales. If you're with someone who knows where they're going, you might then head east on 60 through orange groves and cattle country until you take a right onto a two-lane road. That road runs south through more orange groves into another road that circles a lake. Heading around the lake you'll find a dirt road that winds into some woods. As you make your way into the woods you'll round a corner and encounter an unexpected, seemingly anomalous sight. Rising out of the forest floor in defiance of time and elements is St. Anne's Shrine.

“Wow,” I mumbled as I tossed open the car door to climb out and take a closer look.

A bridge leads to St. Anne's Shrine, where statues depict a kneeling St. Anne to the left
as Mother Mary watches from above 

This seeming monument to humankind's hope and faith stands some twenty or more feet high. An altar is flanked by arched doorways while the top extends and bows forward, sheltering what was no doubt considered the sacred heart of the structure. Personal effects left by visitors have been carefully placed about. Candles and artificial flowers are plentiful, as are ferns growing wild.

Sunlight shimmers through an oak and palm tree canopy upon a stone bridge leading to the shrine. It both literally and metaphorically bridges the world to the statues of St. Anne and Maria on the other side. The bridge crosses a relatively large ditch which appears to have been intentionally dug in a manner to arc around the front of the structure, the remains of a church built some 98 years ago.

A devout Canadian Catholic by the name of Napoleon Pelletier is credited with single-handedly building and maintaining the church while he was visiting the still sparsely populated area. As the story goes, he built the structure about 1920 in gratitude for his ill son's revived health. Read more about the story on Wikipedia

Concrete slabs containing many symbolic decorations lie across the front of the shrine. One quickly assesses this was no small act of devotion manifested as a construction product, much less if undertaken a century ago. Initials carved in a tree trunk, it's not. 

Pelletier's handiwork apparently even included another statue of St. Anne erected upon stone in the nearby lake, though that particular figure is no longer standing. Many people, reportedly numbering into the thousands, made pilgrimages to the church in years long past. The still small road to the structure was crowded with visitors during select holidays.

A smaller stone monument remains to the left of the back of the shrine, where St. Anne stands in front of eleven stone columns. To the rear right is a relatively small stone formation, possibly once used as a christening pool. According to a memorial marker appropriately placed towards the front of the site, Napoleon Pelletier passed away in 1942 and is buried on the site.


  1. I love religious icons, although I am sort of an iconoclast at heart in terms of questioning dogmatic beliefs. Nonetheless, I love religious art, especially generated from Catholicism, which brought us the sacred feminine within Christianity (subtracted from Protestant very patriarchal beliefs about the ultimate masculinity of God). Thanks for sharing.

  2. They're really nice photos. Thanks for posting them.