THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL SHRINE in POINTE MICHEL
Text and photograph by Bernard Lauwyck
The renovation was initiated by Monsignor Reginald Lafleur in 2009 with the upgrading of the sanctuary and the enhancing of the shrine of Our Lady. I was proud to be involved in the conception, planning and execution of this project which was completed in 2010. Additional Red Cedar panelling was done in 2012. The roof and ceiling renovation works were started this January by present Parish Priest Fr. Peter Wamutitu .
The St. Luke’s church in Pointe Michel was declared The National Shrine, dedicated to our Lady of La Salette, by Bishop Arnold Boghaert in 1983. A National Shrine should be a worthy and exemplary space of worship and a centre of devotion and prayer of genuine religious intensity.
The devotion to Our Lady of La Salette in Dominica goes back to early February 1872, when Rev. Desiré Clément Ardois returned from France with a beautiful statue of Our Lady as she appeared to the two little shepherd children, Maximin and Mélanie on September 19, 1846 in La Salette in France. As he was the parish priest of Pointe Michel, he had a small side chapel added to the parish church where he exposed the statue to the veneration of the faithful.
This chapel was blessed together with the statue on December 12,1889. The Ecclesiastical Bulletin of Roseau reported that in 1873 and 1874 an immense number of faithful found their way to St. Luke’s from every quarter of Dominica and since then, year after year, the shrine has been visited by pious pilgrims on the 19th September.
After the pilgrimage in 1875, Fr. Ardois was so exhausted that he suddenly collapsed and died a few days later. He was buried at the foot of the Altar of Our Lady of La Salette in the Pointe Michel church (see memorial plaque in wall).
To illustrate the magnitude and vibrancy of the pilgrimage to Pointe Michel in the past, I am quoting some testimony:
“Seldom has been witnesses in Dominica as wonderful a manifestation of faith as the feast of our Lady of La Salette, celebrated on Wednesday , the 19th of September ” 1923.
“From 3 am large crowds of faithful flocked from all parts of the island to the shrine of Pointe Michel, to pay homage to Our Heavenly Queen.”
Tuesday September 19, 1922: “The good people of Pointe Michel had vied with each other to make the village look gay and festive for the unique occasion. Arches with inscription in honour of Our Lady of La Salette were erected from one end of the village to the other, whilst flags, buntings, flowers and evergreens were conspicuous all along the road and in front of nearly every house…the interior of the church, especially the Sanctuary, looked gorgeous and glittering. The chapel of Our Lady surpassed all the rest in splendour”.
“at 3.30 in the morning, the first pilgrims arrived, soon to be followed by hundreds upon hundreds until the spacious church had become altogether too small to hold them all. The bulk of the Roseau pilgrims left the Cathedral at 5 am in procession and arrived at Pointe Michel at 6.15. On reaching the borders of the village they were received and cordially welcomed by the hospitable people of that parish and conducted in procession to the church.”
The day long celebrations included a procession around the village in the afternoon : “ then started the procession which, but for the almost unbearable heat, was more splendid than ever… the statue of Our Lady of La Salette, was carried by four young maidens and surrounded by a host of children, all dressed in immaculate white. His Lordship the Bishop and the clergy walked behind the statue, and then followed the interminable rows first of women, then men. It was not until 4 pm that the procession was back in the church.”
One year (1923) the bishop recorded more than 6000 pilgrims. A temporary pavilion had to be erected to accommodate all the pilgrims.
Those were glorious days.