SAINTS LIVED HERE
The Story of the Martyr's Shrine
by J.G. Shaw
On Sacred GroundThose who come to visit Martyrs' Shrine as visitors or as true pilgrims will experience something that will move any faithful Christian. This experience in some ways can only be compared to standing in the Catacombs or in the Coliseum at Rome. What one is given here is a direct human experience, the soul being touched through every human sense. The very ground upon which he walks was trod before him by another man who was ready to give all that in him lay for the service of the God who had created him. The hill that rises nearby had even before him been climbed by men who would not give up because they were overwhelmed with the power of Faith. They could not give up because there were people around them who were in dire need of that same Faith.
That little stretch of fiat ground down by the river was home for some ten years to men who had forsaken the greatest comfort in France to sleep in smoke-filled bark cabins, to feed on cornmeal that tasted so much like paste and when seasoned with rotting fish offered no pleasure to their palate, and to live their lives with alien men and women because Christ said, "Go ye and teach all nations." Because Christ said, "Take up your cross and follow Me" they let themselves be captured and dragged through woods, burned at the torture stake, stripped of their flesh, their hearts torn out, rather than fail the obligations of their baptismal vows.
The old residence where these men had lived was, as we will see, burned to the ground, and for many years was nothing but a ruin. It is now reconstructed and the pilgrim to the Martyrs' Shrine can well imagine how they lived.
One of the new buildings is a reconstruction of the old Indian Chapel, scarcely ten paces from the river. Within the walls of Ste-Marie were buried two of the missionaries. Their bodies had been carried in and, mutilated though they were, had been stretched out on slabs of elm bark. These two men, priests of God forever, had lain there for some two hours while their fellow Jesuits, donne's and workmen gathered round to hear eyewitnesses tell how the bodies came to be marked, with that cut, and that cut, and that cut.
The men of the time walked around in reverence as a true pilgrim of today will do, where these men, Brebeuf and Lalemant, had given their lives for the Faith. The men of that day could do this in reality - the pilgrim and visitor of today only in their own minds. But the place was sanctified then and is sanctified now because the martyrs were there.
Then the carpenter had the coffins finished, straight and true, with the big flat nails hammered out of rough iron; the shoemaker, who was a handy man with heavy canvas and needle, had the bodies wrapped in a sailor's winding sheet.
And then Father Ragueneau, Superior of the mission in 1649, had said the Mass. As it was a Sunday, possibly he said not a Requiem Mass but a Mass of Thanksgiving that God had called their fellow missionaries to martyrdom. One could hear the chant of the Gloria in the loneliness of that wilderness home. The chant of prayers, as the priests and brothers, donne's and workmen, offered their last homage to the soldiers of Christ who died in battle for Him, would not be heard again on this spot for nearly 300 years.
And the pilgrim of today, looking at the stone over the grave of St. John de Br6beuf can well imagine the burial of long ago. He stands near where the Martyrs were buried in that ground; more precisely, in that little bit of earth 7 feet, 4 inches long and 3 feet, 6 inches wide.1 He looks at it and cannot help but say a prayer.
Father Ragueneau, in the burial service, had said, "Return to dust." He had reached down and picked up a handful of earth. All seemed to be over. Very soon their flock would have to flee to a nearby island for temporary shelter. And in a year the whole place would be abandoned as the last remnants of the Huron nation fled to the shelter of Quebec and security distance gave to what is now the State of Michigan.
(1) From 1955 Report of The Canadian Catholic Historical Association,
"The Excavation of the Indian Church at Ste-Marie," by Rev. Denis A. Hegarty, 5.3.
"Careful measurements were taken before further material was lifted. The disturbed sand formed a rectangle, 88 inches long and 42 inches wide. Its long dimension was not quite at right angles to the major axis of the building but turned 15 degrees to the west; in other words, as it turned out, it lay exactly north and south. Its southwestern corner was 20 inches from the south wall, 2 feet from the west wall; its northwest corner was 9 feet, 2 inches from the west wall.
"On the following Monday, August 16, work progressed not only on the
marked area, but also on its surroundings, so as to leave a clear space
all around it. In this way the outline remained clear as long as the weather
did, for either rain or wind could, and at times did, interfere with the
In the burial Father John de Brebeuf and Father Gabriel Lalemant had returned to the earth. But when their brethren fled, the relics of these men would be taken with them for in their minds these relics were too sacred to be left to the desecration of time. And when, nearly 300 years later, a church would be erected on the nearby hill, some of these relics would be returned.
As the pilgrim leaves the graveside of Brebeuf and goes out of the chapel into the open his eyes will turn perhaps to the north. There the Church of St. Joseph, in honour of the Martyrs, raises two tall steeples overlooking the beloved home of tile missionaries. In that church Our Lord is present as He was years ago in the little chapel from which the pilgrim has just come.
When the pilgrim to Martyrs' Shrine kneels before Our Lord he is filled undoubtedly with many questions. He cannot help but ask himself, "Who were these men - where did they come from - what did they do - how did they do it - and why?"
When he has found his answers to these questions the pilgrim cannot
help but salute the memory of the Martyrs who were faithful to the vows
of their baptism. That baptism which is also the privilege of the pilgrim.
The answers he finds are the very warp and wood of the story of Martyrs'
Shrine, the story of Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons.
Why Ste-Marie Was Founded
There are weaknesses (among the Hurons) unimaginable to one who has not witnessed them. But, after all, these are rational creatures, capable of Paradise and hell, redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, and of Whom it is written "other sheep have I who are not of this fold; them also must I bring." And for this reason He sends to seek them in the hedges and everywhere.(JESUIT RELATIONS xvii, 127)
From these Relations we can find the answers to the questions a pilgrim asks at Ste-Marie. We can learn from the words of cultured men who lived there why they decided to establish Ste-Marie, how they went about it, who were their companions, what went on there and how the place met its end.
The words at the head of this chapter were written by Father Jerome Lalemant in his first Relation from Huronia. They express the single purpose of all missionaries in all missions from the beginning of Christianity until today. They contain the one and only reason why there were Jesuits in Huronia at all that June of 1639. They also suggest some of the difficulties they faced.
The ten Jesuits gathered in a cabin by the shores of Lake Huron were of one mind about the task that lay ahead of them. They were there to bring Christianity to the Hurons and the Hurons to Christianity.
The one question in their minds was "How?" How could Christianity best be planted, protected and made to grow?
Out of their answer to this question came Ste-Marie,"…our second fatherland, our home of innocent delights • …the cradle of this Christian Church, the temple of God and the home of the servants of Jesus Christ."
Jesuits Choose HuroniaWhen the French settled in Quebec, their immediate neighbours were Indians of the Algonqujan family of Nations. They were nomads,
who carried their tepee-poles on their backs and set them up wherever the hunting, fishing or trading was good.
These Algonquins were allies of the Hurons, an Iroquoian people living 800 miles inland at the eastern end of the lake that bears their name. The Hurons lived in fixed villages, their various families and clans bound together in a stable, though loose and exceedingly democratic, form of government. They were also a trader nation who bartered for furs from nations to the south, to the west and to the north and brought them east through the Algonquins to sell to the French.
The Huron trail from Quebec to Georgian Bay was the logical line of French advance into the continent. Champlain followed it and the Franciscans, the first missionaries to the area, had arrived just ahead of him.
The missionaries saw in the relative stability of the Hurons, much better ground for sowing the seed of Faith than among the ever-wandering Algonquins.
That is why the Franciscans, and the Jesuits who came after them, chose to concentrate so much effort on a place so far from the protection of Quebec.
The root of the missionary problem lay in the Huron "weaknesses" Father Lalemant mentions. Those weaknesses included things for which other men might have been inclined to find a stronger word - abominable living habits, a compulsion to carry out whatever outrageous urge occurred to them in dreams, a fondness for inflicting tortures, and a tendency to capricious slaughter.
By the time Father Lalemant was writing, the living habits had become an old story to the ten priests. The veteran and pioneer among them, John de Brebeuf, had been sharing the food and shelter and hardships of the Hurons for eight years. All of them were familiar with the Huron dwellings. It was a long windowless, tunnel shaped structure covered with rough bark. Every eight feet along its length, a fire glowed in the dark for cooking and warmth. Smoke filled the cabin and found its way out by slits left permanently open along the ridgepole. Two families, one on either side, shared each fire.
There were no divisions and therefore no privacy. Every act performed, night or day, by man, woman, child or dog, was done in the presence of all the rest. Some of the cabins were 200 feet long and held as many families as a good sized apartment house.
In these surroundings the missionaries lived and exercised their ministry. Father Lalemant writes:
"If you go to visit them in their cabins, - and you must go there oftener than once a day if you would perform your duty as you ought - you will find there a little picture of hell. You will see nothing as a rule, but fire and smoke and on every side naked bodies, black and half-roasted, mingled pell-mell with the dogs, which are held as dear as the children of the house, and share beds, plates and food with their masters.
"Everything is in a cloud of dust, and, before you go within, you will not reach the end of the cabin before you are completely befouled with soot, filth and dirt."
The Missionaries AdaptThe missionaries' way of eating and sleeping was in every way similar to that of the Indians." The staple food was a mush made of ground corn which Father Chaumonot likened to "the paste we use in France to put on wallpaper," and Samuel Champlain compared to "the slop we feed to pigs." The seasoning was pieces of fish "rank with internal rottenness."
As Father Du Peron wrote in 1639 (Thwaites J.R. XV April 27, 1639):
"I reached the house of our Fathers at six o'clock in the evening. They received me with every evidence of kindness and good will, although their entertainment was no better than that of the Indians, for the comforts of life with us are the same as those of the natives, - that is, a porridge made of the meal of Indian corn and water, morning and evening, and for a drink a flagon of water. Sometimes the Indians put in pieces of cinders, to season the sagamite', at other times a handful of little waterflies, which are like the gnats of Provence; they esteem these highly, and make feasts of them. The more prudent keep some fish after the fishing season, to break into the sagamite during the year; about half of a large carp is put in for fourteen persons, and the more tainted the fish is, the better,"Sleeping accommodations are described by Father Lalemant: "A mat upon the ground, or upon a piece of bark, is your bed; the fire, your candle; the holes through which the smoke passes, your windows - which are never closed; bent poles, covered with bark your walls and roof, through which the wind enters from all sides."
These conditions became routine to the missionaries. So did the witnessing of death by torture.
They had seen the ritual followed when an Iroquois prisoner was brought back to the village. He would be assigned to a family that had lost a warrior in battle. The family could either adopt him to recoup their lost manpower or turn him back to the Council for torture and death. If he was a feared warrior, he was inevitably paid the tribute of being assigned to the stake.
Correct procedure required that the preliminary torture chewing or chopping off fingers, and applying burning coals, torches or red hot tomahawks to the most sensitive parts of the body - start one day and last throughout the night before the culminating frenzy around the death stake the next day.
The customary interval between minor torture and death brought the missionaries into intimate first-hand contact with all this horror. Their zeal seized upon this opportunity to speak to the condemned men of the meaning of life and death, of heaven and hell and of God's infinite mercy. (After one successful Huron raid in 1638, they baptized every one of a hundred Iroquois captives put to death in the Huron villages.)
This meant they were as intimate with the kind of death they might expect as with the sort of daily life they had to live. Each Jesuit knew that from moment to moment, all through his life in Huronia, he was a leading candidate for just such an end. It could come through falling into the hands of the Iroquois. It could also come at the whim of some Huron whose demon might inform him that the black-robe was responsible for some particular community disaster like famine, plague or defeat in war. It could come, as it almost had come twice already, by solemn decision of an unfriendly council of the tribe.
But neither the hard life nor the fearful death had anything to do with the decision to found Ste-Marie.
These were occupational hazards. All who came after Brebeuf had known about them in detail before volunteering for New France. They had been pondered in prayer and meditation and were part of the life they had chosen as Jesuit missionaries. At each priest's daily offering of himself, they were willingly embraced as acceptable means of winning grace for the souls in his charge.
The pressing problem, the apparently insurmountable obstacle that made them re-shape their plans, was, strange as it may sound, the normal recreations and social customs of the Huron people.
The Power of DreamsBrebeuf and his companions could put up with the greatest hardships and the coarsest living conditions. They could accept the probability of torture and death. What they could not abide in patience, what they gathered to pray and plan against with all the strength of their souls, was an all pervading pagan atmosphere that left the Christian life no more room to breathe than a seedling primrose choked in weeds.
And that was the sort of atmosphere created by the only way of life the Huron knew.
The Huron, individually and as a people, was ruled by, and completely subservient to, dreams, personal demons and feasts that were often orgies of immoral practice.
This would have been problem enough had the individual's dream or demon affected only himself. But the whole community was involved in the fulfilment of whatever might be asked in a dream by one man's personal "demon". Religion, patriotism and personal integrity demanded the cooperation of each and made the "demon's" desire a matter of importance to all.
The dreams commanded ceremonies, dances or feasts, each of which could take up three or five days. These took place so frequently that they were the major occupation of the Hurons during the winter months - the only time of the year they were all at home. In addition to disrupting life in the villages, they had an all-but-absolute hold over the minds and wills of individuals.
The dream, both Brebeuf and Lalemant tell us, was the principal god of the country. Whatever it commanded had to be carried out - and that immediately - under penalty of bringing disaster not only upon the defaulter but also upon the whole community.
How could anyone lead a Christian life in the midst of such chaos? Could a convert reasonably be expected to withstand the tremendous social pressure brought upon him to participate in those feasts and ceremonies which must be forbidden him?
Brebeuf had faced these questions for eight years. Because of them he had waited seven years before baptizing his first Huron adult in good health. To find an answer to them, he had prayed long hours into many nights and added severe bodily penances to the daily hardships of his missionary life.
Jerome Lalemant, the new Superior, had come from France with these two questions uppermost in his mind.He had spent a year learning how real they were and consulting about them with the veterans of the Huron mission - Brebeuf, Daniel, Le Mercier, Jogues, Gamier and Ragueneau. (What a roll-call of admirable men!)
During the early summer of 1639, when the Hurons were scattered on their various expeditions and the missionaries had time to come together at Ossossan6, one answer was found to the several aspects of both questions.
Sainte-Marie IThe previous plan of establishing separate residences in each of the principal Huron towns would be abandoned. There would be a single central Jesuit residence for all Huronia erected as an entity by itself apart from, and unconnected with, any Huron community. Missionaries would go out from this house to their assigned territories and return to it at appointed intervals.
There were multiple advantages to such a residence:
1) It would be stable, not having to be torn down and rebuilt every time a Huron village moved its site.
Life at Ste-MarieThe place is situated in the middle of the country, on the shore of a beautiful river, not more than a quarter of a league in length, which joins together two lakes.
One, extending to the West and verging a little towards the North, might pass for a fresh-water sea; the other lies toward the South and has a contour of hardly less than two leagues. (From the RELATIONS of 1639-40, written at Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons, May 27, 1640)
Father Jerome Lalemant could not have left us a more recognizable description of the location of Ste-Marie. To day's pilgrim can climb the hill at Martyrs' Shrine, as Father Lalemant may have done himself, and look down upon two lakes, the little river that joins them and the clearly-marked site of the old mission residence.
Life at Ste-Marie began in a single bark-covered Huron-style cabin. Though it looked Huron from the outside, the five workmen who served the ten Jesuits had made the interior into something much more elaborate than an Indian longhouse. Its separate compartments were primitively decorated and furnished. One of them was a private chapel which served temporarily as the mission Church.
Father Lalemant had closed the residence at Ossossane' and moved everything from there to Ste-Marie by the autumn of 1639. Fathers Brebeuf, Jogues and Ragueneau, who had remained at the other residence of St Joseph's (a tumbledown cabin they shared with a Huron family in Teanostaye', principal town of the Hurons, 12 miles south of Ste-Marie), joined them in the spring of 1640.
"And thus we have now in all the country," writes Father Lalemant, "but a single house which is firm and stable,- the vicinity of the waters being very advantageous to us for supplying the want, in these regions, of every other vehicle; and the lands being fairly good for the native corn, which we intend, as time goes on, to harvest for ourselves."
Land-clearing and building turned the flat space by the river into a busy scene of orderly activity. Reinforcements arrived during the summer and by the autumn of 1640 Father Lalemant could draw up a "Catalogus Personarum" that must have satisfied even his passion for organization.
There were 28 names on it and all were categorized ac cording to their assignments. Among the 13 priests, Father Brebeuf was listed as "Advisor to the superior, spiritual director, in charge of the chapel and one of two confessors for the Jesuits."
One lay brother, Dominic Scot (probably of Irish or Scottish origin),
appears as "tailor".
The DonnesThe donne's were something new on the missions, and, for that matter, in the Church. They were laymen who, without becoming religious, bound themselves by solemn written promise to the service of the mission without other pay than their support. Their service to the Huron mission went beyond the use of their labours and talents. They could do things either forbidden to the Jesuits or impractical for them - such as carrying muskets for hunting or defense. Moreover, their exemplary lives provided an effective antidote to the unlovely impression of the fruits of Christian teaching left by roving fur traders and coureurs-de-bois who 'led lives conformable neither to the Huron ethic nor to their own.
They were ahead of their time (it took Pope Pius xli's Apostolic Constitution
of 1947 to clarify and recognize as a state of perfection the sort of life
these men intended) and the idea of donne's attached to the Jesuits did
not long survive the Huron mission itself. Their value to Huronia, however,
and to the central residence in particular can scarcely be over-estimated.
Without them, Ste-Marie could not have
One of their number, that first year of Ste-Marie, was William Couture, working for the first time alongside Father Isaac Jogues whom he would accompany in less than three years down the long Iroquois torture trail to the Mohawk valley. There was a carpenter among them, Charles Boivin, and a pharmacist, Joseph MolIere. Donne Robert Le Coq was listed as "buyer" or "chief of supply", and Christopher Regnault, the shoemaker who left such a vivid account of the martyrdoms of Brebeuf and Lalemant, was among those early workers.
The "Adolescents" were apparently young men serving some sort of probation to become donne's, as the two in this first list did by 1643, or learning the Huron language so as later to engage in the fur trade. One of them was Pierre Boucher, a notable figure in the history of New France and future Governor of Three Rivers.
The presence of boys, about twelve to sixteen years of age, so far from home and in such exposed conditions, should not surprise us as much as it does. In those days, as centuries before and for long afterwards, good parents held it a duty to push their sons out of the nest about that age and send them away to test their strength and learn discipline in the household, the atelier or on the farm of another master. The high-born sent their sons for a taste of court life - St. Aloysius Gonzaga at the Spanish Court, St.
Thomas More serving the table of Cardinal Morton. The more lowly committed their boys by formal contract for periods of years to a man who would teach them a trade or some other useful occupation. They were also sent to places of danger. Drummer boys kept step with the front ranks in major battles, and cabin boys, no older than the boys at Ste-Marie, stood on burning decks right down to our own century.
There were boys at Ste-Marie throughout its existence and none of them ever came to any harm there. At least one of them made good use of his training. He was Charles Le Moyne, defender of Montreal and father of d'Iberville, de Bienville and their five famous brothers, the Seven Macchabees of New France.
The Growth of Ste-MarieThe speed of the transition from Indian living to an organized Christian community is remarkable. Less than a year after the arrival of the first Jesuits, the basic arrangements of personnel and the way of life at Ste-Marie had taken shape. There would be changes, additions and constant development but the pattern had been set. Laybrothers, donne's, boys and hired workmen would build and run the central residence leaving the missionaries free for their apostolic journeys. They were under the supervision of the two or three Jesuits assigned to Ste-Marie the year round. However, the central residence was also a mission centre for the nearest villages, so even the Ste-Marie priests had to be free to make their regular visitations.
The Jesuit Relations do not give us a building-by-building acount of the growth of Ste-Marie. The missionaries, as we shall see when we speak of their ministry, had more important things to write home about during those years. But they have left us a sufficiently complete picture to allow interpretation of the details uncovered by archaeologists.
In the Relation of 1644 we read:
In 1647 there were 42 Frenchmen at Ste-Marie, " . eighteen being of our Society, while the remainder were chosen persons, most of whom have resolved to live and die with us. . . "By 1648 this number had increased to 66, 27 of whom were Jesuits and 27 donne's. The Indians, as had been hoped, were attracted to Ste-Marie in increasing numbers. The statistics given for 1647-48 complete our picture of the people who made Ste-Marie such a busy place. They also prove that the total enclosed area was quite as large as many a Huron village.
The Relations say: "This house is a resort for the whole country, where the Christians find a hospital in their sickness, a refuge in the height of alarms, and a hostel when they come to visit us.
"During the past year we have reckoned over 3,000 persons to whom we have given shelter, - sometimes, within a fortnight, six or seven hundred Christians; and, as a rule, three meals to each one. This does not include a large number who incessantly come hither to pass the whole day, and to whom we give charity; so that, in a strange country, we feed those who themselves should supply us with the necessities of life.
Huron PilgrimsAs early as 1642, Father Lalemant had described the spirit in which the Indians came to Ste-Marie: . . . we often have the consolation of receiving Christians who come from various parts of the country to make their devotions here with more peace than they can in their towns. For this purpose we have built them a hospice, a cabin of bark, in which God has given us the means of lodging and feeding these good pilgrims in their own country.
"During the winter there is always a good number here over weekends. They come on Saturday, from places four and five leagues away, spend Sunday in devotions, and leave on Monday."
Father Lalemant also speaks of others who made round trips of 30 to 60 miles and spent three or four days at Ste-Marie. The Relation of 1644 tells of the fervour aroused in these new Christians when they found themselves gathered with kindred spirits in a truly Christian atmosphere:
"Then it is that seeing themselves all of one mind, they talk to each other from the heart. They inspire each other. They hold discussions on how to advance Christianity, on how to establish the Faith in their country so that they will see the one true God adored in it."
In addition to the accommodation for the Christian Indians, there was a visitors' compound. This was not merely a device of the missionaries to separate the baptized from the unbaptized and leave the Christians peace to pursue their devotions undisturbed. It was quite in accord with the customs of the Hurons who had their cabins in a separate place when visiting the village of another clan or nation.
Ste-Marie, then, was not only a Jesuit residence and a mission centre. It was also a place of pilgrimage. In 1644 it became one by right and by Papal Decree as well as infact.
A Papal Brief, dated at Rome, February 18, 1644, officially named Ste-Marie a place of pilgrimage and granted a plenary indulgence under customary conditions to all "pilgrims" who visited the church on the Feast of St. Joseph. This Brief was the first ecclesiastical document issued to the Church in what is now the Province of Ontario. It made Ste-Marie the first place of pilgrimage in the Americas north of Mexico. It is noteworthy that the Brief was issued by Urban VIII, the very Pope who drew up strict orders against anticipating the judgment of the Church by free use of such titles as "Holy", "Blessed" or "Saint". The same papal champion of responsible statement granted one of the pioneers of Ste-Marie, Father Isaac Jogues, permission to say Mass with his mangled hands, saying, "It is not fitting that a martyr of Christ should not be permitted to drink the Blood of Christ."
The Jesuits were the centre of life at Ste-Marie geographically as well as spiritually. Their original residence-with-chapel was the nucleus. This grew into two residences and a private chapel standing in their own palisaded area with two groupings of buildings on either side. The French quarters, workshops, storehouses and barns were to the north.
The Huron quarters with Church, cemetery, hostel, hospital and other structures was to the south. The compound for visiting Indians was adjacent to the Huron quarters on the side of Ste-Marie inland from the river. A narrow waterway, which could be cut off from the river by lowering a gate, separated the Jesuit compound from the working quarters at the French end and permitted canoes to be loaded or unloaded from either side.
Each of the divisions had its own encircling palisade. An outer palisade seems to have tied the Huron, Jesuit and French compounds into one and provided double protection for the whole. Gateways in the palisades provided free access from one section of Ste-Marie to the other.
Daily Life at Ste-MarieEven as the entire existence of the place revolved around the comings and goings of the missionaries, so was its daily and hourly routine ordered to the religious community lifefollowed by the Jesuits when at home. That routine was carried over from Ossossane' where Father Lalemant did not have too much success persuading his Huron neighbours to respect it. "At four the bell rings for us to rise," Father Du Peron wrote, "then Meditation, after which we celebrate Mass in turn until eight. Silence is kept in the meanwhile, each one being engaged in his spiritual reading, or the recitation of the Little Hours." (Thwaites J.R. XV 165 April 27, 1639.)
On that foundation of cloistered prayer and meditation, the Jesuits built each day at Ste-Marie. At eight o'clock doors were thrown wide open for the Indians and the round of instruction, visitation and other assignments began. At two o'clock, "the bell gives the sign for the Examination of Conscience, which is followed by dinner, during which a chapter of the Bible is read . . . we say grace in Huron, for the sake of the Indians who are present."
Work was resumed until, "at four o'clock we dismiss the Hurons who are not Christians, and we recite together Matins and Lauds. Then we hold a consultation of three quarters of an hour on the progress or obstacles of the Mission." Following that, "we take up the study of the language until half-past six, when we have supper." During supper, someone was appointed to read aloud from a spiritual book. The book being read at the time Father Du Peron was writing his letter was Philagie de Jesus by Father Du Barry. The formal end of the day was eight o'clock with "the Litany and Examination of Conscience." Ste-Marie came awake each day, lived and went back to sleep around this monastic routine of the Jesuit enclosure at its centre.
On the French side, men worked the dawn till-dark schedule of a pioneer farm. The first sight of the sun brought the first sounds of mounting activity. The crow of a rooster, the clucking of hens, the grunting of pigs, the lowing of cattle, the restless movement of animals waiting to be released for the day. The rattle of pails, the clatter of wood on iron as doors were unhasped, the cries of the men who fed and tended the stock. The stir in the cookhouse giving way to the clang of a hammer against a blacksmith's anvil,the ring of an axe, the swish of an adze smoothing a beam, the loud cry of a Huron calling from the other side of the river for the boy at the ferry to come and boat him across.
A Home of PeaceIn the Huron enclosure, the normally formless day of Indians at home was given unwonted regularity by the French timetable. Mass, instructions and devotions at fixed hours in their own church kept the Christians answering bells as faithfully as the donne' pharmacist and his assistants in the hospital. The pagan visitors, whether they had come out of curiosity or from need of food or refuge, swarmed about the place. Privacy was a concept totally alien to them. Never having known it, they felt no need for it themselves and had no notion that others might think it at times desirable. They stood around or squatted before any demonstration of the white man's magic that took
their fancy. They stared wordless for hours or chatted excitedly among themselves according to their moods.
They went over to the barns and laughed at the trouble these strange men had taken just to house animals. They tapped their foreheads suggestively when they saw good corn fit for the fami~y kettle being thrown to the beasts who could very well forage for themselves. They marvelled at the 'birds-that-did-not-fly' and gaped at the size of the eggs they laid. Pigs were a puzzle. Were they little bears without fur or overgrown porcupines with no quills? And why should anyone want to take milk from a cow?
They fingered the cloth Brother Scot was sewing and asked what animal it came from. They liked the sharpness of his needles and tried to steel one when he was not looking.
A barber trimming a brother's beard provided a sidesplitting carnival attraction. The blacksmith at his forge was a fearsome picture.
Ste-Marie must have made a satisfying picture to any blackrobe looking down on it from the hill on which today's Martyrs' Shrine stands. Within the palisades, missionaries, workmen, Hurons and visitors from other tribes moved among the orderly buildings. Around it lay the area of tilled land which had increased and prospered year by year. The animals brought so marvelously by canoe from Quebec grew fat in their pastures.
The four large crosses raised at the corners of Ste-Marie and the Church standing so prominently in the centre, spoke of the purpose of the place and told the reason why the trails that led to it from the four points of the compass were so busy so often.
Spiritually and materially, Ste-Marie had become what it was intended
to be - a little Christendom in a pagan world. But even as the "Home of
Peace" was beginning to exert its full influence on the Hurons, the Iroquois
were about to put an end to Huronia.
The Huron MissionIn this third of the new world included under the name of New France, there are two kinds of Indians, the Wandering and tile Sedentary. Since our Society has undertaken tile conversion of both, there are two principal missions - one for the Wandering - the other for the more Sedentary tribes.
The first takes in all the country from the mouth of the St. Lawrence up to us. And the second, which bears the name of "Mission to the Hurons" consequently includes all the other peoples, especially those who dwell towards the West and the South as far as the land may extend, - and beyond, if islands are discovered there, inhabited by men redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, and capable of Paradise.
If someone asks when we shall carry out this great plan - since we have hardly yet made a beginning or advanced one step since we have been here - my first answer is that even if this is not to be accomplished until shortly before the end of the world, yet it is always necessary to begin before ending.(JESUIT RELATIONS, 1639; Thwaites XVI, 233)
The above quotation tells us that Huronia was planned as a sort of missionary base camp for the spiritual conquest of a continent. A vision worthy of great minds was to be realized through conversion of the Hurons. The years in which saints walked the grounds at Martyrs' Shrine saw that vision give its brightest promise of becoming reality.
The ten years of Ste-Marie were harvest time in the Huron mission. The Franciscans had come first and explored the possibilities. Brebeuf and his fellow pioneers - Daniel Garnier, Chaumonot, Chastelain, Jogues and Ragueneau - had broken the ground, planted the seed of Faith, and made certain that it would grow in this soil.
The soil they worked was the mind and the heart of the Huron. Brebeuf's accomplishment, the all-important first step of the mission, was to have won acceptance in those minds and those hearts. This achievement made the first seven years, 1626-1629 and 1634-1638, the most truly successful period of the Jesuit stay in Huronia. And this despite the fact that there was little in the way of convert statistics to prove progress.
By the time Jerome Lalemant arrived in August 1638, Brebeuf had been given status as a chief, entitled to sit with other chiefs as representative of his "clan" in the councils of the nation.
The Hurons had learned to make a distinction between the blackrobes and other whites who had come among them as traders or coureurs-de-bois. The others had abused the Indian hospitality and gone their own ways. They had taken what they wanted where they found it, attached themselves to no family or clan and given nothing of themselves in repayment to the nation.
Brebeuf and his men, on the other hand, had come to stay. They took nothing and wanted only to give. The Hurons did not understand this. They had misgivings about the motives behind it, but they accepted it.
The existence of the Christian fact, whatever it might be, had become part of the furniture of their minds. Brebeuf and his early companions had created a spiritual Ste-Marie in the Huron mind before the physical establishment could exist.
By 1638 they had a number of catechumens who had proved themselves over a satisfactory period. It was time to move forward.
In his Relation of 1639, Jerome Lalemant reports the first statistical progress: "On St. Joseph's day of last year we had only him (Joseph Chiwatenhwa) and his family, of those baptized, who made a profession of Christianity; one year afterward, on the same day, there were nearly a hundred in the country making the same profession."
Missionary ActivityDuring the year of the opening of Ste-Marie, Father Lalemant's genius for organization led him to send the missionaries out with orders to take a cabin by cabin, and fire by fire, census of Huronia. He tells us its.result: "In these five missions there are 32 hamlets and straggling villages, which comprise in all about 700 cabins, about 2,000 fires, and about 12,000 persons." The five missions were really regional mission centres with smaller villages attached to each.
Around November 1st, All Saints' Day, the missionaries went out two by two to their districts. They returned in the spring to make their reports before that year's Relations was sent with the Huron flotilla to Quebec (and also to find out whether or not they were going to be sent with it). All the Jesuits tried to be together at Ste-Marie at least one other time during the year, perhaps in July or at the beginning of August to greet the returning flotilla. Apart from those times, the missions placed such demands upon them that there were periods when only one priest was in residence at Ste-Marie.
There is nothing in the Relations to suggest that the de Ipartures from Ste-Marie differed from the matter-of-fact Jesuit tradition of casual partings. A man has been living in one house for six months or twenty years. He is sent somewhere else. He opens the door and goes.
However, that first November, 1639, at Ste-Marie may have been a little different. They all lived in one bark cabin and it would have been hard not to notice that someone was leaving. It is quite likely that a constantly diminishing group of blackrobes and buckskin-clad helpers stood by the River Wye and watched each pair of missionaries take its different direction.
Fathers Chaumonot and Du Peron were ferried across the Wye and watched as they disappeared along a woodland trail pointed towards the low hills to the west. They would cross those hills by a familiar path to their old home at Ossossane' on Georgian Bay. The Superior, Father Jerome Lalemant, had assigned himself also to this mission of La Conception. They would be busy all winter with systematic visitation of the leading town of the Bear Clan and twelve surrounding villages.
The opposite direction was taken by Fathers Anthony Daniel and Simon Le Moyne. They walked around the top of Wye Marsh, heading along a southeasterly route to Lake Simcoe. Their destination was the new mission of St. John the Baptist at Cahiague' centre of the Rock Clan, from which they would go out to two villages they had named St. Joachim and St. Elizabeth.
When Fathers Brebeuf and Chastelain left, they went directly south, perhaps across the width of Wye Marsh, to Teanostay6, centre of the Cord Clan. The Mission of St. Joseph II had been established there the previous year and had two satellite missions, St. Michel and St. Ignace.
Those three towns, Ossossane' on Georgian Bay, Cahiague' near Lake Simcoe and Teanostaye' to the south, spanned the width of Huron territory and were its principal fortresses against Iroquois attack. A curving line drawn through them was approximately the southern border of Huronia.
The fourth pair of missionaries setting out from Ste-Marie that November 1, were headed beneath that border. Two future martyrs, Charles Gamier and Isaac Jogues, went to the Tobacco Nation, allies of the Hurons, who lived towards the Bruce Peninsula around Nottawasaga Bay. Their mission included ten villages and was called the Mission of The Apostles.
The fifth mission for that year was Ste-Marie itself. The Jesuits who had watched their companions fan out west, east and south, had missionary work of their own to do. The inhabitants of the villages closest to them seem to have been the "poor relations" in the Huron family. Fathers Pierre Pijart and Joseph Poncet served them that year in four missions - Ste-Anne, St. Louis, St. Denis and St. John the Evangelist. Nor was Father Le Mercier, assistant to the ~Superior, freed by his responsibility for the temporal affairs of the mission from making his missionary rounds.
This pattern of going out from Ste-Marie to missions which were themselves centres of a small circle of villages was in general adhered to throughout the existence of Ste-Marie.
The Broader VisionBut the larger plan began to show its shape as early as 1640-41.
Brebeuf and Chaumonot pushed farther south, past the Tobacco Nation, to the land of the Neutral Nation, near Lakes Ontario and Erie.
Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbault left Ste-Marie by canoe and hugged the north shore of Lake Huron along its full length till they arrived at Sault-Ste-Marie.
Expansion in a third direction came through a nation of Algonquins who spent the winter "two gunshots" from Ste-Marie. The two Jesuits who served them followed their nomad charges north to their Lake Nipissing hunting grounds to start a wandering mission named after the Holy Spirit.
Those three journeys show the Jesuit vision taking solid shape. They also demonstrate the strategic value of the central location of Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons.
The missionaries were at the western terminus of the only route into the interior open to the French. From it, they would go south, past the Neutrals, the Iroquois and the Susquehannas to England's Virginia, bending westward to the Ohios and the Illinois.
They would go west across the Great Lakes to whatever unknown lands lay beyond.
They would follow the Algonquins north to James Bay and curve back along its easterly waters to link their "Sedentary" and their "Wandering" missions in a chain stretching from the Atlantic to wherever the continent might extend.
The basis of it all was to be a Christian Huronia with Ste-Marie as its capital.
But the missionaries were in a race with death.
Iroquois PressureThe natural and human enemies of the Huron people were closing in on the nation. Plague and famine gave the medicine men a chance to blame the blackrobe for letting loose the sickness demons. Iroquois attacks were so fierce and frequent that the journey to Quebec became a matter of running the gauntlet of ambush by the five Iroquois nations-Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Mohawk.
In 1641, Brebeuf ran the gauntlet safely on his way back to Quebec.
The flotilla of 1642 was not so fortunate. It reached its destination safely but was attacked by Mohawks on the way back, just one day out from Three Rivers. Among the captives taken were Father Isaac Jogues and two donn6s, William Couture and Rene Goupil.
Father Jogues was severely tortured, then held as a captive-slave for a year until the Dutch at Fort Orange helped him escape to New Amsterdam and France. William Couture, the lay equivalent of Brebeuf, so won the admiration of the Iroquois by his strength and fortitude that they adopted him and sent him back later as an ambassador to the French. Rene' Goupil, surgeon and lay apostle on his way to join the staff of the hospital at Ste-Marie, was put to death in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon on September 29, 1642. He was the first to die of the eight canonized martyrs of the Huron mission.
As the Iroquois pressure increased, so did the rate of conversions in Huronia. In 1644, Father Lalemant was reporting that the growth of Christianity around the mission-centres had required modification of his original plan for a single Jesuit residence in all Huronia: "Contrary to what obtained in previous years, our Fathers are steadily em- ployed during the summer as in winter. Our missions have become residences. The chapels have everywhere been enlarged."
This September, Father Paul Ragueneau relieved Father Lalemant as Superior of the Huron mission and Father Brebeuf came back to Huronia.
It was a dangerous summer on the Great River Route.
Three of our Huron flotillas left Quebec only to be intercepted by the Iroquois. The fourth, with Br6beuf at one of the paddles, got through with the aid of "22 soldiers sent out from France by the Queen." The soldiers returned to Quebec the following summer. In 1646, Father Isaac Jogues, having returned to New France and gone to convert the Iroquois who had tortured him, met martyrdom in the Mohawk Valley, October 18. A day after him, at the same place, Donne Jean de la Lande suffered the same fate.
No news got to Quebec from Huronia in 1647. The Iroquois came so close to the Huron country in such strength as to compel the abandonment of Cahiague' at the northern end of Lake Simcoe. This had been the nation's major defense against attack from the east. The interior villages were now wide open to surprise att~k along one of the most travelled routes from Iroquois country.
At the same time the Huron sorcerers made one last fierce attempt to incite the die-hard pagans to violence against the missionaries. The conspiracy resulted in the murder on April 28, 1648, of another donne', 22-year-old Jacques Douart. His head was split by a tomahawk just a little way outside the palisades of Ste-Marie.
Yet Father Brebeuf could sit down calmly by a fireplace in the central residence, on June 2nd of the same year, and write to the Father General in Rome: "In one way the condition of our affairs is excellent . . Our Christians are making good progress, not only in numbers, but in virtue as well. Many opportunities are offered us to preach the gospel far and wide.. There were 1300 baptisms to report since the last Relation.
Father Brebeuf made no mention in his letter that although he was stationed at Ste-Marie he did not enjoy the warmth of the residence too often. He was the anonymous priest referred to in Ragueneau's Relation of that year: "The Mission of Ste-Marie comprises twelve or thirteen villages. A single Father, with great fatigue, goes the round continually visiting them." Nor did he consider it of sufficient importance to note that he had assisted at the moving to a new site of St. Ignace, a village in which he was well known since he had served it nine years previously when it was attached to Teanostaye'.
Shadows of DestructionExactly one month after Brebeuf wrote his letter, Father Daniel finished his annual retreat at Ste-Marie and returned to his mission of St. Joseph at Teanostaye'. Two days later, on July 4, 1648, the Iroquois descended upon the place and burnt it to the ground. Seven hundred men, women and children died or were taken captive in the raid, but "a number greater than this" were able to escape in the direction of Ste-Marie because Father Daniel walked in his vestments towards the Iroquois, drew their fire upon himself, and gained for them the time they needed.
With two of its three largest towns gone and the third away off to the west against Georgian Bay, all southern and eastern Huronia was exposed to the Iroquois. Ste-Marie had lost the outer ring of fortified towns which gave it se curity. St. Ignace was now the first village in the path of any invaders entering the country from the direction of Lake Simcoe. The stage was set for the last act of the Huron tragedy.
The missionaries, however, had no least feeling of anything coming to an end. Death was individual. The mission would go on. They lived so close to martyrdom, had contemplated its face so well, esteemed its Christian value so highly, that when it visited them it came not as a stranger but as an expected acquaintance, even as a friend.
They did all they could, however, to preserve the lives of their charges and to save Huronia. Father Ragueneau almost apologizes for his material preparations in a letter to Rome dated just fifteen days before Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were martyred and the Huron nation effectively destroyed. He mentions the eight soldiers who had been sent from Quebec and goes on: " . . . we are so threatened by the hostile rage of our enemies that, unless we wish our enterprise and ourselves to perish in an hour, - and indeed wish that the Faith, now widely spread in these lands, should be utterly destroyed - it was quite necessary for us to seek the protection of these men, who devote themselves to both domestic duties and farm work, and also to the building of fortifications and to military service."
Far from asking for temporal help, he says they do not need it: "For we have larger supplies from fishing and hunting than formerly and we have not merely fish and eggs, but also pork and milk products, and even cattle, from which we hope for great addition to our store."
In spite of the number of Indian guests receiving food and hospitality having reached 6,000 for the year, the storehouses were full enough for him to report that they had supplies on hand sufficient for three years.
He is obviously talking of a prosperous mission, looking only to the future. Baptisms for the year were 1700, "not counting many whom we shall mention below as baptized by Father Anthony Daniel, the number of whom could not be accurately given."
He speaks enthusiastically of a new mission on Manitoulin Island, which they have named the Island of Ste-Marie. The closing of this letter breathes peace and confidence such is the condition of this house, 'and indeed of the whole mission, that I think hardly anything could be added to the piety, obedience, humility, patience and charity of our brethren and to their scrupulous observance of the rules.
"We are all of one heart, one soul, one spirit of the Society. Nay, what must seem more wonderful, out of all the men attached to the house, of conditions and nature so varied, - servants, boys, donne's, soldiers - there is not one who does not seriously attend to his soul's salvation. As a result, vice finds no place here, virtue rules, and the place is a home of holiness."
Iroquois Close InBefore that hope-filled letter could get as far as Three Rivers, the Iroquois terror had struck again, this time with final devastation.
John de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant (nephew of Jerome) were captured a scant three miles from Ste-Marie, taken to St. Ignace, three miles farther east, tortured and put to death.
That was March 16 and 17. At midnight on March 19, the inhabitants of Ossossane', the one remaining large town, heard a false alarm that the Iroquois were upon them. They streamed out from their palisades in panic and fled through the night across the ice of Nottawasaga Bay to the Petun villages 33 miles away.
On May 1, Father Ragueneau sent out his Relation for the year. In it he wrote:
"Part of the Huron country, as a consequence of the losses sustained, now lies desolate. Fifteen villages have been abandoned, their inhabitants scattering where they could in the thickets and forests, on the lakes and rivers in the islands, most of them unobserved by the enemy. Others have betaken themselves to the neighbouring nations better able to bear the stress of war.
"In less than a fortnight our House of Ste-Marie has found itself stripped bare on every side. It is the only one left standing in the terror-stricken region, the most exposed to the incursions of the enemy. Those who have forsaken their former dwellings, have set fire to them themselves, less they should serve as shelter and stronghold to the Iroquois."
The Relation tells us that while the attack was at its height, the Jesuits and all others at Ste-Marie had no thought that their defenses were enough to hold off such a strong force of Iroquois: ". . . for we all regarded ourselves as so many victims consecrated to Our Lord, who must await from His hand the hour when they should be sacrificed for His glory, without undertaking to delay or to wish to hasten the moments thereof."
The Iroquois, however, inexplicably withdrew without even attempting an attack. Father Ragueneau at once turned his mind to the problem of distributing his forces to suit the new conditions: "The Christians who are fugitives have not lost their souls with their goods. They bear in their hearts the true Faith, which makes of them a living Church."
As for the pagans. "The Nations that remain to be converted belong to Jesus Christ, who gives us enough light for reasonable hope that we can make them a wholly Christian people in spite of past losses and desolations."
Plans for a New Ste-MarieOnce again, as ten years before, the one question was "How?" The answer given ten years ago had proved its worth. There should be a central mission residence from which missionaries could go out and to which the Indians could come. It should be accessible from Quebec and opening out on new nations to be converted.
The answer, in other words, was again Ste-Marie. But a Ste-Marie standing in the midst of desolated country that Hurons and Algonquins feared to approach was useless for its purpose. All the planning and work, all the sweat and blood that had gone into making this place did not alter that fact. Neither did the sentimental attachment they had for this work of their hands, this home of their hearts, this consolation of their souls. It was useless. A new Ste-Marie would have to be built elsewhere.
Father Ragueneau studied the situation. The Hurons had fled along the north and south shores of Lake Huron. They had for the most part dispersed among Algonquin, Tobacco and Neutral villages already reached by the missionaries. Those who had stayed near home were on a small island not far off the Huron mainland. He wanted a place accessible to all those and in a location as relatively protected and as strategically situated as had been the present residence when Huronia was still strong.
He found it in the new mission established on the island of Ste-Marie,
the present Manitoulin Island: " . . . because in that place we shall be
better able than in any other to occupy ourselves with the conversion of
the Hurons and the Algonquins; for we shall approach the Algonquins . .
"From that same place, we shall be able also to send by canoe, to the Tobacco Nation and the peoples of the Neutral Nation who desire us, some of our Fathers
Moreover, in that island of Ste-Marie we shall always be able, more conveniently than in any other place, to maintain and preserve the trade of the Algonquins and Hurons with our French at Three Rivers and Quebec..."
Father Ragueneau consulted with his fellow Jesuits and all agreed. The matter was settled. A new Ste-Marie would be built on Manitoulin Island. The centre of the mission would move westward. Its radius would be enlarged. The scattered Hurons would gradually gather around it. The missionaries would be closer to Sault-Ste-Marie, which would become another jumping-off point for trips along the shores of Lakes Superior and Michigan. The future of the mission was assured.
Hurons Propose Christian IslandBut before that Relation of May 1, 1649, could be finished, dated and sent, a meeting took place that changed the future of the Huron mission and decided its fate.
"Since the above writings," says Father Ragueneau, "twelve of the most considerable Captains have come to entreat us, in the name of all this poor desolate People, that we should have pity on their misery." With that meeting, held at Ste-Marie between March 20 and May 1, 1649, the story of the Huron mission turned to tragedy.
The protagonist of the tragedy was the Blackrobe, his goal the conversion of the Indians, his obstacle the Iroquois, his fatal weakness willingness to sacrifice himself for the souls he had come to save. This meeting was the dramatic crisis, the moment of tension before the turning point in tragedy.
The twelve captains brought a message and a plea. The message was that they represented several hundred Huron families who had decided to reassemble on St. Joseph's Island, just off the mainland of Huronia. They knew they were too weak to withstand the Iroquois alone. But if the missionaries and their household would stay with them,"they esteemed themselves too strong not to defend themselves with courage."
The meeting was a long one, fraught with tension and emotion. The Indians pleaded "more than three whole hours, with an eloquence as powerful to bend us as the art of orators in the midst of France could furnish to those who call these countries barbarous .
The conflict in Father Raguenean was between his love for the Hurons and his better strategical and tactical sense. He argued with them in vain that they would be better off on Manitoulin. It became evident that the Hurons were determin~d to stay on St. Joseph's Island no matter what the missionaries decided. They could not bring themselves to leave the only land they knew as home and to consent by default to the annihilation of their nation. The only question was whether or not the Jesuits would stay with them and help them survive.
They reached their climax and touched Father Ragueneau's heart when they called to their aid Echon, the Huron name for Father Br6beuf, and pleaded with the Jesuits to act as he would have acted: " . . . he had been the first apostle to the country, he had died to help them even to his last breath; they hoped his example would move us; they said that they knew our hearts could not refuse to die with them since they wished to live as Christians." They promised they would turn the island into a Christian Island.
They won. And the Huron mission as it had been planned was lost.
Their eloquence - or rather, the disposition of their souls, and the reasons which nature could supply them - conquered us. We could not doubt that God had chosen to speak to us by their lips; and although at their coming we all had entertained another design, we all found ourselves changed before their departure, and with a common consent we believed it was necessary to follow God in the direction whither He chose to call us . .
Withdrawal and CollapseThe Jesuits burned Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons to the ground for the same military reasons the Hurons had burned their dwellings before deserting them. All that was moveable and worth saving was floated around the head of the Huron Peninsula to St. Joseph's Island.
The island did become Christian and it is so named on our maps today. But it also became a besieged fortress without either means for holding out or purpose for doing so.
The Iroquois swept in again, right to the shores opposite the island. Father Charles Gamier met death at his Petun mission of Etharita on December 7, 1649. Noel Chabanel, the last of the eight canonized martyrs to die, was tomahawked by an apostate Huron along the Nottawasaga River on December 8.
Where there had been hope and plenty at Ste-Marie I, there was starvation and despair at Ste-Marie II. Famine and disease brought the besieged island to a pitiful state. The Hurons sent a captain to risk the long journey to Quebec to find out if they would be received by the French as a refugee nation. When he came back with a favourable answer the Hurons once more turned to plead with Father Ragueneau. The Indians, in their weakened state, could not hope to make this long and difficult migration without the help of the Jesuits and the French. Would their spiritual Father remain with them and see them to safety in a place where they could all live as Christians?
After much prayer and consultation among themselves, the Jesuits decided that their first duty as pastors lay with their flock. The awkward flotilla of whole families of feeble wretches, 300 in all, burdened with meagre possessions, made the long journey safely in forty-nine painful days. They left St. Joseph's Island on June 10,1650, and arrived at Quebec on July 28.
Father Ragueneau wrote: "It was not without tears that we left a country which we loved, a country watered with the blood of our brothers, and which promised us the same blessing." But there was much more emotion in the words he had used to tell of the burning of their old home at Ste-Marie among-the-Hurons.
"We were each faced with the necessity of bidding farewell to that old home of Ste-Marie, to its architecture which, though plain, was a masterpiece of art in the eyes of our poor Indians. We had to bid farewell to its cultivated fields which provided us an abundant harvest. That spot must be forsaken which I may call our second fatherland, our home of innocent delights, since it had been the cradle of this Christian Church, the temple of God and the home of the servants of Jesus Christ."
The Jesuits took back with them to Quebec two consolations: the sacred relics of John de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant; the knowledge that hundreds of Huron Christian captives were at that moment carrying the truth of Christ in places it had never reached before in the history of the world.
They also took back with them a tradition in the making; a tradition that started when the bodies of John de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were carried back reverently from St. Ignace and buried at old Ste-Marie with rejoicing over their glorious deaths; a tradition of honouring holy and valiant men which is carried on today by other Jesuits in the place where it started, at the Shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, near Midland, Ontario.
The Iroquois did their work of ruin so thoroughly that a "Map of the Region of the Hurons" dated 1660 bears the sub-title "now deserted."
But the Huron mission, the planting of the faith which had been the purpose of the Jesuit missionaries, did not cease to bear fruit with the physical destructioti of Huronia.
The dispersal of the Hurons was in fact a scattering of good seed in new ground. As the missionaries continued their work in surrounding nations, they kept discovering that the faith had arrived ahead of them in the persons of Huron captives and refugees.
It took outside influences in the mother country to bring about the withdrawal of the Jesuits from New France and the end of their 17th Century mission.
It was almost 200 years after their departure from Christian Island before the Jesuits returned to Canada.
During that time, the burnt remains of Ste-Marie's wooden structures had gone back to the earth. The ruins of its stone construction had suffered from both man and the elements. Grass and trees had grown over and around them. Pioneer farmers had made free of the conveniently prepared stone. There was not much visible by the Wye River to indicate the thriving establishment that had once thronged with life and activity.
Indians of the Ojibway tribe had wandered back over the territory by the time the first white settlers came. They probably knew the ruins and used them as a landmark, just as the settlers did when marking off their grants of land. There is mention of "certain French ruins" in a land treaty drawn up between the British and the Ojibways in 1789.
A map in 1793 indicates them as "French ruins supposed to be the church of St. Mary's."
A survey of the Township of Tay made in 1826 places the ruins precisely on Concession III, Lot 16. In 1830, the site passed into the hands of a settler. He was Pierre Ron- deau, a fur trader who had been a private with the Michigan Fencibles in the War of 1812.
But up until the Jesuits returned, there had been no scientific identification of the "French ruins" with old Ste-Marie.
The Jesuits ReturnThe first Jesuit superior at the return to Canada was Father Pierre Chazzelle. He came to inspect the ruins in 1844 and since this day an unbroken succession of Jesuits have laboured to restore Ste-Marie as the spiritual centre it was built to be, and was, in the 17th century.
From that first visit by Father Chazzelle, the mind of the Jesuits about Ste-Marie, their primary interest in it, their concept of its purpose, has not changed.
In Father Chazzelle's account (significantly entitled "My Pilgrimage") the unchanging reasons for the importance of Martyrs' Shrine as a place of pilgrimage are clearly ex- pressed:
"But where then is the cemetery? where should we look for it? Where shall we find the hallowed soil that received the torn and burnt limbs of these 'martyrs of Jesus Christ'? 'On Sunday, March 21, 1649', says Father Ragueneau, 'we buried the precious relics with so much consolation and such tender feelings of devotion in all who attended the service, that I know of none who would not have desired rather than feared such a death.' Where were these precious relics deposited? Near the altar no doubt, where the priest learns to immolate himself as did the Saviour of the world; or else in the common burial ground where the Good Shepherd still loves to be with His faithful flock. We know that part of this precious deposit was later taken away, and if our wishes were fulfilled we should find what Father Ragueneau calls 'the remains of cruelty itself, or rather of the love of God which alone triumphs in the death of Martyrs'.
"Now an idea strikes me, Reverend Father, and a very natural one too. Why not make excavations? It would not be a big undertaking in a place like this and for the purpose I have in mind.
"Five days after my visit, when I was already far away and headed for Toronto, a rumour was circulated that a man who wanted to study the country's antiquities had been looking for a treasure in a certain place! If th~y only knew that all I had been looking for were graves and a little human dust!
"May God grant that soon the ruins of our Ste-Marie be ours and profaned no more . . . Shall I ever be privileged to announce to Very Reverend Father General that Ste-Marie of the Hurons exists, that I have said Mass there? an altar would be quickly built, and then a little shrine. And I still have hopes of finding St. Ignace, where Fathers de Brebeuf and Lalemant were martyred. We should need only a few acres there, and we could buy them easily. Thus, Father, we would have in Upper Canada, two pieces of property very, very dear to our hearts." The graves of saints, the places in which they had lived and shed their blood for Christ, the altar of God they had raised on this ground - these were, and are, the objects of Jesuit attention, the "treasure" that makes Martyrs' Shrine a sacred place.
It took over a hundred years before substantial realization of Father Chazzelle's dream. His successor or Jesuit Superior in Canada, Father Felix Martin, was so zealously interested in the Martyrs that he became the first modern authority on the Huron mission. His work was taken up by Father Jones, s.j., who published in 1909 a monumental work on "Old Huronia".
At that time the Jesuits were unable to obtain possession of the site of old Ste-Marie. But in 1907, the Jesuit pastor at Waubaushne erected a small shrine on a hilltop which had been identified by Father Jones as the site of St. Ignace. The small frame chapel and its primitive hostel served thousands of pilgrims for the next 18 years.
During these years the Cause for Canonization of the Martyrs had been under study in Canada and in Rome. Their Beatification was announced for June 21, 1925.
Father John Milway Filion, Provincial of the Jesuits of Upper Canada, still of one mind with his predecessors, decided to start Father Chazzelle's dream on its way to fulfilment. He obtained permission from the property owner to celebrate the Beatification at the site of Ste-Marie on the same day as the ceremonies at Rome.
The overwhelming and completely unexpected response of the faithful on this occasion was the beginning of the present Shrine of the Canadian Martyrs at Ste-Marie. No one was more surprised than Father Filion, when 6,000 people crowded around the open-air altar for the first Mass at old Ste-Marie in almost 300 years.
The Most Rev. Neil McNeil, Archbishop of Toronto, celebrated the Mass and the famous Paulist preacher, Father John Burke, gave the sermon.
Father Filion began to dream dreams. Here was the grave of the saints and the place in which they had lived. There was the beautiful hillside. This was the place for the Shrine.
He lost no time. Although the site of Ste-Marie was at that time not available to the Jesuits, title was obtained to the adjacent acreage including the hil~ across the road. By autumn, 1925, 50 workmen were building the church, the rectory and the inn, under promise to have them ready for the following summer.
Everything was sufficiently completed for the official opening to be planned around the first anniversary of the Beatification, June 21, 1926.
The first organized pilgrimage arrived on the eve of the opening. Cardinal O'Connell, Archbishop of Boston, with 600 of his people, stopped at Midland on the way back by boat from the Chicago Eucharistic Congress. The Cardinal blessed the Church.
Archbishop McNeil sang Pontifical High Mass at the official opening the next day. Bishop M. F. Fallon, O.M.I.,preached the sermon. Other members of the Canadian hierarchy present were Their Excellencies, the Most Reverends I. T. Kidd, Bishop of Calgary; M. J. O'Brien, Bishop of Peterborough; D. I. Scollard, Bishop of Sault-Ste-Marie and I. T. McNally, Bishop of Hamilton.
Pilgrimages came in increasing numbers during the next five years. The bronze stations of the cross rose over Calvary Hill, the size of the Inn was doubled and landscaping of the grounds, a work of many years, was begun. In 1928, Father Filion was succeeded as Director of the Shrine by Father Thomas J. Lally who served Martyrs' Shrine until he died there in 1953.
June 29, 1930, was a great day at the Shrine. At Rome on that
day, Pope Pius XI, in the presence of 60,000 of the faithful, bestowed
the titles saint and martyr on eight of the Jesuit missionaries of New
France: John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier,
Anthony Daniel, Noel Chabanel, Ren6 Goupil and John de la Lande. On the
same day, Archbishop Neil McNeil came once again to celebrate Pontifical
Mass at the place where the
Archaeological StudyThe Canonization made more desirable than ever discovery of the graves and sites of martyrdom. Intensive historical and archaeological research began to bear fruit.
The site of the Huron village of St. Ignace, where Brebeuf and Lalemant were martyred, was positively identified by the mutually corroborative studies of several scholars. Canada's leading archaeologist, W. J. Wintemberg, of the Division of Anthropology, National Museum of Canada, excavated the site and found detailed proof that the scholars were right. The property was purchased by a benefactor and donated to the Society of Jesus.
The feast of St. Joseph, 1940, saw an important step forward in the history of Martyrs' Shrine. On that day, through the good intervention of friends, the site of the old central residence of Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons once more passed into the possession of the Jesuit Order.
Archaeological investigation of the site was started in June, 1941. Mr. Kenneth Kidd and a team from the Royal Ontario Museum Department of Archaeology worked for three summers on the area immediately surrounding the visible stone remains.
In 1947, friends of the Shrine made a start on reconstructing Ste-Marie. They worked from a plan based on descriptions in the Relations interpreted in the light of Mr. Kidd's findings. Three stone bastions were built where the lower parts of some sort of original stone structures remained in a fair state of preservation. Certain developments made it desirable to call a halt to the restoration and conduct further excavations.
Mr. Wilfrid Jury, Curator of the Museum of Indian Archaeology at the University of Western Ontario, had completed investigation of the site of St. Ignace and was working at St. Joseph II, site of Father Daniel's martyrdom. He moved his excavating and research team to the Shrine for the summers of 1948 to 1951. Extending his search beyond the area investigated by Mr. Kidd, he proved that Ste-Marie had covered five or six times the territory previously thought.
But the principal objective the Jesuits had in mind when they set these investigations on foot had not yet been reached. Although the principal church of the Residence and the cemetery were among the remarkable discoveries made by Mr. Jury, there was still no sign of the graves of the martyrs buried there.
Father Denis Hegarty, s.j., had joined the Shrine in 1949 and worked with Mr. Jury for three summers. He continued the dig after Mr. Jury had left. In 1954, by a nice combination of intelligent hypotheses and patient research, he discovered within the lines of the Indian church what the Jesuits had been hoping and praying would eventually be found, the grave of St. John de Brebeuf. The grave was verified beyond reasonable doubt on August 17. Working his way carefully down to where the bottom of the coffin had decomposed into the earth, Father Hegarty came upon a lead plaque, the coffin plate, bearing the name of the saint and the date of his martyrdom.
The work of research into the archaeological remains of Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons is now finished at the Shrine. Traces of palisades were discovered in 1957 and corroborated in 1958, outside the increased area delineated by Mr. Jury, and the exact burial place of St. Gabriel Lalemant is still to be determined. This cannot now be done as a new complex of buildings has been erected to give us a picture of Ste-Marie before it was destroyed in 1649.
The Spirit of Ste-MarieWith the grave of St. John de Brebeuf suitably marked and honoured, today Martyrs' Shrine shares with old Ste-Marie a sense of one dominating presence - the presence of a spirit whose only reason for existence is to draw men toward God.
The centre of life at Martyrs' Shrine is, as at old Ste-Marie, the Church of St. Joseph.
Pilgrims come from the four points of the compass as they did to the old central residence. Brebeuf, Jogues, Daniel, Gamier, Chabanel and Lalemant live at Ste-Marie again and preach in the recounting of their stories by Jesuits who speak of them as they once spoke of St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius at the same place. The 300-year-old dream of spiritual conquest of a continent is still the object of planning and praying at Ste-Marie.
In recent years, national pilgrimages of Canadians from many different lands of origin have added their own flavour to a continuity between Ste-Marie as it was yesterday and as it is today. Groups from Catholic countries now engulfed by the new paganism came here to a "house of prayer" which is at once a monument to the religious significance of martyrdom and a promise of spiritual triumph after apparent national disaster. Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croatians, Lithuanians, East Germans, Latvians or Estonians fill the air of Ste-Marie with an even greater variety of tongues than were heard there in the earlier days. where Europe once provided Canada with a centre of Christian peace and hope, Canada now comforts Europe with the same prayers at another altar in the same place.
Descendants of men who once worked here with the Martyrs come to Ste-Marie proclaiming the faith of their fathers. Other Canadians flock to it with their children. In family pilgrimage, they hand down from generation to generation a vivid reminder of the heritage of Faith left to the nation by the saintly men who lived and died among these hills.
Pope Urban viii's Brief of 1644 has been long ago renewed and "pilgrims who come to this place" receive the Indulgences granted their Huron predecessors in addition to many others granted by later Popes.
Martyrs' Shrine is not an historical monument to Ste-Marie-among-the-Hurons and the men who served it.
It is Ste-Marie-a place where you come to pray in peace, where you can talk to eight canonized saints and ask their advice and spiritual aid. It is still "the temple of God and the home of the servants of Jesus Christ."
And finally under the auspices of the Ontario Government, through the
Huronia Development Council, the University of Western Ontario has done
all it could to rebuild the Missionary Compound of Ste-Marie and make living
for us the life of three centuries ago in what is now the Province of Ontario.
As the visitor goes from house to workshop, from chapel to cemetery, from
forge to hospital, he is thrilled to share even a little the life of priest
and brother, donne and workman, young French trainee and dark-skinned Indian
of those long years ago.