If ancient and uninterrupted tradition is to be believed, St. Anne’s body was taken to the province of Gaul (modern-day France and upper Italy) in the same vessel that ferried Mary Magdalene, Marsha, and Lazarus to the same place. As the story goes, friends of Christ were exiled from Palestine during the first century of Christianity for their faith.
To keep the precious remains of St. Anne, they handed her body over to the city of Apta Julia, the present-day Apt City, France.
At the height of the persecution, hiding the relics of saints as well as martyrs was necessary. As a result, her body was buried in a crypt.
This fact is mentioned in the Apt martyrology, probably the most ancient martyrology in existence. Before his death, St. Auspicius, Apta Julia’s first bishop, took further measures to protect St. Anne’s body from desecration by having it buried deep into the subterranean chapel.
All activities regarding the safekeeping of this holy treasure were kept secret until after invasions and persecutions ended. Hordes of barbarians continuously overran the country for centuries and as a consequence, the exact spot where the precious remains of St. Anne had been hidden by St. Auspicius was lost in obscurity.
Invasions and persecution would, however, come to an end at the close of the 8th century after Charlemagne defeated the Saracens. With security and peace restored in Gaul, the rebuilding and restoration of the holy places that the invaders had desecrated or destroyed began.
Apta Julia’s bishops and priests started searching for the precise spot in the crypt’s inner depths where St. Anne’s sarcophagus had been safely hidden by St. Auspicius. Immediately after arriving at Apt, Charlemagne reconsecrated the cathedral. The cathedral’s reconsecration occurred during the Easter solemnities and was witnessed by a large crowd of people, mostly the clergy and nobles.
However, the search for St. Anne’s body continued to prove fruitless. According to Charlemagne, in his letter to Pope Adrian I, it is through a miracle that St. Anne’s resting place was discovered.Fourteen-year-old John, Baron Casanova’s son, was a blind, dumb, and deaf noble who had accompanied his parents to this event. Those close to John while he was in the sanctuary said that some overwhelming emotion carried him away during the service, and with rapt and his face turned up, he seemed to be listening to some voice coming from above. John then approached the high altar, struck the steps leading up to the altar with his staff to indicate to those searching for the exact spot where St. Anne’s remains were buried to dig there. Although the boy’s persistence was an unwelcome interruption and the royal guards’ and clergy’s efforts, John could not be retrained or kept quiet. It is the boy’s persistence that impressed Charlemagne who would order the excavation to be made after Mass. Consequently, the steps leading to the high altar were removed to reveal a door kept closed by huge stones. The door belonged to the ancient crypt where St. Auspicius used to celebrate Mass.
Once the door had been opened, John led the way into the crypt as if his blindness had deserted him. Charlemagne held the blind boy’s arm and commanded the excited crowd to stay back. Striking the wall, John indicated to the search party to move farther into the crypt. A lower crypt would be revealed at the end of a long and narrow corridor after the wall had been brought down.
A bright flash hit the emperor and his assistant as the crypt came into view. A burning lamp, placed in front of the walled recess, burned with unearthly splendor. However, the light from the lamp disappeared immediately after the Emperor and his assistants entered the lower crypt. More miraculously, John began speaking, hearing, and seeing. The first words that the boy uttered were “the remains of St. Anne, Virgin Mary’s mother, are in the recess beyond.”The Emperor and his assistants were awestruck. Once the walled recess was opened, a sweet fragrance filled the air. St. Anne’s body, wrapped in folds of precious linen, was found in a casket made of cypress with “Here lies the body of Blessed Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary” inscribed on it.
The Emperor and those present then venerated the remains that were now visible. Charlemagne would afterward order one of his notaries to draw an exact narrative of the miracle of the discovery of St. Anne’s body. A royal letter and a copy of the narrative were sent to the Pope. The Pope’s answer and the letter itself are extant to date.
The Cathedral of Apt was once a major attraction for Christian pilgrims from the various parts of Gaul owing to the miraculous discovery of St Anne, grandmother of Jesus, body in the ancient crypt. Apt’s clergy, as well as its people, have guarded the sacred treasure with unfailing love during the times of war as it is the city’s glory.
Those touring St. Auspicius cathedral will most certainly come across piles of ex-votos which are the irrefutable testimonies of the wonders that Jesus Christ has brought there at His Sainted grandmother’s intercession.
The main cities of Gaul solicited various parts of the sacred remains from the Apta Julia church. That is how various fragments detached from St. Anne’s head found their way to different places. However, the greatest portion of her remains is in Apt. A church in Vienna Austria possesses St. Anne’s right hand which is venerated in the magnificent church named after the Saint.
The other arm of St. Anne was granted to the Popes and placed in the St. Paul-Outside-the Walls church in Rome under the Benedictine monks’ care. The forearm was later in 1960 gifted to the Canadian Shrine of St. Anne by the monks. A large part of her head is venerated in the Bologna Cathedral. These relics have not only brought miracles to the various places that they are venerated but also proved their efficacy in every state of distress.