The walls of Saint Anne Shell Chapel are lined with beautiful shells.
When you think of a church or a chapel, you might picture a big building with lots of space. But at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the Sisters of Providence have a tiny little chapel that’s probably even smaller than your bedroom!
This chapel is called the St. Anne Shell Chapel. It’s called the Shell Chapel because the walls inside the chapel are completely covered in beautiful shells. There are also two stained glass windows that include designs of shells and coral.
Of course, there’s a story behind all of this. In November 1843, Mother Theodore and Sister Mary Cecilia Bailly were on their way back from France, where they had been asking for money to help run the Congregation. They were traveling on a ship called the Nashville across the Atlantic Ocean, and the journey was wrought with extreme storms and giant waves. The passengers and crew were all terrified that the ship would sink!
In their fear the sisters prayed, asking Mary (the mother of Jesus) and St. Anne to protect them. When they arrived back home in Indiana safely, Mother Theodore directed that a chapel be built to honor St. Anne. The first chapel that they built was a small log structure, but in 1875 they built a more permanent stone structure that still stands today.
Nearly all of the shells that decorate the walls and altar of the chapel were collected by sisters from the local Wabash River. The shell mosaics were designed by Sister Mary Joseph Le Fer de la Motte, who spent many days placing all of the shells by hand.
The Saint Anne Shell Chapel is a tiny structure at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
The door is intricate metal scrollwork.
Inside, the walls are covered in shells, mostly from the local Wabash River.
The Shell Chapel has two beautiful stained glass windows honoring Saint Anne, the mother of Mary.
“1876,” the year that the Shell Chapel was built and Sister Mary Joseph Le Fer de la Motte finished covering the walls with shells., is worked into the shell designs on the wall.
During the day, the open front door lets natural light flood the Shell Chapel.
This statue sits atop the shrine to Saint Anne.
This shell mosaic shows the Nashville, the ship Mother Theodore and Sister Mary Cecilia travelled on and crossed the ocean from France to Indiana.
This shell mosaic shows the various journeys and missions of the Sisters of Providence in Indiana.
The shells are affixed to the walls with cement.
This close-up shows some of the detail work on the shrine itself. All different kinds of shells were used.
The painted border along the top edge of the walls has a nautilus pattern. (A nautilus is a type of sea shell.)
Various types of shells can be found in the chapel.
Both windows, dedicated to Saint Anne, show motifs of books and writing quills.
“Sancta Anne” means ‘Saint Anne” in Latin. The windows are dedicated to Saint Anne.
The beautiful stained glass windows feature coral and shell motifs.
This beautiful metal light fixture hangs from the ceiling.
Light from one of the stained glass windows falls on the intricately tiled floor, which features lovely concentric shell shapes.
The floor of Saint Anne Shell Chapel has pretty floral patterns on the tile floor.
The metal scrolls on the front door are like the swirly shape of some shells. Looking out through the Shell Chapel door, one can see the lovely grounds of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.