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Saint Anne Shell Chapel


In November 1843, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and Sister Mary Cecilia Bailly were returning from France with three French postulants after a fundraising trip.

The five were sailing on the Nashville when it crossed paths with a violent storm. The sisters prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to Saint Anne for safety.

After returning safely to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Saint Mother Theodore had a small log chapel built in honor of Saint Anne on a small knoll in the forest near the Motherhouse. The chapel was completed in 1844.

After many years, the log structure began to give way. General Superior Mother Mary Ephrem Glenn commissioned a stone chapel be built on the same site with the same dimensions. The new chapel was to be called the Shrine of Saint Anne, but is known as the Saint Anne Shell Chapel. It was consecrated on July 25, 1876.

A rendering of the chapel.

As the chapel was being built, Sister Mary Joseph Le Fer de la Motte came up with the idea to line the inner walls with iridescent river shells from the Wabash River. Shells were collected from a sandbar at Durkee’s Ferry in the river and were settled in soft plaster on the walls.

Many mosaic designs, initially drawn by Saint Mother Theodore and preserved by Sister Mary Joseph, highlight the decorations on the inner walls. The designs include a depiction of the Nashville, a map of Indiana showing the mission established up to 1876, and an illustration of the all-seeing Eye of God. A built-in altar, also covered in shells, rests near the east inner wall and displays a statue of Saint Anne Mother Theodore brought from France.

Saint Ann Shell Chapel at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

There are also two stained glass windows on the north and south walls, including designs of shell and coral. The floor is tiled with sea green and coral-colored floral patterns and a painted nautilus border trims the top of the walls.

Since 1844, on July 25, the Sisters of Providence gather for a solemn procession, walking from the Motherhouse to the chapel in honor of Saint Anne.

Below you will be able to watch a virtual tour of the chapel.

Shell Chapel Restoration Project

Recently, the Sisters of Providence applied for a federal grant to have the shell chapel restored and received monies to do so. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA) recently visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for a start-up meeting and to visit the chapel as part of the Historic Preservation Fund Grant for the restoration of the chapel. The project has been funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund administered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

Work will begin soon on the restoration and we will provide you with updates as soon as we receive them!

Sister Jan Craven and DNR DHPA grant writer Malia Vanaman.

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