Archbishop Chaput designates upper church of Saint Anne’s an Archdiocesan Shrine

The designation comes 121 years after the Rev. Thomas Barry, St. Anne’s fourth pastor, obtained a relic of Saint Anne’s wrist bone amidst an 1898 trip to Rome.

The reliquary the thecla and bones reside on the alter of Saint Anne’s upper church. | Photo submitted by Pastor Skip Miller

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday that Archbishop Charles Chaput has issued a canonical decree designating the upper church of Saint Anne Parish in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia as an Archdiocesan Shrine. The designation comes 121 years after the Rev. Thomas Barry, St. Anne’s fourth pastor, obtained a relic of Saint Anne’s wrist bone amidst an 1898 trip to Rome.

“While there, he was shown by the religious community that ran the church the actual arm of St. Anne,” explained the Rev. Skip Miller, pastor at Saint Anne. “They were the custodians of the actual arm of St. Anne and so he explained how he was the pastor of a parish in Philadelphia called St. Anne’s and he obtained for us the relic. Now all of our records claim that it’s her wrist bones.”

For the record, Miller, who said he has a bachelor’s degree in biology, believes the bone is actually a hand bone, not a wrist bone.

“Some of those bones in there do not resemble the wrist bones as much as they do the metatarsals of the hand,” he said. “We put in there wrist bones because that’s what our documents state.”

Still, according to Miller, the church “knows” it was taken from the arm of St. Anne. MIller said that the bones were recertified during the 1950s.

For well over a century, parishioners and faithful pilgrims have visited Saint Anne’s upper church to venerate the relic, most especially during the annual solemn novena service leading up to the Feast of Saint Anne on July 26.

The wrist bones of Saint Anne are kept inside a small case called a “thecla,” according to Miller. | Photo submitted by Pastor Skip Miller

Miller said that the designation was done with the community in mind, given the recent mergers and closures of parishes.

“The Port Richmond area is being very hard hit with consolidations and closures of schools and the battle over St. Laurentius,” said Miller. “It’s just become very hard hit, and I think the archbishop, in his kindness, wanted to show that the church still has a commitment in this area.”

Miller called the decision to elevate Saint Anne’s upper church to a shrine “a beautiful symbol of his concern for this part of the city” that exemplifies “how he does recognize the culture and historic significance” of Saint Anne’s in the Port Richmond/Kensington community.

Just last week, the archdiocese announced that Chaput had accepted recommendations by the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee to merge the remaining four parishes in the River Wards neighborhood. As a result, Saint Adalbert Parish, Saint George Parish and Mother of Divine Grace Parish will merge with Nativity B.V.M. Parish as of July 1.

If you’re looking to grab a peek of the shrine that’s graced Saint Anne’s upper church for the past 121 years, Miller says all visitors need to do is stop by during business hours and somebody from the church will take you to it.

The church was established by Bishop Francis Kenrick in 1845. The current church building opened in 1869.

In February, the Rev. G. Dennis Gill, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, announced that the newly constructed tomb of Saint Katharine Drexel, now located at the cathedral, was designated an archdiocesan shrine. The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul designation is the only other designation of its kind made this year.