St Michael’s Church celebrates 170th Anniversary |27 September 2023
Our parish is so happy to be celebrating 170 years of our St Michael’s Catholic Church in Anse Aux Pins! For this occasion, two exhibitions have been organised. The first one was held last Sunday after the 9am mass where the children of KFC expressed themselves with their paintings about the story of St. Michael, entitled, ‘Sunrise Upon St. Michael and Anse Aux Pins!’
The other one, which will be held on September 29, is a historical one where we have put together the story of Fr. Leon des Avanchers. It all happened in 1853 when a young Catholic Capuchin missionary friar Leon des Avanchers from France arrived in Seychelles for the second time because he had been here two years prior. Unfortunately, he was obliged to go away only three weeks after his arrival, nevertheless, he baptised more than 2,500 people!
He travelled on a sailing boat, Josephine Loiseau, where he spent much of his time evangelizing to the sailors and everyone on board about Jesus and the Holy Trinity. His faith and enthusiasm were contagious, and people loved to hear his preaching! Upon his second visit when people heard of his arrival, they travelled from everywhere to listen to him and be baptised.
The first St Michael Church of Fr. Leon des Avanchers in Anse Aux Pins was a borrowed shelter made of Latanier leaves by the beach and had a cross on it, and he named it St Michael Church. Was it because his name was Michel Rey-Golliet (1825 – 1879) before he became a Capuchin missionary priest?
I think that naming the Anse Aux Pins church St Michael went deeper than this! Fr. Leon named it St Michel because of the Archangel that the Bible speaks about, we see St Michael (he who is like God) in the Old Testament in the book of Daniel, chapter 10 and in Chapter 12 where he is described as the great prince. St Michael is also mentioned in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation where he is the great warrior of Heaven who fought the dragon which is the devil. Revelation 12:7 - 8 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 8. But they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
Fr. Léon des Avanchers was a friend of the French explorer Antoine d'Abadie, he was a missionary in Abyssinia, a geographer, cartographer and explorer of East Africa, and a correspondent of the Società Geografica Italiana. He is known to have bought many slaves in Africa to free them and was the founder of the first Catholic Church in Seychelles. He built a wooden chapel in 1853 in Victoria, although he had already finalised the Church in 1851 in Victoria and called it, “Marie Immaculée” which later became our Immaculate Conception Cathedral. I think that Fr. Leon was also very intuitive because the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception came out on December 8 in 1954 and during the apparition of our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. The Lady presented herself, she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Fr. Leon must have or desired to travel to these famous places where St Michael had appeared to different people, especially to bishops, asking them to build a sanctuary in his honour like the apparition in Italy on the Mont St. Angelo of Gargano and Mont Saint Michel in Normandie, France.
In Italy, there is the famous, Monte Sant'Angelo! It was a popular pilgrimage site on the way to Jerusalem; pilgrims travelled from as far as Ireland to visit the “Celestial Basilica”. That straight line on the map is called the sword of St Michael. Among the pilgrims who visited the St Michael the Archangel Sanctuary were many popes and saints, including Pope Saint John Paul II, and St. Padre Pio.
St Francis of Assisi also visited the Sanctuary, but, feeling unworthy to enter the grotto, stopped in prayer and meditation at the entrance, kissed a stone, and carved on it the sign of the cross in the form “T” (tau). The Sanctuary is blessed by St Michael himself!
We have indeed put all this information and much more in detail with photos in our historical exhibition to celebrate the 170th anniversary of St Michael in Anse Aux Pins which will be on September 29; the official opening will be before 10am mass, just after the hoisting of the St Michael flag.
In 2013, during the opening of the new St Michael Church in Anse Aux Pins, Bishop Denis Wiehe also added two other Archangels to be celebrated with St Michael on September 29. They are St Raphael (God heals), who is found in the book of Tobit and St Gabriel (God is my strength and the bearer of good news) who is the Archangel Gabriel who brought the good news to the Virgin Mary and told her she was going to be the mother of Jesus our Saviour!
From the first St Michael Catholic Church which was made of Latanier leaves on the beach in 1853 by Fr. Leon des Avanchers, the Savoyard capuchin, missionary friar, much has been done. The first chapel was destroyed by a storm in 1862, therefore, a second one was built, this time made of coral. The first church, built of stone and lime, was consecrated on February 10, 1875, and renovated for the first time in 1929.
Although the present, new construction, the front part, and the altar dating 1929 have been kept for historical reasons. When the old church was not accessible, a provisional “Chapiteau” was built like a tent to celebrate masses and other functions. The new St Michael Church was officially opened in 2013. It has indeed, a special modern design compared to most of the churches in Gothic style in Seychelles. It is described as a divine mastodon, a large dominant and protective citadel. Furthermore, it is also protected by a statue of St. Michael placed in the centre of the staircases leading to its entrance, where there is a granite wall, which represents two open arms to welcome the congregation! Moreover, there is a cross on the top of the roof where most of all, it is the Holy Trinity who welcomes lovingly His faithful!
Contributed by Jane Stravens