Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ste. Ignace revisited

As is obvious from some previous posts, I have had questions about the validity of the sites currently marked as Ste Louis and Ste Ignace. On the advice of others I read S W Fox's book Saint Ignace-Canadian Alter of Martyrdom. This book is designed to be the definitive proof of the validity of the current site marked as Ste Ignace ll. In the process of reading this book I was advised by a local expert on Historic Huronia's to read an article titled 'The Search for St-Ignace ll" by Martha A Latta published in Ontario Archaeology #48 in 1988. This article references a reinvestigation of the site in 1975 directed by William Russell and a field party consisting of Allan Tyyska, Roberta O'Brien and Jamie Hunter. As a result of these findings and questions raised by other prominent archaeologists Latta raises serious doubt about not only the validity of this site being that of Ste. Ignace ll but the validity of the site itself as a historic Huron village of the time period relevant to the events of March 16th-20th 1649.

As a result of this 1975 investigation and doubts raised by others the Historic sites board decided not to replace the plaque that had been placed on this site many years earlier.
Perhaps it is fortunate that the public has a hard time finding these sites and reading the plaques and other postings that may appear on them. If we wish to mark what we may feel might be a historic site, that's alright, but lets declare our uncertainty and continue to search for more proof or other sites that may tell the story more accurately.
I would think that this would be particularly important to the Church and the pilgrims that are encouraged to visit these sacred places. I would much prefer to be told that these locations are uncertain than being led to believe that I was standing and praying on sacred ground that perhaps isn't there.
It would seem to me that it is time for some additional research, but who would fund such a study?
Would the Church wish to reopen up this debate? Would the Shrine allow researchers on the site that they own to do additional archeology?
Does Heritage Canada or Heritage Ontario have sufficient interest to participate in such a project?
Is the Huronia Museum in a position to take the lead in this sort of project?
Sounds like a Trillium Grant to me. If the above named stakeholders could see their way clear to cooperate and bring scientific research, historical facts and religious concerns together in the search for the truth, not just quick answers to resolve each ones separate agendas such a project might well warrant such a grant.

PS -Does the Shrine have a copy of the Latta article in its archives?
Would the Wendat be interested in participating in such a project. Events at Ste Ignace ll would have been a defining moment in their history aswell.


Steve said...

Hello- This comment could be a long response, so I will be brief. We have the Latta report in our archives (it is identified in the archive library inventory). We have artifacts relating to St. Ignace in our archives. We have correspondence between Fr. Rye and the Jurys (around 1975) in our archives. We have photocopies of Fox, Wittenburg, Connon correspondences in our archives. We have Jones' report in our archives. We have slides, film, photographs, and Fr. Hegarty's memoirs regarding St. Ignace II, in our archives. As well, the Shrine holds newspaper clippings from that period (1946) which sheds some light on the competition between London (Western) and Toronto - who were excavating Carahiague at the time. The list is endless (see archive inventory) regarding St. Ignace.

As well, I have done some test digging here and there when the site had to be compromised for World Youth Day celebrations in 2002 and I found some evidence of soil disturbance (probably a small fence near the sheltered altar). I have also interviewed someone who worked with Jury in 1946 at St. Ignace II as well as Fr. Hegarty, who spent summers at St. Ignace in the 50's and in the 60's (when Jury had him banished from Ste. Marie I). Also, I have had the opportunity to work with Deacon Elmer Lampe and Frank Poliquin who have done geographical investigations of the site (1988 to the present).

I think we have to remember the limits of archaeology and its necessity to rely on history- which is one of the weaknesses of Ontario archaeology. Not every archaeologist is well versed in history, or vice versa for that matter. There are very strong points disproving the site- yet there are strong points supporting its identification- when one looks at ALL the evidence. I respect Latta's findings, although I find it hard for me to accept her conclusion. She has never dug nor even visited the site (as far as I know), nor has she examined the information at the Shrine. I respect the work of Russell and his team, which lead Fr. Rye to contact the Jury's and gather a binder of correspondence from other sources and lead the Shrine to identify the site as the "probable" place of martyrdom in its signage, without definitive 100% proof. We only have definitive proof of Ste. Marie's identity - because of the stonework and geographical description from the Relations- hence again the limits of archaeology.

As well, I think we have to examine and compare the arcaheological findings of St. Ignace with the findings at St. Louis (similar church structure at both sites), and Ste. Marie (the Church at St. Ignace is oriented to the north star- so is Brebeuf's grave at Ste. Marie). There are others I could mention but I meant to keep this short.

This summer, I will be searching for a burnt post at St. Ignace (since there were four mentioned in Jury's dig and we have two of them at the Shrine)- That is another thing. It looked like four people may have been tied at the stake at St. Ignace (four burnt posts were excavated by Jury in 1946 and identified in his map). These stakes are believed to be roof supports, which were spaced 11 feet apart). If this conclusion is true, who were the other two people and where are their bodies? In the cemetery at Ste. Marie there is a central grave which held two coffins. These two coffins had the remains of two men. They could have been two Christian Chiefs/warriors who were martyred along with Brebeuf and Lalemant...

It seems I got carried away. In conclusion- we have to examine ALL the evidence in the identification of this site (scientific, archaeoligical and historical)- and even include the evidence experienced through faith- what pilgrims feel there, the miraculous events associated with Alphonse Arpin, Anne Picotte and Fr. Bouvrette (balls of fire, St. Terese holy cards etc). We must see ourselves as continuing an investigation that started in 1844 when Fr. Chazelle SJ came to Huronia- looking for the place of martyrdom. He was the first Jesuit to retunr here in two hundred years. Interestingly, he landed at the site identified as St. Ignace II by the Shrine and felt he was at the spot. IF another site is identified as St. Ignace II, the Church would have no problem dismantling the present site and moving it- they did it in 1925 when the first Shrine- which was believed to be built on St. Ignace II according to Jones (who questioned its authenticity on his deathbed in 1918)- was dismantled and moved to its present location next to Ste. Marie. IF another site is found to be St. Ignace II, I bet there will be another blog of this length supporting/discrediting its identification.

Steve said...

P.S. What makes a ground sacred? Is it the fact that an historic event took place there or the gathering of people at a communally recognized site remembering that historic/sacred event? I know there were reports of cures at the old Shrine on Gervais Rd., which was considered to be St. Ignace II at the time, but that site was proved to be false. There are cures at the Shrine today, and there is nothing to make that hillside a special place of holiness- except for the fact that people gather there for spiritual reasons (since 1926). I think one of the most moving events in my life was being at St. Ignace II for World Youth Day 2002. 1000 young people from around the world venerating the relics of the Canadian Martyrs- bringing their prayers, their hopes, tears and fears, and their love for God to this site. Whether or not Brebeuf and Lalemant died there, the devotion and acts of piety of these faithful young people make this site a very special place in the eyes of God and in the annals of Salvation History.

Steve said...

Bill Russell, who lead the 1975 archaeological investigation in 1975 at St. Ingace II was a Jesuit.
He worked with Fr. Hegarty at Ste. Marie I during the 1950's and wrote a paper based on Hegarty's findings on the mill at Ste. Marie I (the Jury canal system). Russell was trained by Hegarty and studied archaeology I believe at the University of Toronto. He also criticized the government/Jesuit plan to reconstruct Ste. Marie on the original foundations.