In this season of thankfulness, Les Amis du Fort de Chartres is happy to report that during the recent Winter Rendezvous, an additional $1000 was raised for the Chapel Renovation Project with funds generated by the event’s 18th Century Rummage Faire and Heart of Illinois Country Heritage Shop Raffle. Thank you to all who visited the Fort’s Trading Post throughout the Winter Rendezvous weekend. Thanks to your support your purchases helped support the Fort’s Chapel Renovation Project and our Illinois Country Heritage Artisans. These efforts, plus those of previous donors, bring the new total in our Chapel Repair Project fund is $4000 thanks to your support. In an effort to raise an additional $2000 for the repair project, beginning today and running until December 15, we are kicking off a Chapel fundraising effort on Facebook to raise additional funds for the chapel repair project.
The reconstructed chapel of Fort de Chartres is a valued interpretive tool, giving voice and remembrance to the deep connection of the region’s French settlement and religious underpinnings. Les Amis du Fort de Chartres, with the support of the Parish of Ste. Anne Militia, is working to raise additional funds to safeguard the chapel’s physical integrity. Currently the chapel at Fort de Chartres is suffering the effects of the Illinois Country’s general overall dampness and humidity. The chapel walls are experiencing a gradual breakdown of the stone fabric of the building. As a result, the paint needs to be removed. Les Amis du Fort de Chartres continues its efforts to raise the $10,000 in necessary funds to remove the paint in the manner approved by Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the site’s state agency, and preserve the stone chapel. Earlier this year Les Amis reached out to local and regional organizations to match funds that have been raised thus far and we hope to have an update on those ongoing efforts in early to mid-December.
In the meantime, we ask for your support to reach our Les Amis du Fort d Chartres $2000 Facebook chapel renovation fund goal. Please help us safeguard the site’s important reconstructed Chapel building by making a DONATION HERE.
To read more about the history of the chapel at Fort de Chartres, we offer the following article written early in 2019 by Yancey Von Yeast, a member of the Parish of Ste. Anne Militia.
Fort de Chartres Chapel Renovation Project
The first Europeans to settle in what is now Illinois came here with one common goal, to spread the word of God through the Catholic faith. The first two settlements, Cahokia in 1699 and Kaskaskia in 1703 were settled by priests from Canada. Catholic missionary work created Illinois. Throughout the French period, the influence of the church grew continuously. Each of the settlements in the Illinois Country had a parish church that was the center of the village. These parish churches were the center of life in each village. French habitants worshiped, socialized, transacted business, and held governmental meetings in the parish church.
Next to Fort de Chartres, a village soon appeared. By the middle of the 1750’s the village of Nouvelle Chartres (New Chartres) had a population of approximately 700 people. The parish church was named for the Mother of Mary and became known as the Parish of Ste. Anne. Father Gagnon was the extremely busy parish priest at Ste. Anne. He was responsible for baptisms, marriages, funerals, and masses to a large village that often had overflow from other smaller villages and the fort. Father Gagnon was no doubt the most well respected and perhaps famous person in the Village of Nouvelle Chartres.
Each village and parish also had a local militia company. These militias were composed of the male habitants of the village ages sixteen to approximately sixty. Their purpose was to answer any needed alarms, assist the garrison at the fort, and maintain the infrastructure of the village. During the French colonial period, the militia from Ste. Anne’s Parish accompanied troops from Fort de Chartres on several campaigns. One was against the Chickasaw Indians in the 1730’s in present day Alabama. Another was a relief mission to Fort Niagara in 1759.
Ste. Anne Parrish Militia was recreated in 1977 and has served as a volunteer support group to Fort de Chartres State Historic site for over forty years. Members participate in various aspects of living history including 18th century crafts, arms and weapons demonstrations, marching and drilling, and 18th century camp life. At the heart of the recreated militia group is their strong tie to the Village of Nouvelle Chartres and their parish church.
The village of Nouvelle Chartres and Ste. Anne Parrish Church is long gone. The site remains, a lonely field adjacent to the the stone fort. In modern times, Ste. Anne’s militia is tied to the village by the chapel at Fort de Chartres. During its period of use, the chapel was used to provide communion, confession, marriages, and baptisms for members and families of the military garrison at the fort. Almost all 18th century French forts had a chapel of one sort. Fort de Chartres’ chapel is quite spacious and well furnished. The presence of a priest’s room adjoining the chapel inside the fort is an indicator of the high value of Catholicism in the Illinois Country. Surviving period documents show that during its period of use, the chapel at Fort de Chartres was also served by Father Gagnon.
In present time, the chapel at Fort de Chartres stands on the foundation of the original chapel. During special events at the site, masses are still held and marriages are performed. Past restoration work has left the chapel in a state of need with a sense of urgency. After the 1993 flood, the chapel was painted, as most stone buildings were, during the 18th century. As a result of residual moisture from the flood and humidity, the paint is trapping moisture inside the stone. This causes gradual breakdown of the stone fabric of the building. As a result, the paint needs to be removed and current efforts of the volunteer organization are to raise the funds to remove the paint and preserve the stone chapel.
Yancey Von Yeast
Ste. Anne Parish Militia
Additional information of the linked History of the Parish of St. Anne and the Fort de Chartres Chapel can be found on these links:
Chapel Photo by Matt Munsell, this print is available for purchase at the Heart of Illinois Country Heritage Shop.