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St. Jospeh’s Oratory

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Montreal’s largest religious complex, and certainly the largest we’ve seen in North America, the Oratory of St. Joseph is located in the heights of Mont Royal, and enjoys commanding views over the city. With multiple chapels, an underground church, a museum, and of course the crowning basilica, the Oratory is stunning in scale, impressive even to non-Catholic visitors.

St Josophe Oratory Montreal

Jürgen and I love places like St. Joseph’s Oratory, despite the fact that we’re committed agnostics. To those of our ilk, a massive complex like this simply confounds the mind. There’s so much to see, and it’s all so surreal. St. Joseph’s isn’t a humble sanctuary in the hills, but a kind of Walmart-style one-stop-worshiping center, where believers can knock off all their religious duties for a month.

Light a votive candle, go pray in the Crypt Church, cry at the tomb of Brother André, brush up on your religious IQ in the Oratory Museum… and you might as well pop into confession while you’re here. Don’t forget to tour the stations of the cross, or to dip your fingers into the Oil of Saint Joseph (forget medicine, this is the way to beat the flu). Look, honey, they’ve got marriage counseling services, too. Maybe our relationship is failing, because you’re not praying to Saint Joseph hard enough.

St Josophe Oratory Montreal

I’m being glib, but places like the St. Joseph Oratory bring it out in me. When I see a grown woman sobbing her eyes out over the tomb of Brother André, a priest who supposedly healed the lame with his miraculous touch, I can’t help it. I just want to figure her out. “Ma’am, he died in 1937, it’s time to move on.” And then I see the hundreds of wooden crutches on the walls, no longer needed by their owners, because of Brother André’s magic hands. “Maybe I was wrong, maybe miracles are real!” And then I see the preserved heart of Brother André, and it’s like, “No, I was right. This place is nuts.”

But say what you want about organized religions; they really do produce incredible buildings. The basilica which crowns the oratory was opened in 1955, and is a thing of beauty. A cavernous hall with capacity for over 10,000 souls. An exterior dome which at 263 meters over sea level is the highest point in Montreal. A set of ten gorgeous stained-glass windows that illuminate the myriad ways St. Joseph has protected Canada. The twelve apostles memorialized in elongated statues by French master Henri Charlier. A massive organ which fills the hall with harmony. It was almost enough to make us fall to our knees.

St Josophe Oratory Montreal

We also enjoyed the mid-level Oratory Museum more than we expected to. The permanent exhibit features life-sized wax sculptures of the Holy Family and moments from the life of Joseph. And there’s also a collection of nativities from around the world; it was instructive to see how various cultures interpret the same scene.

Location on our Map
St. Joseph’s Oratory – Website

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May 11, 2016 at 10:53 pm Comment (1)

The Notre-Dame Basilica

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When it opened in 1830, Montreal’s Notre-Dame was the largest church in North America, and it would remain so for fifty years. Today, this French Gothic Revival basilica is one of the top attractions in the city.

Notre Dame Montreal

In 1640, during the earliest days of the French colony, the Sulpician Order built the first church of Notre-Dame across from the Place d’Armes. But after a couple hundred years, there were far too many worshipers for the humble church. To reflect its growing power and influence, Montreal required a much grander place of worship.

So the decision was made to tear down the old Notre-Dame, and build something new. James O’Donnell was the architect in charge of the project. This Irish-American protestant was a curious choice for a cathedral in French-speaking Montreal, but it turned out to be an inspired one. Apparently, you don’t need to be Catholic to build catholic churches. Hoping to be buried in his finest architectural creation, O’Donnell converted to Catholicism shortly before his death, and is still the only person entombed in the basilica’s crypt.

Notre Dame Montreal

With its two Gothic towers and ornate facade, the Notre-Dame strikes a fine figure when viewed from the Place d’Armes, which it faces. But it isn’t until you step inside that its true beauty is revealed. Bathed in blue and gold, with vaulted ceilings, colorful stained glass, intricate pine carvings and a massive altarpiece, there’s not a corner of the Notre-Dame which fails to impress.

The basilica’s stained glass windows provide a unique touch. They don’t depict religious scenes, as would normally be the case for a church, but moments from the founding of Montreal. Instead of Jesus on the crucifix or the assumption of Mary, we see events like the arrival of the French at the Pointe-à-Callière, the construction of the church, and the re-education of the natives.

The windows will pull your attention to the side, the magnificent altarpiece will bring it to the front, and the blue vaulted roof will compel you to look up, but don’t forget to turn around. At the back of the church, you’ll find another highlight: a giant organ dating from 1891 and made of 7000 individual pipes. It’s recently been tuned (a process which took weeks), and according to our guide, sounds better than ever before. The organ is played during Sunday service.

Behind the altar, we found the Sacré-Cœur Chapel. After an arson attack in 1978, this chapel was completely rebuilt by a team of master carpenters, who used only linden wood. With natural light pouring in from above and illuminating the wooden statues and modern altarpiece, this chapel feels entirely different to the rest of the cathedral; warmer and more rustic. More Canadian, somehow.

Location on our Map
Notre-Dame Basilica – Website

Framed Montreal Photographs

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April 13, 2016 at 3:46 pm Comments (0)
St. Jospeh's Oratory Montreal's largest religious complex, and certainly the largest we've seen in North America, the Oratory of St. Joseph is located in the heights of Mont Royal, and enjoys commanding views over the city. With multiple chapels, an underground church, a museum, and of course the crowning basilica, the Oratory is stunning in scale, impressive even to non-Catholic visitors.
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