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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Our apprentice in Canada - Saint Joseph's Oratory

As soon as I had some free time I took the first train to Montreal because of all the fascinating stories I’ve heard about their architecture. That day I only managed to see St. Joseph’s Oratory because it required the entire day to fully appreciate it. On later visits to Montreal I visited other buildings but I always made some time to see St. Joseph’s because of the incredible atmosphere and mysterious interior.  

This Roman Catholic basilica is considered to be Canada’s largest place of worship and many devout catholics still make it part of their pilgrimage. The eclectic mix of styles makes the church a living piece of  Canadian history. It was first built in 1904 and at the time was just a plain wooden chapel. The number of visitors and pilgrims increased with each year and each decade left it’s mark on the original chapel. It is said that the original design of the basilica was completed in the early 1920’s but it was realised by the 1960’s. The growing number of visitors meant that the original design was rethought multiple times which gives the current building an interesting mix of influences.

The main building is the basilica which is the more popular destination for tourists. The first feature that stands out is the colonnade which is over 19 meters high and framed by corinthian columns. The guide was very proud of the fact that the dome is the world’s 3rd largest and oratory larger than London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It boasts 283 concrete steps and a smaller flight of wooden stairs that is no more than 100 steps for pilgrims who wish to climb on their knees.

While the Basilica is an impressive sight, the real attraction for me was the Votive Chapel. It is said that it was an impromptu, last minute, addition to the Oratory. It lies adjacent to the rock of Mount Royal, which can be entered through a small doorway connected to the chapel. While it might not sound very impressive, in person it is quite fascinating. The volcanic rock covers the entire left hand side of the hallway and leads to a modest sculpture of the Virgin Mary. A weak stream of volcano-filtered water drips down on the masses of coin donations visitors lay on the foot of the rock, creating a beautiful chiming.

The Votive Chapel is a destination for pilgrims because it is said to heal the lame. The walls are decorated with layers of wooden crutches and canes, items left behind by pilgrims that claim to have been healed by st Joseph. The room is quite humid and hot due to the fact that there are over 10 000 candles lit at any given point. Huge numbers of visitors and pilgrims make the visit an unforgettable experience. Pleading and wailing, many pilgrims pray for St. Joseph’s blessing, lighting candles and donating money as they go.

The Basilica warrants many visits to explore the particular architectural features. Hopefully in the future I get to see it again and write a little more about the interior.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. The pictures of this chapel are amazing. Looks like you had a great trip.