Sunday, October 16, 2011


After finishing up at Premiere Moisson Bakery (see last post), it was obvious that we needed to work off some calories.  The next place we wanted to see was St. Joseph's Oratory, and we knew it was somewhere on nearby Mount Royal, so we decided to just walk to it.  How far could it be? There was a bit of interesting scenery on the way:
I don't get it.  Any ideas?
Our "little walk" turned out to be a mountain climb.  We found the mountain, which isn't hard to miss since it is the only real piece of elevation in Montreal.  We started up and found out it was just a bit bigger than anticipated.
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park. He must have really liked BIG parks. Unlike Central Park's flat terrain, however, this park just keeps going up.  In some places it was so steep that it required staircases:

However, the view from the top was well worth the hike:
The day had started out cold and drizzly, so we hauled out the rain jackets.  Big mistake.

A couple of hours later and on the opposite side of the mountain from where we started, we finally found St. Joseph's Oratory. Completed in 1967, it is the largest church in Canada and has the third largest dome of its kind in the world behind one in the Ivory Coast and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. See those steps in the middle that are kind of green? They are roped off and reserved for penitents who climb them on their knees. We saw a man doing this while we were there, and he stopped to cross himself on each step:
St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. There are exactly 100 steps.
Remember how Notre Dame in Montreal reminded me of Notre Dame in Paris? Well, St. Joseph's reminded me of another famous Parisian cathedral: Sacre Coeur:
Sacre Coeur, Paris
I loved the stylized name of St. Joseph on the front:
In fact, I loved that this church was dedicated to Joseph, that oft forgotten part of the nativity:

Yes, once we got to the top of that long staircase, there were even MORE stairs that took us to the small chapel behind the main one. We definitely did our fair share of stairs:

There we found a sweet tribute to Joseph and his many roles, each one a prayer station for those with particular needs:
Sprinkled among the stations were walls of canes and crutches that once belonged to those who were healed through St. Joseph's intercession:
One of about ten such stockpiles
The construction of this building was largely due to one man, Andre Bessette, a Catholic priest who was eventually beatified (1982) and then canonized as a saint just last year.  His heart is in the reliquary (yes, his actual heart), placed there on his request as a protection for the oratory. This isn't a very good picture of the heart, but you can at least see how it is displayed:

We finally made our way into the main structure, which was interesting but not necessarily my favorite cathedral-type building:
However, I did love the bright, modern, downright cheerful stained glass windows:

The sun hit them just right to shine through and create this doppelganger on the wall:

My favorite part of the Oratory, and the reason I would come back for another visit, was the series of bas-reliefs depicting the crucifixion of Christ that were sprinkled about the nave on freestanding walls.  If I had to choose two words to describe the artist's attitude, I would choose "tender" and "quiet."  There was a delicate softness to these sculptures that truly moved me, and I loved that Christ was so often depicted with others, particularly with women, instead of as a solitary sufferer. Judge for yourself:

Worth a visit, don't you think?


  1. I like your observation that Christ was not alone, but with others. I wouldn't mind going back. Still lots to see in Montreal that we didn't get to.

  2. The bas reliefs of the Stations of the Cross were an interesting touch, and better than a lot of them that I've seen in other cathedrals. You guys really were glutton for punishment for stairs. At the side of the first grand set was a small entry hall, with two sets of escalators, then another set of escalators up to the main cathedral. Instead you took the stone steps up to the crypt (and what we are calling ythe votive hallway). You really earned your Montreal Stair Master Award!!

    I liked your write-up, so I'm just going to post photos and know that if they Google St. Joseph's, they'll find your excellent post. I wish we'd had sun to get a shining stained glass moment. Maybe that's why it seemed so dreary to me, was all the rain and dark clouds.

    Thinking of you while we're here--