Montreal, Sunday Sept. 28
This is Sunday. It must be time to visit another large church. In case you have not gathered, the French-Canadian history of the province includes a strong dose of Catholicism. It seems that every other town and every third street is named after some saint. And around every corner is another church, famous for some feature.
Today’s spectacle was St. Joseph Oratory. (An oratory is usually considered similar to a chapel and set aside by ecclesiastical authority for prayer and Mass, frequently for a private or semi-private use. We had to look it up.) St. Joseph Oratory, however, is huge, but not beautiful. Its dome is the second or third largest in the world for Catholic churches, surpassing St. Paul’s in London, Notre-Dame in Paris, St. Patrick’s in NYC, and Sainte-Anne de Beaupre up by Quebec. St. Peter’s in Rome is larger and possibly one in the Ivory Coast.
We went to 11:15 Mass in the crypt (basement) church which only holds about 750-900 people depending on how many you squeeze into the pew. It was in English, one of the few such available to us although the accent made listening a challenge. The main basilica seats 2,200 and supposedly can hold another 10,000 people standing. That last fact seems questionable to me, maybe it includes the outside terrace. The interior seems plain to me, although the sculptures and stained glass are praised.
The Oratory was built due to Brother Andre (now a saint) who joined the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870 and became famed for extraordinary cures attributed to him. In 1904 a little chapel was built. Construction of the current building began in 1924 and completed in 1955.
In the votive chapel area of the Oratory are walls with crutches from grateful pilgrims who attribute their cure to him. These are just the ones up to the year 1937 when he died. The temperature in the votive chapel is markedly warmer than the area around it due to the number of candles burning. We did not notice any air-conditioning; not sure how warm the votive chapel gets in summer. This chapel can hold 10,000 votive candles. Not all are burning but we observed a constant stream of people lighting candles.
We observed a number of pilgrims climbing the 283 stairs on their knees. A center portion of the stairs are reserved for pilgrims. This keeps the pilgrims safe from the 2,000,000 visitors the Oratory receives each year.
At the museum, a display of creches from around the world lined the walls. The diversity and creativity was remarkable; many were made of simple materials indigenous to a region. The display was not heavy with fancy/expensive creches.
Some other interesting facts. The carillon have 56 bells originally made for the Eiffel Tower. Technical difficulties prevented that and generous pilgrims bought the bells and had them installed here. The organ has 5811 pipes. The oratory is named after St. Joseph, the patron saint of Canada.
After our visit, we went to Mont Royal. This park is situated on high ground just east of St. Joseph Oratory. Mont Royal was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who is well-known for planning NYC’s Central Park. We stopped at one overlook to view Montreal but, frankly, we had walked enough yesterday and seen enough heights and were not impressed by any descriptions of the park to spend further time here. I know,it is ranked highly in travel guides but one needs to set your own priorities.
We turned our car back into the garage, happy to get off the roads and to stop commenting on bicyclists bad habits. But, we did comment to each other the near absolute absence of car horn honking. Given the traffic, the pedestrians, and the bicyclists, there was a wealth of opportunity to sound one’s car horn. But it did not happen. We do not know if it is illegal (for instance,red turns on red are illegal in Montreal) but found nothing to support this theory. Maybe it is just cultural.
A late lunch was at a local dive serving poutine and smoked meat sandwiches. Both are local traditional foods and both are over-rated. Poutine is now available in the Twin Cities but we had not tried it before. It is french fries with gravy and cheese curds; Chris added pulled pork to hers. I had the smoked meat sandwich with fries and cole slaw. Smoked meat is basically pastrami. We can say we tried it and can put the memory behind us. This one at least was inside an open-air courtyard between two buildings. Many of the cafes stick a couple of tables on a wood frame floor constructed for this purpose and using 3/4 of the sidewalk. People get squeezed into the remaining 2 feet of sidewalk.
Ed and Chris 9/28 7 pm