In December 2020, Pope Francis proclaimed a ‘Year of Saint Joseph’ to mark the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. As St. Joseph is also patron saint of Canada it was a natural progression to head there for our monthly ‘virtual trip’, and in particular, the St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
Situated high above the city of Montreal, Quebec, the Oratory is a Roman Catholic minor basilica, a National Historic Site of Canada and is Canada’s largest church. It also boasts one of the largest church domes in the world, measuring 318 feet in height and made of copper.
Founded in 1904 by Saint André Bessette the progress from a small primitive wooden chapel (still there to be admired) to the substantial and impressive building we see today took some sixty years, many designers and architects and thousands of workers. The exterior architecture and that of the Crypt Church is constructed in the Italian renaissance style while inside the Votive Chapel the influence is very much that of the 1920’s Art Deco period with other areas displaying even more contemporary designs.
The diversity of styles is perhaps indicative of the number of individuals involved in the evolution of the building over it’s six decades of construction. One thing to remember is that in comparison to many other buildings of worship across the world, this one is relatively modern, having been constructed wholly in the 20th century, so expect some contemporary influences in the design that you may not see elsewhere. Indeed, the Oratory is currently undergoing further development with the installation of an observation tower at the top of the dome which will allow visitors a 360o view of the city as well as new exhibitions and a redevelopment of the exisiting museum.
When you have finished exploring the spectacular buildings of the Oratory, take time to reflect in the peaceful grounds which offer colourful flower beds adorning sweeping lawns, shady trees and the Garden of the way of the Cross, the home of contemporary statues designed by sculptor Louis Parent.
St Joseph’s Oratory receives over two million visitors a year during normal times with the most devout climbing the Basilica’s 99 wooden steps on their knees. Inside there are lifts/elevators allowing access to most areas for those less mobile, in wheelchairs or with prams. There is also a free shuttle bus to and from the main entrance and a car park (chargeable) if you have taken your own transport. Entry is free although donations are always accepted and tours (chargeable)are available when Mass is not in session (it is advisable to book prior to visiting). There is a cafeteria and a gift shop on site and a museum which does incur an entrance fee to those over 5 years of age.