|Approaching Notre Dame de Bon Secours in Montreal|
This is the second installment of my series covering my pilgrimage to Quebec. The story of how Catholicism established society in Quebec, which later also influenced society in the northeast United States is a moving one. Devout Catholic men and women left the shores of France to establish a New France across the Atlantic, which often involved a dangerous stormy ride lasting more than a month! Although Jacques Cartier landed on the shores of New France in 1534, it was Samuel de Champlain who is considered to be the true founder of New France and Quebec, being that he introduced a new permanent settlement in 1608. Along with him came the great Catholic men and women who established the Church like Blessed Francois de Laval, Marguerite Bourgeoys, Marie Guyart of the Incarnation, and many others.
Rightfully the French colonizers refused to allow Protestants to come over to New France, for the Catholics in those days understood well the dangers of allowing heretics to infiltrate society. As a result, the Catholic faith was well established and was able to begin missionary work of converting the savages of North America. Just for the record, the word “savage” is not used in a derogatory way here but follows its original usage as referring to the “natives” or “aborigines.” Although it was a struggle these Catholic missionaries traveled through harsh winters bringing the faith to the Native Americans of the area. The Saint Lawrence River area was where most of the first settlements were founded, and as the settlers moved inland they quickly established new settlements, Quebec being the first large one. Down the river in 1642 settlers arrived in Mount Royal, or what we call Montreal. This is where the pilgrimage began for me.
|Inside Notre Dame de Bon Secours|
|The main altar Notre Dame de Bon Secours|
Marguerite Bourgeoy (1620-1700) traveled alone with no friends across the Atlantic in 1643 and set up ‘The Sisters of the Congregation.’ The Chapel of Notre Dame de Bon Secours can be visited today in Montreal. Not far from the eye catching Notre Dame, down the bank near the water the little chapel stands along with a nice museum, which covers the history of the neighborhood of her time. This is well worth stopping at, since you can learn about the history of the Catholic faith in Montreal as well as see the excavation site below, and you can see the ruins of the original chapel which burned down. There is also a nice book shop which has some English titles so that you can read up while you are on your trip. I was impressed with the life of Marguerite, her tenacity, dedication and life of hardship would not be easily accepted by most of us in the modern age today. She crossed the Atlantic seven times in her life, giving her life to the community of Montreal. She established the first un-cloistered women’s religious order in Montreal which focused on teaching and feeding the poor as well providing a haven for pilgrims who sought refuge while traveling along the river. Notre Dame De Bon Secours was to become one of the earliest sites of pilgrimage in North America. At first the settlers worshipped in a wooden chapel inside the fort nearby, but in 1657 construction of the first stone chapel was underway inspired by her love for the community. She wrote, “I urged the few people who were here at the time to gather stone. I used to do sewing and in payment, I asked for a day’s work. I collected alms to pay for the masons’ work. M. de Maisonneuve had the necessary timber squared. Others prepared the lime, the sand and the boards and soon I had found enough to build it and roof it.”
The building of the chapel did not go on without its challenges, and the chapel site was postponed and eventually moved. A wooden structure was built just “400 paces” from the original site which was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. It would not be until 1675 that a cross would be planted after a wonderful procession to build a permanent chapel, and the permission came by the Vicar General of the beloved bishop Francois De Laval, whom I will get to later in this series. Marguerite’s new type of women’s religious was founded upon the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The community grew and Marguerite’s order began a solid teaching program, and care for the poor. In fact, before she even came over to New France, she spent thirteen years working among the poor in her hometown of Troyes in France. The site of Bon Secours became a famous site for sailors and the working class people of Montreal. In 1754 the chapel burned down but construction for the new chapel started in 1771 and completed in 1773. I highly recommend seeing this if you happen to make a trip to Montreal.
|The ceiling of the Notre Dame de Bon Secours.|
There are several other churches in Montreal worth visiting, which are all within walking distance if you stay near downtown. The Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde is located right in the heart of downtown, and it is a scale replica of St. Peter’s in Rome. Not far from there is Saint Patrick’s Basilica, which is a gothic Irish church in Montreal. Of course, no trip to Montreal would be complete without seeing the stunning Notre Dame Basilica. It is truly an amazing site to behold. I have been to Italy twice, and this church ranks up with the many I saw there. You can see all four of these churches in a day if you get an early start. Saint Joseph's Oratory is also located in Montreal a bit further out from the city center, and I will cover that in my next post. There was also one other church in Montreal which is now closed and used as a concert hall that I wanted to see. It is almost directly across from Saint Patrick's. It is the Jesuit church and once college, called the Gesu. The disuse and sacrilege of this beautiful church goes along with the horrible decline of Catholicism in Quebec after the quiet revolution of 1965. The horrible destruction of the Catholic faith can be seen across Quebec by all of the closed churches, including some that are slated to be torn down! Paraphrasing the words of a local women I met who grew up and went to school at the Ursuline convent in Trois Rivieres, “Everything changed in Quebec after Vatican II. No one practices the faith anymore.” I will elaborate on this more in my next post which covers my visit to Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal.
|The view from the top of Notre Dame de Bon Secours.|
|Notre Dame Basilica Montreal|
|Main altar of the Basilica of Notre Dame de Montreal|
|The stunning crucifixion depiction in the main altar Basilica Notre Dame de Montreal|
|The Saints to the right of the main altar.|
|Saint Patrick's Basilica Montreal|
|Saint Patrick's Basilica Montreal|
|Beautiful paintings of the Saints surround the inside of St. Patricks|
|Another view of the interior of St Particks Basilica Montreal|
|The outside of the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde downtown Montreal|
|Its not Saint Peter's, but its as close as you will get this side of the Atlantic! Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde|
|The baldacchino of Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, a replica of St. Peter's made in Rome.|