Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pilgrimage to Quebec- Part II (St Joseph’s Oratory)

Pilgrimage to Quebec- Part II (St Joseph’s Oratory)

Saint Joseph's Oratory.

My final pilgrimage stop in Montreal was St. Joseph’s Oratory, home of Saint Andre Bessette, canonized in 2010. I will say that I have mixed feelings about St. Joseph’s Oratory, but visiting the tomb of Brother Andre was not one of them, since it was a blessing to kneel at his tomb and ask for his intercession. When I first walked out in front of the Oratory, it was certainly a sight to behold. It is monstrous in size and it sits upon a high hill that makes its massive size even more breathtaking from below. In front there are several flights of steps, which I made my way up on my knees. The center flight of steps were put in for pilgrims to offer penance as they approach the Oratory. I prayed a ‘Hail Mary’ on each step as I climbed the hill on the steps. After getting to the top I went into building where they had a slide show of pictures showing the Oratory being built, I then proceeded into the lower chapel where they soon had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. After spending some time in prayer, I then continued on to the candle shrine just outside the chapel, where many crutches are left by pilgrims who were healed by God through the intercession of Brother Andre, very cool. His tomb is found right next to this candle lit shrine. I spent some time prayer at his tomb. There are several floors in the Oratory, one containing a gift shop, etc. At the very top is the main church, which is where my trip to the Oratory kind of went south, so to speak.

The Tomb of Brother Andre Bessette.

As I walked into the main church my enthusiasm began to decline quite quickly. I felt I had just been sealed up in King Tut’s tomb. It was the coldest feeling I think I have had in a Catholic church. For one, it was huge, but the architecture did not match what you saw from outside at the bottom of the hill. It is my understanding that Brother Andre never saw the final plans for the layout of the main church. He would have been probably been horrified to see this. I could not imagine the work that went into building this, only to find that they completely botched the entire project when they put the main church on top. The only part worth looking at were the Byzantine style mosaics going around the main archway, which do not fit any of the architecture whatsoever. On the walls there are these cold, long, thin looking totem pole figures, and the doors to the confessional have almost unrecognizable figures molded into them. The sanctuary is not much better, and there is some sort of glass case on the altar which I could not figure out as to its function. The tabernacle is found behind the altar in another room, and I cannot explain it design either. This experience kind of put a damper on things, so I went back down and spent more time with Brother Andre, and I left feeling much better. Yes, God is in control, and so I left a bit more high spirited that I would have had I not stopped to see Brother Andre again.

The main church of St. Joseph's
Totem pole figures on the walls
From behind the altar, glass case below crucifix, tomb style door ways, etc.
Door to the confessional. "Let me out!"

While the Oratory was worth visiting for my spiritual enrichment, which included worshiping God,  doing penance, and visiting the great humble Saint Andre, it was a big disappointment architecturally. While the architecture of the structure itself from the outside is quite a spectacle, the inside does not impress, but only disappoints since the magnificence of the outside does not match the dismal, almost iconoclastic theme of the inside. If you are in Montreal, of course I would still recommend going to the Oratory, but don’t get your hopes up if you think you are going to be blown away with the beauty of the main church. Let me end this post on high note. I also really enjoyed the little historic chapel that stands behind the new Oratory. It is a humble, yet reverent little chapel with a beautiful little altar in it. Above you can see what Brother Andre’s room looked like, and that was pretty cool. All in all St Joseph’s Oratory was worth visiting, and it was a testament that God’s grace cannot be stopped by horrible architecture. My next stop on the pilgrimage was Trois Rivieres, which lies almost halfway between Montreal and Quebec.

Historic chapel behind the Oratory.
The altar of the historic chapel. Contrast this ray of warmth to the tomb of the Oratory.
The room of Brother Andre above the chapel.
The heart of Brother Andre Bessette
Brother Andre, pray for us!


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M. Prodigal said...

When I visited Montreal in 2006 my Franciscan Sister and I had a Franciscan Brother give us the church tour. He did not take us upstairs to the main sanctuary at St. Joseph's as he said it would hurt our hearts. We had Mass in the crypt church.