Cathedrals And Cloisters
The Order of the Gentlemen of St. Sulpice is supposed to be very rich,
the amount of the immense revenues never being made public. They were
the feudal lords of the Island of Montreal in the earlier chapters of
its history. Through their zealous efforts and the generosity of their
parishioners was opened in the year eighteen hundred and twenty-nine the
grand church adjoining, that of Notre Dame, built on the site of the
original parish church. Viewing it from the extensive plaza in front,
its imposing proportions fill the beholder with the same awe as when
looking at some lofty mountain peak, but its symmetry is so exquisite
that its size cannot at first be appreciated.
In imitation of its prototype, Notre Dame de Paris, twin towers rise
in stateliness to a height of two hundred and twenty-seven feet, and are
visible for a distance of thirty miles. The facade is impressive, the
style a modification of different schools adapted to carry out the
design intended. Three colossal statues of the Virgin, St. Joseph and
St. John the Baptist are placed over the arcades. The sublime structure
belongs to a branch of the Gothic, in the pointed arch type of
architecture which was brought home from the Crusades,--a style which
has come down from the time-honoured architecture of the old world, when
religious thought that now finds expression in books was written and
symbolized in stone.
From a vestibule at the foot of the western tower, an ascent of two
hundred and seventy-nine steps offers a most enchanting view of
mountain, river, street and harbour, with such a wilderness of dome,
steeple and belfry, that the exclamation involuntarily arises--this is
truly a city of churches!
On the descent, a pause on a platform gives the opportunity of admiring
"Le Gros Bourdon," or great bell, and one of the largest in the world.
It weighs twenty-four thousand, seven hundred and eighty pounds, and is
six feet high. Its mouth measures eight feet, seven inches in diameter.
The tone is magnificent in depth and fullness. On occasions such as the
death of high ecclesiastics or other solemn events, its tolling is
indescribable in its slow, sonorous vibrations. In the eastern tower
hang ten smaller bells of beautiful quality, and so harmonized that
choice and varied compositions can be performed by the eighteen ringers
required in their manipulation. On high festivals, when all ring out
with brazen tongues, caught up and re-echoed from spire to spire in what
Victor Hugo describes as:--"Mingling and blending in the air like a rich
embroidery of all sorts of melodious sounds"--America can furnish no
Its interior, which is profusely embellished and enriched, the spacious,
two-storied galleries, in a twilight of mysterious gloom, and an altar
upon which so much wealth has been consecrated, combine to make it a
temple worthy of any time or race.
"Whatever may be the external differences, we always find in the
Christian Cathedral, no matter how modified, the Roman Basilica. It
rises forever from the ground in harmony with the same laws. There are
invariably two naves intersecting each other in the form of a cross, the
upper end being rounded into a chancel or choir. There are always side
aisles for processions or for chapels, and a sort of lateral gallery
into which the principal nave opens by means of the spaces between the
"The number of chapels, steeples, doors and spires may be modified
indefinitely, according to the century, the people and the art. Statues,
stained glass, rose-windows, arabesques, denticulations, capitals and
bas-reliefs are employed according as they are desired. Hence the
immense variety in the exterior of structures, within which there dwells
such unity and order."
The nave here is two hundred and twenty feet long, almost eighty in
height, and one hundred and twenty in width, including the side aisles.
The walls, which are five feet thick, have fourteen side windows forty
feet high, which light softly the galleries and grand aisle. So
admirable is the arrangement, that fifteen thousand people can find
accommodation and hear perfectly in all parts of the building. On high
festivals, such as Christmas or Easter, when the great organ, said to be
the finest in America, under the fingers of a master, with full choir
and orchestra, rolls out the music of the masses, the senses are
enthralled by the magnificence of the harmony. The various altars and
mural decorations are beautiful with painting, gilding and carving. In
the subdued light, which filters through the stained windows, are found
many things of especial sanctity to the faithful. On a column rests an
exquisite little statuette of the Virgin, which was a gift from Pope
Pius the Ninth, the finely chased and wrought crucifix and the riband
attached to it having been worn around the neck of the High Pontiff
himself. Directly opposite to it is a statue of St. Peter, a copy of
that at Rome. Fifty days indulgence are granted to those who piously
kiss this image. Under one altar rest the bones of St. Felix, which were
taken from the Catacombs at Rome, and on another is a picture of the
Madonna, said to be a copy of one painted by St. Luke. On all the
shrines are candlesticks, votive offerings and many other articles of
great age, value and veneration.
The main altar is exceedingly rich in artistic ornamentation,
representing in its design the religious history of the world, and is
the only one of the kind in existence. Although the foundation stones of
this great pile were laid seventy years ago, this grand anthem in stone
has not yet reached its "amen," many additions to it being yet in
Like many others of earth masterpieces in architecture, it is at once
the monument to and the mausoleum of its builder, whose body, according
to his dying request, although a Protestant, lies in the vaults beneath
his greatest life-work.
Through some halls and corridors back of the grand altar is the chapel
of "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart," which is one of the most beautiful
sanctuaries in the city, and remarkable for the harmony of its lines and
proportions. It is in the form of a cross, ninety feet in length,
eighty-five feet in the transept with an altitude of fifty-five feet.
The splendour of its ornamentation, carving, sculpture, elegant
galleries, panels in mosaic, original paintings by Canadian artists, and
a beautiful reproduction of Raphael's celebrated frieze of "The Dispute
of the Blessed Sacrament," unite to constitute this piece of
ecclesiastical architecture a chef d'oeuvre.
An iconoclast might marvel at the absorption in prayer of some of the
devotees, among accessories bewildering to eyes accustomed to the
plainer surroundings of other forms of ritual, but the worship of those
in attendance seems sincere and complete.
Following the footsteps of Cartier to where, near the foot of Mount
Royal, he found the Indian village of Hochelaga, is now to be seen the
St. James' Cathedral, which is a reduced copy of St. Peter's at Rome,
the great centre from which radiates the Catholicism of Christendom. It
is somewhat less than half the dimensions of its model, with certain
modifications necessary in the differences of climate. The work was
entrusted to M. Victor Bourgeau, who, to gain the information necessary
to carry out successfully a repetition of the great master, Michael
Angelo's conception, spent some time in the Eternal City studying the
various details. But the real architect, it may be said, who made the
plans and supervised and directed the building of the sacred monument,
was Rev. Father Michaud, of the St. Viateur Order. To raise the funds
necessary for the initial work, every member of the immense diocese was
taxed; and even now, after a lapse of thirty years, it is still
unfinished, so great has been the expense involved. The handsome facade
is elaborately columned in cut-stone, for which only blocks of the most
perfect kind were used.
Like the colossal dome at Rome, this one towers above every other
structure in the city, with the height of the cross included, being
forty feet higher than the lofty towers of Notre Dame. It is seventy
feet in diameter, and two hundred and ten feet above the pavement. It is
after the work of Brunelleschi, whose exquisite art and genius flung the
airy grace of his incomparable domes against Florentine and Roman skies.
There is none of the "dim, religious light" in the interior decoration
of white and gold, the subtle colouring of the symbolic frescoing and
the brilliance of the gold and brazen altar furnishing. At a service
celebrated especially for the Papal Zuaves, the picturesque red and grey
of their uniform, the priests in gorgeous canonicals of scarlet, stiff
with gold, the acolytes in white surplices and the venerable archbishop
in cardinal and purple, with a chorus from Handel ringing through the
vaulted roof, a full conception of the Papal form of worship can be
obtained; while a squaw in blanket and moccasins kneeling on the floor
beside a fluted pillar seems the living symbol of the heathendom the
early fathers came to convert.
In Canada the Jesuits have always been prominent in its history,
signalizing themselves by extraordinary devotion and self-sacrifice, and
were among the earliest explorers of the Continent, the first sound of
civilization over many of the lakes and rivers being the chant of the
capuchined friar. Fathers Breboeuf and Lalemant, burnt by the Indians;
Garreau, butchered; Chabanel, drowned by an apostate Huron, and others
hideously tortured, testified with their blood to their devotion. From
the Atlantic to the prairies, from the bleak shores of the Hudson Bay to
the sunny beaches of Louisiana, they suffered, bled and died.
It is said the Jesuits have a genius for selecting sites, and certainly
the situation of their especial church and adjoining colleges bears out
the statement. Like the other churches of this most Catholic city, it is
not complete, the towers having yet to be continued into spires. It is
much frequented for the fine music and admired for its beautiful
interior. It is in the Florentine Renaissance style, which is the one
usually favoured by this Order. The frescoes are unusually pleasing,
being in soft tones of monochrome, the work of eminent Roman artists,
and are reproductions of the modern German School of Biblical scenes and
from the history of the Jesuits. There are in addition some fine
paintings by the Gagliardi brothers at Rome and others.
In the Eastern part of the city, commonly called the French quarter, so
purely French are the people, with temperaments as gay and volatile as
in Le Beau Paris itself, is a gem of architecture in the church of
"Our Lady of Lourdes." This chapel, reared as a visible expression of
the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, is of the Byzantine and
Renaissance type, a style frequently to be seen reflected from the
lagoons of Venice.
"The choir and transepts terminate in a circular domed apsis, and a
large central dome rises at the intersection of the latter. The statue
over the altar, and which immediately strikes the eye, is symbolic of
the doctrine illustrated. The Virgin is represented in the attitude
usually shown in the Spanish School of Painters, with hands crossed upon
the breast, standing on a cloud with the words: 'A woman clothed with
the sun and the moon under her feet.'" A singularly beautiful light,
thrown down from an unseen source, casts a kind of heavenly radiance
around the figure with fine effect.
"Some of the painting is exceedingly good. The decoration of the church,
in gold and colours, arabesque and fifteenth century ornament, is very
beautiful and harmonious. This building is interesting as being the only
one of the kind in America."
By descending a narrow stairway, which winds beneath the floor, is found
a shrine fitted up in imitation of the grotto near Lourdes, in France,
in which it is said the Virgin appeared to a young girl, Bernadette
Souberous, at which time a miracle-working fountain is said to have
gushed out of the rock, and still continues its wonderful cures. A
goblet of the water stands on the altar, and is said to have powers of
healing. This underground shrine, lighted only by dim, coloured lamps,
gives a sensation of peculiar weirdness after the light and beauty of
the structure above.
Perhaps there is no church of French Canada of deeper interest than
"Notre Dame de Bonsecours." On its site stood the first place of
worship built, for which Maisonneuve himself assisted to cut and draw
the timbers, some of which are still in existence. The name
Bonsecours, signifying succour, was given on account of a narrow
escape of the infant colony from the Iroquois. The present building,
erected in 1771 on the old foundations, was, until a few years ago,
remarkable for its graceful tin roof and finely-pointed spire. The rear
having since been altered in a manner entirely out of keeping with the
original, which time had "painted that sober hue which makes the
antiquity of churches their greatest beauty," much of the charm which
made it unique has been destroyed. If it is true that it was an act of
piety on the part of a devoted priest, it is another proof that zeal at
times outruns correct taste.
The statue of heroic size on the new portion of the edifice, with arms
uplifted as if in blessing, was the gift of a noble of Brittany. It was
brought over in the Seventeenth Century, and for two hundred years has
been the patron saint of sailors, who ascribe to it miraculous powers.
Its ancient pews, the crutches on the walls, and pictures which are
among the first works of art brought to the country, suggest the varied
scenes which have taken place around the old sanctuary since its doors
were first opened for worship.
The ascent of a hundred steps reveals the daintiest and most aerial of
chapels above the roof of the church. Tiny coloured windows, designed in
lilies and pierced hearts, a microscopic organ, brought from France, no
one knows when, and a few rows of seats are the furnishing. The altar,
instead of the usual appearance, is a miniature house. Its history is as
follows:--"One of the most remarkable events in the history of the
Church was the sudden disappearance of the house which had been
inhabited by the Holy Family at Nazareth in Galilee. This took place in
1291. As this sacred relic was about to be exposed to the danger of
being destroyed by the Saracen infidels, it was miraculously raised
from its foundations and transported by angels to Dalmatia, where, early
in the morning, some peasants discovered on a small hill, a house
without foundations, half converted into a shrine, and with a steeple
like a chapel.
The next day their venerable bishop informed them that Our Lady had
appeared to him and said that this house had been carried by angels from
Nazareth, and was the same in which she had lived; that the altar had
been erected by the apostles, and the statue sculptured in cedar wood
had been made by St. Luke. Three years afterwards it again disappeared,
its luminous journey being witnessed by some Italian shepherds.
Its present position is about a mile from the Adriatic, at Loretto, just
as the angels placed it six hundred years ago. Millions of pilgrims
visit it from all parts of the world."
For the aerial chapel of Bonsecours, a fac-simile has been obtained.
To render it more sacred it was placed for a period within the holy
house, it touched its walls, and was blessed with holy water in the
vessel from which our Lord drank. Such is the alleged history of this
shrine, and the peculiar sanctity attached to it.
The extensive convent buildings of the Grey Nuns and other sisterhoods
are as numerous as the churches. As the matin bell falls on the ear in
the early morning hours, calling to prayers those who have chosen the
austerities and serenities of convent life, it recalls to memory the
noble band of ladies of the old aristocracy who left chateaux hoary with
the traditions of a chivalrous ancestry, and dear with the memories of
home, in the company of rough seamen to brave the untried perils of the
ocean, a hostile country, homesickness and death, to carry spiritual and
bodily healing to the savages. Their followers keep the same vigils now
among the sins and sorrows of the bustling city. They glide through the
streets with downcast eyes, in sombre robes, wimple and linen coif, bent
on missions of church service and errands of mercy, tending the sick
and suffering, and striving to win back human wrecks to a better life.
The various sisterhoods differ in degrees of austerity, the Grey Nuns
being one of the least exacting. Their Foundling Hospital, it is said,
had its origin in a most touching circumstance. One of the original
members of the Order, Madame d'Youville, on leaving the convent gates in
the middle of winter, found frozen in the ice of a little stream that
then flowed near what is called Foundling street, an infant with a
poignard in its heart. Since then tens of thousands of these small
outcasts have found sanctuary and tender care within the cloister walls.
The daughter of Ethan Allan, the founder of Vermont, died a member of
The Carmelites are the most rigid in their requirements of service. They
are small numerically and live behind high walls, and renounce forever
the sight of the outside world, never leaving their cloister, and being
practically dead to home and friends, sleeping, it is said, in their own
Instances have been known of a sister's assuming vows of special
severity, as in the case of Jean Le Ber, of the Congregation de Notre
Dame, a daughter of a merchant in the town, who voluntarily lived in
solitary confinement from the year 1695 to 1714--nineteen years of
self-immolation, when her couch was a pallet of straw, and her prayers
and fastings unceasing. She denied herself everything that to us would
make life desirable or even endurable--sacrificed the dearest ties of
kindred, and pursued with intense fervour the self-imposed rigours of
her vocation. Yet, it was not that in her nature she had no love for
beauty nor craving for pleasure, for in the sacristy of the Cathedral,
carefully preserved in a receptacle in which are kept the vestments of
the clergy, are robes ornamented by her needle that are simply marvels
of colour, design and exquisite finish. The modern robes, though
gorgeous in richly-piled velvet from the looms of Lyons, heavy with gold
work and embroidered with angels and figures so exquisitely wrought as
to look as if painted on ivory, yet do not compare with that done by
the fingers that were worn by asceticism within the walls of her cell.
In the spare form, clad in thread-bare garments, there must have been
crushed down a gorgeously artistic nature which found visible expression
in the beautifully adorned chasubles of the priests and altar cloths,
which are solid masses of delicate silken work on a ground of fine
silver threads, the colours and lustre of which seem unimpaired by time.
Six generations of priests have performed the sacrifice of the mass in
these marvellously beautiful robes, the incense from the swaying censors
of two hundred years have floated around them in waves of perfume. The
taste and skill with which high-born ladies of that time wrought
tapestries to hang on their castle walls were consecrated by her to
religion, in devoting to the Church, work which was fit to adorn the
royal drapings of a Zenobia.
Without the magnificence which distinguishes the cathedrals, some of the
rural shrines are full of interest. The church of Ste. Anne's, an old
building near the western end of the island, and one of the oldest
sacerdotal edifices in America, has around it a halo of romance and
piety since the fur-trading days, being the last church visited by the
voyageurs and their last glimpse of civilization before facing the
dangers of the pathless wilderness of the West. At its altar these
rough, half-wild men knelt to pray and put themselves under the
protection of their titular Sainte Anne.
The Trappists, though rarely seen outside the walls of their retreat,
look precisely as did mediaeval monks of centuries ago, with whose
appearance we are familiar in pictures of Peter the Hermit and other
zealots, who with their fiery eloquence sent the Armies of Christendom
to fight for the Holy Sepulchre. They dress in a coarse brown gown and
cowl, with a girdle of rope, and are under vows of perpetual silence.
They live on frugal meals of vegetables and fruit twice a day, have the
head tonsured, and feet bare in sandals. The continued fasts, severe
flagellations, labours and meditations of those anchorites make the
regulations governing this order exceedingly strict, and recall the
times when kings and emperors, in the same monkish garb, walked barefoot
to knock humbly in penance at monastery gates.
Perhaps the most unique shrine in the province is that of Mount Rigaud,
on the banks of the Ottawa, not far from the spot where Dollard and his
band of Christian knights lay down their lives. The mountain is regarded
with much superstition by the ignorant, on account of its peculiar and
unaccountable natural phenomena, whose origin has puzzled the most
learned scientists to account for. The wooded mountain is crowned by
what is called "The Field of Stones," or "The Devil's Garden," from a
deposit of almost spherical boulders, of so far unmeasured depth, which
cover its surface. Encircled by trees and verdure, this strange
formation of several acres in extent is composed mainly of rock
different from the mass of the mountain, which belongs to the same
family as the igneous mountains of the neighbouring region. What were
the causes and conditions which carried this strange material to the top
of this elevation will, when they are explained, be of intense interest.
It is said that the only other deposit similar, though smaller in
extent, is in Switzerland. Perhaps some ancient glacier, through eons of
time, gradually melted here, and slowly deposited the drift it had borne
from regions far away.
A bold spur of the hill has been converted into a shrine, adorned with
images, while on the bare rough sides of the lichen-covered rocks have
been inscribed in large white letters the words "Penitence--Penitence."
At regular intervals on the stony road approaching it are what are
called the "Stations of the Cross." They are fourteen in number, being
little chapels made from the uncut stones of the "Devil's Garden." The
floors of these, on which the penitents kneel before pictures of the
"Passion," are covered with sand and coarse gravel.
The conquest of Canada in 1759 by the English differed from that of
Britain by the Norman French in 1066, in that here the vanquished were
allowed to retain their language, customs and full religious liberties,
so that, after a lapse of one hundred and fifty years, the Papal service
is solemnized with all the pomp and ceremonial of the Vatican, and in
the courts, the Quebec Legislature and in Society is heard the euphonic
French speech, and, outside of Rome, Canada is considered the chief
bulwark of Papacy.