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Glorious Excess in Montreal November 12, 2011

Posted by homolog88 in Travel Dispatches.

Catholicism has always had a penchant for excess—in its architecture, in its vestments, in its ritual, in its global ambitions. The Quebec version of Catholic excess surfaces most often in the painted interiors of its churches. Small churches, such as the Old Port’s Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, surprised me with the profusion and fine detail of their painted walls – not a square centimeter left uncovered.

Basilique Notre-Dame

The most astonishing of these interiors is the 19th-century Basilique Notre-Dame, a star-studded vault of blue and gold and neo-Gothic trappings that either borders on the garish or topples complete into it. I missed the nightly son-et-lumière show that would have surely established its kitsch credentials.

There are other manifestations of Catholic hubris. Montreal’s cathedral is a one-quarter-sized replica of St. Peter’s in Rome—strangely unpainted in its interior but, with its reproduction of Bernini’s baroque Baldacchino as its altar canopy, still going for baroque. But the Montreal award for religious excess goes without question to St. Joseph’s Oratory, the world’s largest shrine to the father of Jesus.

St. Joseph's Oratorio

Everything about St. Joseph’s is outsized: its basilica can seat 3000 worshippers; its dome is one of the largest in the world; it receives 3 million pilgrims a year, many of them asking for cures to physical, psychological, and spiritual ailments. The “Illuminated Chapel” houses ranks of votive candles ($5 a piece) burning at multiple stations marking various aspects of St. Joseph’s character and responding to the hopes of the worshippers: Hope of the Sick, Patron of the Dying, Terror of Demons. [Illuminated Chapel] Oil placed in a basin beneath the central statue of St. Joseph can also be purchased at the gift shop.

Illuminated Chapel



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