St. Joseph Oratory of Montreal
If you travel in Montreal, Quebec, Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal is a must-see spot, because it is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and national shrine on Westmount Summit in Montreal. It is also Canada’s largest church and the twenty-seventh largest church building in the world. (Wikipedia)
The basilica has a shrine of Saint Joseph, which was authorised a Canonical coronation by Pope Pius XII on 31 July 1955, now located within its crypt department. The shrine is also famous owing to its association with Brother Andre Bessette who was believed to possess healing powers through his Josephian devotion with its notable oil ointment provided freely to its believers.
In 1904, Saint André Bessette, C.S.C., started the construction of St. Joseph, a small chapel on the slopes of Mont Royal near Notre Dame College. Soon the growing number of the congregation made it too small. In 1917 a larger church was completed that had a seating capacity of 1,000. In 1924, the construction of the basilica of Saint Joseph’s Oratory was commenced; it was finally completed in 1967.
Father Paul Bellot, an architect, completed the dome of Saint Joseph’s Oratory between 1937-39. The dome is the third-largest of its kind in the world after the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
In 1949-1951, architect Gilbert Moreau carried out alterations and improvements to the interior of Saint Joseph’s Oratory, as well as to the adjacent monastery, and rearranged the sacristy in the basilica.
The basilica is dedicated to Saint Joseph, to whom Brother André credited all his reported miracles. These were mostly related to some kind of healing power, and many pilgrims (handicapped, blind, ill, etc.) poured into his Basilica, including numerous non-Catholics. On display in the basilica is a wall covered with thousands of crutches from those who came to the basilica and were purportedly healed. Pope John Paul II deemed the miracles to be authentic and beatified Brother André in 1982. In October 2010 Pope Benedict XVI canonized the saint.
Oratoire St. Joseph was designed by architects Dalbé Viau and Alphonse Venne and is built in the Italian Renaissance style. The basilica’s copper dome, which is the highest point in Montreal, is the second-largest of its kind in the world, smaller only than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The dome rises 236 meters (856 feet) above sea level!
Visitors must climb more than 280 steps to get to the basilica’s main entrance. However, there is a separate staircase of 99 steps which is set aside for pilgrims who wish to climb on their knees.
The basilica can seat about three thousand people and holiday services at the basilica often hold that many and more.
One entire wall in St. Joseph’s Oratory is covered with crutches and other items left by those who made the climb to the basilica and were healed. The Roman Catholic church has long recognized Brother André’s purported miracles, granting him beatification in 1982 in acknowledgement of those who were healed by his touch and prayers. He was declared a saint in 2010 by pope Benedict XVI.
The heart of Brother André sits in a reliquary (a shrine for holy relics) at the basilica’s museum. He requested that it be kept in the basilica so as to provide protection for the building and the people that enter.
The museum is also home to nearly three hundred different crèches collected from more than one hundred countries. The collection is stunning and is especially popular around the Christmas holidays.
The reliquary contains Brother André’s heart, which he requested as a protection for the basilica. More than 2 million visitors and pilgrims visit the Oratory every year. The museum is principally dedicated to sacred art. It offers a treasure of religious, historical and artistic heritage from Quebec and abroad. The Oratory owns an impressive collection of art work related to the life of the Holy Family and Saint Joseph. Its collection of crèches forged the Museum’s reputation. Around 200 works from Quebec and from over 100 countries make up the permanent exhibit.
Dioramas of Saint Joseph’s life were created in 1955 by Montreal Sculptor Joseph Guardo, these life-size dioramas, representing scenes of Saint Joseph’s earthly life, continue to captivate all visitors big and small. It is located at 3800 Queen Mary Road, at Côte-des-Neiges (near the Côte-des-Neiges metro station).
Composer Émilien Allard notably served as the church’s carillonneur from 1955 to 1975. For RCA Victor he released the LP albumCarols at the Carillon of Saint Joseph’s Oratory for which he wrote the arrangements.
On October 19, 2004, the Oratory held its centennial. All the bells of all the churches on the island of Montreal were supposed to ring at 9:00 a.m., though not all churches participated. At 9:05 a.m., the basilica rang its bell in response and celebration.
In 2004, the Oratory was designated a National Historic Site of Canada on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.
On 2 April 2004 Canada Post issued ‘Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Quebec’ in the 2004 Tourist Attractions series. The stamp was designed by Catharine Bradbury & William Stewart based on a photograph by Bernard Brault. The 49¢ stamps are perforated kiss cut and were printed by Lowe-Martin Company Inc.
So, if you plan to visit Quebec, it is a good idea to see St. Joseph Oratory.