St. Joseph’s Oratory, Mount Royal, Montreal Quebec
- NATURE’S CATHEDRAL
As I descended the wide, unending stone stairs of St. Joseph’s Church on Mont Royal, I took in the panoramic view of Montreal. From any vantage point in the city far below, St. Joseph’s green dome is visible.
I had just escaped the thronging masses inside, all eager to experience Roman Catholic tradition and the accoutrement of the church‘s famous Oratory and Basilica. The escalator was broken and I marvelled at the concept of a church whose purpose was to allow ‘the people’ to praise their god, yet the edifice was so grandly and tortuously high, it was impossible for the elderly and infirm to navigate its uppermost reaches. Though a magnificent building, it held neither comfort nor spiritual attraction to me.
Once outside, I witnessed two men crawling on hands and knees in prayer-filled pilgrimage up the thousand stone steps. Imagine. One man stopped to kiss each; the other, resting on each step, fingered his prayer beads in supplication.
I needed to escape the staid, formidable edifice and the vision of those extremely devout men on the stairs below me. I veered right, drawn by the allure of intricate patterns of sunlight and cast shadows. I entered a garden awash with green hues and intermittent statues of white stone. These were the Stations of the Cross – graphic depictions of Jesus‘ ordeal as he was made to carry his own cross to Calvary.
Despite this cruel and vicious reminder, the garden was a tranquil contrast to the solemn, crowded atmosphere inside the church. Gradually, as I sat in the beautifully manicured and contemplative gardens, surrounded by a sweet choir of birds, peace began to wash over me. For more than an hour I absorbed the gentle quiet and occasionally read passages of the novel tucked in my bag.
A woman approached along the path. She was walking quickly as though late. Noticing me as she rushed by, she pointed toward the church and said, “There’s a mass at 12:15”. Then she repeated hurriedly, conveying the weight of her judgment, “There’s a mass at 12:15. It is the greatest treasure of all.”
She continued her brisk movements toward her appointment with her god. Just before she was out of my hearing, I heard her rushed and passionate exclamation repeated, “It is the greatest treasure of all.”
I was amazed by her passion and singleness of pursuit. My quiet thoughts, filled with love for this place, responded just as passionately, “I am in God’s garden, sitting in Nature‘s Cathedral. This is the greatest treasure of all.”
‘Nature’s Cathedral’, watercolour by Linda Paupst