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St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal

portailarobertFounded in 1904 by Saint Brother André and his friends, the original tiny chapel gradually grew over the 20th century into the impressive structure it is today.

This great adventures is one that is shared by the entire Quebec people. Our site outlines the major milestones in the construction of the world's largest sanctuary dedicated to Saint Joseph. More than 100 years later, this project is still going strong thanks to the inspiration of its founder.

The Crypt Church
Planning for the crypt church was entrusted to architects Dalbé Viau and Alphonse Venne. Built of concrete, it is covered with limestone from the Deschambault quarries, held in place by steel framing.
 
The commencement of the building project consisted of setting off dynamite to allow for the leveling of the site. However, during this phase, the engineers came to realize how hard the rock was and it was decided to abandon the idea of building the crypt church into the mountain side.
 
This church is called a “crypt” because it is located at the foot of the Basilica, and because its interior is formed by a series of vaults whose upper section has been somewhat flattened, thus making the interior space appear to be hollowed out under elliptical arches, reminiscent of ancient crypts. The crypt church is 200 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 40 feet high.

The Interior of the Crypt Church

In 1915, given the immense flow of people crowding the little oratory to invoke Saint Joseph and to meet Brother André, it was decided to raise up a great sanctuary. The plans envisaged a lower church with a grand basilica towering above.

The crypt church was blessed in 1917. It seats over 1000 persons who attend masses and devotions scheduled throughout the day. (The basilica is used for Sunday High Mass and for special celebrations.) The church is called a crypt because although its façade is open to the sun, it is built into the side of the mountain below the basilica and because it is part of the foundations of the rest of the structure.


The Basilica
Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal is recognized as one of the foremost sanctuaries in the world visited by people seeking contemplation and spiritual renewal. It also attracts tourists who wish to see this architectural wonder and enjoy the spectacular view. Western Christianity has a number of such sites but only three in the hearts of a major cities: Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, the Sacré Coeur in Paris, and Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
 
Why build an oratory? The idea came to Saint Brother André, a simple porter at College Notre-Dame, who wished to create a small shrine to Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, to whom he was especially devoted. Despite the grandeur of the Basilica that now stands on Mount Royal, you can still find within its walls some of the intimacy that Saint Brother André wished his visitors to experience. It is here that gatherings of pilgrims are held. In the course of its history, the Basilica has been visited a number of major figures: Pope John Paul II in 1984, Mother Teresa in 1988, the Dalai Lama in 1993, and the relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux in 2001. The Basilica regularly hosts large diocesan assemblies and prayer services for peace.

The basilica can seat up to 2,200 people. Sunday 11 a.m. services usually feature the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and the Beckerath great organ. The purity of its architectural lines and the refinement of its decorations make the basilica a place of prayer, peace and contemplation for believe and all people searching for meaning in their lives.

The Architecture of the Basilica
The exterior of the Basilica is in the style of the Italian Renaissance. Construction began in 1924 based on plans by Montreal architects Dalbé Viau and Alphonse Venne. When Saint Brother André died on January 6, 1937, the dome had not yet been built. That same year, the French Benedictine Monk, Dom Paul Bellot, in collaboration with Montreal architect Lucien Parent, undertook the completion of the Basilica.

The dome was poured and covered with copper. The towers and the base of the dome took on distinctive traits. The interior was completed in 1966, based on on designs by the Canadian architect Gérard Notebaert.

Dimensions:

    Overall: 105 m (341 ft.)

    Width across the transepts: 65 m (210 ft.)

    Width of the nave: 37 m (120 ft.)

    Height from the floor to the top of the inner dome: 60 m (196 ft.)

    Height from the floor to the cross on top of the outer dome: 91 m (319 ft.).

The Two Domes:

    The inner dome: 26 m (85ft.) in diameter
    The outer copula: 39 m (125 ft.) in diameter
    The exterior dome rises 155 m (506 ft.) above street level and 263 m (856 ft.) above sea level. It is the highest point in Montreal.

The Main Portico:

The concrete walls are covered with gigantic granite blocks from the quarries of Saint Cécile near Lake Mégantic. Corinthian columns 18 m (60 ft.) high tower over the heads of visitors and pilgrims. The main portico is 164 m (537 ft.) above sea level and 283 steps separate it from street level.

On October 17, 2004, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, Archbishop of Montreal consecrated the Basilica during the Oratory's centenary celebration. In 2005, the shrine was designated a national historical monument of Canada.

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