St. Joseph’s Oratory

St. Joseph’s Oratory, a large Catholic church atop Mont Royal in Montreal, is one of the most unusual religious structures in existence. It is so, not only because of the design, but owing to its history, as well.

A work of devotion by Brother Andre, a lay brother in the Holy Cross order, the present church wasn’t even completed until 30 years after his death. The church was begun in 1924, but only finished in 1967. It began first as a small structure he helped create near the beginning of the 20th century. Starting as a tiny wooden chapel, funds were eventually furnished to build the basilica.

Brother Andre’s unusual character is the reason.

Pilgrims from far and wide would come to his chapel because of a myth that claimed he could heal the crippled. Many would (and sometimes still do) climb the 300 stone steps on their knees to make their way up to be healed. Part of the present church contains hundreds of crutches from those who allegedly found a cure there. But what is unquestionably real is the impressive structure that houses them.

The copper dome forming the room is almost 100 meters high, the second largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome. Set atop an otherwise plain and simple looking building, it can be seen from a great distance. From it one can also see a great distance, as visitors on Mont Royal will have a spectacular view of Montreal below.

The interior is large enough to accommodate 10,000 worshipers, more than twice as many as the Basilica de Notre-Dame elsewhere in the city. Though not so ornate inside (or outside) as that Gothic Revival rival, St. Joseph’s has many features that can be found nowhere else.

One of the oddest is the preserved heart of Brother Andre, stored in a case upstairs inside the church. More than 2 million visitors per year gaze upon it. Nearby are many plain, but elegant wooden statues of the apostles, and above is an impressive set of stained glass windows. A white marble statue of St. Joseph is in the main altar.

On special occasions the church’s great organ and 52 bell chimes will sound out, as thousands of votive candles light the interior. A fitting display for one of the world’s most interesting shrines.

St. Joseph’s is located at 3800 Queen Mary Road. Just take the train to Côte-des-Neiges and walk, don’t crawl, up the hill.

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