Meet Montreal's Saint and more

Montreal is one capital of chic, but this weekend, she has her eyes on The Vatican.

The second largest French-speaking city in the world is known for her chic culture but Christian heritage? 

Mark Twain was one who noticed it decades ago when he said “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.” 

Montreal is better known today as the chic birthplace of Cirque du Soleil productions, international shopping, cuisine, lots of festivals and alternative lifestyles.

 Yet this fall, the city’s long Christian roots are in the headlines. On Sunday, Pope Benedict will canonize Brother Andre (Bessette) - the native Quebecois who died in 1937 at age 91 - at the Vatican. He gained sainthood for numerous miraculous healings, and his shrine is at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. 

October 16-17 there will be an all-night prayer vigil in the Crypt Church of the Oratory, with the canonization shown live from Rome on a big-screen TV starting at 4 a. m. There’s also a new exhibit about Brother Andre as of Sunday, plus concerts, masses and a carillon recital at the Oratory and Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal’s Gothic cathedral in Old Montreal (see below). 

Montreal is also site of this year’s annuals World Religious Travel Association (WRTA) Expo Nov 13-16. For the second year, it’s co-locating with NTA, the U.S.-based international association of tour operators. Attending will be tour operators and religious travel planners who develop group and individual travel itineraries worldwide. Attendees will learn about worldwide faith travel options, along with those in Montreal: 

Notre-Dame Basilica: This dramatic interior is a riot of colors, especially deep blue, reds and purples – and gold star accents. Intricate wood carvings and religious statues provide even more visual feast. Stained glass window depict Montreal’s religious history. The pipe organ has four keyboards, 97 stops and over 9,000 individual pipes. Singer Celine Dion’s elaborate 1994 wedding to Rene Angelil was here. The Basilica is in Old Montreal, the most popular tourist quarter where winding streets, bistros and shops present a European feel. 

St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal: Location of Brother Andre’s shrine, it has an Italian Renaissance style and 283 steps from street level to entry. The Oratory Museum has Christian art, including nearly 300 Nativity scenes from over 100 countries. 

St. George’s Anglican Church: Montreal’s considerable English-speaking heritage is on display here. The church was built in 1870 in the English and French Gothic styles, and it is the largest Anglican church in Montreal with  English oak carvings and stained glass windows.

 St. Patrick’s Basilica: Built in 1847 for the Irish community who fled the famine. Built in the neo-Gothic style, it has carved marble behind the high alter with names of dead from World Wars I and II. The ceiling has biblical symbols such as Noah’s art, doves, eagles and grapes. A shopping center lies beneath the cathedral. 

Mary Queen of the World Cathedral: Modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome, this church was once the heart of Montreal’s English Protestant sector. A gilded Neo-Baroque baldachin overlooks the altar. Art shows and cultural exhibits populate the cathedral calendar. 

Historic cemeteries Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and Mount Royal have stunning views of Montreal’s hills and blossoming trees and great names of Canada and Quebec. Maison Saint-Gabriel Museumand Historic Site is a 300 year-old house where travelers see rural life in the 17th century. 

Old Montreal is the city’s most popular visitor district. It’s where history literally bounces off the stone walls and winding streets.  You’ll find the historic Bonsecours Market where a contemporary grocery outlet operates inside its ancient walls. Shoppers find everything from continental snacks to dinners fit for the gourmand in 12,000 square feet of retail space. Sainte Helene Street is also living in her past, with old fashioned illumination by gaslight.  It cost plenty to give the street back its 19th century ambiance with refitted antique streetlights. 

For more trip planning visit




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Ruth Hill

Ruth Hill writes for magazines and newspapers about the business and pleasures of travel. Read more about her views and news of Christian heritage travel around the world at

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