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Issue 13 – Christ the King 2022

Brass Rubbings

Teenage Graffiti Doodles

On Montréal.


Montréal is a city of churches. Almost two hundred (just counting the Catholic ones) anchor the island’s neighborhoods: Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs in Verdun, Saint-Charles in Pointe-Saint-Charles, Saint-Jean-Baptiste in the Plateau, Saint-Édouard in Petite-Patrie, Saint-Denis on Laurier, and on and on. Spires mark the street grid like pins in a map; monumental façades front squares, parks, and metro entrances. The churches and their associated rectories, convents, and schools reflect the patchwork of the island’s ethnic origins. The church of Madonna della Difesa in Little Italy, for instance, features among its frescoes a certain Italian head of state of the 1930s, in military garb and on horseback—a legacy of the propaganda efforts of the fascist regime among the overseas diaspora. The Romanesque church is still surrounded by pizzerias and pasticcerias. Closer to the heart of town, at the green-bedazzled Saint Patrick’s, built for the Irish, Mass is still celebrated in English. 

Out of the swirl of the city’s Catholic—and other—identities rises the Oratory of Saint Joseph of Mount Royal. It’s a church at the scale of the island, typifying the city’s paradoxes: an international pilgrimage site prompted by the devotion of a Quebecker de souche. A Catholic place of prayer in the care of a French religious order, nestled on the anglophone side of the bilingual city’s mountain. A grand monument with a working-class ethos: it was constructed in the Depression and dedicated to Joseph the Worker. The dome is an icon in the city skyline, but even its base is so far from street level that people seem more likely to cross continents than neighborhoods to worship in it. 

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About the author

Madeline Johnson