CHEMIN DU ROY
CAP DE LA MADELEINE
It's a good job that I noticed the sign for the Chemin du Roy just after the Canadian Tire place, because The Lady Who Lives In The SatNav wasn't going to send me down past here, and this was what I had come to see.
This town where I am right now is known as Cap de la Madeleine and the place where I am parked is a site of some important religious significance.
But before I start the guided tour of the site, let me just recount a little incident that happened here. Someone in a car pulled up alongside me and asked me if I could direct them to the nearest grocery shop. As if I am ever likely to know!
But why that stuck in my mind is because it reminded me of one of my little trips to Oostende in Belgium back in the early 1980s and someone asked me if I could tell them where such-and-such a street was. Opening my mouth and starting to speak bad Flemish in a British accent, he recoiled immediately, saying
"no no no. That's okay. I'll ask someone who knows the area"
Back in those days I knew Oostende quite well and the look of bewilderment on his face as I, a foreigner, gave him, a local, the directions made me resolve to always wander around with a camera at the ready.
Cap de la Madeleine is a headland at the mouth of the Riviere St Maurice where it enters the St Lawrence. The view here is certainly impressive and they certainly picked a nice spot to build the church. In fact the river plays an important role in the significance of this particular site.
What you might be able to see in the distance is the spire of the church of St Gregoire over there in Becancour. It's about 175 feet tall and easily the most impressive landmark over there.
I'm obliged to go a-wandering through the park to look for the building that I have come to see. Mind you, it was a nice day for it back in 2011, wasn't it? It wasn't so nice when I passed by here in 2012
While I'm wandering around the park, let me tell you a little about the site just here. We have to turn the clock back to the mid-17th Century and the practice that was quite current back in those days of the French missionaries who had taken it upon themselves to convert the First Nation inhabitants to Christianity. It was here that the converted set up a shrine to Mary Magdelene.
In fact it is really quite ironic that this site began as a religious site belonging to the First Nation Canadians, for the town of Cap de la Madeleine was founded in 1635 by a Jesuit priest, Jacques Buteux, and his ultimate fate was to be butchered by the Iroquois during one of the many "incidents" that occurred along the banks of the St Lawrence back in those days.
As an aside, it has often been said that the horrific stories that the Jesuits wrote of the atrocities committed by the Iroquois on the European settlers back in the early days played a major role in discouraging many potential colonists from emigrating from France to the New World. Allan Greer in his book The People of New France recounts that on one occasion a party of emigrants passing through some village in Normandy on their way to an emigrant ship at Rouen were "detained" by the inhabitants in order to save them from their certain fate.
When this area was finally settled permanently by European colonists in the early 18th Century they took over the First Nation's religious site and between 1714 and 1717 a stone chapel was built here.
Nestled in the trees we find the stone chapel, looking quite peaceful in the shade. This is the building that I have come to see. You might think that it is not as impressive as many other religious buildings that we have seen, but of course size is not everything, as the bishop once famously replied to the actress.
Many people however disagree, and think that size counts for everything.In 1850 a new priest, Luc Desliets, was appointed to the parish and he set out to popularise the site. He put so much effort into it that by 1878 he reckoned that he needed a much larger church.
A source of stone was found, but this was on the south bank of the river. "Not a problem" said our hero. In winter the river would freeze over just as it always does every winter and the stone could be brought over quite easily.
But before I continue with my story, there's something over there I would like to have a look at.
Taking a pause in our little story, we can admire the statue of the Calvary at Golgotha with a representation of the tomb of Jesus underneath.
Seeing this, I am reminded of a delightful story that I once heard about how several sculptors were approached to submit their ideas of what a statue of the Calvary should resemble. One of the sculptors who was approached was from Ireland, and he submitted a drawing of John Wayne on his horse.
But you haven't come here to listen to me talking nonsense. We are tiptoeing here, not through the tulips but through a collection of statues in the park. I can't tell you much about these statues as I have no particular religious education, but basically there are two types of statue.
The first type of statue is what is known in Catholic circles as le Chemin du Croix, the "Path to the Cross". This is something that is regularly depicted in Catholic churches, usually by medieval paintings depicting a series of "approved" scenes of events that led up to the crucifixion. Here in this park, these are depicted by statues.
Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we have encountered le Chemin du Croix before, but in completely different and rather shameful circumstances .
The other group of statues represents the Mysteries of the Rosary and don't ask me what this is all about because I don't have the slightest idea. All I do know is that it is represented in the park by 15 bronze statues that came from France during the period 1906-1910.
And which statues are le Chemin du Croix and which are the Mysteries of the Rosary? Well, you'll have to work that out for yourselves. I don't have a clue.
Anyway, back to our story. We left it with Father Desliets waiting for the St Lawrence to freeze over, as it always did in winter, so that he could bring his stones across to the north bank.
And he waited … and waited … and waited … and waited … because one thing upon which Father Desliets had not counted was the fact that the winter of 1878 was one of the mildest on record and the St Lawrence simply didn't freeze when it was supposed to.
So much for his ice bridge for transporting his stone across to the north bank.
He considered this to be a sign of Divine Intervention and so he vowed that whatever happened, he would not rebuild or enlarge the church. What happened next was, as you can no doubt imagine, that on 16th March 1879 the weather turned extremely cold and the river froze over.
Father Desliets brought his stone over to the north bank of the river on his ice bridge, that he named the "Pont des Chapelets" and as soon as the last load of stone was across, the weather warmed up again and the ice bridge melted. However, he did keep his vow not to tamper with the church.
Having given further thought to all of these events, he came to the conclusion that what had happened had been nothing short of a miracle and he was proud to install in his chapel a statue of the Virgin Mary that one of his parishioners had given him, although why a statue of the Virgin Mary when the site is dedicated and named after Mary Magdelene is something that has gone right over my head, I'm afraid. And in view of the miracle of the ice bridge, 1883 the site was formally recognised as a site of pilgrimage and the crowds began to flock here, firstly by boat and later by train, hence the significance of the railway line that we saw just now .
You've probably noticed in the last few photographs as we have been ambling around that there is some kind of lake here in the park, with a little bridge over one end. This is said to be symbolic and to represent Father Desliets' ice bridge, the "Pont des Chapelets".
I should mention that a good deal of my work is said to be symbolic. Some of it is said to be "sym" while the rest is said to be … errr … something else completely.
We haven't finished with our story yet, by the way. If that isn't enough to be going on with, our Father Desliets, a sick pilgrim by the name of Pierre Lacroix and Father Frédéric Jansoone (who we encountered in Trois Rivières ) , described by his own biographer as having "a talent for selling", who had been recognised by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Québec for "his knowledge and skill in presentation" and who had been invited to Québec to "promote the shrines of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Sainte-Ann-de-Beaupré and Cap-de la-Madeleine, interest in which had been flagging" reported that in their presence one night in June 1888, the statue of the Virgin Mary opened its eyes - just as yours probably did when you read this story.
Maybe she was simply astonished to find herself in the place where Mary Magdalene should have been, or perhaps our famous Father Frédéric Jansoone, using his talents described above, persuaded her to do so. Who knows?
Of course, that was that. What had started as a trickle then became a stream and then turned into a flood of pilgrims, all hoping that maybe they could witness a miracle or that some of the miraculous properties of the site could rub off on them. The fame of the shrine, and also that of Father Frédéric Jansoone, with his "talent for selling", "his knowledge and skill in presentation" and not to forget his mission to "promote the shrine of … Cap-de la-Madeleine, interest in which had been flagging", was assured.
As I mentioned just now, we had ferry terminals, railway lines, railway stations and today, huge car parks, all that kind of thing at Cap-de-la-Madeleine as people rushed here by their thousand.
I've no idea what this concrete structure or artificial island might be just here in the St Lawrence but I'm going to make an inspired guess. Seeing as there is mention of a ferryboat terminal, I wonder if this object in the river might have been it - with a wooden walkway down to ths shore. In the absence of any other information, then that's what my guess would be.
Now, having set the scene, let me tell you the most astonishing thing about the entire set-up here at Cap de la Madeleine, and it is so astonishing that no-one could ever make this up.
We have mentioned the odd bit of irony every now and again in our story, but the most ironical thing about this whole place is the following.
You may recall that Father Desliets wanted to enlarge the original church in order to welcome all of the visitors that he had attracted here, and the whole point about the place is to do with the Divine Intervention that prevented him from so doing. And so in that case what do you make of this building below?
Yes, in an irony that has clearly gone right over the head of the Catholic religious authorities in Québec, The Miracle of Divine Intervention that persuaded Father Desliets not to enlarge his church has resulted in the modern-day Catholic hierarchy building a larger church in order to welcome all of the visitors who have come to visit the site of the Miracle that prevented a larger church being built.
No Divine Intervention this time of course. If there is a God, he probably took one look at the plans, said
"Well, I told them before and I'm not going to tell them again"
and stormed off, taking his mysterious ways with him.
No wonder that in modern times, there are many so-called devout people complaining that God seems to have abandoned them, when the contemporary religious authorities have totally ignored the messages that they have been given and have given prominence instead to satisfying their own temporal egos and ambitions. If it wasn't so tragic, it would really be laughable.
It's at times and places like this that Oliver Cromwell's famous
"Ye have no more religion than my horse"
comes into my head.
The history of this modern monstrosity is that it was just after World War II that the decision was taken to build a larger place of worship at the back of the site, although what it is that they intended to worship, having totally ignored the Word of God, is a matter of conjecture.
The architect (if that is the correct word to describe the person who imagined this kind of building) Adrien Dufresne, who had studied architecture under the Benedictine monks (and that might explain some of it - a heavy evening the night before with the cheese board and a collection of Hammer Horror films might explain the rest) was engaged.
Construction began in 1955 and the building was opened in 1964. It rises to a height of about 245 feet and has a capacity of 1800 people. Described by some as being "elegant" and by others as "magnificent" (which makes me wonder what it is that they drink around here in the long winter nights), my own opinion is that it's a classic example of the Donald Gibson School of Wanton Vandalism and Dufresne clearly took as his inspiration Basil Spence's "concrete monstrosity" or "horror" or "aesthetic outrage" or even "super-cinema" which pleased Gibson so much back in Coventry just after World War II.
Before Sir Basil Spence (he was knighted for inter alia his design of Coventry Cathedral - many however reckoned that he should have been doctored) designed his magnum opus, he was famous as the designer of exhibition buildings. And if Dufresne did take Spence's design for his inspiration, then that explains the layout of the building.
There is said to be an unobstructed view of the altar from all points within the nave, and given the appearance of the outside of the building, I think that this is probably to be regretted. I don't know who it is that designed the interior fittings but I would have loved to have had the time to go inside and see their representation of Mammon, clearly visible from all points within the nave, on the altar. It's certainly quite symbolic that the church (if that is the right term to use) is not built in the form of a Cross, or any other religious symbol.
All of this is more than enough for me and so I reckon that it is time for me to hit the road, Jacques. Or at least have something to eat because it's rather late.
However, before I go, who is this short-legged little badger in the photo just here? It's amazing the effects that a bright shaft of light and a convex surface can have every now and again, but I'm not going to put this one in the family album, that's for sure.
A red car too. That means that this is a 2011 photograph. In 2012 we had a black car
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