Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Montreal's enormous basilica (the largest in Canada) has more to offer than just a beautiful vista of the city or a soaring, brutalist nave: it has the heart of a saint.
Still in the Halloween spirit? At Montréal's Oratoire Sant-Joseph, Canada's largest church, you can honor both the original and contemporary meanings of the holiday with a visit to Brother André, the Québécois religious brotherwho was canonized in 2010.
Though Brother André died in 1937, his body—and, separately, his heart—are interred in the enormous Catholic
basilica so that visitors can pay their respects. An enormously popular
figure during his life, Brother André was credited with the ability to
heal the sick, and  when he died, roughly one million people visited his
open casket for the six days it was on display at the Oratoire. In the votive
chapel, where Brother André's body is buried, visitors can see the walls
decorated with the canes of those helped by the Québécois saint.
%image2 Stored separately, in an area of the basilica called the Great
Reliquary, visitors can also see Brother André's heart, kept in a preserving
solution in a glass container that looks very much like a jar. The practice
of venerating the bodies of saints is a very old one, dating back to the
earliest days of Christianity. In the Middles Ages, as more and more European
pilgrims sought out these relics, many churches decided—both for reasons of
practicality and to encourage economic growth—to share these holy objects
when possible, often by dividing the remains. The reliquary containing the
heart of Brother André is a part of that tradition. So sacred (and thus
valuable) an object, the heart was stolen and held for ransom in 1973. The
Oratoire refused to pay, and after two years an anonymous call placed to a
prominent Montréal lawyer revealed the location: in the original container,
in a seal box, inside another box, inside a storage locker, in an apartment
building. Police never found the thieves. Though Brother André's heart
alone warrants a visit, the basilica's striking and severe modernist
architecture, as well as a splendid view of the city from the top of its 283
stairs, make the trip well worth it. Take a peek into the basilica's small
museum, accessible from the gift shop, for a midcentury look at another holy
man: life-size dioramas that tell the story of Saint Joseph. You might find
yourself feeling a little more saintly than when you arrived.
Montreal's enormous basilica (the largest in Canada) has more to offer
than just a beautiful vista of the city or a soaring, brutalist nave: it has
the heart of a saint.

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