Description of Historic Place
Saint Joseph’s Oratory National Historic Site of Canada is a vast Roman Catholic pilgrimage site located on the north slope of Mount Royal in the city of Montréal, Québec. Dominated by a large domed basilica, the site is a landmark visible for miles around. Pilgrims progress through the gated entrance, along a sacred path and Way of the Cross, which traverses a garden on the east boundary, towards a grouping of buildings of which the basilica is the focus. The official recognition refers to the entire cultural landscape with its planned landscape features, church, crypt, two chapels, and subsidiary structures.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2003 because:
- it is an exceptional pilgrimage site devoted to Saint Joseph which was conceived by Brother André, beginning as a modest chapel built for that purpose, and rapidly expanding into the present-day oratory;
- of the oratory’s distinctive architecture, specifically the dome, which conveys an imposing physical and symbolic presence in a mountainside landscape noted for its sacred path and Way of the Cross;
- of the oratory’s exceptional national and international reputation as an enduring religious and tourist destination.
The heritage value of this site resides in its spiritual meaning and associated history as illustrated by the evolved cultural landscape comprised of gardens and buildings, with the Basilica as its focus. Value also resides in the integration of its built features with their setting within the natural landscape of Mount Royal.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory originated with the construction of a small chapel conceived by Brother André and built by Brother Abundius from 1904 to 1912. This modest beginning was expanded throughout the first half of the 20th century with the assistance of many major architects and artists including landscape gardener Frederick G. Todd (garden, 1943-1946), architects Lucien Parent with Dom Paul Bellot and Ernest Cormier (basilica dome, 1937 and votive chapel 1946-1949 respectively), Louis Parent and Ercolo Barbiere (Way of the Cross, 1943-1953 and 1952-1958 respectively). Today it is a complex landscape with many parts, dominated by the Basilica (1924-1966), which was designed by architects Dalbé Viau and Alphonse Venne and decorated by artists Gérard Notebaert and Jean-Claude Leclerc.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, July 2003.
Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- its location on the north side of Mount Royal in the city of Montréal;
- the integrity of the cultural landscape focused around the crypt and Basilica as follows:
- the axial Beaux-Arts organization of its formal landscaped processional route through the gateway, along the sacred path and up the 283 steps leading to the parvis of the Oratory;
- the kiosk-flanked entrance facing the statue of Saint Joseph set in its green roundabout;
- the Beaux-Arts style Oratory comprised of the crypt and the Basilica in its central location;
- the classically-inspired, limestone-faced crypt with its flat roof, five equally spaced arched windows, prominent cornice, balanced side pavilions and dual circular staircases leading to the monumental granite-faced Basilica;
- the Italian Renaissance-inspired design of the Basilica in it cruciform plan, columned and pedimented façade, huge vaulted nave, the subdued decor of the interior with stylized elements and stained glass windows created by well-known artists, the elaborately decorated Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, the eight-sided copper-clad dome, topped by a lantern and cross, and surrounded by four turrets with conical roofs;
- the large esplanade with two porticos extending from the Basilica’s west side;
- the original wooden Chapel in its location at the south end of the property beside the statue of Brother André, with its small scale, bell tower, buttressed and arcaded façade and tole-work cladding adorned with votive offerings, original alter and communion table, and Brother André’s second-storey room;
- the Crypt complex with the Votive Chapel behind linking with the Basilica, the attached Secretariat, and the General Office in their massing and location;
- the site’s comprehensive range of discretely placed and modestly scaled pilgrimage facilities;
- the Way of the Cross set on a promontory to the east of the Basilica within a landscaped garden with 42 large limestone statues set in treed islets linked by winding paths;
- its continued use as a pilgrimage site;
- viewscapes of the Basilica’s dome from the surrounding neighbourhoods.