On Sunday afternoon, our choir sang here. This is the Oratoire St-Joseph, a huge Roman Catholic shrine and basilica on the side of our local mountain, Mont Royal, overlooking the north-western side of the city.
This was the view in the early afternoon, before our rehearsal began. Starting at the parking lot far below this terrace at the top of the building are sets of steps, which pilgrims climb up on their knees. I walked up, but once inside the building I used the escalator -- the most devout go all the way aux genoux. Below the main sanctuary is another chapel, and a shrine room filled with high banks of flickering votive candles, and the crutches of those who believed themselves to be healed by Brother André, founder of this shrine to St. Joseph. Brother André, credited with two "official" miracles but believed by millions to have healed many more, was made Saint André by the pope last year, and the Oratory -- whose grandeur I doubt that simple man could have ever imagined -- is a site of pilgrimage for people from all over the world and one of the most-visited sites in Montreal.
The occasion was a service celebrating 40 years of dialogue between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and it was mainly about and for the clergy who have been involved with this mutual listening project over the years. We had been asked by the Bishop of Montreal to represent the Anglicans, and we sang both separately and together with Les Petits Chanteurs, the boys' choir resident at the Oratory.
Along with the clergy, we robed in a huge sacristy to the side of the main altar. This is part of our group, getting ready off in one corner of the room.
There were bishops. Lots of bishops.
I quite like the design of the Oratory; some don't. It's very modern, and feels Germanic, which is perhaps odd for Montreal where most of the Catholic churches are ornate, French, and rather baroque. This building has a number of large expressionist wood carvings, extremely beautiful ironwork (the central grille in the photo below, for instance, and you can see some candle stands at the bottom far left), many glittering mosaics (on either side of the grille) and a gigantic organ.
Here's the boys' choir rehearsing; we were seated beyond them on those semicircular benches, behind the crucifix in front of the grille. That rod and semi-circle at the left are a suspension system holding a number of tiny microphones.
They sang Bruckner's "Locus iste," a great piece; they sang the notes well, but (it seemed to me) without much conviction or feeling. We sang a Magnificat and a big Victorian number for double choir, "Hail Gladdening Light," by Charles Wood. In the Oratory's acoutsic, it was quite thrilling to hear our voices, and their overtones, reverberating for many seconds after we had finished the last chord.
And here's the view when I left after the service, around 6:00 pm. I walked down, and by the time I reached my car my knees were protesting a lot! Down a mountain is always worse, for me, than up -- somehow I don't think Saint Andre will be fixing my old ski injuries anytime soon. But one of the great pleasures of singing in this choir is the occasional chance to perfom in different venues and circumstances; this was fun.