Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 15, 2004
Historic gem honours Joseph
172-year-old stone church houses the Death of St. Joseph art
St. Joseph -- Feast Day -- March 19
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
High on Pointe-Levy overlooking Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River, Saint Joseph's Church occupies a unique place in Canadian history. On this site, the first stone church on the great river's south shore was built in 1675 and, almost a century later, it witnessed dramatic events during the conquest of New France.
The church, St-Joseph-de-Lauzon, honoured Christ's earthly father and the community of Lauzon that took its name from the vast lands of the seigneury that it was situated on. This property was given in 1636 to Jean de Lauzon, later governor of New France.
The church, the first in North America dedicated to St. Joseph, also bears the name of Canada's patron saint. Joseph is considered to be a model of fatherhood and great faith.
A noble man
Although placed in an awkward position when Mary was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, he didn't question the angel's message that advised him that he was to be the foster-father of Christ. Little is said of Joseph's life in the Scriptures and he is mentioned only a few times - at the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt and at the Presentation.
He's portrayed in literature as a quiet, humble person, not just a carpenter, a human role model for the child Jesus, a protector of the family and a faithful practitioner of his religion.
During the English siege of Quebec in 1759, the heights of Pointe-Levy proved to be an ideal place from which to bombard the city. Nearby old Eglise St-Joseph was appropriated by the attackers to serve as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Unaware of how he had shaped the destiny of Canada, the body of General James Wolfe was solemnly carried here from the Plains of Abraham battlefield to repose in state before being transported by ship back overseas.
Cannon on guard
Reminders of those dramatic times are to be found in the area. West of the church, just off Rue Wolfe, an ancient cannon still points belligerently towards the city from the grounds of another church, Notre-Dame-de-Lévis.
The present church, renamed St-Joseph-de-la-Pointe-de-L‚vy, with its traditional grouping of institutional buildings - school, convent, presbytere - is just off Rue St-Joseph, a street of ancient residences and colourful hanging flower baskets. It was built in 1832 following destruction of the original church by fire, to a design from the school of noted architect Thomas Baillargé.
Inside, St. Joseph's is a historical gem, one of those airy Quebec churches whose white vaults are trimmed in patterned gold. The old reredos is guarded by a half-dozen lamp-bearing angels that surround a depiction of the saint holding the Christ child.
Also worth seeing is an unusual, 1848 rendition of The Death of Saint Joseph by Antoine Plamondon.
In 2002, the old church and its community became a part of the mega-municipality of Lévis. Now, with fewer clergy available to serve the people of the district, the parish of St-Joseph-de-Lévis includes four other area churches. Mass is celebrated daily and on weekends at each of these.
In addition to St. Joseph's, travellers can find other historic sites to visit in what was old Lauzon. Two little processional chapels face Rue St-Joseph near the church. Regularly used on the feast of Corpus Christi, Chapelle Ste-Anne was built in 1789 while Chapelle St-Francois Xavier dates from 1823. There's also a statue of Guillaume Couture, traditional founder of Lauzon.
Tourisme Lévis also promotes visits to the nearby parish churches of Notre-Dame and St-Antoine. And, of course, vintage Levis/old Lauzon is just a short ferry ride from the capital of Quebec City.