Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 2004
Look for mismatched bell towers
Eglise St-Michel marries Byzantine and Romanesque styles, bell towers that are mismatched
St. Michael - - Feast day - - September 29
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Many in the crowd streaming out of Eglise St-Michel paused, then stopped, riveted in their places, to join their voices in encores of familiar tunes rendered with enthusiasm by the talented guest pianist/soloist. From up the coast, she is always a popular addition to Eucharistic celebrations here.
St. Michael's is a welcoming sanctuary. Although the Church was almost filled for the late-summer 5 p.m. Saturday Mass, visitors were quickly assured that the prominent, pew-end family name tags were holdovers from another era, and that all worship wherever they please in this attractive house of God.
Perhaps its position, at the foot of sacred Mont Ste-Anne and overlooking scenic South Cove with its famous pierced rock causes residents to enjoy an open, relaxed lifestyle in tune with their faith, the sea and the mountains of Gasp‚sie.
High rock with a hole
Perc‚, on the Eastern tip of Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula, is an historic place. In July 1534, explorer Jacques Cartier anchored here and 70 years later, Samuel de Champlain described his "Isle Percee" as "a very high rock with a hole."
A chapel, the first on the peninsula, was built here in 1686, burnt down four years later by English adventurer Phipps, and then succeeded by a series of three more wooden churches.
Today's St-Michel de Perce, at the upper end of attractive, tree-shaded Rue de I'Eglise was dedicated in 1905. It's of an unusual design for the area, being mixed Romanesque and Byzantine styles and constructed of distinctive red sandstones and conglomerates. The mismatched, pinnacled bell towers are a prominent local landmark. From its Calvary, on a little hill in the adjacent cemetery, there are breathtaking panoramic vistas and seascapes.
Patron of the Perc‚ church is St. Michael the Archangel, militant defender of the faith and arch enemy of fallen angels. He is usually portrayed as winged and armour-clad with shield and sword or lance, sometimes piercing the powers of darkness in the guise of a dragon.
The church once celebrated Sept. 29 as Michaelmas Day, but now the feast is shared with those other great archangels, Gabriel and Raphael. Many Canadian churches honour Michael as their patron.
Because of its designation in 1973 as a classified historic site, thus evading some Vatican II requirements, St-Michel retains an impressive array of statues, particularly surrounding the choir, where some 20 saints, from Luke to Stanislas Koska, overlook the old singers' stalls.
Dominating this half-circle of figures, the parish namesake in effigy occupies a position high above the original altar.
The parish has a close association with the grandmother of Christ.
As early as 1619, Recollet missionaries placed a cross 340 metres above the town on the summit of Mont Ste-Anne, and since 1892 when a three metre high wooden statue of Mary's mother was placed there, the site has been the focus of pilgrimages, particularly on the saint's feast day when each July 26 a well-attended open-air Mass is celebrated. After 70 years on the mountain, the weathered statue now occupies a place of honour in Ste-Anne's chapel in the church, replaced at the summit by a concrete replica.
St-Michel Parish is now combined with four other costal churches under Pastor Remi Bouchard. Weekend Mass is celebrated here Saturday evening, with an afternoon Eucharist on Wednesdays. Adjacent to the church and with it a featured stop on Perc‚'s Achitectural Heritage Trail is the former 1894 rectory, now a popular B & B, Le Gite Le Presbytere.
Parish events noted in the weekly bulletin conclude with a friendly wish for visitors - "Bonne Semaine tous," "Have a good week."