Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 2004
Steepled church guided mariners
Wrapped in history, this fieldstone church honours Santa Lucia
St. Lucy — December 13
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Dominating a low point of land between the St. Lawrence River and a little bay, an attractive fieldstone church flanks the village of Ste.-Luce-sur-Mer.
The historic parish church of Ste.-Luce, in Quebec's Bas-St.-Laurent (Lower St. Lawrence) region is less than a day out of Quebec City and just 17 km from the Cathedral City of Rimouski. It's one of a string of picturesque steepled church landmarks that for centuries guided mariners for hundreds of kilometers along the river's south shore.
A summer place
The town is a popular summer cottage resort, with long ornate curving promenade Anse aux Coques flanking a broad sand beach along Cockle Bay south of the church.
Named for the fourth century martyr and to honour an early seigneuresse, Paroisse Ste.-Luce-de-Rimouski dates from 1829.
The building is a typical Canadian Recollect-style church without transepts and was designed by noted regional architect Thomas Baillarge.
Although the first Mass was celebrated in 1840, final completion of Ste.-Luce had to wait on major renovations in 1887 and addition of the elegant tower and fa‡ade in 1914.
Mass is celebrated daily at Ste.-Luce and the church is open for viewing everyday in the summer months. It's popular with tourists, particularly since it was named a Provincial Historic Site in 1955.
Inside the barrel-vaulted nave, large stained-glass windows are a dominant feature, with themes ranging from Jacques Cartier's landing at Gaspe, to the blessed Marie de l'Incarnation with children to St. Remi baptizing French King Clovis. Centerpiece of the church is the large 1842 painting by Antoine Plamondon that hangs behind the altar.
In it, St. Lucy is portrayed visiting the tomb of St. Agnes with her mother who was suffering from an internal illness. After a miraculous cure was experienced, Lucy was determined to devote herself to charitable pursuits.
A lover's betrayal
She began to distribute her wealth to the poor, causing an envious and mercenary suitor to betray her as a Christian to the Roman authorities.
The saint is one of the best-known virgin-martyrs, killed at Syracuse in Sicily during persecutions by Diocletian. Her name means "light" and her feast day is celebrated during the darkest part of the year.
She is the patron of a variety of trades and sales peoples and is evoked for relief from eye and throat diseases. St. Lucy is routinely figured and associated with eyes in connection with her name and is the famous Santa Lucia of song and Venetian gondoliers.
The town of 1,500 takes its name from the parish. Ste.-Luce-sur-Mer alludes to its position on the shore of the great, 47 kilometer-wide "sea", Le Fleuve-St.-Laurent (the St. Lawrence Estuary) which dominates the northern horizon.
Behind the church, beside a little cemetery, a pathway through tall shore grasses leads to a beach, blue with windrows of mussel shells. There, a simple sign is a reminder of a great tragedy associated with the river.
Just offshore at a point indicated, the liner Empress of Ireland, only a few hours out of Quebec City, was rammed and sank in fourteen minutes on the night of May 29, 1914 with the loss of 1014 lives.
Particularly poignant in this, Canada's deadliest marine disaster, was the decimation of the country's Salvation Army leadership, en-route to an overseas conference.
Under public pressure, operations to salvage cargo from the ship were halted in 1998. The wreck was designated an historic resource and is now a popular recreational dive site.
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