Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 30, 2005
St-Norbert Church sites in Cap-Chat
Stone and granite sanctuary honours a barefoot, pious priest
St-Norbert — Feast Day June 6
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Cap-Chat is a picture-postcard little town, dominated by the massive stone church of St-Norbert.
It occupies low terraces overlooking the great St. Lawrence River where the Cap-Chat salmon river joins the estuary from its sources high in the Chic Choc Mountains. On coastal Highway 132, the town is in the Haute Gasp‚sie tourist area, not far from the larger community of Ste-Anne-des-Monts.
Huge grey cat
Cap-Chat and its river take their names from a nearby large conical hill that projects into the St. Lawerence. This cape, in turn, was named by Champlain in 1612 for a natural rock outcrop eroded into the amazingly realistic image of a huge upright grey cat, gazing out over the river, thus Cap-Chat.
St-Norbert Church, built in 1920 of massive grey stone and area granite, replaced two earlier wooden chapels and an 1875 church. It is cross-shaped in plan, its single tower capped by a silver-spired clocher.
Inside, the church is a brightly lit jewel, with three aisles and column-defined transepts. Pillars, statue-housing niches and the barrel-vault ceilings of nave, apse and transepts are all painted in off-white, trimmed and highlighted in gold.
Between Masses, it's a remarkable place in which to meditate. Focal point of the building is a large painting of the Transfiguration of Our Lord behind the altar.
Statues of conventional, well-loved Canadian saints, Our Lady, Joseph, Anne and others, are joined in the left-hand transept by a traditional wood carving of the patron, St. Norbert.
Norbert was born in Xanten in present-day Germany and enjoyed a youth of pleasure in the royal entourage. Then, thrown by his horse while riding, he experienced a sudden conversion.
After engaging in prayer, fasting and meditation, he entered the priesthood in 1115 and soon gave away all his possessions, travelling barefoot in rags and successfully preaching the Gospel wherever he went.
Norbert then founded a monastic community at Premonte‚ that practised great austerity. His movement spread, he was named a bishop and became a supporter of Pope Innocent II in a divisive schism in the Church.
Norbert died in 1134, worn out by his many activities.
Most visitors to the area will drive a few kilometres off the highway to view the town's namesake behind the hill of Cap-Chat. There, eroded from soft bedrock, the giant grey cat faces the colourful, squat, four-sided Cap-Chat lighthouse, stunted because of its natural elevation high above the St. Lawrence.
Although the tower itself is not open to the public, most visitors feel compelled to enjoy a light repast in the nautically-decorated former keeper's residence, now an attractive tearoom. Its many windows provide breathtaking vistas of the great estuary.
Afterwards, there are ornamental gardens to enjoy, as well as informative exhibits relating to the science of the immense wind turbines on the cape.
Back in town, the faithful are able to attend Mass twice a week and on weekends at St-Norbert. The 2,500 Catholics here share a pastor and liturgical schedules as part of a sector on the western edge of the Gasp‚ Diocese with the nearby communities of Ste-Anne-des-monts, Cap Seize and Tourelle.
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