Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 31, 2005
Placid setting belies the past
France and Britain fought for the boundary of the New World
St. Charles Borromeo – November 4
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Viewing the serene slow flowing Richelieu today with it's green banks and attractive little waterfront towns, it's difficult to believe this placid western Quebec stream was a regular route for warring nations.
Beginning with Samuel de Champlain in 1608, the 130-km long waterway witnessed the ebb and flow of the armies of France and Britain in an ongoing struggle for the riches of the New World.
Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu is one of a series of twin towns east of Montreal that adorn the lower river and form brilliant beads of urban life at 11-km intervals.
From Mont-Saint-Hilaire to Sorel on the St. Lawrence, no bridges cross the Richelieu, so that east bank Saint-Charles, like other riverside towns, is delicately tied to its twin (Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu) by a slender cable that guides a tiny, eight-car ferry that provides the only physical connection to the west bank. The town's 1,000 residents live beside Highway 133, the chemin des Patriotes.
War and fire delays
The parish of St-Charles-Borrom‚e was established in 1740 as part of the Diocese of Quebec and as early as 1750 plans were underway to replace a modest wooden chapel with a larger stone church. The ongoing war and fall of New France in 1760 caused delays so that the present building was not completed until 1820. More recently, St-Charles has been restored following an interior fire in 1922.
The church patron, although born into a life of privilege (he was named a cardinal at age 22 by his uncle Pope Pius IV), is best remembered for his reactions to the plague that almost destroyed Milan in 1576. As the city bishop, he accepted full responsibility for the physical and spiritual well-being of his flock, assuming virtual control of the city after the local government had fled.
His church on the Richelieu is noted for being one of the few remaining examples of classic traditional Regime francais architecture.
A simple stone structure, its distinguishing features include an enlarged apse and modest clocher. On the fa‡ade, high above the main doors, a statue portrays the saint in the garb of a simple priest, reverently presenting the Eucharistic bread and wine.
In the church cemetery are reminders of Saint-Charles' violent past. Entombed here are 24 men who died in the defence of the town during the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion.
Premature in its execution, the patriote action successfully captured nearby St-Denis, but the rebels were defeated two days later on Nov. 25 at Saint-Charles, an event that signalled the end of the uprising.
Visitors fortunate enough to enjoy a tour of the church with Parish Pastoral Agent Sister Lise Pion are able to view the great works of art that embellished the interior. Many are paintings by renowned Montreal artist Guido Nincheri (1895-1973), most noteworthy and impressive, a depiction above the altar of St. Charles distributing the Eucharist to plague victims in the streets of Milan.
The parish is now a part of the St-Hyacinthe Diocese and is closely associated with the church at St. Denis. Although Mass is celebrated only once each Sunday here and usually at least once during the week, both churches enjoy busy parish lives with a variety of active organizations.