Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 7, 2005
St. Leo debated Attila the Hun
Quebec church takes its name from a great Pope
St. Leo the Great – November 10
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
With its well-preserved church of the same name, Saint-Léon-le-Grand is one of the jewels of Quebec's north shore Mauricie region.
Its 1,000 residents live not far to the northwest of the regional capital of Trois-Rivieres and some eight kilometres from Highways 138 and 40 that connect Montreal and Quebec City along the St. Lawrence River, widening here to form Lac Saint-Pierre.
The town and parish take their names from an important early Church leader, one of the four popes designated as Great. Much of Pope Leo I's life was spent countering a series of Eastern heresies and insisting on the dual nature of Christ.
An extraordinary theologian, he is recognized as a doctor of the Church, but is popularly remembered for his encounter with Attila in 452 when he was able to dissuade the Hun leader from occupying Rome.
He also deserves recognition for his efforts in easing the sufferings of the people of Rome after their city had been looted three years later by Vandal Genseric.
Leo directed the rebuilding of the city and provided spiritual help to captives in Africa. He believed it was the responsibility of the papacy to exert a stabilizing influence on the lay world.
The Quebec church named for him was dedicated in 1824 and, although relatively young by regional standards, is the oldest in the Trois-Rivieres Diocese.
In 1914, the building was lengthened 12 metres with a new fa‡ade that incorporated a bell tower that is dramatically accented with three tall, narrow stained glass windows. The attractive, light grey coloured stone church is situated, naturally enough, on Rue Principal, its prominent silver clocher and spire visible for long distances.
In recognition of its historic importance, additional restoration of St-Léon's was undertaken in 1998-2002 though the auspices of the Foundation de Patrimoine Culturel et Religieux du Quebec.
Visitors here are made most welcome by Parish Pastoral Agent Rene Lupien who knows his church intimately and points out that much of the original d‚cor has been carefully maintained.
The simple floor plan is modified by a semi-circular apse with an elaborately decorated half-dome ceiling. Architects and sculptors from nearby Yamachiche created the elaborate church interior, the altar and pulpit. The prize of the parish however, is the organ, the 72nd produced by Casavant et freres of St-Hyacinthe, de style romantic, installed here in 1896.
An honoured saint
Above and behind an elaborate baldachino and reredos, a sculpted St. Leo carries a triple-crossed crozier and is crowned with a lightbulb illuminated halo. His deep golden brown robes contrast dramatically with two pale blue-clad attending angels. The saint is also portrayed in white robes (said to have been worn at his encounter with Attila) in a richly decorated processional banner near the church doorway.
Two weekend Masses and one or two during the week are celebrated at St. Léon while many parochial activities are shared with seven other area churches. Because of its historical identification, the building is open most days and in summer, tours are offered to visitors. Excellent acoustics also make the church a popular venue for secular and religious musical productions.
St. Léon's parish fete patrimonial late in the year is an important event at the church, as is the annual autumn pilgrimage to the Saint-Léon-le-Grand cemetery to fete the dead and the saints. Specifically remembered at this time, are those who passed on in the current year. Participants can't fail to be moved by a terse request on one monument here - Une Priere S.V.P.