Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 26, 2005
St. Marguerite attempted to imitate Mary
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys – January 12
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Much excitement prevailed in the streets of Old Montreal when, on April 24, 2005, the remains of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys were carried in procession from Notre Dame Basilica to the church that she founded 350 years earlier.
Finally, a permanent shrine, accessible to the public, would be established to honour "the Mother of the Colony" in famed Bon-Secours church.
Although it's obviously a monument to the life of St. Marguerite, it's unclear whether Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is primarily a shrine, an exquisite historical gem, a museum or an important archaeological site.
From deep, pre-European artifacts below to the traditional rooster topping its steeple, the place is an unique attraction for pilgrims to this ancient New World city.
To begin at the beginning, a tour of the archaeological site beneath the church with staffer Roget Laurin is a must. Here, experts in 1997 uncovered the very roots of the building in the form of ancient stone foundations and even evidence of pre-European occupation of the site.
In the dimly-lit space, remnants of the original walls of the settlement of Ville-Marie (of which the chapel formed part) are preserved.
These visible remains are part of the stone chapel completed after many delays by Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1675. Born in France in 1620, her life was dedicated to the education and care of the settlers and native people of the Montreal area.
She established schools in the colony, accepted newly arrived women into her home and in general cared for all she encountered, her desire being to adhere to the directions of the Scriptures. She also made three difficult voyages back to France to recruit followers for her newly-founded uncloistered Congregation of Notre Dame.
A woman known everywhere for her charity and compassion, Marguerite expressed a deep love of God and attempted to imitate Mary.
At her death in 1700, she was already considered to be a saint by the residents of Ville-Marie.
In the present chapel, built over the original foundations following a destructive fire in 1771, her tomb forms the altar in St. Joseph's Chapel.
Above the altar is the much venerated miraculous statue of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, a cherished gift to Marguerite from the baron de Fecamp in 1672.
A large woodcarving of the saint, fashioned in 1959 by Joseph Guardo is nearby, flanked by a model of the chapel she built.
The Marguerite Bourgeoys museum is connected to the chapel and contains many artifacts relating to the saint's life, a basement crypt and a fascinating room filled with tiny figures that tell the story of her life.
A must for visitors, before leaving the shrine, is a trek to the top of the chapel's unique apsidal tower, a landmark in the old city that, because it was originally on the waterfront, greeted arriving mariners to their Sailors Church of Bon-Secours.
It was capped by the original statue of Our Lady, Star of the Sea which faced out over the St. Lawrence and the port, her arms outstretched in welcome. It's been replaced by a replica, flanked by large, trumpet-bearing angels, but can be examined in the museum. Naturally, there's a fine panoramic view of the old city from this vantage point.
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours is situated on Saint-Paul Street East where another statue of Our Lady looks north from the end of Bon-Secours Street from high on the chapel fa‡ade.
The chapel and museum are open daily except Mondays during the summer season and Mass is celebrated daily year-round and in both English and French on weekends.