Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 9, 2006
King criticized for being too generous
St. Lawrence River historic church honours St. Edward
St Edward – October 13
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
The gentle and generous St. Edward gives a begger his ring behind golden rereodos.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Those seeking historic, saintly King Edward the Confessor will find him honoured in the attractive St. Lawrence River south shore parish of Saint Edouard-de-Gentilly.
This is a church steeped in tradition and ancient enough to be included in historian Luc Noppen's noted tome Les Eglises du Quebec (1600-1850). Near Trois Rivieres, Gentilly has been incorporated into the expanded community of B‚cancour in the coeur du Quebec tourist region.
The church patron is one of England's better known kings by name at least. Edward, son of King Ethelred and Norman Queen Emma, reigned between 1042 and 1066 and departed this world just months before the country passed into Norman hands.
He has been criticized for being too generous to his Norman friends and too preoccupied with his spiritual life to have served as an effectual ruler. Nevertheless, his personal devotion and his accessibility, charity and concern for the poor were well known and his title Confessor refers to his routinely bearing witness to Christ.
Built and buried
Edward built and was buried in Westminster Abbey, the first in a succession of royal burials and coronations there. He was canonized in 1161.
His death precipitated the Norman Conquest, basically a struggle between two aspirants to the English crown - Harold Godwinson and Duke William of Normandy.
The contest was decided in the Normans' favour at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Seven hundred years later, residents of Gentilly in far off New France first attended Mass by crossing the river by boat to the north shore settlement of Champlain. Their first church, built in 1784, lasted for 61 years until replaced by the present structure.
It was 1857 before the impressive clocher was put up and there have been other intermittent renovations and restorations of the building.
Over its long life the church had the advantage of the workmanship of a who's-who of Quebec architects and artisans - Thomas Baillairge, Louis Caron, Raphael Giroux and his sons. It became a classified historic monument in 1962.
The church and its associated rectory are impressive landmarks on quiet, tree-bordered av. des Hirondelles. In particular, the three-towered fa‡ade, although only dating from 1907, is an attractive, welcoming feature of the historic west-facing edifice.
Inside, Saint-Edouard's off-white interior is embellished, from ceiling to floor with gold trim. Focal points of the sanctuary are the original altar and golden reredos bac ked by the church's treasure, an 1869 painting by Eugene Hamel that shows the holy king standing in front of his new Westminster Abbey.
He has removed a valuable ring from his finger and is giving it to a destitute man. The story is told of how, years later, the ring was given to English pilgrims in the Holy Land with a request to return it to the king and warn him of his impending death.
The painting serves as an appropriate commentary on the saint's reputation for charity, often giving his own belongings away.
Always conscious of their long history, in 1999 parishioners observed the 150th anniversary of their church with a full slate of festivities, including hosting dignitaries from Gentilly, France.
Then two years later, more celebrations revolved around the 325th anniversary of the Seigneurie de Gentilly, namesake of the town and church.
More recently, homage was paid in 2005 to artist and native son Adolphe Rho (Raux) on the centenary of his death. He was responsible for much of the bas-relief decoration in the church as well as statuary here and in the nearby cemetery.
With some 3,000 members, Saint-Edouard's continues to exist as a healthy, living part of the Diocese of Nicolet.