The largest church building in Canada and a National Historic Site, the Saint Joseph’s Oratory is an impressive and very popular basilica on Mount Royal.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
Standing nearly 130 metres tall and able to fit 10,000 people inside of it, the Saint Joseph’s Oratory is quite an imposing structure. Its size is made more impressive-looking by the fact that the building is located on the Westmount Summit of Mount Royal, at 3800 Queen Mary Road.
The top of the church’s dome is over 30 metres above the peak of Mount Royal, the highest point of elevation for any building in Montreal. There is actually a rule in Montreal’s building code prohibiting any structures from reaching the height of Mount Royal, but the Oratory is one of the few granted exceptions to this rule.
The Main Features of the Oratory
The Saint Joseph’s Oratory has drastically changed multiple times since it was established over a century ago. The original church opened in 1904, stood at just 4.5 metres by 5.5 metres – many, many times smaller than it is now. That first structure does still exist today, though it is now well away from the main grounds where the modern basilica stands.
The oldest big section of the current building is the Crypt Church. It has Crypt in its name because it is underneath the main basilica and has a lower, curved ceiling. 1,000 people can seat themselves in the Crypt Church and this sanctuary has held services for over a century.
The 1940s saw the construction of the Votive Chapel, which serves two purposes. The first is to link the Crypt Church with the newer upper floors of the basilica. The second is to provide a resting place for Brother André, the founder of the Saint Joseph’s Oratory and one of the most important figures in French-Canadian Catholicism.
Brother André is the first post-Confederation Canadian to be canonized by the Catholic Church. His tomb lies in an alcove in the centre of the Votive Chapel. The chapel contains 10,000 candles including 3,500 votive candles, from which it gets its name.
The main Basilica is also known as the Shrine. It took over 40 years to fully construct from start to finish, though it did open for services during that period. The Shrine is massive, with seating for over 2,000 people and the ability to fit up to 10,000 total.
The exterior of the building is just as impressive as the interior. The Oratory has the largest church dome in Canada with the outer dome measuring nearly 40 metres in diameter. There is also a second inner dome in the Shrine (it is around 25 metres in diameter).
The Oratory is quite an awe-inspiring structure. It’s taller than many famous churches such as France’s Notre Dame Cathedral and England’s Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Visiting Saint Joseph’s
The Oratory is open to visitors every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is no admission fee to visit the site, though there is a $5 parking fee if you drive there.
While the Oratory does not run guided tours itself, it does allow various companies to run tours on its premises. These guided tours last for around 90 minutes (or 150 minutes if they include a visit to the Oratory Museum).
Masses at Saint Joseph’s
Masses at Saint Joseph’s Oratory are open to the public. The Crypt Church has seven daily masses from Mondays to Saturdays (six in French, one in English), and four masses every Sunday (two in French and two in English). The main Basilica has three masses every Sunday (two in French, one in Spanish).
Even if you aren’t able to make it to the Oratory you can still tune into its masses. Radio VM broadcasts a morning mass every day except for Saturdays, and the weekday ones are rebroadcast again that night.
As well, one or two masses each day are streamed on the Oratory’s YouTube and Facebook pages. These are archived and you can watch them back at your leisure. To see the full schedule for masses and also check out the archives of past services, visit the Saint Joseph’s Oratory website.
The Oratory Museum
The Oratory Museum is not that large but it has an interesting collection of religious and cultural artifacts. The most noteworthy items on display are a collection of crèches from many different countries. There are also displays that showcase the religious history of Quebec.
There is a small admission fee to access the museum. As of June 2021, admission is $4 for everyone 18+, $2 for youth aged 6-17 and free for those 5 years and under.
For more information visit the Saint Joseph’s Oratory website.
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