A pilgrimage site for Catholics in search of healing and support, many visitors climb 99 of St. Joseph's Oratory's 283 stairs on their knees, in prayer, a physically unpleasant exercise done to share the pain of Jesus Christ's suffering on the cross.
Though a sacred space to Roman Catholics, the Oratory, in the spirit of its founder, opens its doors to anyone of any religion or belief system, welcoming two million people a year to spiritual sanctuary as well as secular delight in the form of several architectural highlights, including its Italian Renaissance style basilica. Its dome is the third largest of its kind in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and a St. Peter's tribute in Ivory Coast. And at 124 meters (over 406 feet) high, the St. Joseph's Oratory's Basilica is also taller than comparable structures, including St. Patrick's in New York, St. Paul's in London and Notre-Dame in Paris. The Oratory even trumps the cityscape: resting on a mountainside, St. Joseph's Oratory cross represents the highest point in Montreal at 263 meters above sea level. That's higher than Mount Royal's three peaks.
St. Joseph's Oratory Founder: The Miracle Man of Montreal
Founded by a low-ranking, uneducated orphan linked to thousands of spontaneous healings and unexplained phenomena from 1875 through to his death in 1937, the miracle man of Montreal, better known as Brother André, didn't live to see the St. Joseph's Oratory's completion in 1967, a posthumous thirty years later. But his spirit lives on throughout the grounds as do his remains, with his heart embalmed and encased in glass in the oratory museum and his tomb on display amidst the Votive Chapel's 10,000 vigil candles. Evidence of Brother André's Vatican-endorsed miracles, in the form of abandoned crutches and wheelchairs which belonged to people who were reportedly cured, is scattered throughout the oratory's attractions.
St. Joseph's Oratory Observation Centre: One of a Kind in Montreal
Expected to be completed in 2013, an observation centre is being constructed atop the Oratory’s Basilica dome, offering the highest and only 360º panoramic view of Mount Royal, Montreal and its surroundings. On a clear day, visitors can expect to see as far northwest as the Laurentians and a peek southwards will reveal the U.S. border. In the meantime, visitors can enjoy a northwest view of Montreal on the oratory's terrace.
Planning to drop by? Find out what you need to know about visiting the St. Joseph's Oratory, a roughly two to three-hour activity that will set you back $5 for parking (free on Sundays, for those attending mass and for those visiting to engage in prayer), $4 for access to the grounds' museum (less for seniors, students and kids) and $2 for a detailed guidebook. However, visiting won't cost you a penny if you skip the museum and pick up the free guide sheet listing the Oratory's other main attractions. Site is wheelchair accessible. Donations welcomed.