July 6, 2014
The religious history in Quebec is intriguing and omnipresent. Like the English Puritans who settled New England, many who came to New France intended to establish paradise on earth. As with other colonists in the Americas, the goal was premised on racist notions about the innocence of the people they encountered and the “new world” as a blank slate uncorrupted by European decadence. Not surprisingly, the financially lucrative fur trade quickly revealed the jagged edges of human nature and then the French lost their colonies to the English. As the story goes, the English knew better than to attempt at transforming their new French citizens into loyal English subjects of the King so they reached a compromise with the Catholic Church. In exchange for accepting Bristish dominion, the Church would administrate her French communities without interference. And so began the indirect and absolute power of the Church over the history, culture, and politics of Quebec.
Until Expo 67, a world fair and Canada’s primary centennial celebration, Quebec remained largely isolated from the world. Essentially a little French fiefdom of the Church surrounded by an English-speaking Canada. The Expo opened another life to Quebec and planted the seeds of the Silent Revolution in which both the Church was dethroned and Quebec nationalism grew in fervor. By the end, the majority of québécois considered themselves secular and free of ecclesiastical power. The reminders of the Church’s singular power and domination remain in the many majestic churches, huge schools and convents, and innumerable little expressions of piety. A little aside, people here quickly assume I must be Catholic and in seminary if I tell them I study religion.
Every village has a magnificent church centrally located and clearly once an expression of great power, pride, and piety. I’ve had to stop taking pictures of every church I pass just like all the inviting heritage homes. I’ve been looking the eyes out of my head as my mother used to say. It’s not always apparent whether a church still has a worshipping community or if it is now only a tourist attraction and community centre. Some schools and convents, without signs the difference isn’t always obvious, are still open but a number have been converted to other uses. Condomiunms predominated but I saw one functioning now as a equestrian school. The only boarders appeared to be the horses but nevertheless an auspicious place to learn to ride. For those of you looking for your own convent, Berthierville, QC has just what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture of the convent on offer. The most distinctive remnants of religious history, are the little roadside crosses and statues. THe tradition of these markers date back to Jacques Cartier’s arrival in North America when he used them to both mark where he had been and claim the land for church and king. Crosses beside the road became the new black. I suspect many of the personal expressions of piety have now been removed but a number of elaborate sites remain. Not used to them, they catch your attention. I was particularly intrigued by those located in public spaces like the village square or roundabout.
I’m stilling loving this road. It’s still glorious riding but towards the end it starts to get more hilly.