Friday, May 24, 2019

Mile End - Church of St. Michael the Archangel

Perhaps the most recognizable architectural symbol of Mile End is the Church of St. Michael the Archangel of 1914-5, on Saint-Viateur Street at the corner of Saint-Urbain. 

The church, designed by Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne, was built for an Irish Catholic community, as expressed by omnipresent shamrock motifs; yet the overall style of the building is based on Byzantine rather than Western architectural traditions. 

Even more striking, the church has a slender tower that resembles a minaret. The building has been shared since 1964 with the Polish Catholic mission of St. Anthony of Padua, which officially merged with the parish of St. Michael in 1969 to form the current parish of St. Michael's and St. Anthony's;masses are celebrated in Polish and in English.

At the turn of the last century there was something of a migration of Irish-Canadian working people from their overcrowded Point St. Charles and Griffintown haunts north into Mile End. In 1902, the Catholic archbishop of Montreal, Mgr. Paul Bruchési, gave his approval for a new parish to be created. The first mass was said upstairs of a fire hall at Laurier and Saint-Denis that no longer exists. Their first small church building was on rue Boucher near there; it no longer exists.




By 1914 the growing parish decided it needed something bigger and grander. In July of that year excavations began. Work stopped briefly when war broke out that autumn, but resumed in April 1915, and the church was ready to use by that December. The price tag was $232,000 and the church could hold 1400 people.

This information comes from a booklet published in 1927 when the parish was already 25 years old. The text describes, and images show, that the dome and the cap on the tower were both decorated with patterns, and the massive façade with the words Deo dicatum in honorem St. Michaeli and a smaller motto on a banner over the doors. Those flourishes are gone, but carved shamrocks are still part of the façade, a nod to the time when the parish was pretty well a monoculture, with priests called McGinnis, Fahey, McCrory, Walsh, O’Brien, Cooney and O’Conor and church wardens Keegan, Gorman, Dillon, McGee and Flood.





Also, unusually, there’s no mention of bells, and no evidence that the tower ever contained any: unlike most church towers it’s closed all the way to the top.


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