A few Christmases ago I posted a bike tour of statues of Mary , mother of Jesus, throughout the capital. It was an interesting discovery of ways she has been represented in three dimensional form using materials able to withstand our harsh outdoor climate.
This Spring, just before Easter, I read a novella by the Irish writer Colm Toibin titled The Testament of Mary . It was also adapted for Broadway and was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Play. It’s a powerful humanising depiction of Mary told from her point of view near the end of her life in which she describes the events leading up to the crucifixion of her son.
With this new perspective on Mary I decided to re-visit the statues on Easter morning along with a few others that I have discovered since the Christmas tour.
UPDATE – Summer 2020: I’ve begun to take note of many more statues of Mary throughout the region, particularly outside of Catholic churches, but not exclusively. I will include their locations on the map as I document them, along with images and descriptions at the end of this post.
Our first stop is on the north side of St-Vincent Hospital just inside the hospital grounds. This version of Mary is placed within a grotto of uncoursed random masonry with a smaller female figurine knelt in prayer below. It is a depiction of one of a number of apparitions 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous had in Lourdes France in 1848. This plaster casting of Mary is a replica of an original by Joseph-Hugues Fabisch sculpted in 1864, based on the description provided by Bernadette. During one apparition Mary instructed Bernadette to dig into the ground from which a spring of healing waters flowed. I’m guessing this association with healing explains why this work was chosen for this site beside the hospital.
Second stop is at St-Patrick’s Basilica on Kent Street. Here she stands atop a fluted column calmly gazing down with arms outstretched. The bright white substrate (I think it’s marble) from which she and the column are carved is in stark contrast to St-Patrick’s Gothic Revival design and grey stone walls . I’m guessing this was intentional to make her stand out against the background.
Our next stop is infront of the Notre Dames Cathedral where Mary can be found holding infant Jesus way atop the peak of the front facade. Installed in 1866, it was sculpted out of wood by a Spanish artist named Carbona and is covered in gold leaf. Here the proportions and detailing are less delicate than other works seen on this tour, which works well relative to the width and height of the facade and the extended distance the sculpture is away from the viewer. Mary is also wearing a crown, a depiction that started in the Middle Ages as a representation of her as queen of heaven. The same arrangement can also be found at the top of the front portal of Laon Cathedral, built in the 12th and 13th century. She strikes the same pose in a prominent spot on the front facade of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Continuing East into Vanier I rode up Pères-Blanc Avenue onto the grounds of what was once the scholasticate of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa but is now a park and interpretive facility run by the city. In the centre of a round-about at the end of the avenue there is a painted statue of Mary atop a stone pedestal. Mounted on the front of the pedestal is a bronze plaque that reads ‘NOTRE DAME D’AFRIQUE PRIEZ POUR NOUS A.D. 1955’ with an embossed outline of the African continent which helps confirm it is a remnant of when the Pères-Blancs occupied this spot of land. The crown she is wearing is more massive than the medievel style seen on the cathedral. I can’t figure out why this larger crown was chosen although it is similar to the one she is sporting when depicted as Our Lady of Fatima. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is also included as a pendant. Her outer garment is blue, the colour most commonly associated with Mary. The historical use of Marian Blue is attributed to the great cost of Lapis Lazuli, a rare mineral used in its creation, once more valuable than gold. As such blue was only used for the most precious applications like in the painting of Mary’s clothes. So, the association stuck.
Our final stop is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes also in Vanier. As the name suggests this is a direct reference to the original site in Lourdes France. Here we have Mary in a much larger grotto of stacked stone than the one at St Vincent Hospital accompanied once again by a praying Bernadette. The statue is painted to further ressemble the original in France. Attached to the walls of the grotto are mini plaques giving thanks for various cures that devotees have attributed to her. It’s quite the site. At the entrance there are placards filled with many more dedicated plaques installed throughout the years. Opposite and curling up the hill to the left of the grotto are a series of framed depictions in relief of the stations of the cross leading to a sculpture of the crucified Jesus. There are three of the stations that include Mary, easily identified dressed in blue.
The following are additional statues of Mary found throughout the region that aren’t part of the tour, however their locations are included on the above map, identified with yellow markers.
Saint Charbel Parish – 245 Donald St (added Oct 2020)
Saint Charbel Parish is a Maronite Catholic church. Here, Mary is depicted in a manner similar to her likeness at the end of Pères-Blanc Avenue, sans crown. The church is relatively new, the land on which it is built having been purchased in 1994. The location of the statue, immediately to the right of the entrance, seems to have been chosen from the outset, as the pedestal on which she stands is clad in the same stone facing as the building. This is striking as it breaks the strict symmetry of the churches facade.
Madonna Care Community – 1541 St. Joseph Boulevard (added Oct 2020)
This statue of the Madonna is located just infront of the porte-cochère of this Orleans retirement home that opened in 2007. The home is one of a country wide chain called Sienna Senior Living. None of the other homes have religious titles or symbols in their name so I’m not sure why this one does. Possibly because Orleans has a high Franco Ontarien Catholic population so the name and statue are used to appeal to this segment of population(?). Regardless, it seems to have no affiliation with a religious order. This rendering of Mary is a younger depiction than how she is usually depicted. She appears to be admiring the juniper bush infront of her. I doubt this is what the sculptor intended but I suspect they weren’t consulted on the siting. Photos of this statue were often shown in the media when 30 residents died of the covid pandemic in early 2020 along with two staff workers.
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church – 289 Spencer St
Her name is in the title so not surprisingly Mary has prominent visibility at this site. Because this is such an intimate little church the scale of the statue needn’t be large to be noticeable, especially with it being right at the entrance, and all white helping it stand out against the brown stucco walls of the church. The two cross necklaces are separate objects that I’ve noticed have changed over time. This summer she was sporting a long red necklace, sans cross. Don’t know if the changing of the necklaces is part of the churches rituals.
Solo statues of Mary seem to be in either of two poses : gazing down with arms outstretched, as if gesturing to a child or adoring worshipers, or peering heavenly with hands held together in prayer. Here she is depicted gazing-down and mounted on a small plinth. The proportions of the plinth make sense for the 1/2 human scale of the statue.