A few Christmases ago I posted a bike tour of statues of Mary located throughout the capital. It was a fun discovery of some of the various ways she is represented in three dimensional form in materials able to withstand our harsh climate.
Just before Easter I read a novella by the Irish writer Colm Toibin titled The Testament of Mary . It’s a powerful humanising depiction of Mary told from her point of view near the end of her life. In it she describes the events leading up to the crucifixion of her son. With this contrasting perspective to the way she has been traditionally presented in western art I re-visited those statues on Easter morning, along with a few others that I have discovered since the Christmas tour.
Outdoor exercise including cycling continues to be encouraged during these difficult times as long as one maintains appropriate social distance and no lingering.
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.