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A closer look at Montreal's religious heritage

Lecture series & walking tour examines fate of religious art and architecture in the city
September 12, 2012
By Cléa Desjardins

Over the last four centuries, religious art and architecture have played a defining role in shaping Montreal. Those ecclesiastical artefacts – and the buildings designed to house them – form a critical part of the city’s civic and cultural identity. With attendance in decline and congregations closing annually, what is saved and is discarded?

Religious architecture was once in ample evidence in what is now Victoria Square, Montreal. | Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum, Montreal.

This question is at the heart of two days of special events coming up on September 18 and 19, 2012, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). Entitled Religious Heritage at Risk, the lecture series partners the museum with Concordia University and the École des sciences de la gestion at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). It gives the public the chance to listen to expert opinion, as well as to weigh in on a subject about which many are passionate.

Concordia’s role in this event springs from its long history of informed interaction with the religious architecture that has played a key role in shaping the university itself. With campuses that encompass both a Jesuit college and the Grey Nuns Mother House, Concordia’s continued evolution speaks to a contemporary master plan that incorporates religious heritage into its very foundations.

The upcoming events at the MMFA broaden Concordia’s history of public discourse on the subject of religious heritage, which was also in evidence in international conferences organized with UQAM, such as Quel avenir pour quelles églises ? (What future for which churches?), and Religious Houses: A Legacy. Those activities speak to Concordia’s continued focus on the inherent responsibility of public institutions when it comes to the question of the management of historic places.

For Clarence Epstein, Concordia’s director of Special Projects and Cultural Affairs, the upcoming events at the MMFA represent the perfect chance to take a closer look at the many communities and buildings that helped Montreal become Canada’s first metropolis. “Our city’s religious heritage is  gradually disappearing,” says Epstein, who is also the author of the recently released book Montreal, City of Spires: Church Architecture during the British Colonial Period, 1760-1860. “It’s our responsibility to approach the preservation of our civic history in a way that is both respectful and sustainable.”

Epstein kicks off the events at the museum with a keynote talk on the ecclesiastical characteristics that make Montreal so unique. The following day, he leads a walking tour of important sites of religious heritage in Quartier du Musée and Quartier Concordia. A day of talks on religious heritage will then follow at the museum, featuring experts including the MMFA’s Jacques Desrochers, UQAM’s Luc Noppen, and Marc de Beyer, the conservator of the Catharijneconvent Museum in the Netherlands.
These events are free and open to the public. For the full schedule, check out the NOW event listing.

Related links:
•    Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 
•    École des sciences de la gestion at UQAM


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