This huge Catholic church -- dominating Mont-Royal's north slope -- is seen by some as inspiring, by others as forbidding. It's Montréal's highest point, with an enormous dome 97m (318 ft.) high. Consecrated as a basilica in 2004, it came into being through the efforts of Brother André, a lay brother in the Holy Cross order who earned a reputation as a healer. By the time he had built a small wooden chapel in 1904 on the mountain, he was said to have performed hundreds of cures. His powers attracted supplicants from great distances, and he performed his work until his death in 1937. His dream of building a shrine to honor St. Joseph, patron saint of Canada, became a reality in 1967. In 1982, he was beatified by the pope -- a status one step below sainthood -- and on October 17, 2010, he earned the distinction of sainthood, too. A new exhibit is being planned to commemorate this honor.
The church is largely Italian Renaissance in style, its giant copper dome recalling the shape of the Duomo in Florence, but of greater size and lesser grace. Inside is a sanctuary and exhibit that displays Brother André's actual heart in a formalin-filled urn. His original wooden chapel, with its tiny bedroom, is on the grounds and open to the public. Two million pilgrims visit annually, many of whom seek intercession from St. Joseph and Brother André by climbing the middle set of 99 steps on their knees. The 56-bell carillon plays Wednesday to Friday at noon and 3pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 12:15 and 2:30pm. Also on-site is an oratory museum featuring 264 nativity scenes from 111 countries. A modest 14-room hostel on the grounds is called the Jean XXIII Pavilion. Single rooms with shared bathroom start at C$50 and include breakfast. Details are at www.saint-joseph.org/en_1060_index.php.
In 2002, the oratory embarked on a 10-year renovation project to improve overall accessibility for the ever-increasing number of visitors, which is likely to be completed in 2012. Most recent completions include an elevator to the basilica and a new vehicle entrance. In coming years, visitors will have unprecedented 360-degree views of Montréal from the basilica's dome.