St. James, undressing

knock 'em down!

The removal of the retail facade of St. James United Church on rue Ste-Catherine has begun, revealing for the first time in 80 years the beautiful “invisible” rose window. They called it the invisible window because it was almost completely obscured by the retail facade — and because it is also obscured on the inside, by another layer of stained glass.

let there be light!

The church was built in 1887-1888 but fell on hard times in the 1920s. To make ends meet, they built a facade of retail spaces, which they have rented out ever since. Unfortunately, the shops obscure the view of the French Gothic style church, which, in 1926 the Montreal Herald called “the Westminster Abbey of Canada.”

There has long been a desire to tear down the shops and to once again reveal the beautiful exterior of the church. Finally, the decision was made late last year to do it. The leases were terminated, shops moved out, and the deconstruction began a few weeks ago.

I’m looking forward to the final result. You can read more about the church and its history here, and here.

Speaking of churches, what’s your theological world view? Mine, apparently, is “emergent/postmodern.” Not bad for an atheist. Note: this ain’t no goofy joke quiz — it’s full of “huh?” inspiring statements like The communion of saints includes the dead as well as the living and Speaking in tongues is one of the most important parts of being saved. (Five-point “agree or disagree” scale).

10 thoughts on “St. James, undressing

  1. Thanks, I have to go see that church!

    I apparently also am a emergent/postmodern, but I must admit that I think this test is not about theological, but Christian world view, as if there was no other possibility; if you beleive in god, then you beleive in the Christian god. Apparently one is also supposed to know some bishop I never heard of…
    You could try this one, http://selectsmart.com/PHILOSOPHY/ about moral beleifs. It is quite interesting.

    peace,
    cass

  2. You’re correct, cassandreos, that the test makes a full assumption that theology=chritianity. I’m going to give that other one a try…

  3. Wow, that was a tough one! Here are my top-10 results (the percentage represents how closely my answers match that of the philosopher):

    1. Kant (100%)
    2. Spinoza (95%)
    3. Jean-Paul Sartre (94%)
    4. Aquinas (89%)
    5. Stoics (84%)
    6. St. Augustine (83%)
    7. Jeremy Bentham (73%)
    8. John Stuart Mill (69%)
    9. Prescriptivism (68%)

    Right at the bottom was Hobbes (10%)

  4. …interestingly, I also scored low for Nietzsche, the Cynics, and the Epicureans. I didn’t expect that!

  5. Funny, I thought Montreal was chock-a-block with beautiful churches, but a similarly-themed retail facade, now that was a rarity. Well, what can you do? “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.”

    Hope we get a cross-section of all the ages of architecture in this town, not just what’s thought of as the time as “beautiful,” or what’s fashionable. People tend to get a passion, and sweep out everything at once, as they did the neon in Vancouver.

    Still, I’m mad at what they did to the Mies building complex at Westmount Square. Still again, think of John Ruskin and the “anti-scrape” society. He thought the restorers were going too far, scraping away some of the history with the grime.

    Wonder if they’re going to tear down that glass awning over the mall street at Saint Hubert near Jean Talon? That’s ugly and 60s, but give it 50 years, it will be as uncommon and eccentric as the Crystal Palace in London.

  6. Thinking more, I’d love to be able to see a 1960s-vintage shopping mall now, with its fountains and ugly modern sculpture. You know that “Place Ville Marie” set the style for a lot of tower-based malls in the 60s and 70s, or at least the one in Calgary that my Dad managed (now called “Banker’s Hall.”)

  7. Well, I don’t think the retail facade was anything special. I’m not sure what you mean by “similarly-themed.” I think it was just a block of stores, no different from what you see on every other block along that stretch of rue Ste-Catherine. I don’t think there was anything unique about it — aside from the fact that it was blocking the view of the church.

    But you do make a good point about revisionist architecture.

    For example, a few years back they modified the ground level of the CIBC building on Peel and Rene-Levesque. It’s more enclosed now, which is more practical, but it totally wrecks the original design and public intereaction with the ground level — a big part of what made the international style interesting. But does that mean that in 50 years time the modification will be acceptable? (It will certainly be “accepted,” but at the loss of the original concept.)

    Similarly, the retail facade around the St. James church is a modification — built entirely for practical reasons and without any real sense of design — so undoing that modification means the site is being restored to the original. That’s good, if you ask me.

    The St-Hubert thing is pretty original. Ugly, yes, but nicely designed and practical — and somewhat unique. Tearing that down would be a shame, because there’s nothing else like it, and the facades that would be revealed are nothing special.

  8. I though the stone was the same, or at least old stone, and they echoed the arches. Not colossally special, but coming from Calgary, where 1920’s was “old,” it was interesting.

    Mind you, they did the same idea with “La Cathedrale.” It was amazing during construction to see that old church sitting on what was essentially a giant table, like a one to one version of an architectural model.

    I also miss “Dessie,” the art supplies shop on the second floor of that structure, but didn’t patronise it enough.

  9. Ed has posted

    a blog entry and a couple of pics of the undressing of the St. James United Church in Montreal. I used to go in the stores there a lot – BMac was located there – and I was always fascinated by the church with the stores out front. I can’t wait to see h…

  10. I read somewhere (but can’t find it online) that the shops are going to be rebuilt, but only on the sides, so that the entrance of the church will be in full view from the street.

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