A pilgrimage site for Catholics in search of healing and support, Montreal's Oratoire Saint-Joseph is one of the city's leading attractions, a site where allegedly thousands of miracles have occurred in connection with a monk sainted by the Vatican.
For some visitors, visiting the Oratory is a life-changing experience, with some dropping to their knees to climb 99 of St. Joseph's Oratory's 283 stairs in prayer. It's a physically unpleasant gesture done to symbolically share in the pain of Jesus Christ's suffering on the cross prior to his death and resurrection, events believed true by millions of Christians worldwide.
In the spirit of its saintly founder Brother André, the St. Joseph's Oratory opens its doors to not just Roman Catholics but anyone of any religion or belief system, welcoming two million people a year, including the more secular-minded primarily interested in the grounds' architectural highlights, including its Italian Renaissance style basilica.
The Oratory dome is the third largest basilica dome of its kind in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and the largest one of all, Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro in Ivory Coast, a St. Peter's tribute.
And at 124 meters (over 406 feet) high, the St. Joseph's Oratory Basilica is taller than comparable structures, including St. Patrick's in New York, St. Paul's in London and Notre-Dame in Paris. The Oratory even trumps the cityscape: resting on a minor mountainside, the St. Joseph's Oratory cross represents the highest point in Montreal at 263 meters above sea level. That's higher than Mount Royal's three peaks.
St. Joseph's Oratory View: One of a Kind in Montreal
An observation terrace just below the Oratory’s Basilica dome offers what's personally my favorite view of the city, an unobstructed northwest panorama of Montreal and beyond.
How St. Joseph's Oratory Came to Be: The Story of the Miracle Man of Montreal
The story of Oratoire Saint-Joseph's making is a stunning one. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Montreal's most impressive structure was founded by, of all people, a low-ranking, illiterate, and uneducated orphan.
And this humble orphan was linked to thousands of spontaneous healings and unexplained phenomena from 1875 through to his death in 1937. Better known as Brother André, the eventually canonized saint came to be nicknamed the miracle man of Montreal in his lifetime. But unfortunately, he didn't live to see the Oratory's completion in 1967, thirty years after his death.
But his spirit lives on throughout the grounds as do his remains, with his heart embalmed and encased in glass in the Oratory museum and his tomb on display in a special chamber near the Votive Chapel's 10,000 vigil candles. It's not uncommon to see the devout laying their hands on his tomb in intense prayer, each waiting their turn for a chance to connect with the saint since at most three or four people can fit by his side at one time.
Evidence of Brother André's Vatican-endorsed miracles -abandoned crutches and wheelchairs which belonged to people who were reportedly cured on the spot- is scattered throughout Oratory grounds.
Visiting Montreal Oratory Oratoire Saint-Joseph: Visitor Information
Visiting St. Joseph's Oratory not only has the makings of a rewarding Catholic pilgrimage, it features, in my humble opinion, the most impressive grounds in all of Montreal.
The Basilica dome alone towers over the highest peak in the city, Mount Royal. Add to that sight the views the Montreal Oratory offers of the cityscape paired with grounds' meandering garden paths and the combined energy of the pious praying on every floor and in every building... even a non-believer is left humbled by the experience.
There's nothing else like St. Joseph's Oratory in Canada. Maybe even North America. Perhaps it's a different, less intense experience for others. I don't know. I can only speak for myself. All I know is my first time at the Oratory left me at a loss for words. And I'm a writer. Words are my trade. I didn't see the hours pass as I examined every nook of the grounds, exchanging smiles with pilgrims who caught me watching them pray, watching the sun drop out of the sky, basking in the toil an illiterate doorman endured to make the seemingly impossible real.
Getting to St. Joseph's Oratory
The Montreal Oratory is a ten-minute walk from the subway station most accessible from downtown Montreal, Metro Snowdon. Simply take a left when exiting the subway, walking northwest on Chemin Queen Mary. You'll known you're in the right direction if you're going uphill. Another option ten-minute walk option is Metro Côte-des-Neiges. Once you arrive at the entrance, it's a steep walk up the Oratory's 283 stairs. If you need some help, try to Oratory shuttle bus. It's free of charge every day from 7:45 a.m. to 9 p.m.
St. Joseph's Oratory Address
3800 Queen Mary Road, corner of Cedar Crescent
Montréal (Québec) H3V 1H6
Tel: (514) 733-8211 or 1-877-672-8647
How Long Does It Take to Tour St. Joseph's Oratory?
Tough question. It could take as little as two hours to visit the grounds on your own. It could also take all day. It really depends on the person. Oratory management says it takes 1 to 2 hours for an unguided tour, jacking it up to 2 to 3 hours if a visit to the Oratory Museum is added to the mix. Guided tours are 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours long, depending on whether the museum is part of the visit.
When Is Mass?
Mass is held every day several times a day (and evening) in the Crypt Church. Both English and French services are offered daily and Spanish Mass is proposed on Sundays. There's even a daily televised Mass viewable online. Sunday Mass in the larger Basilica, with choir and organ accompaniment, is offered twice on Sundays. Check here for St. Joseph Oratory's detailed Mass schedule.
When Is the Montreal Oratory Open?
Another tough question since it depends what part of the Oratory you're talking about. Consult the St. Joseph's Oratory calendar for details. Generally-speaking, the Oratory is open from roughly 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. ever day of the calendar year.
Modest entrance admission fees (from $3 to $5) apply to groups with an organizer, whether with or without reservations. Guided visits also involve small entrance fees.
However, unguided visits to the Oratory as an individual is free of charge as long as you don't enter the museum. Donations are always welcomed.
The Oratory Museum charges $4 regular admission, $4 seniors/students, $2 ages 6 to 17 and $12 family rates (2 adults, two youths under 18).
Lighting candles in the Votive Chapel start at $2, depending on candle size and the nature of the blessing request. I'd personally recommend purchasing the small $2 guide that describes various rooms, buildings, statues and artifacts in the Oratory and gardens. It enhances the experience. Payment for the guide and candles is based on the honor system.
A $5 parking fee applies Monday to Saturday as well as Sunday after 1 p.m.
Does the Montreal Oratory Offer Adapted Access for People with Disabilities?
Yes. People with reduced mobility can visit and stay at the St. Joseph's Oratory.
Can I Stay at the Oratory?
Yes. Rooms can be rented starting at $55 a night.
There's a cafeteria on the grounds and vending machines. And a short cab ride away is one of my favorite Montreal smoked meat joints.
Note that fees and hours of operation may change without notice.