Councillor stresses city’s ‘secular character’ as influence of Catholic Church abates
For more than 80 years, a crucifix has overseen the civic business of Canada’s second-largest city from its perch above Montreal’s city council chambers.
Next month, it will come down for good as the the centuries-old building prepares for renovation – and city councillors have decided that it will not be returned.
The crucifix’s removal comes as Quebec struggles to balance its Catholic past with a decidedly secular present day – and in the midst of a debate in the province over the place of religious symbols such as the hijab in public.
“We were going to take the crucifix down during the renovations anyways, so we asked ourselves if we were going to put it back up, and we decided that we won’t,” said city councillor Laurence Lavigne Lalonde, who oversees the city’s democratic institutions. “The context in which it was placed there no longer applies. We need to reaffirm the secular character of the chamber.”
The city purchased the half-metre-sized depiction of Jesus Christ for $25 in 1937. It was put in place at the behest of alderman (and fervent Catholic) Joseph-Émile Dubreuil to remind his colleagues of their allegiances to God as they went about their civic duties.
Religious artefacts are not uncommon in public buildings in the province, which is home to the lion’s share of Canada’s Catholics – and to myriad villages, towns and cities named after saints. In Montreal, a 31-metre illuminated crucifix sits atop Mont Royal, the tree-lined home to the city’s soul.