2009: prix du Documentaire de la categorie Architecture pour "Roadside Crosses"

et finaliste pour le Prix du Jury et le Grand Prix HPA

Roadside Crosses,

Quebec’s Roads of Devotion

The tradition of erecting a simple cross by the road is rooted deep in the history of the French Canadians (01-St-François de l’Île d’Orléans).

Likely an old europeen celtic custom, it arrived in North America with Jacques Cartier in 1534 to mark his whereabouts along the St-Laurence River and as a gesture of ownership in the Gaspé region of the province.

The first settlers and missionnaries perpetuated the custom. Soon, crosses were put up for differents reasons: farmers to evoke protection of their crops, clergyman to demarcate the grounds of a future church. But later on, for the many farmers living along rural roads (02-Warwick, Cantons de l’Est) far from the village, most of the crosses marked a sacred place closer to home where to pray and take part in the many devotions set out by the Catholic calendar.

An inventory taken in 1972 numbered 2,863 roadside crosses in the province of Quebec. Of the three basic types of cross, the simplest is the most numerous: a basre and simple cross with embellished tips. Many are decorated at the intersection with the sacred-heart of Jesus, a famous devotion practice (03-Arthabaska), and/or the Glory, a wheel of rays.

The second type of cross is quite elaborate for it will adorned the Instruments of the Passion (Arma Christi) –the holy sponge and lance, nails, hammer, pincers, the ladder, Peter’s rooster, etc - partially or entirely (04-Saint-Alexandre). For these two types of crosses, occasionally a niche at the bottom of the main post will host the Holy family (05-chemin des Patriotes, Richelieu).

Finally, and rarer is the calvary, displaying a sculpted Christ adn depecting the Crucifixion (06-Sainte-Anne de la Rochelle). Most are prized work of art, covered by a roof (07), like this one by Louis Jobin, a well know artist of the 19th century, on the South shore of the Saint-Lawrence River.

Preservation of this unique cultural and religeous heritage is a challenge, as people today seem to have abandonned the practice. Yet, they remain as strong symbols of pride and belonging.

Traditionnally made of wood, many had to be renovated over the years (08-Bonsecours); some have been completely replaced with more durable steel (09-Saint-Alexandre) or even eternal granite (10-Mont Saint-Grégoire).

And while the roadside is admittedly clogged today by road signs and utility posts (11-Eastmain), at Nun’s Island, near Montreal, evidence of rurality and faith of our forefathers still appears sacred and well protected amidst urban landscape(12).


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