Anyone setting foot in Amos for the first time might well wonder why the small municipality has a majestic neo-Byzantine-inspired church. Enthroned on a promontory, like a queen of yesteryear, the Sainte-Thérèse-d’Avila cathedral is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
As soon as we raise the issue with Carmen Rousseau, the president of the Amos Historical Society draws a parallel with the forest fires that have been raging for weeks in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. “At the time of its construction, one of the priorities was to have a fireproof church. »
Indeed, the population was still traumatized by the fire which, in 1913, had razed the village that was Senneterre, before spreading along the railway line to the center of Amos. Not to mention the great fire of Haileybury, a municipality in northeastern Ontario that had been almost completely devastated in 1922.
If, at the time, concrete was gradually establishing itself as a fireproof solution when it came time to build houses, the material was still an exception when it came to a church. Except perhaps for Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne, the architect to whom we owe the plans for the Mont-Royal chalet and Saint Michael’s Church, the very first reinforced concrete church in Canada.
How to explain that an architect of such stature accepted the mandate to create a church in Amos, a city in full colonization? No official information exists on this subject, but Carmen Rousseau hypothesizes. “A few months ago, I realized that Beaugrand-Champagne was born in Saint-Anicet, just like Bishop Latulipe, the Bishop of Haileybury on which Abitibi depended. I wonder if it was through him that Bishop Dudemaine [the first parish priest of Amos] contacted him. »
Still, the architect designed a place of worship combining certain characteristics of Byzantine architecture and the medieval Christian architecture of Eastern Europe produced under the Byzantine Empire.
In the early 1920s, the population of Amos was just over 2000 people. “Amos had a chapel-school which had been built when the town had a population of just over 500. Around 1918, when people started talking about building a cathedral, the population had almost quadrupled. It was necessary either to enlarge the chapel, or to build anew. »
A quarter of the population opposed the construction, usually for financial reasons, but the majority of people agreed. The construction of the religious building cost $150,000 to the parishioners, who themselves carried out the majority of the work during popular corvées. “I call it forced volunteering, illustrates Ms. Rousseau with a smile in her voice. I imagine that if you did not participate, it was frowned upon. »
Thus, the municipality provided the muscles, the bricks and the wood, while the cement, necessary for the manufacture of the concrete, as well as the copper covering the dome of the cathedral came mainly by rail.
Twenty years later, water infiltration required repair work.
When Bishop Dudemaine was replaced by Bishop Lafrenière, the latter gave himself the mandate to complete the interior decoration. “It was at this time that the mosaics, the stained glass windows and the bottom of the marble walls appeared. We also removed the canopy from the choir and the huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It moved all the time because of the vibrations and people were afraid that it would fall. »
Updating work was done at the turn of the millennium, but not in the rules of the art. “The work was poorly done,” says Ms. Rousseau. Whose fault is it? Mystery and gumdrop. But we had to take them back. »
The most recent period of refurbishment ended in the spring of 2023. “For a year, I find that it has never been so beautiful on the outside,” enthuses the historian. They also redid the doors, cleaned the stained glass windows and the mosaics. »
The $6 million job isn’t to everyone’s liking, though. “A minority of people wonder why so much money is being put into repairing a church when the rate of religious attendance has been declining for a long time. But in Amos, the cathedral is considered an emblem and a tourist spot. »
Throughout the summer, it will be possible to visit the cathedral for free, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon. Festivities marking the centenary of the cathedral are planned for this Sunday, July 9. A morning mass will be followed by a community dinner and, later in the evening, a concert by Gregory Charles (which is already sold out).