An extreme cold warning didn’t deter members of Montreal’s Catholic community on Saturday, as they braved a chilly walk up Mount Royal to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the raising of the cross on the summit.
Several dozen people sang Christmas carols and New Year’s songs as they marched in -20 C weather behind leaders who were dressed in 17th century outfits and carrying a wooden cross.
The walk was led by Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine as well a man and a woman dressed as Montreal founders Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance.
“On Christmas Eve, there had been a rising of the St. Lawrence River and they were afraid to lose everything,” he said in an interview. “So they prayed to God and said, ‘If you spare us this flood, I’ll put a cross on Mount Royal.”’
The march ended with a ceremony that included a brief moment of silence and a prayer service beneath the giant LED-lit cross that now tops the mountain.
Stephen Otvos, a priest from the diocese, described Saturday’s event as “beautiful, although cold.”
“We commemorate that day (when the cross was raised), but also our time together as a Christian community, and to share the message that the cross is a sign of love for all humanity,” he said.
The current illuminated steel cross, which is over 30 metres tall, was erected in 1924 after local volunteers selling stamps raised over $10,000 towards its cost.
The 26-ton structure looms over the city’s skyline and is visible from up to 80 km away on a clear day, according to the city.
It has been renovated several times, and has been lit by LED bulbs since 2009.
Lepine says the cross remains an important symbol for many Montrealers, whether or not they’re religious.
“It’s part of the face of Montreal and it’s a (symbol) that it’s important not only for those who believe in Jesus Christ but also for all Montreal and greater Montreal to rally around,” he said.