The crucifix at the Quebec National Assembly has been the subject of ongoing debate. For some, it’s a religious symbol that needs to be taken down because it flies in the face of secularism; for others, it’s a piece of our heritage that needs to stay where it is.
For one university professor who has studied the history of the crucifix, the debate is a reminder that most people don’t know enough about Quebec’s history.
“It’s easy to say, okay, we’re happy to have it. It’s important for us, but we forgot the history,” said Jonathan Livernois, a literature professor at Laval University.
Time and time again over the last decade, Quebec’s politicians have fought to keep the crucifix hanging above the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly.
WATCH: Minister responsible for the new ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ says religious symbols, such as crucifix, here to stay (2013)
“Jean Charest said it, Philippe Couillard said it, Pauline Marois also said it: ‘Oh, it’s our heritage,'” Livernois said.
Now, newly-elected premier François Legault can be added to that list. Legault has pledged to leave the crucifix where it is, even though he wants to ban other religious symbols.
On May 22, 2008, the day the Bouchard-Taylor Commission published its report on religious accommodations and state neutrality, MNA’s rejected one of its recommendations.
They voted unanimously in favour of this motion:
“That the National Assembly reiterate its desire to promote the language, history, culture and values of the Québec nation… and express its attachment to our religious and historic heritage represented particularly by the crucifix in our Blue Room …”
However, if Quebec’s politicians have become attached to the crucifix and the heritage it represents, Livernois explained that this is a recent sentiment.
When the construction of Quebec’s legislature was completed in 1886, “there was no crucifix anywhere in the building,” he said.
According to research compiled by the National Assembly library, the crucifix that currently hangs in the Blue Room was created in 1982 by a little known sculptor, Romuald Dion.
A newspaper article from October 21, published in the Journal de Montreal, explained that Dion made the cross by hand out of mahogany, while he used bronze for the representation of Christ. In 1982, according to the article, the piece was evaluated to be worth $618.
Dion’s crucifix replaced an earlier crucifix that was hung in the same place in 1936 by then-premier Maurice Duplessis. A second crucifix also hung in the Red Room, which used to house the senate.
Historians suggest Duplessis was inspired by fascist dictators like Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Livernois said at the time, there was no question that Duplessis’ gesture was to align the state closer with the church, but he actually drew little criticism.
“Before Duplessis, the Liberal government decided to introduce prayer in the National Assembly in 1922,” he said.
Citing state neutrality, Speaker Clément Richard replaced the practice of prayer with a quiet moment of contemplation in 1976.
Where is the original crucifix now?
One of the original crucifixes has disappeared. The other is stored in the National Assembly archives. Historians who work at the National Assembly are still trying to determine whether this crucifix used to hang in the Blue Room or the Red Room.
“It’s proof that at the time, in 1982, we didn’t really care about the crucifix,” Livernois said.