As the house of the Lord, St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Burlington, Vermont is of great beauty and famous history.
As the house of the Lord, St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Burlington, Vermont is of great beauty and famous history. Once French-Canadian emigrants arrived to work in this city in the mid-19th century, they quickly founded the parish and built the first Saint-Joseph church in 1850, finishing it for Christmas mass. It becomes the first French-Canadian national parish in New England.
With the influx of French Canadians, the parish grew – as did the need for a second larger church, quickly followed by the third and current building built from 1883 to 1887. At the time, Bishop Louis de Goesbriand wrote in part: “I know very well that your parish is not rich, but… a work undertaken for the glory of God and under the auspices of Saint Joseph can only succeed.
Succeeding did it. When the first mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday 1887, The new St. Joseph’s Church became the largest such building in the state of Vermont. It remains the largest place of worship in Green Mountain State, with a capacity of 1,200 worshipers. The French influence in the building of this church was fully evident, as was the determination of the peoples to make it as exceptionally beautiful as possible to God. The architect they chose in Canada was Father Joseph Michaud. A math and science teacher and self-taught architect, he designed 100 churches and many convents in Canada and New England. He also designed the Cathedral-Basilica of Mary, Queen of the World, in Montreal, a smaller replica of Saint Peter in Rome.
Father Michaud designed the facade to reflect the styles of several churches in Quebec. However, for the interior, he turned to the chapel of the Palace of Versailles. Overall, St. Joseph’s Church was designed in the neo-baroque style style. The stone came from local quarries.
Since its completion in 1887, St. Joseph’s has undergone three renovations, but so much has remained familiar to generations of parishioners. The well-restored original benches remain. These oak and cherry pews have beautifully crafted ends carved with graceful swirl patterns to line up the five naves. Each also wears a beaver tail design because the beaver is Canada’s national animal, another reminder to early parishioners.
Installed in the church in 1889, the Chemins de Croix were designed and produced in Paris by a religious company especially for Saint-Joseph; their descriptions are written in French. Their colors and gilding were refreshed during the last restoration. The ornate frame of each station includes Corinthian columns, classical pediments and swirling decorative lines, all highlighted with gilding.
Over the years the sanctuary and parts of the church have changed with the distinctive touch of each renovation, but other elements would be familiar to early parishioners, starting with the statues and a side altar.
The patron of the church watched over the successive congregations even before the start of the parish. Represented in a large statue, Saint Joseph is represented holding the Child Jesus, whose head rests on the cheek of his earthly father. The image now stands on a pedestal above the ground between the shrine and the altar of rest. The statue of Saint-Joseph, as well as the statue of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which was moved to the scapular chapel of the Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel church, were originally located in the 1869 building. and were brought to this “new” Saint Joseph in 1887. On a matching raised pedestal on the other side of the sanctuary stands a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. This representation of Our Lady wears a crown signifying the royal privileges of the Blessed Mother. The statue was given as a gift in 1881 by Les Enfants de Marie, one of the many spiritual societies in the new parish. The very first parishioners recognized what is now the tabernacle altar of the original St. Joseph’s Church from 1850, where it served as the main altar.
Art and architecture showcasing spirituality in the house of the Lord fill the nave. Generations of devotees have seen the majestic white fluted Corinthian columns with gilded accents, all in wood, and the range of beautiful carvings, from the moldings to the delicate acanthus leaves unfurled on the column capitals. The barrel vaulted ceiling is embellished with majestic medallions. They were donated by individuals and parish groups, such as the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the Children of Mary and the Ladies of the Société Sainte-Anne. The elegant medallions include the Holy Trinity above the shrine, the Sacred Heart of Mary, a gracefully interwoven “A&M” (Ave Maria), the Alpha-Omega, and in a recurring theme, a depiction of a beaver at the entrance. Their beauty is enhanced by intricate patterns such as sunbeams, and ornate baroque scrolls in the frames of the medallions add even more decorative beauty. The symmetry of the church continues with the large, richly designed medallions which also line the aisles of the nave and with the white fluted Corinthian pilasters which correspond to the main columns and rise on the wall above each path of the church. cross.
The statues of the Sacred Heart and of Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque representing the apparition of Our Lord to the French saint in 1673 are located near the entrance to the cathedral. In one of the two attics of the cathedral choir, there is an old and large painting in the primitive style of the Death of Saint Joseph. Jesus is shown holding Joseph’s hand, comforting him and praying for him, and Mary is shown kneeling, holding Joseph’s arm, her head bowed in sorrow and prayer. In homage to the carpenter of Saint-Joseph, and because much of the interior is made of wood, the added furniture from the last renovation is made of wood, in particular oak and cherry. Natural light also helps enhance the beauty of the cathedral. The windows are adorned with a lace pattern of diamonds framing bottom crosses, in a style reminiscent of the churches of Quebec, once familiar to the first congregations.
Today, 134 years later, the Parish Church of the Immigrants is a cathedral. In 1999, Saint-Joseph was named co-cathedral of the diocese, joined in this honor to the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. But, in 2018, when this cathedral closed, this church was elevated to the rank of the only cathedral in the diocese.