Converting churches to condos, or what to do with all these spires?
It's Christmas Eve, 1947. Somewhere in Montreal, your grandmother and her family are heading to church for mass. You can hear the rustle of coats and the rustle of the December wind in the trees as people piously file into the building. Tonight is a holy night, and the whole world, it seems, can feel it. Your grandmother removes her hood and looks up at the stained-glass depiction of the Madonna and child, and, grateful for another good year, she whispers "merci, Marie".
It's 2012. The snow is twirling about in the December wind. You're in the bathtub, drinking a glass of wine, reading something much classier than Fifty Shades of Grey and savouring this time alone. Yes, life is good. The past year was full of challenges, but you overcame them, came out stronger, and bought a new home to boot. You look up at the same face that your grandmother looked at so many years ago and smile contentedly as you sink further into the soapy bubbles.
Oh, the times they are a changin'.
If the number of churches in a city was directly correlated with piety, then there would be more Montrealers in heaven than from anywhere else in North America. Mark Twain, during his brief and chilly visit to our thriving metropolis in 1881 observed that "This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window." A year later Neitzche said "God is dead" but the memo didn't reach Montreal until the 1960's, at which point Quebecers promptly organized the quiet revolution and stopped going to church. Today less than five per cent of Quebecers claim to be practicing Catholics, and this mass exodus has left many of Montreal’s 700 churches vacant.
And now, rather than have places like this demolished or fall into disrepair, some Montreal developers have had the genius idea of upcycling these erstwhile spiritual havens into 21st century sanctuaries. In a word, homes.
Are you one of those people who is looking to buy a condo, but doesn't like the glass box-type of look that is so prevalent in the condo market today? Do you bemoan the demise of romantic and beautiful architecture? Then these homes really might be for you. These are time-honoured buildings that, unless they are repurposed and ushered into the 21st century, might be demolished. This new idea preserves our heritage and yet makes these buildings a functional part of day-to-day Montreal life. Let's look at a few examples.
Montreal's most popular condo conversion is Place Delacroix on Blvd Saint Laurent in Little Italy. It underwent major renovations in 2003. Today a passer-by would be hard-pressed to distinguish it from any other parish. But there are hints: new windows, a balcony or two. The inside, however, makes use of very little of the original architecture, having been almost entirely gutted and remodelled.
Sometimes the original facade of the church is used and integrated into an even larger project, as was the case for the former St John the Divine Church in Verdun. As you can see, the original brick walls have been topped with an extra floor and new roof:
Indoor features like stained glass (see above dramatization) and original doors and furnishings are sometimes integrated, like at the First Presbyterian Church on Jeanne-Mance. Altars, I'm pretty sure, are removed. Communion wine not included.
The former Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood monastery in NDG's new condominiums make use of the original windows, brick, and high ceilings to dazzling (and pricey) effect:
And then there’s the awesomeness that is this church in Quebec City that has been converted into a place to go to circus school (!)
(but I digress)
So what do we make of our holy spaces being turned into cozy spaces? How would you feel, having a stained glass Madonna and child in your bathroom? We called your grandmother, she declined to comment.
Stock images: Shutterstock
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