St-James United Church

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On Saturday morning, I escape from work for an hour to go visit a church I had noticed the night before, as I was pacing St Catherine street up and down looking for food. St-James United Church is a national historic site of Canada and a Quebec religious heritage building. The church was hidden behind commercial buildings for 70 years before they were finally demolished in 2006. The church was thereafter opened to St Catherine, in the heart of Montreal, and came to life again.

Even as an atheist, I enjoy visiting places of worship, temples, churches or mosques. Some are beautiful work of art. Some make me understand why people believe, and why they find peace in these places. As I explained before, I can’t stand proselytism — but I hope I’m open-minded enough to accept that religion isn’t always the root of all evils, even though some people use it as an excuse to spread hate and intolerance.

I was greeted at the entrance of the church by Rob Bull, the Supervising elder. When I asked him if I could take some pictures, he decided to give me the grand tour and took me upstairs where I could enjoy the overview of the inside of the church. He commented on many of the stained window, explaining that one of them was actually made by a Turkish artist in Montreal, a practicing Muslim. He was proud to tell me that the church welcomed everyone, and added that many Jewish and Muslims came to pray as lunch time because they didn’t have the time to make it to their respective places of worship. “Everyone is welcome here”, he said, ” “no matter what you believe in and how you interpret your faith. We do not judge.”

This church certainly gave me a great impression: lovely building, amazing art inside and a congregation that seemed friendly and open-minded. Definitely worth a visit!

You can see the full set of the pictures taken in Montreal here.

Church Open

Church Tower

Stained Glass Window

Details of the Window

Stained Glass Window

Details of the Window

The Work of the Turkish Artist

Stained Glass Window

Overview of the inside of the Church

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I love the stained window. I enjoyed it so much when I was in Notre Dame, Paris. I just love the color, design, and the peaceful feeling it gives.
    See, we would never know what we will gain when we escape from work just for a short period of time 🙂 🙂
    .-= micki´s last blog ..Ping Si Station。Ping Si Branch =-.

  2. To be an atheist you must firmly believe that there is no god, no supreme being, no higher power, no nothing. You believe there is no god with the same conviction that the Christian believes there is. A lot of people who call themselves atheists are more accurately agnostics. The agnostic is a reasonable fellow who says that he/she doesn’t really believe there is a god, but cannot honestly say he has a firm argument that there is not. He is left with the creed that he just doesn’t know. If you suspect that this God business is over rated but are willing to keep an open mind then you may really be an agnostic.
    .-= Tulsa Gentleman´s last blog ..Sepia Scenes – Alleyways and Fire Escapes =-.

  3. Salut Zhu,

    Sorry for being so “out of it”; you’re in now/ have been recently to Montreal? What a very neat find. I love visiting churches also. I’am not here to talk of Faith but since you started… I’am a Believer and non-practicing. So, when I visit a church, I slowly admire the architecture and I always have a few minutes reflxion/ prayer before leaving.

    Such a warm welcome from the Supervising elder 🙂
    Bises xxx

  4. It was such a great moment when those ugly buildings came down and revealed that beautiful Church. I’m an atheist too but somehow, I love spending time at the Church 🙂 I also love the mindset of the elder that gave you the tour 🙂
    .-= Cynthia´s last blog ..Paris-Montréal =-.

  5. @micki – I know, I was lucky! It was really a short escape because I had a lot of work that morning, but this hotel we stayed in was just two blocks away and I had to see this lovely church!

    @Beth – I agree and I was pleasantly surprise by how beautiful it was indoors.

    @Yogi – Amen to that! The man I met there was really a nice person.

    @Tulsa Gentleman – It’s funny you notice me using the word atheist rather than agnostic because I don’t even know which one I am myself. Because of my education, and probably because of my own beliefs as well, I simply don’t care whether there is a God or not. It sounds bad when I put it like that so let me explain. For instance, do you want to know what’s 2 x 58 : 24 x 4587? probably not – there is no reason for you to want to know that, it’s just a bunch of numbers for which you have no use right now. Well, I feel the same about God. I heard about him (it, her?), I know some people believe and I know other don’t. I don’t really want to try to find out whether God exists or not, it’s none of my business. I would stand strongly for secularism and the separation of church/ state, I can’t stand proselytism but I simply don’t see a point in the God exists/ no it doesn’t debate. Not sure what that makes me…!

    @khengsiong – It actually look like a European church!

    @barbara – I was in Montreal over the WE for work, and I usually I escaped to take some pictures 🙂

    I think a lot of people enjoying praying/ thinking in a quiet place such as a church, no matter whether they are believers or not.

    @shionge – It’s Montreal, it’s the “new” Europe 🙂

    @Agnes – Occasionally I do, but I was mostly there for a conference.

    @Cynthia – I remember walking by and not knowing there was a church behind this ugly neon sign! I was shocked when I saw before/after pictures. Good thing the buildings were demolished, it’s a beautiful church.

  6. Hey Zhu,

    Even though you call yourself an atheist, I see you more as an agnostic (not only by the very definition of the these two words; but mainly because of your respectful stance before these issues). And I’m with you when it comes to proselytism: it gets to my wits.

    When I lived in France, I used to visit every single church there (because they are gorgeous); and even though I am not a Christian I prayed there. In my opinion, any holy place is good enough to meditate and pray.
    Have you ever heard of “Santuário de Fátima” in Portugal? It is a great place to meditate…and a gorgeous one too – you would love to take pictures there.

    Loved the photos!

    .-= Max Coutinho´s last blog ..Shopping for God =-.

  7. @Priyank – You should have a look, it’s close to St Catherine and Jeanne Mance. But then, there are many other churches in Montreal!

    @Max Coutinho – I enjoy visiting places of worship… I love temples in China as well. And Latin America has awesome very lively and colorful churches.

    I think a lot of atheists are activists, which I’m not unless I see my right of not believing threatened. I can see why atheists in the US take a strong stance against religion because it’s just about everywhere and proselytism can go very far. As for secularism… well, it doesn’t seem to exist. But as a French and as a Canadian, I feel I can just believe in whatever I want – or not believe at all. Which makes me more tolerant in return.

  8. Zhu,

    Secularism doesn’t exist anywhere; yet pseudo-secularism does. In Portugal, for example, we say we are a secular country yet all (almost all) our bank holidays are religious (Catholic) and if someone tries to change this he/she will either lose the elections or be attacked by the church (which will result in the same thing: lose elections) *nodding*. I am totally for separation between State/Church, but I also realise that this is only virtual…know what I mean?

    .-= Max Coutinho´s last blog ..Shopping for God =-.

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