Catholic Church of Montreal > News > Topics > 400th anniversary of the first Mass on the island of Montreal > June 24, 1615 - The first Mass celebrated at Rivière-des-Prairies

June 24, 1615 - The first Mass celebrated at Rivière-des-Prairies

On June 24, 1615, for the very first time, a Mass was sung at Rivière-des-Prairies. It was the first Eucharistic celebration on the island of Montreal (or at least since Jacques Cartier's journeys). Very few traces bear witness today to this event. However, a magnificent canvas located in our cathedral illustrates this historic moment.

The marouflaged canvas can be found in the West transept of the Cathedral and is a reminder to those who visit the church of the celebration that took place on June 24, 1615. The artist, Georges Delfosse represented Father Joseph Le Caron and Father Denis Jamet, two recollects missionaries, celebrating Mass before a small crowd in which one can recognize Samuel de Champlain. The presence of members of the First Nations in the foreground is not a fantasy of the artist but a detail based on the account of Champlain himself. The latter wrote in his travel journal that they were in awe before the ceremonies and the religious ornaments.

The canvas is part of a series of historical paintings adorning Montreal's Cathedral. It is the product of a nationalist period where many sought to uncover heroic figures from our history and thus shape the representation of the past. The command was entrusted to the Canadian painter Georges Delfosse. However, to our surprise, a letter preserved in our archives indicates that this historical series was not the initiative of the Archbishop of Montreal or of a member of the Diocesan Curia but rather the initiative of a pastor from our diocese with a great interest for history.

Father Charles-Philippe Beaubien (1843-1914) was ordained by Bishop Bourget in 1866. He served as a prison chaplain and a missionary in Louisiana before becoming pastor of the Sault-au-Récollet parish. In 1898, he published his first book on the history of his parish. In 1907, at age 63, he wrote the letter that can be read below. Writing to Archbishop Bruchesi, he explains how the idea to represent in the Cathedral the Mass celebrated at Rivières-des-Prairies germinated in his mind. In November 1899, Father Beaubien had witnessed the unveiling in the Cathedral of a historical painting representing the Mass of Foundation of Ville-Marie in 1642. This work by the French artist Ernest Laurent, prix de Rome, was a gift from the Government of the French Republic to the Cathedral. Father Beaubien was invited to provide historical information about the event to the artist. The painting can still be observed in the East transept of Mary Queen of the World. Seeing the new painting at its unveiling, Father Beaubien designed a plan to see other significant moments of Montreal's history represented.

Thus, as early as in 1899, Father Beaubien had wanted to adorn the Cathedral with historical paintings. The priest-historian thought precisely the subject and location of each work. In total, is not less than seven paintings that he hoped to see installed in the relatively new Cathedral and white walls. Between 1908 and 1909, at his request, Georges Delfosse realized the series which would be unveiled on August 8, 1909. It is Father Beaubien himself who best describes the objective of this artistic project. He wishes it to be "un monument de l'histoire religieuse de notre patrie."


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