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May 2016: 180th anniversary of the diocese of Ville-Marie

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This month marks the 180th anniversary of the foundation of our diocese. It is on the 13 of May 1836 that Pope Gregory XVI canonically erected the district of Montreal into a new diocese. Jean-Jacques Lartigue, who had been responsible for this district since 1821, became our first bishop. Therefore, he had to set up the necessary structures for the administration and the good direction of the bishopric. One of the many projects which concerned the prelate was the design of diocesan arms. This task had more than a simple esthetic purpose. The arms were designed primarily to be carved on the official seal of the diocese. The image was then imprinted with wax on all letters and important documents. The Diocesan archives have preserved a sketch of these arms as well as the description of what they represent.

The coat of arms chosen by Bishop Lartigue for his diocese reflects some of the devotions that he held dear. The new titular bishop chose to represent on the first diocesan arms (which he also chose as his own personal arms) the patron saints of the diocese and of the cathedral. The Most Holy Name of the Virgin Mary is represented at the center by the letters A and M intersecting under a crown. In his first pastoral letter as bishop of Montreal in September 1836, Bishop Lartigue had announce his choice of the Most Holy Name of the Virgin Mary as patron of the Church of Montreal. This explains why, until 1970, the Patronal Feast would be celebrated every year in September.

Saint Joseph, second patron of the diocese, was also given a prominent place. He is represented by the letters J.P.H. and by a lily over the letter P. The devotion to the country's patron saint among Catholics was rooted in the early colonial period. Two effigies representing Saint James the Greater and Saint Francis Xavier are also found on these arms. Saint James was the first patron of the Cathedral, but also Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue's own patron saint. Saint Francis, second patron of the Cathedral, is not a surprising choice either. The choice of Saint Francis Xavier, patron of missions, corresponded perfectly to the important missionary task required in this new North American diocese. Finally, we can also observe on these arms the name of the diocese written in Latin as well as the miter and crosier, symbols of the episcopal function.

In the early 1950's, Archbishop Paul-Émile Léger adopted a new diocesan coat of arms. These arms representing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary can be seen above the main entrance of the Archbishop's Residence on Rue de la Cathédrale. They continue to be used today. They can be found above the Archbishop's official documents prepared by the Chancery office.


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