A New Shrine in Canada: Our Lady of the Rockies

Photos: OC-Travel

Readers will be pleased to hear there is an exciting new pilgrimage destination in North America: the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, Canada.  The shrine is expected to be particularly busy as it is located in Alberta's Rocky Mountains near the southeast boundary of Banff National Park, a world-class destination for winter sports and summer recreation.  Without a doubt, this region is one of the most beautiful and visited in all of Canada with the best skiing, camping and hiking imaginable.  Fascinating photos of the church decoration can be seen here.  The shrine was built in a style worthy of its primacy, prominence and placement and lifts the eyes and heart heavenward.  Ultimately it was designed as something timeless rather than merely of its time.  It will be seen as "ever ancient, ever new."    

Our Lady of the Rockies is both a shrine and parish of the Diocese of Calgary.  Construction began in 2017 and took three years to complete.  The land the church was built on was donated, an ideal location visible from the Trans-Canadian Highway.  The site is also on the popular Palliser Trail.  

Dedicated in May 2020, the shrine is situated amid the majestic backdrop of the Rockies, a major mountain range located in western North America, stretching from Canada to New Mexico.  The symbolic view of the beautiful new church with its soaring copper steeple and majestic mountain backdrop brings to mind a philosophical insight from Plato who considered the pursuit of beauty to be a mode of ascent from the lower to the higher realms of the mind.  Indeed, visitors feel elevated and illuminated by the beauty of both the shrine and nature.

The shrine thankfully is not modernist in design in contrast to the functionalist doctrine of the caprice 1960's that viewed church design primarily in terms of utility (which brings to mind a famous quote from Sir Roger Scruton: "The lesson of modernist urbanism is that ugliness kills.").  Quite the opposite, the design and construction shows structural clarity with variety of form including a synthesis of classical elements, faithful to objective canons of Catholic sensibilities, good taste and liturgical aesthetics.  In short, the new shrine is a nice mix of the functional with the classical, the traditional with innovation.  It speaks of interior symmetry and harmony and alpine grandeur.  

The chapel conveys beauty and permanence.  It is a center of worship, contemplation and community life.  In order to give the shrine primacy of architectural significance, it also very importantly conveys tradition, not only because traditional church architecture reflects these fundamental attributes, but also because the chapel reflects the church's designation as a shrine, a place of universal pilgrimage and faith-based tourism.

The shrine was designed by a local architect, Ron Boruk.  The American firm King Richard's Liturgical Design & Contracting provided the renderings for the altar, pulpit, sanctuary gate, and layout of the nave while also designing and manufacturing the stained glass window of Our Lady of the Rockies.  The artist who completed the main altar and pulpit was Josef Reibesteijn, an acclaimed sculptor.  The artist who produced the sanctuary gate was Ken Hodgins.  The interior features a Rosary Chapel as well as a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, located behind the main altar.  The ceiling depicts the nighttime sky, with deep blue and gold stars, with all the charm of Renaissance decoration.  

Above the main altar is an exquisite new stained glass window depicting the first ever image of Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Rockies.  The window, made up of twenty-four separate pieces, was made with the collaboration of artists from various countries including England and the United States. It depicts Our Lady with the Infant Jesus seated in front of the Rocky Mountains, truly a hymn in glass.  The total cost of the shrine is expected to be about $16 million CAD and so far about half of that amount has been raised.  Donations are gratefully accepted from all around the world.  Thank you to everyone for being generous.  The strategic location of the shrine will draw many curious visitors from all over the world.

Indeed, the very structure of the church exhibits various aspects of the faith as drawn from well-recognized symbols within the Catholic tradition, such as a cruciform plan and an arched transept.  The cruciform plan, seen from the sky above, carries a symbolic message.  The apse represents the head of Christ and the nave his body and the transept his arms.  The nave in this case is narrow and dramatically high, a configuration that emphasizes the prominence of the altar and tabernacle.  The design and layout speaks a language of transcendence.  

The classical template serves as an an icon of the Christian pilgrimage toward heaven - pilgrims who enter are on a journey to God as they process down the center aisle where they belong.  In the words of Sir Roger Scrutton: "The classical templates affirm what is sempiternal in the midst of change, and tell us that we belong where we are, and belong as a community."  The ancients knew all too well what they were talking about when they said that the soul is ordered in special relation to the principles of harmony and symmetry and is, therefore, by no other influence so fitly and so surely moved.  Lastly, the fitting logo of the shrine depicts the lovely 
Auspice Maria "AM" monogram, Latin for "Under the Protection of Mary."  We congratulate the bishop and the wonderful pastor and his parishioners on this breathtaking new spiritual home for Canmore.  This new shrine for Western Canada is a triumph.  Photos are from Facebook (for more see here).

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