Two Reliquaries of the Native American Missions

In the past we have discussed reliquary designs ranging from the reliquary bust, figures to other anthropomorphized forms. Today I would like to present two rather unique forms of the same that come within the context of the Martyrs' Shrine in Canada which commemorates St. John Brebeuf and his companions. These martyrs come from within the context of the early Jesuit missions in North America to the Native American population of the same. It is for this reason that these particular reliquaries contain Native American imagery, in the first instance showing a Native American chief holding the one corner of the reliquary and a Jesuit the other.  


On the other side we see two more figures, one presumably another of the Jesuits, and the other appearing to be one of the early explorers of North Ameirca, possibles Jacques Cartier. 


In the second instance we see a reliquary of the Jesuit province of French Canada which takes the shape of a traditional canoe with two angels surrounding the relics themselves.


The design intent in both instances is, of course, to link these relics to their particular cultural and geographical context and the missions in question, rather than simply copying, verbatim, from established European patterns, be they gothic, Romanesque or baroque. At the same time, they do not depart so drastically from the established and recognizable tradition of reliquary design as to be unfamiliar or off-putting. In this regard they quite successfully balance the fine line between the joint inheritances of the European tradition with the Mission territories quite well -- which was also the intent the interior design of the shrine church itself which utilizes panels of wood in the design of an overturned canoe; this was designed by Ild├Ęge Bourrie with construction completed in 1925 and the church consecrated on June 25, 1926 by Cardinal William O'Connell.  The Jesuit martyrs would be canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930. 


For those of you wondering what this shrine church looked like prior to the post-conciliar revisions, you can see it here.



The Shrine Church used for a Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy

The shrine church would go through some unfortunate sanctuary revisions sometime in the 1970's or 80's, but fortunately as of a few years ago, efforts have been undertaken to restore parts of the original high altar and reredos to its proper place in the sanctuary.

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