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Amerindian Mission Churches in Quebec
The Mission at Kahnawake

Or the priority of the Faith

The church and site of Kanawake

The first Iroquois mission in the Montréal area was established in Laprairie in 1669 by Father Raffeix, a Jesuit. It was moved around during the development of the French colony until in 1716, until it eventually found a permanent home in Kahnawake, opposite the Lachine rapids. According to Father Charlevoix, the church and presbytery built in 1716-1717 are among the finest buildings in the country. In 1720 it was decided to fortify the mission. A palisade was built around it and a small building was constructed to house an officer and guards. These buildings were designed by Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, a military engineer, and they are still in existence today.


Kahnawake mission, residence
Photo: Germain Casavant

Kahnawake mission, general view
Photo: François Brault
The present church was built on the foundations of its predecessor. The building work began in 1845, from plans drawn up by Father Félix Martin, a Jesuit. It is based on a traditional design in the form of a Latin cross. The bell-tower projecting slightly forward from the centre of the façade is not, however, a common feature of this particular style. This kind of structure was usually placed above the gable, or sometimes two projecting towers were built on either side of the façade.

Façade, Church
of Kahnawake
Photo: Germain Casavant

Interior of sacristy
Photo: Germain Casavant

Interior
of Kahnawake
Photo: Germain Casavant
Vincent Chartrand, trained in the school of Quévillon
, carved the three reredoses, the tabernacles for the side altars, and the altar-stones in 1845. The reredoses stand out from a bare wall and are treated more like furnishings; that is to say, no attempt has been made to integrate them into the décor of a more developed interior. This simplicity is characteristic of mission churches. The painting on the ceiling was carried out at a later date by Guido Nincheri, who was of Italian origin. The two large statues in the choir represent Saint François-Xavier and Saint Ignace de Loyola, and were both attributed to the sculptor Louis-Thomas Berlinguet.

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Text translated by Rachel Tunnicliffe


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