Sunday, June 5, 2011

Among the Wendat


Took a drive yesterday to Midland and visited the inspiring grounds and cathedral of the Martyrs' Shrine. Built in 1926-27 the facility commemorates a twenty-five year outreach of the Jesuits to the Wendat or "Huron" nation (1625-1650).

Increasing hostility at the instance of the Iroquois nation led to the burning of the pallisaded Mission after ten years of use, and departure of the "blackrobes" and their staff of craftsmen, farmers and troops. The reaction from the Huron had been mixed. The wonderful story of Christ, the Man of mercy, on the one hand. The strangeness of culture and devastating imported European diseases, on the other. Before a year's stay on Christian Island and final return to France, there had been the fateful capture, torture and death of five martyrs at the hands of the Iroquois. The most recognizable being Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant memorialized in the epic poem "Brebeuf and His Brethren" by E. J. Pratt (1940)

Inside the cathedral dark wood paneled walls seem most suitable for a station of heroes in the wilderness. The usual stained glass windows and votive candles. A series of passion paintings on the Stations of the Cross sent from St. Peter's Basilica of London, Ontario. Casements containing representations of the martyrs. Soothing music conducive to thoughts of the Mission of Christ and his dedicated followers world-wide.

The international sense of the place is emphasized as one tours the grounds. There are statues and resting places established by various Catholic communities - Polish, Lithuanian, German, Filipino, Vietnamese, Czech, Hungarian and others. Behind the cathedral and up the hill, one passes thoughtfully the 14 Stations of the Cross. We noted a couple of young men, possibly seminarians, who were stopping, kneeling and praying at each statue. Their personal pilgrimage on a pleasant day in early June. At the top of the hill an observation tower allows the viewing of the body of water addressing Midland in the southeast corner of Georgian Bay. Sailboat-spotted.



We were to discover later at the nearby museum and fort, "Ste. Marie Among the Hurons", that the Midland bay represented the last phase of a 30 day canoe trip from Quebec City including FIFTY portages. Imagine blackrobes, civilians, supplies, equipment, livestock making such a trip!

Another personality graces the Shrine and grounds - Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman and convert in the vicinity of the place of death of three more of the martyrs in Auriesville, New York. (See my earlier post on Father Isaac Jogues, January 13, 2011)

Throughout the visit it is possible to sense grace, peace, pioneer hardiness and dedication even unto death.

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