"St. Michael’s provides a holy ground of tranquility and prayer amid a bustling material culture that can be dismissive of the spiritual realm," writes editorial. Photo by Michael Swan

A Cathedral’s glory

  • September 22, 2016

Renowned 19th-century novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that “mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.”

More than a century later, replace “made” to “remade a cathedral” and the words of the Scottish writer ring just as true today for St. Michael’s Cathedral.

After a massive, $128-million renovation the mother church of the archdiocese of Toronto will be rededicated on Sept. 29, the feast of St. Michael and the 168th anniversary of the cathedral’s 1848 consecration. The transformation both outside and inside St. Michael’s over the past 5 1/2 years has, as Stevenson might say, been happily inspired.

From the tip of the spire to the floor of the crypts, and just about every point in between, the cathedral has been returned to its original neo-gothic glory — and then some. The finished product is magnificent. A 19th-century church on life support just a few years ago has been reborn as a majestic cathedral for the 21st century and beyond.

The project was expensive but necessary. Designated as a heritage site by the City of Toronto, St. Michael’s could not be torn down. And, structurally unsound, the building was unlikely to attract a buyer willing to invest the tens of millions needed to keep it standing. That meant a full restoration — doing it right, to last for generations — was the only sensible option.

Cathedrals, of course, are much more than bricks and mortar. They are monuments to faith. They began in the Middle Ages as architectural wonders that soared above cities. They took decades to build and involved the finest craftsmen who often devoted their entire lives to the task, performing seeming miracles with rudimentary tools.

Construction methods have evolved but

cathedrals are still about experiencing something bigger than mankind. They are deliberately spectacular, combining the best in architecture, stonework, sculpture, painting and song to form sacred, inspiring settings to bring us closer to God. Through their grandeur, cathedrals evoke the eternal truths of faith that are truly grand.

Cathedrals such as St. Michael’s also offer a response to the false cathedrals, the sports arenas, stock markets and malls, that dot the city. St. Michael’s provides a holy ground of tranquility and prayer amid a bustling material culture that can be dismissive of the spiritual realm. St. Michael’s also speaks to history and the substantial Catholic contribution to the life of Toronto.

 Michael Power, Toronto’s first bishop, insisted that Catholics establish a visible presence in 19th-century Protestant Toronto. The city has changed but Power’s message is no less important. Restoring the cathedral to its former glory renews his vision of a Catholic community that can proudly claim its rightful place in the life of the city — for generations to come.

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