The fallen cross is lit up at night with Montreal’s landmark cross atop Mount Royal in the background. Photo by Alan Hustak

Toppled Montreal cross exhibit resurrected

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • October 19, 2016

MONTREAL – A controversial artwork that a former Montreal mayor ordered destroyed on the eve of the 1976 Olympics because it was disrespectful to the Church has been recast and installed near a historic religious institution in spite of objections from the convent’s superior general.

Entitled Croix de Mont Royal, the illuminated giant cross was originally designed 40 years ago by multi-media artist Pierre Ayot as part of an Olympic art exhibit. The fallen cross was meant to symbolize the decline of the powerful, and sometimes corrupt, influence of the Church in Quebec.

But former Mayor Jean Drapeau found the multi-work exhibit that included the cross distasteful and had it dismantled without notice two days before it was to open. He ordered that all the artworks, including the cross, be destroyed.

The $1.5-million show was to have been mounted along a six-kilometre stretch of Sherbrooke Street as part of a cultural program called Corridart during the 1976 Olympics. It involved several Quebec artists and was intended to showcase the artistic talent of the province.

The large cross is a replica of the iconic Montreal landmark atop Mount Royal except that, rather than standing erect, the cross is toppled on its side.

The replica was created this year to promote an international art show called Montreal Biennale, which opened Oct. 19 and involves 55 artists from 24 countries. The cross was installed earlier this month below Mount Royal in Jeanne Mance Park, near the soon-to-be-vacated Hotel Dieu Hospital.

The hospital was founded in 1645 by the Congregation of the Hospitallers of Saint Joseph. Jeanne Mance, who began the nursing order and is a city founder, is buried within its walls.

The order’s current superior general, Marie Therese Laliberte, said she is “uncomfortable” with the proximity of the fallen cross to the hospital and the adjacent convent. However, she believes the temporary installation is not meant to be sacrilegious.

Ayot was killed in a car accident in 1995. His life partner, Madeline Forcier, says the artist never intended to insult the Catholic Church with his toppled cross.

“It was an artistic commentary on the Quiet Revolution and the secular society which emerged as a result of it,” she says. “You could look at is as a break with the past.”

A copy of the original work was erected earlier this month in conjunction with a symposium on Ayot’s work. It will be removed from the corner of Park and Pine Avenues at the end of November.

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre initially objected to the exhibit, particularly its placement so close to the convent but changed his mind after the artwork was explained to members of the convent, who accepted the explanation that the cross was not intended to be offensive.

(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.)

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