I ventured out of my own woods, and traveled to a (not all that far) distant land, and that land has a distinctly Catholic flavor . It is the homelands of the Acadian’s, seventeenth century Catholic French inhabitants of Nova Scotia, who were eventually kicked about that region, and kicked as far as Louisiana. Distinctly Catholic, and so is their land. The (historical) Acadian land in Nova Scotia often can be identified by their flag. It’s a French flag with a yellow star . A yellow star? Yes, that star “Stella Marisa” represents Mary the Blessed Virgin of the Assumption , patron of the Acadians. Their flag flies everywhere along the Evangeline Trail that highlights their northern homeland.
That trail though is also a tourist trail, a tourist is one who travels through a land often for recreation. Tourist routes often feature tourist attractions, the world is full of them. They are the theme parks, the outlet stores, the worlds largest ball of string, alien landing sites, and all you can eat mega buffets. What though is the highlight of the Acadians tourist trail? A hint, it is distinctly Catholic. It is something the Acadians built with the hearts and hands early in the settlement of their lands , built long before the tourist trail and before their region became a tourist attraction.
Their tourist trail highlights the magnificent churches these people built. Massive structures equal in beauty to Europe’s finest Cathedrals built by poor hard-working people with limited resources. They are stone, and plaster , and wood. Each unique. Their altars are like those of old, and intricately carved , and each church might contain several of these altars. Attention to detail can be seen in every part of these building from the altar to the stations of the crosses, to the columns that extend to the roof. In these churches there are also the often brightly painted statues with their colors gently softened by age. These statues are everywhere throughout these churches. I also mention the colored votive candles that are plentiful by today’s standards.
The churches of the Evangeline are remarkable for their artistry, and the Evangeline Trail is remarkable for making them the focal point of a tourist route in the twenty-first century. How unusual to pull up to a church on a Monday afternoon and see its doors open. How refreshing to simply walk in. How unique to drive down a road and repeat this experience in one church after another. They are Churches too.They have not been converted to civic centers, or galleries, or restaurants , or banquet halls or breweries. They remain as what they were designed for , they are Catholic Churches. Unchanged, or minimally modified to accommodate the newer mass style. To these eyes, even seeing that second Vatican-two altar was good news. The Churches are in use today. Not simply an attraction, but functioning parishes.
I wonder though, when I get back To my corner of the world will those churches have their doors wide open on a Monday afternoon, will I be able to simply walk in? Will someone stand at that door ready to answer any question I might have, will they encourage me to explore? Most of the people holding these doors open were simple parishioners, some students and others retired. At one of these churches (Acadian of another province) was a man slightly younger than middle age exclaiming “this is the most beautiful church of all the province.” He stumbled a bit with the handing out of the brochures describing that church, and he had an awkward gaze. It was only after entering the church that I realized he was correct, the church was beautiful with its pillars carefully painted to resemble Italian marble, and its altar and statuary were equally magnificent . It was only after I entered that I realized the man who described the beauty was blind , and so he had an awkward stare. What a splendid Church he introduced me to!