For years I have been told “The Gravelbourg Cathedral is Beautiful.” Typically that was it, no real description followed, just the simple exclamation. As a result, I could never get past the self-prescribed notion that the Gravelbourg Co-Cathedral would be nothing more than a large church that boasted more architectural features and religious statues than the typical country church built across the prairies during the early 1900’s settlement-era. Even when I heard that the Cathedral had hand-painted ceilings I couldn’t conjure an image that would be worth the detour. After-all, it’s not like the ceiling was painted by Michelangelo.
As I approached the town from the West driving along Highway 43, aside from the Co-Cathedral’s twin-spires which rise above the tree-tops and punctuate the skyline,
it looked just like any other quiet and unassuming prairie town.
The front of Gravelbourg Co-Cathedral. I heard a story following my visit that during the war years fighter pilots were trained to fly sideways through the spires. Can anyone confirm or deny that this happened?
The first thing to tip me off that Gravelbourg really is special, “the Europe of the Prairies” that the boast to be, was the ornate cemetery bursting with large crosses and headstones reminiscent of an antiquated European cemetery. Next into view was another historic building, the former Convent of Jesus and Mary.
The Convent, now houses the Gravelbourg Elementary School, the Chinook Regional Library and the Cypress Hills Community College
A statue of the Holy Mother made in Italy, in the former chapel.
The library also holds a collection of paintings (reproductions) of masters of the renaissance period.
My first stop was the Museum, approximately two blocks up Main Street tucked into a small complex attached to a Dress Shop and a wonderful European inspired Cafe (Check back soon for the post all about that GoHere location). As I scanned the signage upfront, I was aghast. A tour of the Cathedral costs $10.00 per person. Couldn’t I just go in and poke around I thought.
Following the Bilingual tour-guide we headed down the street and met some other tourists milling around the front of the building looking for a way in. Access to the Co-Cathedral is now restricted to religious needs and guided-tours through the museum.
Within a moment of my eyes adjusting the darkened interior I chided myself for falling into the all too familiar trap of not believing small-town rural Saskatchewan could be home to a masterpiece.
Within a moment of my eyes adjusting the darkened interior I chided myself for falling into the all too familiar trap of not believing small-town rural Saskatchewan could be home to a masterpiece. That is the best way to describe the interior. I understand now why previous descriptions were restricted to “The Gravelbourg Cathedral is Beautiful.” It really is difficult to articulate words beyond that.
Proceeding up the centre aisle the guide explained that between 1921 and 1931 Monsignor Charles Maillard, the resident priest at that time, meticulously designed and painted all the murals within the interior. However, there is something missing. That “something” is extremely simple, but incredibly important to establishing value in both the art and artist. The paintings lack a signature. For Monsignor Maillard, he considered his artwork to be his devotion, following days and weeks and years of lying on his back raised up on scaffolding while he painted the ceiling he didn’t sign a single painting. Why? You may ask. The answer is simple, he was a priest first and an artist second.
Do you have relatives that lived in Gravelbourg during the 1920’s? Look closely at the paintings within, you just might recognize one of them.
All stained glass found in the building came from France.
Good to Know: Once boasting the designation of Cathedral, It has been a “Co-Cathedral” since the Diocese of Gravelbourg amalgamated with the Arch-Diocese of Regina in 1998.
Gail has also written an extensive article about the Cathedral for RV West Magazine. To read the in-depth description of the Cathedral and learn more of its history follow this link
Guided tours of Co-Cathedral are offered, starting at the museum. They are 35-45 minutes long.
$10/person gives you a guided tour of the Co-Cathedral and access to the museum
Groups of 10 call ahead 1-306-648-2332Gotta Go
There are washrooms designated for public usage at the Museum.
How to get there
Gravelbourg is located on Highway 43 in Southwest Saskatchewan.
From Swift Current: Total 130 km
If you are driving from Swift Current head South on Highway 4 for 36 km and turn East on Highway 43 following signage for Neville and Vanguard. Note: there is a slight jut on Highway 43. At a T-intersection you will have to turn South along Highway 19 before Once again heading east on Highway 43.
From Moose Jaw: Total 117 km
Head South out of Moose Jaw on Highway 4 for 77 km and turn West (right) on Highway 43 following signage for Gravelbourg.