That Sunday happened to be the feast day of St. John the Baptist, as any good Catholic should know, but then, almost every day is some saint’s feast, and personally, I prefer those of saints who are either A.) more recent or B.) known for some helpful spiritual wisdom or teaching or example, like St. Francis or St. Elizabeth Seton, who was rich, married, widowed, and then founded the first free schools in America. Not that St. John the Baptist is somehow lacking, it’s just that I can’t relate much. And even on the roster of Catholic feast days, his isn’t a standout.
This isn’t the case in Quebec, however. The feast day of St. John the Baptist on June 24 is a veree big deal indeed.
I would have gone to mass that Sunday, anyway, but since I was enjoying the cure’s hospitality in a delightful free parking space with a fabulous view of the St. Lawrence River across from the church, you’d better believe I’d be at mass and on time, too.
Julia and I were visiting St. Joseph de la Rive, a tiny village squeezed between the hills and the St. Lawrence River. The only approach to the village is down a veree steep hill, and by the time I’d negotiated the 18 percent grade, I wasn’t about to go back up for something as inconsequential as a place to camp. But since the village is squished so tightly into the little flatland, unclaimed space for moochers who want to stay a night or three is at a premium.
So I was very relieved when the little curé just said, sure, no problem, camp in my backyard, with a dismissive wave of his hand as he hurried away.
As the weekend progressed, blue fleur de lys sprouted from porches and ran up flagpoles. It was like the Fourth of July.
And all because, I was to learn, St. John the Baptist was the patron saint of Quebec during the epic battle against the British on the Plains of Abraham.
I had never quite made it to the Plains of Abraham when I visited Quebec City. This famous battlefield was just outside the Citadel and the fortifications of the old city. But there, in 1759, the Marquis de Montcalm fought General James Wolfe in 1759 in one of the battles to determine whether the hunk of the New World first claimed by the French would remain with the French.
Whether you know your history or not, you can guess what happened because most Canadians speak English, right?
Except…the Quebecois. Who lost the battle, but who remain fiercely loyal to their mother tongue and their patron saint anyway.
Sunday mass was a gala event. The choir sang several rousing hymns that sounded patriotic, as far as I could tell. A handful of parish children each read…something (such is the difficulty of not speaking the language). The curé was the most enthusiastic of all—singing, clapping, head bobbing, all but breaking into dance.
The rest of the day families visited. The little auberges and giteswere full, and so were the restaurants. People wandered down the “Avenue of Captains,” beside which we were camped. So, despite the curious and surprised and, occasionally, disparaging glances from passersby, it was a festive and delightful place for squatters to spend the weekend. Thank you, Monsieur le cure.