It’s the first and only such thing in North America: a Holy Door.
The thick bronze door, with images of Jesus and Mary carved on either side, is now installed, inaugurated and ready to welcome visitors to Quebec City’s magnificent Notre Dame basilica, the capital for French Roman Catholics on the continent.
There are only six other such doors (porta sancta in Latin) in the world: four in Rome, one each in France and Spain.
They are sanctioned by the Vatican to mark significant jubilees in the history of the church. In the case of Notre Dame, it’s the 350th anniversary of the founding in 1664 of the oldest parish in North America.
The man responsible for the establishment of the first formal parish was the very busy Francois de Laval. He was the first bishop of Quebec, arriving at a time when France’s foothold in North America — Nouvelle France — amounted to some 2,000 souls huddled along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, centerd in Quebec, at the narrowing of the river.
It’s a testament to the challenges Laval faced that the population of the French colony had grown so little in the 50 years since Samuel de Champlain first established a settlement in the vast, hostile territory.
Almost immediately upon his arrival, Laval engaged a power struggle with the political authority in the colony by setting up a religious court to adjudicate sins and crimes.
That tug-of-war between church and state in Quebec would set the tone for the next 350 years that even continues today with the current government’s proposed charter to ensure a secular state.
The official opening of the Holy Door kicks off a year of ceremonies and celebrations to mark the milestone. As yet, those ceremonies do not include a visit from the pope.