Restoration since 1984
What makes the Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel special beyond its outstanding folk and religious collection is that it is the home of a decommissioned Roman Catholic Church steeped in history.
Built in 1910 by Léonide Gagné, the former church's ancient Roman basilica interior was designed by Théophile Daoust. Originally, the plans were to have a Romanesque interior, which is a heavier design with less light. Today, we have a simpler design with an interior that glows with light. A dozen Corinthian columns are topped with acanthus leaves and twelve original sculptures of the apostles sit high above the nave. The French Baroque exterior has twin domed bell towers and seven-foot trumpeting angels carved by Louis Jobin of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec.
Emerging from a Landscape
A genuine artifact of the St. John Valley, the former church has always been in its original location. Its shape was a large cross with a convent (now demolished) and rectory forming the arms. Its dimensions are 60 feet wide, 150 feet long, 80 feet high. In designing the building, the architect considered the surrounding landscape – the St. John River, the main road, the hills, and the long lot farmland. The setting for the former church is the highest point of land in a small village set in between the floodplain of the river at its front and the rising hills behind. It emerges majestically, seen from many miles away. The church sits 500 people, which comfortably accommodated the parish in 1909 (the village of Lille, Grand Isle and the back settlements). At that time, the village was 100% Roman Catholic and the church was the only public building in town (including the former convent school).
Distinction in Design
This former Catholic Church is remarkable in its combination of architectural details. For example, most churches have one or possibly two solid steeples with crosses. The Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel has two large 80-foot towers with airy, open cupolas and seven-foot trumpeting archangels on top. It was designed in relation to the rising sun and the St. John River with the angels trumpeting toward Canada. Its interior is also uncommon. The basilica design offers a main clerestory aisle with 45 feet high vaults and an apse over the altar supported by arches with Corinthian columns. The side aisles are 22 feet high supported by a squared ceiling bays and arches. Large, clear windows provide beautiful illumination. Elegant stencils grace the walls, revealed once the tin sheets were removed. Few church buildings retain such high quality and abundance of original details.
Commitment to Restoration
The Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel has been undergoing restoration since 1984 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We are committed to careful, methodical restoration according to the Historic Preservation Standards of the Secretary of the Interior. An historic architect from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission must approve remodeling or repairs done on the building. Any modification to the building must meet standards that will assure visitor safety and comfort without compromising the historical integrity of the building. Thanks to the support from numerous agencies and individuals, we are able to restore this outstanding building to its original finishes.