Culpability and sacredness

Many years ago I worked at a university in Montreal and became friends with an older professor who taught mediaeval philosophy. Before classes began each semester he would give me indecipherable hand-written notes to photocopy and digitize for his students. He became ill and died midway through his lectures on the Scholastics. I was tasked with managing the remains of the semester. I remember contacting bookstores and Catholic institutes to find out what could be done with his vast collection of books and papers on medieval history, and volumes of what I learned later were books on Canon law.

I remember a few months before he passed away I had a conversation with him about what happens to a place when it can no longer be sacred.

A few days ago I went out for a walk and saw people loading things into a cargo van from the doors of the abandoned church that is just across the street from my apartment. For some weeks, the church had been the site of an exhibit about students murdered in Columbia. The artist was there, and I asked him a few questions about what he was going to do next, and about the exhibit at the church. I asked him about the holiness of the church, and he told me it had been desacralized.

When he told me this I remembered going through dozens of papers and books as I’d helped to arrange the professor’s effects, and coming across texts related to the process of making a place unholy. In these materials, the process was referred to as de-consecration.

I told the artist that a year or so earlier, the steps of the church had been spray-painted to remember stolen children and missing and murdered aboriginal women. Someone had placed dozens of pairs of children’s shoes on the steps leading up to the doors of Tres Saint-Redempteur. We agreed that there was a remarkable coming together of lives lost, of culpability, and of sacredness.