There are about 3,000 croix de chemin (wayside crosses) along the byways of rural Quebec. People like Jean-Marc tend to them each summer: painting, restoring, cleaning, weeding and watering the gardens at their base. Like many caretakers, Jean-Marc refers to the cross he maintains as “his.” It was erected by his grandfather in 1948 and has been on the family land for three generations. It is the materialization of a prayer, the “tangible architecture,” as Anderson Blanton puts it, of a vow. It was in this context that I posed the question to which Jean-Marc responded above: Why did your grandfather put it up? What was the vow?
Hillary Kaell completed her doctorate at Harvard University in 2011 and is an assistant professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal. Her forthcoming book, Walking Where Jesus Walked (New York University Press) is the first comprehensive study of contemporary American Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Besides ongoing research on Quebec crosses, she is developing a second book about child sponsorship programs in Christian missions and NGOs, which she will begin as an affiliate research fellow at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion in 2014. She has also worked as a consultant for the PBS television series God in America (2010) and contributes to online and print media, including Religion & Politics, Pathoes, The Walrus, and the Globe & Mail.