The Chapel at Beechwood Cemetery

The Rock is In, the Cross is Out

Simple rock to be the focus of Beechwood memorial centre

In an age when a lot of people are trying to kill one another in the name of religion, it is a quietly powerful idea: Make a place of remembrance in Canada's capital that all can share, whatever their faith.

Ottawa Citizen, October 25, 2006

The inside of a mosque is a minimalist’s dream and so is the "sacred space" of the National Memorial Centre.

Beechwood Chapel

Beechwood Cemetery, founded in 1873, is one of the most historic and beautiful cemeteries in Canada. There was talk, at one point in time, of making it into the equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery.

The sacred space, what most of us would call a chapel, was designed “to accommodate 300 to 400 persons [and] … house special memorials and other services for all major faiths.”

Nothing in a mosque must distract the believers from worshipping Allah. The most prominent feature of a mosque is the mihrab, usually a niche in the wall which indicates the direction of Mecca, the direction that believers must face when worshipping Allah.

At the opposite extreme you have the Catholic and Christian Orthodox Churches whose house of worship is often an eclectic blend of statues and reproductions in stained glass, oil on canvass, even water-colours of the lives of Jesus, His Mother, the Apostles...

For a Muslim all these reproductions are considered graven images, blasphemous images that could lead to idol worship. No Muslim can be expected to attend a memorial service for a believer with any such reproductions within the vicinity, and definitely not a cross.

Islam forbids all statues, paintings and drawings of people and animals out of fear that believers will be tempted to worship a work of art or its creator instead of Allah.

If you are going to try to cater to all faiths it is probably a good idea to start with a blank slate. The rock in the middle of the space is undoubtedly acceptable to both Muslims and Christians. For believers the rock is not unlike the rock from which the Prophet took off for Paradise; for Christians, will a little imagination, Golgotha; for other faiths, it can be just a rock.

Bernard Payeur