Montreal has historically been a Catholic city. It was first settled in the mid-1600s as a Catholic mission to evangelize the natives. Today, about 70% of its residents identify themselves as Catholic and the city is quite populated with churches. I can actually track my grandfather’s (father’s father) side of the family back to the late 1600s in Montreal and Quebec City through the church records. Those Catholics really know how to keep accurate family records!
Prior to leaving on our girls weekend to Montreal, I did some research and created a list of things that we could do. Since I’m Type A, that’s how I plan. If I had my way, I would have planned an itinerary as well, but I’m pretty sure my friends would have locked me in the bathroom all weekend or pushed me out the window going 65 on the highway in Vermont. However, all the girls did want to see the Notre-Dame Basilica and I couldn’t have been more happier!
The Notre-Dame Basilica has quite the interesting and deep history intertwined with the city of Montreal’s own history. The Notre-Dame parish was founded in 1642 by Maisonneuve, the founder of Montreal. The construction of the stone church began in 1672 and was completed 11 years later in 1683. At the beginning of the 19th century, many parishioners had to listen to the mass from the parvis because there was not enough room physically in the church. In 1823, the church wardens finally approved the reconstruction of the modern-day church.
The basilica’s architect was actually a protestant from New York City named James O’Donnell. He moved to Montreal to oversee the work and later converted to Catholicism. He died in 1830, a few months before the church reopened. The construction of the towers were completed in 1843. The western tower houses the great bell and is named Perseverance and the eastern tower houses a carillon with ten bells and is named Temperance.
If you haven’t noticed from the pictures thus far, the inside of the basilica is absolutely stunning! It was the sole reason I wanted to pay the $5 CAD admission fee to see the church in person. I’ve been in many churches before and this one is not even on the same playing field as the others I have seen. It’s so over the top that it’s ridiculous!
Benjamin-Victor Rousselot was the Notre-Dame parish priest from 1866 to 1882 and supervised the beautifying of the church’s interior. The inside of the basilica is inspired by the Saint-Chapelle in Paris, which I am adding to my places to see in Paris in June! Victor Bourgeau designed the basilica’s interior that can be seen today. The work was conducted between 1874 and 1880. The inside is various shades of blue. The floor is tiled with a blue mosaic and the ceiling is colored with a deep blue and decorated with stars. It is filled with hundreds of religious statues and relics. The craftsmanship can be seen anywhere from the intricately wooden cravings to the colorful stained-glass windows.
The sanctuary and the altar area was created by Frenchman, Henri Bouriche. The altarpiece sculptures depict many stories from the Bible, including Moses placing an urn in the Ark of the Covenant and Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Issac. The six polychrome statues behind the altar represent Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John.
Whether you’re Catholic or even religious at all, I highly recommend paying the $5 CAD fee to see the basilica. I was raised a Catholic and even went to an all-girls Catholic high school (and survived), but I am not a practicing Catholic. I have my issues with the church and religion as a whole, but that discussion is best had over a glass of wine. However, I’ve always found the Catholic church and its checkered historic past quite fascinating, especially during the Middle Ages. The Notre-Dame Basilica is a fine example of the riches and power of the Catholic church.