With two very imposing towers and three statues overlooking one of the main squares of Montreal Quebec’s old district, Notre-Dame Basilica has become synonymous with the city. It is no wonder the Basilica has attracted so much attention over the years.
In 1823 protestant architect James O’Donnell was selected to design a new church. Very much inspired by the Gothic Revival Style and by the towers of Notre Dame in Paris, the project took 10 years to construct. O’Donnell who later converted to Christianity is now buried in the crypt under the Basilica and a plaque has been installed to remember him.
The West Tower which was built in 1841, is home to Jean-Baptiste, a humongous bell weighing 10,900 kg. The East Tower on the other hand holds 10 bells. All bells in the cathedral were made by an English manufacturer, and while the small bells ring every hour between 9 am and 6 pm, Jean-Baptiste is only reserved for special events. The facade of the basilica is decorated with three statues, of St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and St. John the Baptist.
The inside of the church is equally decorative. Interestingly the original decor was not received well by the congregation, and much of it has changed over the years. However, six paintings and a Christ on the Crucifix were preserved from the old decor and hung on the east side of the Basilica. The current decor is focused on offering a religious lesson. The altarpiece is an artistic masterpiece, with the last supper carved on wood at the bottom, the Crucifixion in the center of the altar, and four old testament scenes surrounding it. Similarly, the Pulpit of Truth, which originally served as a platform where the priest delivered the sermon, has two old testament prophets carved at the bottom, with statues of other saints above. To celebrate the centennial a stained glass window was installed in 1929.
Notre Dame was not always a Basilica. In 1982 Pope John Paul II changed the title from church to basilica bestowing more reverence and value to the building making it an integral part of Quebec’s heritage, the Basilica was also listed as a National Historic Site.
The current building was not the first church to be built in the area. In 1672, the founding members of Montreal gathered money to build the former Notre-Dame church, to help the congregation on their spiritual journey. The construction was so costly, that when it opened 11 years later it still had no bell tower or facade. Soon enough the congregation had outgrown the size of the church and a new one had to be built. The remains of the old structure are still visible on the opposite side of the square.
The Basilica has been sought after by lovers of the arts and music, particularly as acoustics inside are remarkable. Many classical concerts have been recorded and performed inside, including one by the renowned Tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The basilica has a magnificent organ, which has 7000 pipes, ranging from 9.75meters to 6.35 mm. Notre Dame has had its fair share of high profile visitors, it also served as the location where Celine Dion married her late husband René Angélil.
The Basilica’s architectural splendor has served as a glorious backdrop for a number of concerts and shows. Currently, the concert Aura takes visitors on a discovery journey of the Basilica’s heritage. It presents visitors with a 20-minute multi-sensory experience accompanied by an outstanding soundtrack in the most amazing of settings. The show appears across the altarpiece, walls, and ceiling, taking visitors on a journey to learn more about the basilica’s beauty. There are also a number of illuminated stations showcasing the architectural wonder and artworks of the basilica. Visitors can also go on a self-guided tour and experience the basilica’s greatness. Visitors should allow 1 hour to visit each of the 24 points of interest. Tickets are at $15 with concessions for students, seniors, children, and groups.
If you are ever in Montreal Quebec, you are likely to find Notre-Dame Basilica on your list of important landmarks to visit, and with good reason. This incredible site does not disappoint, regardless of one’s religion, visitors can appreciate the greatness of this architectural gem.