Notre-Dame Basilica or Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal is located next to the Saint-Sulpice Seminary and faces the Place d'Armes square. The church's Gothic Revival architecture is among the most dramatic in the world; its interior is grand and colourful, its ceiling is coloured deep blue and decorated with over 30,000 gold stars, and the rest of the sanctuaryis a polychrome of blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. It is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues. Unusual for a church, the stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict biblical scenes, but rather scenes from the religious history of Montreal. In 1657, the Roman Catholic Sulpician syndicate arrived in Ville-Marie, now known as Montreal; six years later the seigneury of the island was vested in them. They ruled until 1840. The parish they founded was dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary, and the parish church of Notre-Dame was built on the site in 1672. François Baillairgé, an architect, designed the interior decoration and choir in 1785-95 and the facade & vault decoration in 1818. The overall decorations are reminiscent of Saint-Chapelle in Paris.
The square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Montréal is named Place d'Armes. It is the second oldest public site in Montreal, it was called Place de la Fabrique when it was first developed in 1693, at the request of the Sulpicians, then later renamed Place d'Armes in 1721 when it became the stage of various military events. From 1781 to 1813, it was used as a hay and wood market, then developed as a Victorian garden after it was acquired by the city in 1836.
This monument in memory of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, founder of Montreal, was unveiled on July 1, 1895, as part of the celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Montreal in 1892. The Société Notre-Dame de Montréal was a religious organisation responsible for founding Ville-Marie, the original name for the settlement that would later become Montreal in 1642. The original founders of the organization were Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, Jean-Jacques Olier and Pierre Chevrier. They were later joined by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance. The organization's mission was to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and found a Christian settlement.
Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Interior
By 1824 the congregation had completely outgrown the original church, and James O'Donnell, an Irish-American Anglican from New York, was commissioned to design a new building. O'Donnell was a proponent of the Gothic Revival architectural movement, and designed the church as such. He is the only person buried in the church's crypt. O'Donnell converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed perhaps due to the realization that he might not be allowed to be buried in his church. The main construction work took place between 1824 and 1829. The cornerstone was laid at Place d”Armes on September 1, 1824. The sanctuary was finished in 1830, the first tower in 1841, the second in 1843. On its completion, the church was the largest in North America. It remained the largest in North America for over fifty years.
The completion of the interior took much longer, and Victor Bourgeau, who also worked on Montreal's Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, worked on it from 1872 to 1879. Stonemason John Redpath was a major participant in the construction of the Basilica. Arson destroyed the Sacré-Cœur Chapel on December 8, 1978. It was rebuilt with the first two levels being reproduced from old drawings and photographs, with modern vaulting and reredos and an immense bronze altarpiece by Quebec sculptor Charles Daudelin. On October 3, 2000, Justin Trudeau gave his eulogy just steps from the High Altar during the state funeral of Pierre Trudeau, his father and Canada's 15th prime minister. The Quebec sculptor Charles Daudelin was commissioned to create the new altarpiece. This consists of 32 bronze panels, which were cast by Morris Singer Founders of London, England. The altarpiece is 5 metres wide and 8 metres high (16 feet by 26 feet) and weighs 20 tons.
In the center is the Tabernacle, flanked by bas-relief sculptures in wood showing angels and saints in adoration, according to the vision described in Chapter 7 of the Apocalypse (Revelation). To the left of the altar stands Saint Peter with his keys, and the rooster, recalling Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, his master and friend on the morning of His suffering and death. Then the other two evangelists: John, holding a chalice symbolizing his love for the Eucharist, with the eagle, a sign of his far-seeing gospel, and Mark with his winged lion. First on the right is Saint Paul, with a sword of his martyrdom in Rome, where he was beheaded. Next are two evangelists and their respective symbols: Matthew, with a winged male figure, and Luke, with his winged ox.
In the upper section of the altarpiece we see the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin. Christ, the Messiah who has conquered death through His resurrection, crowns His mother in heaven. The Crucifixion is at the center of the altarpiece. Christ is represented as dying on the cross. The Blessed Virgin and Saint John stand on either side of the cross, while Mary Magdalene kneels at the foot. This “Calvary” stands on a small altar as a witness of the unity that exists between the sacrifice of the Cross and that of the Mass. Around the Crucifixion scene we see four scenes from the Old Testament that prefigure the sacrifice of the Cross and the Mass. At lower right is the sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham. This major episode of the Old Testament explains why the Judeo-Christian tradition holds human life sacred. The human sacrifices of ancient times will henceforth be replaced by animal sacrifices. At lower left, we see the offering of bread and wine made by Melchisidech. At upper left, Moses (his brows adorned with two rays of light) is seen establishing the commandments concerning ritual animal sacrifice at the altar. He places an urn full of manna inside the Ark of the Covenant. At upper right, Aaron, the high priest, sacrifices a lamb according to tradition.
Casavant Pipe Organ
The original pipe organ was built in 1858 by Samuel Russell Warren. In 1886 Casavant Frères began building a new 32-foot pipe organ at the church, completing it in 1891. It was notably the first organ with adjustable-combination pedals to be operated by electricity. Brothers Joseph-Claver (1855–1933) and Samuel-Marie (1859–1929) got their start in organ-building in the shop of their father Joseph Casavant under his successor Eusèbe Brodeur. Claver worked with Brodeur during 1874–1878, then went to France for a 14-month apprenticeship with the firm of John Abbey in Versailles. He and Samuel then visited many organs and workshops in western Europe before establishing their factory on the site of their father's workshop on rue Girouard in Saint-Hyacinthe in 1879. Since then, the vast instrument has undergone several restorations. To mark its 100th anniversary, additional stops were installed, bringing the total number of pipes to 7,000. The largest pipe measures 10 metres (32 feet) and the smallest, 6 millimetres (1/4 inch). In 2002 a second trompette en chamade (outward facing trumpet) stop was added. The organ today has 92 stops distributed over four keyboards and a pedalboard. The present console dates from 1962.
The pulpit is one of the Basilica’s greatest ornaments. In earlier times, the priest would mount the steps to deliver his sermon. From his position above the congregation, his voice could be heard throughout the church, without electronic amplification. The architect Victor Bourgeau (1809–1888) designed this pulpit during the renovations of the 1870s. The renowned sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850–1917) created the ornamentation, particularly the two ground-level figures of the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah. As with the altarpiece, the pulpit signifies that the Old Testament of the Bible is the basis of Christian faith.
Ezekiel describes his calling to be a prophet by going into great detail about his encounter with God and four living creatures or Cherubim with four wheels that stayed beside the creatures in Ezekiel 1. For the next five years he incessantly prophesied and acted out the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, which was met with some opposition. However, Ezekiel and his contemporaries like Jeremiah, another prophet who was living in Jerusalem at that time, witnessed the fulfillment of their prophecies when Jerusalem was finally sacked by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
The liturgical reforms dating from the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) require the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people. In 1998 a new altar was installed. Its designer, the sculptor Denis Dugay, drew his inspiration from the architecture of the high altar at the far end of the choir. The altar was consecrated on Christmas Day 1998. At a Solemn Mass on October 31, 1999, representatives of each of the religious groups concerned came to offer relics belonging to all Canadians either beatified or canonized as saints. These and other relics were inserted in reliquaries and placed under the altar, including relics of Saint Marguerite Bourgeois, Saint Marguerite d’Youville, Blessed Brother André of Saint Joseph’s Oratory, and others.
To mark Notre-Dame’s centenary celebrations in 1929, Curé Olivier Maurault ordered the creation of new stained glass windows for the church. Besides raising the necessary funds for the project, he himself decided on the themes of the ground-floor windows, which recall the religious and social life of the early Ville-Marie settlement. The Quebec artist Jean-Baptiste Lagacé designed the images, and the windows were executed at the workshops of Francis Chigot at Limoges, France.
The Confessionals of Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal were completed in 1880 by architect James O'Donnell. Surrounded by exquisite art, they are themselves an artistic masterpiece.
Marguerite Bourgeoys, was the French founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal in the colony of New France, now part of Québec. She lived in Fort Ville-Marie (now Montreal) as of 1653, educating young girls, the poor, and natives until her death at the turn of the 18th century. Before Marguerite Bourgeoys received official recognition in 1982 as a saint in the Catholic Church, many people had already looked upon her as having the virtues of one. The day following her death, a priest wrote, “If saints were canonized as in the past by the voice of the people and of the clergy, tomorrow we would be saying the Mass of Saint Marguerite of Canada.” Helene Bernier writes, “[P]opular admiration had already canonized her 250 years before her beatification”.
Marie Anne Blondin was a Canadian teacher who became the foundress of the Sisters of Saint Anne, established in 1850, dedicated to educating the rural population of the Province of Canada. Over the years, Blondin found out that one of the causes of the widespread illiteracy in the French-speaking community was a certain Church ruling that forbade that children be taught by members of the opposite sex. Unable to finance two schools, many parish priests chose to have none. In 1848 Esther presented to the Bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget, a plan to found a religious congregation “for the education of poor country children, both girls and boys in the same schools”. She has been beatified by the Catholic Church, the last step prior to canonization. Pope John Paul II granted her the title of Venerable in 1991. After the certification of a miracle having taken place through her intercession, she was beatified by that same pope on April 29, 2001. Even though I am not knowledgeable about catholic saints, I am inspired by the works of these two women.
Of the hundreds of churches on the island of Montréal, Notre-Dame's interior is the most stunning, with a wealth of exquisite detail, most of it carved from rare woods that have been delicately gilded and painted. O'Donnell, one of the proponents of the Gothic Revival style in the early decades of the 19th century, is the only person honored by burial in the crypt. The church is among the most dramatic in the world; its interior is grand and colorful, its ceiling is colored deep blue and decorated with golden stars, and the rest of the sanctuary is a polychrome of blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. The only Cathedral I have seen which is remotely similar is Sainte-Chapelle, considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ's Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.
If you visit Montréal, you must visit Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal for the exquisite interior. As always, I hope you enjoyed, please leave a comment.
Notre-Dame Basilica: http://www.basiliquenotredame.ca/en/
Notre-Dame Montréal: https://archive.org/stream/notredamechurch00unse/notredamechurch00unse_djvu.txt
Sacred Destinations: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/canada/montreal-basilica-notre-dame
Opus 34, 1892 (orig), Opus 715, 1917 (rebuilt), Opus 1647, 1940, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica, 83 stops, Specifications and history from Casavant: https://web.archive.org/web/20110525075410/http://www.casavant.ca/new_temp/anglais/History/Early/0034.pdf
Esther Blondin: http://www.ssacong.org/eng/histoire/fondatrice/index.htm
Sacred Destinations: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/canada/montreal-basilica-notre-dame