From good food, to amazing street art, and sunny days spent exploring its various neighbourhoods, Montreal has so much to see and offer. But for me, Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica is a jewel in the city, and its beauty will be something that I will remember for a very long time!
The history of the Notre-Dame Basilica dates back to 1672, just 30 years after the founding of Ville-Marie, the small colony that became Montreal. In 1672, the construction of a stone church dedicated to Mary, now known as Notre-Dame Church, began. It took 10 years to build, but by the 1800s, the parishioners had already outgrown the church. Finally in 1824, construction began on the Notre-Dame Basilica that we see today. The new church was inaugurated in 1830, and the old church was demolished. Today, not too far past the steps in front of the entrance of the Notre-Dame Basilica, you'll see a large cross-like shape on the ground which marks where the old Notre-Dame Church used to be. The new church didn't become a basilica until April 1982, when Pope John Paul II visited the city and raised its rank to minor basilica.
Interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica
As soon as you step into the basilica you'll be enveloped by the rich blues and golds that have been used to decorate the interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica. The blue is more than just a pretty colour. Marian blue is the colour of Mary, so it is a fitting colour to decorate this basilica with. This basilica is also the first church in Canada built in the Gothic Revival style.
Interestingly, the interior that we see today is not what it originally looked like. In fact, the original interior underwent some criticism as the placement of some of the stained glass windows right behind the altar let in light that was blinding to the congregation who were seated in the church! In response to this, they covered up the stained glass windows with a brick wall, and they were only discovered 80 long years later due to a fire in the church. You can see two of these stained glass windows in the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chapel that sits behind the altar. This chapel is reserved for quiet meditation and isn't really for tourists to admire and explore, but you can get a glimpse of it from the doorway. Within the main area of the basilica, you can also admire stained glass windows along either side of the walls that depict various religious scenes, as well as scenes from Montreal's history.
The stunning black walnut altarpiece that welcomes you as soon as you step into the basilica is no doubt the highlight of Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica. When I first saw it, I almost couldn't believe the beauty of it all sitting right in front of me.
As you get closer, you'll see that the centre of the altarpiece depicts the crucifixion of Christ. On either side of the crucifixion, there are sculptures depicting four scenes from the Old Testament, and at the top of the altarpiece, Mary is being crowned by Jesus. At the bottom of the altar, you'll also find a wooden carving of the Last Supper.
If you can peel your eyes away from the altar, you'll find a beautiful organ above the entrance of the basilica. This impressive instrument was originally built in 1891 by the Casavant brothers, the brothers who founded Casavant Frères, a Canadian organ building company based in Quebec that is still in business today! The organ has gone through a number of modifications over the years and currently boasts 4 keyboards and about 7,000 pipes.
From late May to early October, you can sign up to get up close to the organ! For more details click here.
Tips for Visiting the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal
Hours: The Notre-Dame Basilica is open for visitors Mondays to Fridays 8AM-4:30PM, Saturdays 8AM-4PM, and Sundays 12:30PM-4PM. To check current hours, click here.
Address: The Notre-Dame Basilica is located at 110 Notre-Dame Street West, Metro Pl.-d'Armes, in Old Montreal, right opposite Place d'Armes.
Entry: $6 for adults 18 and over. For a full list of current entry costs, click here.
Dress code: You will be asked to remove hats when entering the basilica.
Tours: Included in your ticket price is a 20 minute tour (available in both English and French). They will make announcements when tours are about to start, or you can ask the staff about tour times when you buy your ticket at the entrance. I highly recommend the tour to learn more about the historical and artistic significance of this landmark.
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