I know a lot of people shirk at the site of cathedrals. How exciting can an old, spindly church really be? I get it. I’m not really one to hop of board with religious relics. Nonetheless, historic cathedrals send goose bumps up and down my arms. The dark wood pews reflect strange shadows when light penetrates the heavily colored stained glass windows. The symmetrical lines of the organ’s thousands of pipes, finely polished, are perfectly aligned in comparison to the unevenly melted candles spread throughout the church. And, even though I’m not religious, there’s something heavy and mysterious about these old cathedrals, like little ghostly wisps of unguarded thoughts floating around me.
In addition to the incredibly detailed interiors of these old churches, I’m always impressed with how old they really are. The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, for example, dates back to the late 1600s. The city was founded in 1642, and construction of the stone church happened between 1672 and 1683.
Let’s put that into perspective: The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal was built and in use for almost 100 years before the Declaration of Independence in the United States was signed. My hometown of Las Vegas was hundreds of years away from even being a thought in someone’s mind.
As I wandered around the basilica in Montreal, I thought a lot about its age and the history it’s witnessed. In addition to the thousands of sermons given in the cathedral, I’m sure there have been countless baptisms, weddings and funerals. Hundreds of lives have changed as people sat in these very pews.
The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, like many historic Catholic churches, is, in my opinion, quite impressive. It was inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It is a popular attraction in Montreal and there are hordes of people strolling throughout the church at any given time, but I found it relatively easy to enjoy my visit (though taking a picture without people in it was nearly impossible).
Throughout the basilica’s interior are numerous panoramas, sculptures and panels that depict a variety of scenes from the Bible. I’m not particularly familiar with stories from the scripture, but I did appreciate the artistic details of the work. The stained glass windows, which were created in 1929, illustrate scenes from Montreal’s social and religious history.
Though the main sanctuary, altar and pulpit of the Notre Dame Basilica are impressive in their own right, it is a bit crowded. To escape the people, I slipped through one of the doors located on either side of the altar, which led to a hallway leading to the Chapel of Notre Dame du Sacré-Coeur. This part of the building is much newer. Destroyed in a fire in 1978, the chapel was rebuilt between 1979 and 1982, and most people don’t realize it even exists. Whereas the main church is dark and ornate, the chapel is washed in gold and bronze with large windows and therefore lots of sunlight. The room is much smaller, and it’s easier to appreciate the 32 panels that depict religious scenes here. The organ is also much smaller, with only 25 stops and 1,648 pipes (compared to the 7,000 pipes in the main cathedral).
Visitors to the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal must pay an admission fee, which is then used for conservation and restoration of the building. Guided tours (20 minutes each) are offered in French and English throughout the day.
The Notre Dame Basilica is located at 110 Notre Dame Street West in Montreal, Quebec, in Canada.