By Kelly Wise Valdes
With the capacity to host 4,000 worshipers and a magnificent interior, the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal is a must-see when visiting this unique French city. The church is considered one of the most magnificent in the world with its grand and colorful interior and ornate ceiling. The entire sanctuary bursts of colors of blues, azures, reds, purples, silver and gold. The interior is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and statues. The stained-glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary are not biblical but depict scenes from the religious history of Montreal.
With a history that dates back to the 1600s, the church has dramatically changed and grown. In 1657, the Roman Catholic Sulpician Order arrived Montreal. They founded the parish and dedicated it to the Holy Name of Mary. The original parish church of Notre-Dame was built on the site in 1672.
By 1824 the congregation had outgrown the church. James O’Donnell, an Irish-American Protestant architect from New York, was commissioned to design the new basilica. The main construction work took place between 1824 and 1829; however, O’Donnell did not live to see his work completed. He died in Montreal in 1830. He was so moved by the experience that he converted to Catholicism just prior to his death and is the only person to be buried in the church’s crypt.
When the exterior of the building was completed, it was the largest church in North America. The completion of the interior took much longer. Victor Bourgeau, a Canadian architect was commissioned to complete the interior 1872 to 1879.
Of the hundreds of churches in Montreal, Notre-Dame’s interior is the most stunning, with exquisite details carved from rare woods that have been carefully gilded and painted. The main altar was carved from linden wood and contains 32 bronze panels representing birth, life and death.
Pope John Paul II deemed Notre-Dame a minor basilica during a visit to the city in April 1982. In 2000, it was the site of the state funeral of Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister, as well the setting for Celine Dion’s 1994 wedding to René Angélil.
The Notre-Dame Basilica has recently combined its beautiful architecture with a light and musical display. This spectacular show, AURA, unveils the richness of the Notre-Dame Basilica’s heritage. Tickets can be purchased in advance. For more information, visit www.AURAbasiliquemontreal.com.