The Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, located halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, is one of Canada’s national shrines and is one of the most visited historic icons in the region. Also known as Our Lady of the Cape Shrine, it is Canada’s National Shrine to the Blessed Mother.
The original small wooden structure was built in 1694. A second parish church was built in 1747 to replace the first church, and this building still stands and is considered the oldest church in Canada in which Mass is celebrated daily.
By 1867, more and more parishioners started coming to church; eventually, the church was too small, and a larger church was required. The stones and building material were purchased and were to be brought over in the winter across the frozen Saint Lawrence River.
However, 1879 happened to have one of those rare mild winters where the river did not freeze over. Parishioners prayed the Rosary, asking for the Blessed Mother‘s intercession for solid ice to form on the river.
A promise to the Blessed Mother was made by the priest that he would dedicate the smaller church to her instead of demolishing it if the building material could be obtained before springtime. Miraculously, in the middle of March, thin pieces of ice floated down the river from Lake St-Pierre, 20 miles.
The workers, priest and parishioners worked perilously on these thin pieces of ice. They thickened the ice by pouring water and using the heavy snowfall to build a narrow mile-and-a-half-long ice path. This ice bridge became known as the Rosary Bridge. During this time, the Saint Lawrence River remained wide open on both sides of this ice path. With these stones, the third church was built in 1880.
On June 22, 1888, the dedication of the small fieldstone church to Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, took place. A statue that had been donated by a parishioner in 1854 was ceremoniously placed on the main altar. That evening, a handicapped parishioner came to pray and asked for the assistance of two of the priests to help him into the church.
As the three men were praying, suddenly both priests looked up at the Blessed Mother to see that the statue’s eyes had opened and that her face turned into a living person’s face. This miracle lasted for almost 10 minutes. Both priests were astonished and never stopped talking about this wonderful event of the Blessed Mother.
With more parishioners, the construction of the new basilica began in 1955 and it was inaugurated in 1964. This large building seats 1,660 and its dome rises up to 125 feet. The Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Cap is adorned with remarkable stained-glass windows and the organ is one of the largest in Canada with 5,425 pipes.
It is estimated that as many as 400,000 visit the church annually. For more information, visit www.sanctuaire-ndc.ca.