It was my first visit to Montréal and I know now… it won’t be my last! I spent four days (way too short) criss-crossing the city on foot and what I found was a charming, laid-back city with a distinct European feel. Sure, downtown Montréal, with its towering skyscrapers and broad avenues, looks very much like many North American cities, but venture a few blocks in any direction and you’ll find a variety of districts that make Montréal so unique. One of the first districts I chose to explore was the historic district of Old Montreal or Vieux Montréal. Some parts of this district date back to the 17th century and includes historic buildings like the City Hall, stately colonial mansions such as Château Ramezay, and impressive bank buildings like the former Bank of Montréal headquarters (with its Pantheon-like appearance) and the neo-classical Royal Bank Tower. The building that truly swept me off my feet though was the magnificent Notre Dame Basilica of Montréal.
this is one tourist attraction I definitely should not miss
Everyone I’d spoken to about Montréal told me that this is one tourist attraction I definitely should not miss. I was intrigued. As I stepped inside the basilica, I literally stopped in my tracks and gasped. Right before me was one of the most glorious sights I’d seen in a while.
The nave was a cavernous space accentuated by columns that seemed to reach to the sky – the sky, in this case being the ceiling which was blue and littered with golden stars. There was so much detail to absorb in that cavernous space, from the stunning columns to the stained glass windows, the magnificent wood-carved pulpit and the breathtaking altar, with its golden spiked towers against an azure blue background. It truly was a wondrous sight!
The basilica was built in the 1820’s in a Gothic Revival style. Upon its completion, the church was the largest in North America and it held that title for fifty years. The Irish American James O’Donnell designed the basilica and is the only person buried in the basilica’s crypt – James O’Donnell was a Protestant and purportedly converted to Catholicism in his dying hours so that he could be buried in the basilica!
I stood near the entrance for a while, simply admiring the interior and chuckling at the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” as people walked in. I walked to the Sacred Heart chapel behind the altar, and there I found myself nailed to the ground once again. Designed in the similar Gothic Revival style as the main church, the chapel is filled with elaborate sculptural motifs in earthy tones. The original chapel was seriously damaged during a fire in 1978 but was painstakingly restored to its original splendor, with a few changes to allow for more natural light.
The basilica is located on Place d’Armes in Old Montréal and is open daily to visitors and there is a CAD $5 charge for visitors, except for those attending mass. You can also purchase tickets for the spectacular light & sound show “And Then There Was Light” which showcases the history of Montréal and the church.