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A brief guide to Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica

Celine Dion got married there. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there. But pop star romances and papal visits were not exactly why we wanted to visit Montreal’s Basilique de Notre Dame.

Located on Rue Notre Dame in the heart of Vieux Montreal (the Old Town), the Basilica of Notre Dame is one of the most spectacular sights in this, the city of a hundred steeples, and it was in large part the impetus behind our visit to Montreal. Before we arrived, we thought it looked like one of the most beautiful cathedrals we had ever seen. After visiting it in person, there is no question: it will be difficult to find a cathedral that will ever top Montreal’s Notre Dame.

If you’re headed to Montreal, the Basilica Notre-Dame is a must-visit. Here’s what you need to know …

A Brief History

This gorgeous cathedral was founded in 1642 as a simple wooden chapel in what was then known as the village of Ville-Marie (later to become Montreal). A larger Baroque-style cathedral was constructed and completed in 1683. But by 1800, the congregation had outgrown this building, and so construction on the current cathedral commenced. New York architect James O’Donnell selected the Gothic Revival style, the first of its kind to be built in Canada. Major construction of the cathedral was completed just after 1830. The cathedral’s famed bell towers were completed in 1841 and 1843. 

Key Features of the Basilica

The Pulpit

This is one of the Basilica’s more popular features, and its ornate design makes it easy to understand why. It’s location toward the middle of the sanctuary on the left side of the cathedral made it possible for the priest’s voice to project out to the congregation. The Old Testament characters Ezekiel and Jeremiah are carved into the base of the pulpit. Surrounding the platform of the pulpit are carved the New Testament characters of Peter and Paul. Other features on the pulpit represent the role of the Holy Spirit and Faith in Christian doctrine.

The Stained Glass Windows

New stained glass was installed in 1929 to mark the centenary celebrations of the Basilica.  The ground floor designs depict scenes from early Montreal life interwoven with Biblical stories and themes.

The High Alter

The crucifixion of Christ is the centerpiece. Below are scenes from the Last Supper. The blue lighting makes this sight incredible.

The Great Casavant Organ

The Great Casavant Organ towers over the choir loft

The Great Casavant Organ towers over the choir loft

This spectacular organ, built in 1891, towers over the choir loft and includes over 7,000 pipes!

Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur

Sacred Heart Chapel, located behind the main sanctuary

Sacred Heart Chapel, located behind the main sanctuary

A smaller chapel located behind the main sanctuary was created to accommodate smaller functions. It was destroyed by fire in 1978, but restored by 1982. Its theme is the progression of mankind toward reunification with God and depicts various stages of life.

What else you need to know

An admission fee of $5 is charged to all visitors (Adults), regardless of whether or not you opt for a guided tour of the cathedral. Guided tours are offered Monday – Friday from 9 am – 4 pm, Saturdays from 9 – 3:30, and Sundays from 1 – 3:30. You can also arrange for a group tour. Tuesdays through Saturdays, you can also catch the evening sound and light show, “And then there was light.” Tickets for adults are $10. The show lasts approximately 35 minutes.

Whether you’re looking to visit the location of a famous Canadian celebrity wedding or just hoping to find an example of impressive architecture, the Notre-Dame Basilica is one of the most stunning sights we think you’ll find in all of Montreal. We hope you’ll make time to stop by!

What’s the most impressive cathedral or religious site you have ever visited? What makes it stand out from all the rest?

24 comments

    • Ellen
      Author

      Indeed she is! I remember seeing it on television when I was a kid — that’s how I remember that the church looked incredible! I agree, Montreal is wonderful.

  1. I have been to Montreal probably over a dozen times. I can’t remember how many times I walked past this church and never went inside. After seeing these stunning photos I cam going to have to make sure to see it next time.

  2. I do love visiting churches while traveling especially ones that are as magnificent as this one is! Loved every aspect of it. I haven’t been to Montreal but when I do this Basilica will be on the list of things I do. One site that stands out is the Wies Church in Bavaria.

  3. Great another outstanding and interesting attraction to see in Montreal! I’m going to ass it into my list of the things to do during my trip in Montreal! Can’t wait to go there!!

  4. Wow — Notre Dame Basilica really is beautiful. Before I saw your photos, I was a little skeptical about your claim that it’s the most beautiful. Now I’ve got to give thatsome thought.

    • Ellen
      Author

      We were surprised, too! And I would say the most beautiful we have SEEN yet — we have yet to make it to Paris! Thanks for reading, Cathy.

  5. Gosh, it’s hard to pick just one because I’ve seen so many amazing religious sites. The Great Mosque of Cordoba is amazing because it’s a mosque and cathedral in one (got converted from Islamic to Christian), but I also loved the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona for sheer uniqueness, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and Notre Dame in Paris. I’m sure I’m forgetting some other amazing ones!

    • Ellen
      Author

      We absolutely loved it! A little bit on the freezing cold side, though. There are so many things to do outdoors that we didn’t get to fully enjoy because we were there in winter. Oh well, just another excuse to return!

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