August 10, 2014

A Beautiful Surprise in Montreal

I love Surprises! I especially love vacations where I have only a vague idea of what there is to see and do in that town.

I know, sounds kinda dumb. You spend beaucoupe moola  to travel to a place where you know the name of the hotel, but not much else. Well. That's kinda how my husband and I rock and roll. Planning ahead just ain't our thang. On more than one occasion we have set off for one destination only to abruptly change our minds and go somewhere else.

For instance in 2012, it was 1 a.m. and I was driving north for a vacation in Michigan's U-P. We are Road Warriors and do our driving at night when the world is asleep. Earlier I had checked the week's weather in Mackinac and it was supposed to rain non-stop the whole time we were there. So I woke Ray up and said, "Let's go to the Smokey Mountains instead. Buddy has never been there." Buddy was our 21 year old tabby who traveled everywhere with me because he was diabetic and needed insulin. So we changed directions and yes, Buddy had a great time. We rented a chalet with a mountain view, and Buddy got his first rib-eye steak. Memorable!

In July Ray and I packed our passports with the intention of spending a few days in Canada. I'd been to Montreal in the early 90s with several coworkers. Every summer Montreal hosts a fireworks show each weekend presented by a different country. The weekend I was there in 1992, Japan was featured. I still have vivid memories of their amazing fireworks.

Ray loves fireworks. So, in essence...we decided to go to Canada to see fireworks.

With that kind of logic, you'd probably hate vacationing with us.

But wait! Here's what we discovered that was both a Surprise! and the best part of the whole trip, beyond even the fireworks show put on by Australia.
Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica is located in the heart of the historical Old Port area, founded in 1642 when a modest wooden chapel was built by the Jesuits. In 1657 the Sulpicians took over the parish and another chapel was built. The construction of the stone church took place between 1672 and 1683. By1800 there was not enough room inside the church to hold the parishioners, forcing them to listen to mass from the parvis. However it wasn't until 1823 when the church wardens approved plans for the existing church.

The basilica's architect, James O'Donnell, an Irish Protestant living in New York, moved to Montreal to oversee the work. He converted to Catholicism and died in 1830, just a few months after the church's inauguration.

Construction of the towers began in 1841 and was completed in 1843. The western tower, named Perseverance, houses the great bell weighing 11 tons. The eastern tower, named Temperance, houses a carillion with ten bells.

Between 1866 and 1882 Notre-Dame's parish priest, Benjamin-Victor Rousselot, supervised the beautification of the interior, inspired in great part by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The existing d├ęcor was designed by Victor Bourgeau, and was completed in1880.
Ray poses in front of one of the Confessional Booths.
The color blue is in honor of The Virgin Mary.
Henry Bouriche was commissioned to sculpt the altarpieces.
The gold color you see throughout the Basilica is real gold.
Rousselot imagined the altar with a centerpiece illustrating the Eucharist, which originated in Christ's sacrifice. This sacrifice is first mentioned in the Old Testament and is illustrated in the four sculptures surrounding the Crucifixion. The sculptures are by Louis-Phillipe Hebert.

Meichisedech is seen offering bread and wine.
Moses places an urn full of manna in the Ark of the Covenant.
Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Aaron sacrifices a lamb.
At the very top of the altarpiece, Mary is seen being crowned by her Son.
The six polychrome statues represent Saint Peter and Saint Paul as well as the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
On either side of the Tabernacle, the angels in adoration are depicted.
The Last Supper is seen on the front altar-tomb.
Three reliquaries are placed beneath the altar of celebration.
The Pulpit was designed by Henry Bouriche and modified by Victor Bourgeau, built between 1883 and 1885.
The sculptures below were intended to be placed on the altar along with the others, however there was not enough room. Instead Ezechiel and Jeremie were placed at the bottom of the pulpit.
The Organ, built in 1891 by the Casavant brothers of Saint-Hyacinthe, has been modified a few times. It now has 4 keyboards, 99 stops and approximately 7,000 pipes.
The ground floor's stained glass windows, ordered in 1929 to mark the church's centenary celebrations, depict scenes of Montreal's religious history. Jean-Baptiste Lagace designed the images, which were then brought to life at Francis Chigot's workshop in Limoges, France.

The ceiling contains 5 thousand gold-leaf stars.
One area we were not allowed access to because there was a wedding in progress, was the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur. Built between 1888 and 1891, the chapel was almost entirely destroyed by fire on December 7, 1978. It was rebuilt between 1979 and 1982.
According to the tour guide, singer Celine Dion was married in the Basilica on December 17, 1994 and Pope John Paul II celebrated mass for the children on September 11, 1984.
All photographs are mine. However the above notes were taken from the information guide provided with our admission fee of $5.00. Since January 1999, people who wish to visit the church must pay admission. The fees are used to finance conservation and restoration works. However, all may attend masses or any other type of religious services free of charge.  Twenty minute tours are offered daily in both French and English. There are also different types of concerts performed in the Basilica on a regular basis.

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  1. Your photos of the basilica are gorgeous. What a beautiful, stately building. We had been in one in Italy, and I love how they are always so ornate and colorful. I bet you two are fun to take on a vacation - every day would be an adventure since you really have no plans.

  2. Beautiful. How fun to travel as the wind takes you.

  3. Well, five dollars is a small price. After all, it takes beaucoupe moola* to finance conservation and restoration of a cathedral.

    Beautiful post.

    *I'm fluent in French Canadian, you see.

  4. Glad you enjoyed my hometown ;) Interestingly enough, most French-Canadians rebelled against the Catholic Church long ago partly because of its unbelievable political influence & power, overabundance of wealth, and extensive property ownership.
    Hope you got to catch some of the other great features the city has to offer (International JazzFest, Just for Laughs ComedyFest, GrandPrix, and about a thousand other big yearly summer festivals, not to mention amazing shopping, restaurants, art galleries, etc!)