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The Notre-Dame Basilica

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When it opened in 1830, Montreal’s Notre-Dame was the largest church in North America, and it would remain so for fifty years. Today, this French Gothic Revival basilica is one of the top attractions in the city.

Notre Dame Montreal

In 1640, during the earliest days of the French colony, the Sulpician Order built the first church of Notre-Dame across from the Place d’Armes. But after a couple hundred years, there were far too many worshipers for the humble church. To reflect its growing power and influence, Montreal required a much grander place of worship.

So the decision was made to tear down the old Notre-Dame, and build something new. James O’Donnell was the architect in charge of the project. This Irish-American protestant was a curious choice for a cathedral in French-speaking Montreal, but it turned out to be an inspired one. Apparently, you don’t need to be Catholic to build catholic churches. Hoping to be buried in his finest architectural creation, O’Donnell converted to Catholicism shortly before his death, and is still the only person entombed in the basilica’s crypt.

Notre Dame Montreal

With its two Gothic towers and ornate facade, the Notre-Dame strikes a fine figure when viewed from the Place d’Armes, which it faces. But it isn’t until you step inside that its true beauty is revealed. Bathed in blue and gold, with vaulted ceilings, colorful stained glass, intricate pine carvings and a massive altarpiece, there’s not a corner of the Notre-Dame which fails to impress.

The basilica’s stained glass windows provide a unique touch. They don’t depict religious scenes, as would normally be the case for a church, but moments from the founding of Montreal. Instead of Jesus on the crucifix or the assumption of Mary, we see events like the arrival of the French at the Pointe-à-Callière, the construction of the church, and the re-education of the natives.

The windows will pull your attention to the side, the magnificent altarpiece will bring it to the front, and the blue vaulted roof will compel you to look up, but don’t forget to turn around. At the back of the church, you’ll find another highlight: a giant organ dating from 1891 and made of 7000 individual pipes. It’s recently been tuned (a process which took weeks), and according to our guide, sounds better than ever before. The organ is played during Sunday service.

Behind the altar, we found the Sacré-Cœur Chapel. After an arson attack in 1978, this chapel was completely rebuilt by a team of master carpenters, who used only linden wood. With natural light pouring in from above and illuminating the wooden statues and modern altarpiece, this chapel feels entirely different to the rest of the cathedral; warmer and more rustic. More Canadian, somehow.

Location on our Map
Notre-Dame Basilica – Website

Framed Montreal Photographs

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April 13, 2016 at 3:46 pm Comments (0)

Bonjour Montréal!

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For the sixteenth edition of our “For 91 Days” travel project, Jürgen and I chose Montreal: the second-largest city in Canada, and a multilingual hotbed of culture and the arts. We arrived at the beginning of April with no prior knowledge of the city and no expectations. So we were excited to see what Montreal had to offer us, and would be giving the city 91 days to impress us.

Bonjour Montreal

Before landing in a new destination, Jürgen and I normally do a lot of research. We buy travel guides, study maps, and pore over whatever information we can dig up on the internet. By the time we arrive in our new 91-day home, we’ve usually got lists of things to do, and a basic understanding of the culture, currency, language and layout of the city or region we’re visiting. But we didn’t do any of this for Montreal.

Part of it was a lack of time. After finishing 91 days in Curaçao, we spent the next few weeks on a whirlwind tour of the USA, visiting friends in DC and San Francisco, catching up with family in Ohio, and returning to Savannah, which had been one of our first destinations. Given all this activity, we simply didn’t have a chance to read the Montreal guidebooks we had ordered. In fact, we never took them out of the box in which they’d arrived.

Another reason for our negligence was the fact that Montreal is just over the border from the US. We’re not talking about Sri Lanka or Korea, here; I didn’t need to brush up on cultural etiquette or prepare myself for any bizarre customs. I’m from the States, and Canada is my good buddy to the north. We share sports leagues and even an international dialing prefix. And so, despite never having spent any time in Montreal, I didn’t feel much need to research.

Bonjour Montreal

And then we arrived in the city, and it’s like… for a long time, your good buddy has been inviting you over to his house, but you’ve never bothered, even though he lives just up the street. One day, you finally stop by, and are immediately surprised by the differences between your house and his. His parents are speaking French and there are European paintings on the walls. They have plastic bags of milk in their fridge. Everyone is so polite, and for dinner they serve you this delicious pile of french fries smothered in gravy. From now on, you’ll have a different appreciation for your buddy. The truth is, you don’t really know anyone until you hang out at their house.

So here we are, Montreal… let’s see what you’ve got. We’re excited to get to know you, and somehow sorry that it’s taken so long.

List Of Montreal Hotels

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April 10, 2016 at 8:00 pm Comments (8)

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The Notre-Dame Basilica When it opened in 1830, Montreal's Notre-Dame was the largest church in North America, and it would remain so for fifty years. Today, this French Gothic Revival basilica is one of the top attractions in the city.
For 91 Days