“Were I to reopen my research into Notre-Dame today, I would instigate its position as a monument in the context of Romanticism, particularly as one of three giant romantic fantasies that were set before the public in three consecutive years : O’Donnell’s Notre-Dame in 1829, Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique in 1830, and Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris in 1831’’.
- Franklin Toker -
The Church of Notre-Dame in Montréal : An Architectural history, the 2nd Edition, Montréal, McGill-Queens University Press, p. xx, 1991.
To build the 77-metre-long, 41-metre-wide church, O’Donnell called upon four teams of stone cutters, masons, carpenters and metal workers. That summer, at the peak of construction, there were nearly 250 people working on the site. Construction on the walls, which were 1.,5 m thick, was completed in 1826.
In the fall of 1826, tree trunks 14 metres high were erected to form the 16 columns of the nave (afflicted by dry rot, the tree trunks were replaced in 1962 with reinforced concrete but the original coverings were conserved). The galleries were put in place, followed by the wood floor, which slopes toward the sanctuary, droppping by one metre. The roof, considered a masterpiece of engineering, was not completed until 1827.
In 1828, Italian fresco painter Angelo Pienovi was brought in from New York and a local entrepreneur, John Doherty, was hired to paint the columns, ceilings, doors and woodwork. In October, a competition was opened to sculptors for the creation of an altarpiece based on O’Donnell’s designs. T; the contract was awardedgiven to Paul Rollin (1789–-1855), who finished work in 1830, after the church was officially inaugurated on June 7, 1829. Notre-Dame now seats close to three thousand people.
Construction of towers and bells (1841–1848)
Once construction was completed in 1829, the church was left without towers or bells for more than 10 years, due to financial constraints. Under the direction of architect John Ostell, based on O'Donnell's designs, the west tower, called Persévérance, was completed in 1841. Since 1848, it has housed one of the most famous bells in the world, the Jean-Baptiste Bourdon, which weighs 10,900 kg and comes from England's Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
According to Olivier Maureault, parish priest from 1926 to 1929, "the sound of the Jean-Baptiste Bourdon remains vibrant, sonorous and powerful: you can hear it as far off as Mont Saint-Hilaire (34 km away)."
The east tower, called Tempérance, was completed in 1843 and since then has housed a 10-bell carillon from the same foundry.
In 1865, the façade was completed with the installation of three large statues of St-Joseph, The Immaculate Conception and St. John the Baptist. They were cast in cement by Gaetano Baccerini based on plaster models by sculptor Charles-Olivier Dauphin (1807-1874).
Raised to the rank of minor basilica
On April 21,1982, the church of Notre-Dame of Montréal was raised to the rank of a minor basilica by a papal brief issued by Pope John-Paul II, a gesture intended recognize the religious, historic and artistic significance of the building, one of the most splendid gems in the heritage of Quebec.
A place of prayer and celebration
A place of prayer and celebration of the Catholic faith, Notre-Dame has always been a scene of great events that left an impression on Quebec's consciousness. It was there that, during 1910 International Eucharistic Congress, a number of guests spoke. These included Right Reverend Francis Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, and French Canadian nationalist Henri Bourassa. It's also the place where celebrations in honour of the founding of Montréal have been held every May since 1918 under the auspice of the Société Historique de Montréal. It was the site of Pope Jean-Paul II's visit to the children on September 11, 1984. It hosted the wedding of hockey player Mario Lemieux and that of singer Céline Dion. Funerals have also been held there, for such figures as Canadian Prime Minister Sir George-Étienne Cartier in 1873, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau, hockey legend Maurice Richard and former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Endowed with a rich history, Notre-Dame was designated in 1989 as a site of national historical significance by the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. In the heart of historic Old Montréal, it is one of the city's most remarkable landmarks.
Excellent acoustics make Notre-Dame a cultural center for music lovers who come to enjoy organ or choir concerts, as well as the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, which performs there regularly.
Each year, Notre-Dame welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Guests find peace, harmony and serenity there, as well as an opportunity to learn about Quebec's religious history.
A site brimming with activities
Through the various activities organized by the Notre-Dame Basilica, either on a regular basis like the guided tours, or occasionally, like the Saint Peter and The Vatican: The Heritage of Popes exhibit in summer of 2005, "À la vie, À la mort" in 2012, the "Treasures of Napoléon" in 2014 and a first multimedia show "Et la lumière fut" in 2001, the basilica is developing along with the Montréal community and continues to draw interest.
We can only agree with the following words by James O'Donnell, addressed to the Notre-Dame church wardens in 1827. "Gentlemen, bear in mind that you are not building a temporary structure, but that you are erecting an edifice that will reflect credit on yourselves and fraternity and your country. I assure you that the history of your edifice shall be transmitted to future generations."
Even surrounded by skyscrapers, Notre-Dame Basilica retains its imposing material and spiritual presence. Like all great structures, it reflects the talents of the architects, artists and artisans who imagined, designed and developed it. It continues to symbolize the faith and values of its founders, builders and the first members of this Montreal parish. The basilica continues to be a heaven of peace in the city, open to one and all.
On a beautiful sunny morning, a group of tourists is visiting the Basilica. Gathered together at the foot of La Chaire de Vérité, one of them is writing a postcard. What is its message? As in all good tales, imagination comes to the rescue, allowing us to see the following words: "Notre-Dame… What an inspiring place!"