One of the most popular attractions in all of Canada, the Notre-Dame Basilica is a beautiful, historic building that has stood in Montreal for nearly 200 years.
The Notre-Dame Basilica
A National Historic Site of Canada, the Notre-Dame Basilica opened its doors all the way back in 1829. Located at 110, rue Notre-Dame Ouest, around 11 million visitors walk through the basilica’s doors every year.
The site’s popularity has a lot to do with its architectural magnificence. Designed in the Gothic Revival style, the basilica has two large towers similar to the other famous Notre-Dame (in Paris). One tower contains a ten-bell carillon while the other holds the singular Jean-Baptiste bell which weighs over 10,000 kilograms.
The interior of the basilica is quite ornate. There are statues, wooden carvings, paintings and a series of stained glass windows, among other features. The windows are particularly interesting as they are not renditions of Biblical scenes, as is standard for most churches. Instead, the windows are representations of Montreal’s religious history. This local flavour makes the basilica stand out even more as a unique attraction.
Another noteworthy part of the basilica is its massive organ. The organ has over 7,000 pipes and is over a century old. In most years multiple public concerts are held in the basilica. As well, the Notre-Dame’s organist usually leads the Montreal Grand Organ Festival during the summer. If you make a reservation it’s sometimes possible to get a seat right next to the organ as it plays!
Visiting the Notre-Dame
The basilica is open to visitors every day (except for when it’s booked for special events). You can visit from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm on Mondays to Fridays, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturdays and from 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm on Sundays.
There is an admission fee to enter the Notre-Dame but it’s not that much. The cost is $5 for adults, $4 for youth (7 to 17) and free for those 6 years and younger. Included with admission is the option for a free guided tour. These tours last 20 minutes and begin at the top and half of every hour.
Another option is the Grand Tour which is 60 minutes long. This extended version includes stops at more closed-off areas in the basilica like part of the crypt. To take the Grand Tour you have to make a reservation online at the Notre-Dame Basilica website.
Services at the Basilica
The Notre-Dame offers daily masses in its main chapel. Mass takes place at 7:30 am and 12:15 pm from Mondays to Fridays, at 5:00 pm on Saturdays and at 9:00 am, 11:00 am and 5:00 pm on Sundays. All masses are in French only. With the exception of Christmas and Easter, they are free to attend so you don’t need to pay the regular admission fee.
As the basilica is an iconic monument in Montreal, it is in demand for other services. Baptisms take place at the Notre-Dame multiple times a month, and the building can be reserved for weddings, funerals and other events. The most famous wedding at the Notre-Dame was between Céline Dion and René Angélil in 1994.
AURA Basilica Montreal
While visiting the Notre-Dame during the day is one thing, experiencing the AURA multimedia show is another. Produced by the Moment Factory, this show usually takes place most nights after the regular visiting hours.
AURA consists of two stages, both of which last around 20 minutes. The first half is a self-guided exploration of different light, sound and image installations dotted around the basilica. The second half directs you to sit down in the middle of the building where a large-scale visual show plays out all around you.
Tickets for AURA cost $29.50 for adults, $26.50 for seniors (60+), $19.50 for students (17 to 22) and $16 for children (6 to 16). No photography is permitted and since AURA takes place after normal visiting hours you are not allowed to stay in the basilica once the show finishes. If you want to check out what the Notre-Dame looks like normally, make sure to go beforehand!
For more information on this experience visit the AURA Basilica website.
History of the Notre-Dame
All the way back in 1672, around 15 years after Roman Catholic settlers arrived in what is now Montreal, the Church of Notre-Dame was built where the modern-day basilica now stands. The original church stood for around 150 years but was declared too small in the early 19th century and plans for a much-bigger building were put into motion.
The modern Notre-Dame basilica was designed by James O’Donnell, an Irish-American architect who ironically was Anglican (though he later converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed). While the basilica opened in 1829 (and O’Donnell died in 1830), construction did not finish until decades later.
When the exterior was completed in the 1840s, the basilica became the largest church in North America (this is no longer the case). The interior of the building was not complete until the 1870s.
While the basilica survived in great condition to the present day, the main chapel was massively damaged by arson in 1978. Rebuilt as faithfully as possible, much of the chapel is nevertheless much newer than the rest of the building.
In 1982 Pope John Paul II visited the Notre-Dame and officially gave it the status of “minor basilica”. Seven years later the federal government named the basilica a National Historic Site of Canada.
For more information visit the Notre-Dame Basilica website.
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