Fun fact: the Notre-Dame Basilica is the #1 thing to do in Montreal according to TripAdvisor. It’s also on the cover of the Lonely Planet book, but by no means does that mean the splendor was spoiled. All pictures, even the ones I took and am proud of, do not capture the grandeur of the Notre-Dame Basilica.
That morning, we bundled up as well as we could. We’d packed layers and layers of long underwear, sweaters, warm socks, thermals, hats, gloves, scarves, and those chemical hand warmers in an attempt to stave off the cold. This made the cold tolerable, but it also made it difficult to get any happy pictures. But in the battle versus the cold, victories are all that matter, looks be damned.
The Notre-Dame Basilica is on one side of the second oldest public space in Montreal, the Place d’Armes. In the middle of this public square is the Maisonneuve Monument depicting Paul de Chomedey, the founder of Montreal and easily framed with a Quebec flag flying in the background.
Opposite the statue (literally just turn your head around), you’ll see the Notre-Dame Basilica.
While standing in line, I thought it’d be funny to call it the Notre Dame Basilica, as in the way people pronounce the university in Indiana (“Noter’dayme”) which drew Sarah’s ire but giggles from the Wisconsinites in line ahead of us.
To pass the time in line and ignore the cold that was taking blood away from my fingers, I snapped some different angle shots of the basilica. And I’m actually pretty happy with this one.
Inside the Basilica
$6 in Canadian money (currently about $4.80 USD) later, we were inside. Then I saw perhaps one of the most impressive pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen.
Not only is it absolutely cavernous inside, it’s also ornately and meticulously decorated. Every surface has a design, a print, a texture to it. In the front of the cathedral is, the shrine is lit in a manner that emphasizes the intricate detail. The ceiling above is covered in thousands of Fleur de Lis, and the use of shadows emphasized the details.
And who says stairwells have to be boring? Whoever created this thought “Yes, this is a perfect place to put a saint statue.” And they were right. It’s ingenious.
Even the support pillars get in on the action.
The last bit that surprised me was behind us when we entered. Above the back of the cathedral was a giant pipe organ bathed in a deep blue light.
However, from an organizational standpoint, they could learn a thing or two from places like the Vatican. At one point, I heard a tour guide (we weren’t part of it as it wasn’t necessary) reference the number of tourists that do not respect its status as a place of worship, leading them to stop certain aspects of their practice. I’m not catholic, so I don’t know the context of what she said. But there were plenty of people who still had their hats on (which is a no-no in a church) and I can imagine in the summer people wearing tank tops and shorts (exposed skin is a no-no).
Yet there were no signs or policies displayed regarding respecting the church, and if there were, they certainly weren’t enforced. Places like the Vatican or Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral have signs and people who police dress code violations. You will be turned away if you don’t meet those requirements. The Notre-Dame Basilica didn’t, so it seemed unfair to passively complain about tourists not following the rules.
But I didn’t let this distract me, and kept finding more and more details that I loved.
As I’m writing this, I also wish that I’d written more down about the saints and stuff. Instead, I was taking pictures that I thought were cool. If you know more about these statues of saints, please add your $.02 in the comments.
If you don’t, then you’ll have to live with commentary like this:
Below is the single more eerie statue in the whole cathedral.
Place d’Armes and the Basilica at Night
Usually I try to keep this blog in chronological order, but today I’m going to skip ahead. I’m crazy proud of some night shots of the Basilica.
After dinner, I noticed that many of the buildings were very well lit. And since I had a shiny new camera that could handle low-light situations better, I decided to drag Sarah along with me for some night shots. It was bitter cold (around -15°F) and we’d been outside most of the day, but she stuck with me. She’s a trooper.
First, the Place d’Armes, and the Maisonneuve Monument.
But the real stunner was the Basilica. The lights highlighted the intricate detail that wasn’t visible during the day.
Credit Sarah with this next shot. I didn’t notice there was a full moon out, but it gave the church a more spooky tone. One of the reasons I like travelling with her is that she has an eye for these sorts of pictures but not always the ability to execute them. We make a good team like that.
After the basilica, we continued our walking tour of Montreal, including seeing Montreal City Hall, Château Ramezay, and the Old Port.