August 28, 2011
Montréal’s singular religious heritage
Festive and cosmopolitan, Montréal is a city of culture renowned in markets abroad for its wealth of festivals, most notably the annual International Jazz and Just for Laughs extravaganzas. However, any number of other intriguing attributes regularly delight visitors, while enhancing Montréal’s worldly reputation! Indeed, the city boasts a rich architectural, musical and religious art heritage.
Dubbed the city of a 1000 steeples, Montréal is brimming with architectural treasures. Despite an unequivocal Roman Catholic influence, the city’s more than 80 cultural communities make for a decidedly diverse religious heritage. Among the symbols of Christianity, there is the famed cross atop Mount Royal. The lighted, modern-day version of the original cross erected in 1643 is particularly prominent come nightfall. Protestant churches have also contributed handsomely to architecture, the arts and the Montréal cityscape.
Several magnificent examples are musts on any stopover in Montréal, if only to discover the depth of the city’s religious heritage.
In the city centre, one finds Christ Church Cathedral built in the English neo-Gothic style, and St James United Church renowned for its Gothic façade and resplendent Victorian interior.
Then there is Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montréal, a masterpiece of neo Gothic architecture with ornate interior carvings and blue vaulted ceiling designed to evoke the heavens replete with stars of pure gold. Venue of choice for all manner of ceremonies, Notre-Dame Basilica was where singer Céline Dion was married in 1994! An evening light and sound show in French, English, Spanish and Mandarin brings to life the history of Montréal and the basilica.
Saint Brother André, now known as Saint André Bessette since his canonization in October 2010, commissioned the building of one of the world’s most visited pilgrimage sites: Saint Joseph’s Oratory. This imposing venue includes a remarkable edifice with a dome rising 60 metres into the air, picturesque chapel, votive chapel, crypt, basilica with seating for 2200 and superb gardens. The resounding organs and set of 56 bells reproduce the music of the world’s greatest composers.
Not far from the Oratory, in the shadow of the cross atop Mount Royal, lie two of the oldest cemeteries in the city: Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Roman Catholic) and Mount Royal (non-denominational). The majestic tree lined footpaths are especially conducive to contemplation, meditation or a leisurely stroll.
In addition to places of worship, Montréal is home to a number of museums which recount the history of the city and the religious personalities who played a role in the city’s development.
A stone’s throw from Notre-Dame Basilica is Saint-Sulpice Seminary, the oldest edifice still standing in Montréal. It was built between 1684 and 1687, and enlarged 20 years later by the Sulpicians. The exterior clock, dating back to 1701, is doubtless the oldest of its kind in North America.
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum and Notre-Dame de Bon Secours Chapel together propose a journey back through 2000 years of religious and colonial history. Youville Mother House and exhibition Marcher dans ses pas (Walking in her footsteps) tell the story of Saint Marguerite d’Youville (1701-1771), founder of the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Montréal.
For archaeology buffs, there is Montréal’s Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History, a national historic site erected on the site deemed to be the birthplace of the city. Here visitors are invited to embark on an archaeological tour of six centuries of history dating back to the 14th century. Come discover the first Catholic cemetery, first marketplace and First Nations artefacts.
These many examples confirm Montréal’s importance as a port of call certain to interest cruiseshippers with a passion for history, heritage and world religions. Montréal is also a destination of choice for art and design lovers, as well as aficionados of fine cuisine. Plan to stop and stay a few days in Montréal… you’ll be glad you did!