Historical Churches Walking Tour, Montreal

Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Montreal

The religious fervor that inspired French settlers in the mid-17th century to build a “Christian commonwealth” on North American soil gave rise to a number of churches, chapels, and cathedrals. Each sacred edifice in Montreal's ecclesiastical panorama – notably, in its religion- and architecture-infused oldest area, Vieux-Montréal – is a testament to the divine craftsmanship and architectural opulence of a bygone era. Together, these historical landmarks hold a profound narrative and pay homage to the spiritual legacy that shaped the city.

Located in the heart of Old Montreal is one of the top local attractions, the Gothic Revival-style Notre-Dame Basilica. Wandering amidst the celestial poetry of this temple, you get mesmerized by the ethereal light dancing through its vaulted ceilings, casting a kaleidoscope of colors upon the faithful and the curious alike.

Another prominent religious site, the Neo-Gothic Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, enchants senses with its soaring spire and intricate woodwork; while Saint Patrick's Basilica – one of the oldest English-speaking Roman Catholic churches in Montreal – does the same with its magnificent stained glass windows and decorative stone carvings. The Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, is equally impressive with its stunning mosaics, ornate sculptures, and a replica of Bernini's baldachin.

The sanctuaries of Montreal embody a harmonious blend of faith, artistry, and history, leaving visitors in awe of their grandeur. Stepping inside their hallowed halls is like entering a time capsule, where the echoes of centuries past resonate, and the secret stories of saints and sinners whisper from every wall. To decipher the hidden messages etched in stone, unlocking the mysteries of time and devotion, we invite you on this self-guided walk.
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Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Montreal (See other walking tours in Montreal)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St. George's Anglican Church
  • Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde)
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • St. Patrick's Basilica
  • Notre-Dame Basilica
  • Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help (Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours)
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel (Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes)
St. George's Anglican Church

1) St. George's Anglican Church

Named for Saint George, the patron saint of England and inspired by that country's 13th-century religious architecture, St George's features prominent pinnacles and pointed arches, along with stained-glass windows, wooden carvings, a double hammer-beam ceiling and a column-free interior. The magnificent ceiling beams look grand and awe-inspiring, and the Lady Chapel on the east side of the main altar adds to the effect.

Opened in 1843 to accommodate the overflow of worshipers from the Christ Church Cathedral, the church boasts tapestry that finds its origins in Westminster Abbey, London, and was used during Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. It all certainly seems a world away from Centre Bell, the modern temple to professional hockey that's right across the street.
Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde)

2) Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde) (must see)

Montréal has many beautiful churches and this is one of those that you should see when visiting downtown. Despite being nestled among many high-rise structures, its dome is unmistakable, modeled on Saint Peter's in Rome. Though somewhat “scaled-down”, the church is a perfect replica of the same, right down to the red copper baldachin over the altar that was fully hand-carved in Rome.

Dating back to in the 1890s, the cathedral appears older than its years, while at the same time feeling relatively modern as compared to Notre-Dame across town or even other cathedrals in other major cities – mostly due to the cleaner, simpler design. While not particularly ornate, the interior is still pretty, marked by soft hues that lend a gentle and slightly feminine touch. On a sunny day, the brilliant colors of the stained glass windows make it easy to observe the details – from the vibrant ceiling to the altar and the beautiful organ pipes at the back. You may also notice the baptismal font is surmounted by an impressive stucco crucifix – one of the most important pieces of religious sculpture in Quebec.

While the floor and walls are covered in Italian marble the main works of art are dedicated to the city's devout Catholics, including depictions of Marguerite Bourgeoys and Grey Nuns founder Marguerite d'Youville. Like Saint Peter's, the cathedral also has 13 statues that adorn the facade, but breaking with tradition they do not represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. Instead, they represent the patron saints of parishes that offered them to the diocese and include Saint Hyacinthe, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint John the Baptist.

Why You Should Visit:
Peaceful and ornate, this Cathedral will make you feel as if you are in an old basilica in Europe.

Don't forget to check the gift shop that has many unique gift and jewelry items.
Christ Church Cathedral

3) Christ Church Cathedral

This landmark of downtown Montreal is an excellent example of Gothic Revival style in Canada. The detailed exterior of pointed arches, buttresses, and crenellated turrets conceals a sober but elegant wood/marble interior. Built between 1857-60 to a design by the distinguished architect Frank Wills, the structure reflects an Anglican ideal of its time: namely, a return to the English medieval church in both liturgy and architecture.

To be fair, it's a very unusual church for a number of reasons. One is that the whole of the terra firma beneath the church was sold to developers to create a huge underground shopping mall ("Promenades Cathédrale"), which links the Underground City to Eaton's. What further strikes as rather unusual is the "stave church" style of the roof's interior recalling Scandinavian Churches one may see around Bergen, Norway, while the beautiful old art may strike as perhaps more fitting to be in an Eastern Orthodox Church with its flat, gold-trimmed icon depictions of the Holy Family.

Unlike other main houses of worship in Montreal, the building is open most of the time and there are no admission fees. There is usually a warm welcome for visitors and the music is outstanding.

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A memorial tablet to 23-year-old Vivan Arthur Ponsonby Payne, "erected by 125 of his associates", can be found in the Chapel of Saint John of Jerusalem, to the left side of the main altar. Payne was a secretary of Charles Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, whom he accompanied on a trip to Europe, his first trip abroad. The young man wrote his mother stating how astonished he was at how green the countryside in England was in March, but the vacation was cut short when Hays learned that his daughter Louise was having complications in the last stages of her pregnancy; also, he wanted to be back home for the imminent opening of his new hotel, the Château Laurier in Ottawa. Payne boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first-class passenger, but died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified. Christ Church Cathedral is also where Harry Markland Molson, another victim of the Titanic disaster, worshipped.
St. Patrick's Basilica

4) St. Patrick's Basilica (must see)

Built in 1847, during the Famine Migration from Ireland, Saint Patrick's is to Montréal's Anglophone Catholics what the Notre-Dame Basilica is to their French-speaking brethren. Among the country's purest examples of the Gothic Revival style, it was declared a historic monument and a National Historic site of Canada in 1996. A true feast for the eyes, you will gorge on its magnificent beauty and revel in the intricate ornate details imbued within.

Stained glass windows adorn the basilica throughout its corners and walls, and on a sunny day, the interior blossoms into a dazzling cornucopia of colour. The tall, slender columns are actually pine logs lashed together and decorated to look like marble, lending an air of majesty and solemness. Another major attraction is the large hanging lamp weighing 1,800 pounds, with six angels adorning the perimeter. You've never seen anything quite like it.

Why You Should Visit:
Not as opulent as Notre-Dame, but lovely on its own. It's lighter and brighter, with glorious woodwork and other details.
On a sunny day, the stained glass windows and Gothic architecture are textbook perfect and golden in hue.
Plus, the place is free to visit and you'll probably be the only tourist there, free to sit and contemplate.

Visit after lunch and you might catch the organist practicing for upcoming services.
A side door is usually unlocked most days in case you can't get through the main entrance.
Notre-Dame Basilica

5) Notre-Dame Basilica (must see)

The Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal) is a stunning piece of Gothic Revival architecture. Designed by the Irish-American architect James O'Donnell, it was completed, for the most part, in 1829.

The sanctuary was constructed a year later, while the first and second towers were added in 1841 and 1843, respectively. Both towers have bells: the West Tower (La Persévérance), has a bourdon bell nicknamed Jean-Baptiste. It was cast in John Dod Ward’s Eagle Foundry in 1848 and weighs 10,900 kg. Jean-Baptiste tolls only on special occasions, such as funerals, great religious festivals, and Christmas Eve. The East Tower (La Temperance), houses a ten-bell carillon from the same foundry, made in 1842.

The facade of the church was completed in 1865 and includes, among other features, three statues by the French sculptor Henri Bouriché, namely: the Virgin Mary (representing Montreal), Saint John the Baptist (representing Quebec), and Saint Joseph (representing Canada).

The interior – colorful and lavish – took much longer to complete and is quite impressive with its richly decorated columns, intricate wood carvings, statues, and elaborate stained glass windows. Quite unusual for a church, the stained glass windows here depict scenes from the history of Montreal rather than biblical scenes. Another spectacular highlight of the basilica is the Casavant Frères pipe organ, created in 1891, which is one of the largest organs in North America, comprising four keyboards and 7,000 individual pipes.

The Notre-Dame church was raised to the status of a minor basilica, by Pope John Paul II, in 1982 and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989.

Today, the Notre Dame of Montreal is a popular landmark, attracting yearly more than 11 million tourists from around the globe, making it one of the most visited sites in North America. Even the $10 admission fee doesn't turn visitors away.

Over the years, the basilica has hosted a number of important events, such as Céline Dion's wedding in 1994 and the funeral of the former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, in 2000.

If you're interested in classical and religious music, the basilica offers musical programming of choral and organ performances, including Handel's Messiah every Christmas.

The provided on-site brochure is very informative and can be used as a self-guide. Additionally, there's a free 20-minute English/French tour available at entry.
The 'AURA' light show (starting usually at 7 and 9 pm) is exceptional but often sold out, so plan your visit in advance: you can book a ticket online or come early to get a place. Try sitting somewhere in the middle to get the best music & light experience.
Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help (Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours)

6) Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help (Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours)

The Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help (Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours) was built in 1771 as the first pilgrimage site in the Old Port of Montreal for the arrived sailors who wished to make offerings to the Virgin in gratitude for her "good help" in a safe voyage across the Atlantic. It is also the oldest surviving chapel in the Old City.

The church sits directly on top of an older temple – of 1675 – that was destroyed by fire. The foundations of the first church, uncovered recently during excavations in the crypt underneath the chapel, provide insight into the times long gone. Among other things, this archaeological site contains artifacts from the First Nations and French colonial periods, including fragments of the colony's early fortifications. Those interested in history can take a guided audio tour of the underground crypt and learn more about the early days of Montreal and the chapel site.

Emphasizing its connection with the maritime theme, the chapel is also often referred to as the Sailors' Church. In line with its nautical flair, the interior décor – simple yet elegant – is definitely worth a peek, if only to observe the gorgeous ship replicas hanging from the ceiling.

Visitors to the church can also climb the wooden stairs and explore the building's prominent spire. From up there opens a spectacular view of the harbour, the Saint Lawrence River, the Old Port, the remnants of Expo 67, and Our Lady of the Harbour statue – immortalized in the Leonard Cohen song 'Suzanne' ("And the sun pours down like honey / On our lady of the harbour"). And, of course, you can see up close the angels on the chapel roof, too.

The church also houses the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, dedicated to the life of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Notre-Dame congregation. In 2005, her mortal remains were brought back to the temple and interred in the sanctuary.
Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel (Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes)

7) Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel (Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes)

Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, also known as Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, is a magnificent religious landmark located in downtown Montreal. The chapel holds a special place in the heart of its creator, Napoléon Bourassa (1827-1916), an artist-apostle who poured his love and devotion into every aspect of its design and construction.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes is built in the Romano-Byzantine style. Its interior decoration guides the eye to the center of the dome, which portrays the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This architectural masterpiece surpasses previous religious art in Canada.

On April 30, 1881, the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes was opened for worship. Since then, it has become a place of pilgrimage and a sanctuary of prayer and peace. The chapel offers a serene refuge where the Virgin Mary welcomes pilgrims from across Quebec and beyond.

Entering the chapel, one is mesmerized by its architectural beauty. The single nave showcases a barrel vault supported by gray marble pilasters with engaged columns. Transverse arches add support and a touch of grandeur. Trefoil windows bring in ample natural light, illuminating the detailed decoration that harmoniously follows a Mariological theme.

The colors used throughout the chapel blend together harmoniously, culminating in the hemisphere of the dome, which is supported by four pendentives. Each pendentive showcases a painted angel, seemingly in contemplation of their Queen. At the apex of the dome, against a backdrop of stars and cherubim, stands the figure of Mary, the focal point of devotion and reverence.

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