It’s a phrase that liberally peppered around travel magazines, blogs, social media, etc. – to the point where one wonders if such jaw-dropping places truly still exist in an age of over-sharing, over-“liking”, and over-consuming.
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal decided to give my cynicism a run for its money. Despite having seen photos of the impressive interior prior to visiting, as soon as I stepped in the heavy wood doors, face raw from the blistering-cold wind outside, my jaw veritably scraped the floor.
I’ve always made it a point to visit churches and other places of worship while traveling, for reasons both holy and wholly practical. They typically offer outstanding examples of architecture, documentation of local history and culture, and a respite from cold or hot weather. They are also more often than not free or accessible with a small donation.
Being a cynical, occasionally doubting, quite liberal Presbyterian spiritualist, I suppose I’m always open to any sort of answers these places might offer up as well.
In Montreal, a historically Catholic city, churches and cathedrals abound. Starting with my unabashed favorite, Notre-Dame, I’ve shared my favorite sites and tips for visiting.
1. Notre-Dame Basicilia
110 Notre-Dame St. West
Hours: Open for prayer daily. Open for visitors
Monday to Friday : 8am to 4:30pm
Saturday: 8am to 4pm
Sunday : 12:30pm to 4pm
Hours may vary in winter
Rate: Adults $6 CAD, Children $4, free under 6 years old. Guided and group tours also available.
Nearby: This basilica is right in the heart of Old Montreal. Consider visiting the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, Bonsecours Market, or the Montreal Science Center.
Plan to spend at least an hour visiting this Basilica. The heavenly blue interior is unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. Though tourists flock to this site for the impressive photo opportunities, the basilica maintains an air of sanctity. For quiet reflection and prayer, visitors may use a glass paneled chapel to the right of the entrance or visit the more modern Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur in the rear of the basilica, opened in 1982 after the original chapel burned in a disastrous fire. While ogling the main altar of the basilica, don’t forget to turn around to gawp at the impressive Great Casavant Organ in the back – built in 1891, the 7,000 organ pipes vary in length from 32 feet to just 6 millimeters.
Read more about my visit to Notre-Dame Basilica here.
2. Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde)
Corner of Rene-Levesque Blvd and Mansfield Street
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hours may vary in winter. Not open to visitors during service hours.
Nearby: Plan to visit the Cathedral just before dinner or lunch. Between the Cathedral and nearby McGill University, you’ll find a plethora of cafes and restaurants including the skyline Les Enfants Terribles, and hipster haven Café Humble Lion, as well as Place Ville Marie, Centre Bell, and the impressive McCord Museum. If you want to keep the holy vibe going, St. George’s Anglican Church, the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, and St. Jax are all very close by.
An impressive building smack in the middle of Downtown Montreal, Mary, Queen of the World is a scale replica of St. Peter’s Basilica – yes, the one in Rome. I personally had to visit just out of sheer curiosity. Fewer tourists find this church than the Notre-Dame Basilica, so don’t let the lack of signage and the enormous front doors intimidate you. Inside you’ll find a trove of local historic paintings depicting the history of the Catholic church in Montreal, a replica of Bernini’s famed Baldachin, and intricate, soaring domes.
Read more about my visit to Mary, Queen of the World here.
3. St. Joseph’s Oratory
3800 Queen Mary Road
Hours: Daily tours at 10:00, 13:30, and 15:00 from June until September
From March 10-18, daily tours at 12:15
Rate: $5 for a 90 minute guided tour
Nearby: Enjoy the views of beautiful Mont Royal, where both winter and summer sports are offered aplenty. Nearby you can wander the historic Cimetiere Notre-Dame-des-Nieges and Mount Royal Cemetery, or visit the Universite de Montreal or the gorgeous Chalet du Mont-Royal.
A bit out of town, at the top of Mont Royal, is St. Joseph’s Oratory, a massive domed basilica that is the largest church in Canada and the 27th largest in the world. Construction on the site began in 1904 and continually expanded until completion in 1967. Today, the oratory is considered an important Catholic site, with more than 2 million visitors each year, including religious pilgrims. The church an accommodate 2,000 visitors for services, and the dome, rising 856 feet above sea level, is second only to that of St. Peter’s Basilica in height.
400 Rue Saint-Paul Est
Tuesday to Sunday
October 11 – January 15: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
January 16- February 28: Closed
March 1 – April 30: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
May 1- October 9: 10 am to 6pm
*check website to keep abreast of special events and hours
Rate: Admission to the Chapel is free. Admission to the museum and archaeological site is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and students, and $7 for children.
Nearby: This church is a double-whammy for history – a museum for St. Maurgrite Bourgeoys and an archeological site are both at the same location.
One of the oldest churches in Montreal, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (aka Our Lady of Good Help) was built in 1771 – over the site of an even older church! The church honors St. Maurgerite Bourgeoys, a teacher in the fledging Ville-Marie colony in the mid 1600s. As Montreal’s trade business increased, the church became a pilgrimage site for sailors arriving in Old Port, giving it the nickname the Sailors’ Church.
5. St. Patrick’s Basilica
460 Rene Levesque Blvd. West
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday: 8:30 A.M. until after 5:15 P.M. Mass
Saturday: 10:30 A.M. until after the 5:00 P.M. Mass
Sunday: 8:30 A.M. until after the 5:00 P.M. Mass
Nearby: Venture over to the world class Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal (discounted admission on Wednesday evenings!) If you haven’t quite had your church fill yet, the gorgeous St. James United Church and Christ Church Cathedral are next door.
Opened on St. Patrick’s Day of 1847, St. Patrick’s Basilica was built to serve newly increasing numbers of Irish immigrants fleeing famine in Europe. This basilica has been recognized as one of the most important English-speaking Catholic churches in Montreal, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1991. The church is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic revival architecture in Canada; inside you will find fleur de lys, Irish shamrocks, 150 oil paintings, and a bell system dating back to 1774.