Founded in 1642 in the village, then known as Ville-Marie, had its first wooden chapel inside the palisade at Pointe-à-Callière, today the site of Montreal’s major archaeological museum. Dedicated to Our Lady the Blessed Virgin (“Notre Dame”), the small original chapel was operated at first by the Jesuits. The Sulpician Fathers in 1657 undertook construction of a larger church. The Sulpician François Dollier de Casson was its architect, and the present-day Notre-Dame Street served as the original site. Its construction, in Baroque style was completed between 1672 and 1683. By 1800, Dollier’s church had become too small, and the Fabrique decided to build the church we know today. To design the new church, the building council engaged the services of the New York Architect James O’Donnell. O’Donnell opted for the Gothic Revival style then in vogue in England and the United States.
The main construction work took place between 1824 and 1829. One of the most famous names ever to work on the interior of the basilica was the architect Victor Bourgeau. From 1872 to 1879, he tended to the church’s main altar, which was carved from linden wood. The altar was later replaced by a 32-panel altar cast in bronze and fashioned by another Montréal architect, Charles Daudelin. The amazing stained-glass windows in the Basilique Notre-Dame depict the history of Ville-Marie (Montréal) and were imported from Limoges, France. The sky-blue color of the walls is unusual but provides visitors with the startling feeling of being out in the open under a clear sky. Sculptor Henri Bouriché produced the large statues and reliefs for the main altar and created the reredos (altarpiece screens) that were designed by Bourgeau. The eastern tower holds a 10-bell carillon and the opposite tower is home to an immense 12-ton bell that has come to be known as “Le Gros Bourdon (the large bumblebee)“, rung for special occasions. The organ, designed by French organ maker Casavant, is exquisite and often heard in concert. The Notre-Dame Church was raised to the status of basilica by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Montreal in 1982. Some of the features of the Notre-Dame Basilica include a vaulted ceiling with thousands of 24-karat gold stars, detailed stained-glass windows telling the history of Montreal, life-size wood carvings, and a pipe organ with more than 7000 pipes. Many of Montreal’s celebrities have had their weddings and funerals at the Notre-Dame Basilica. Some of these celebrity events include the funeral of hockey legend, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, the wedding of Celine Dion and the funeral of including former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.