Did you know Montreal was called “the City of a Hundred Steeples”? It’s not the only city in the world to have this nickname, but I think it’s particularly good given its many churches, basilicas, cathedrals, chapels.
I lived in Montreal during my university studies, but it must be said that at that time, the churches of the city were far from my interests. And although I continue to visit Montreal fairly regularly, I come mostly here for work or to visit family and friends, never as a tourist.
Recently, however, a friend and I spent a day exploring Montreal as tourists. She had never visited the city, and I had not visited it in a long time. We did not have specific plans for the day, but as we are both passionate about history and architecture, we took the opportunity to visit some of the city’s pretty churches.
It’s a tourist classic. A visit to the Old Port of Montreal usually includes a stop at this magnificent basilica. Sometimes you have to queue before entering and you have to pay a $6 fee at the door. But hey, the interior is beautiful and definitely worth the visit.
Built in 1829 on the site of an old church, Notre-Dame Basilica is famous for its altarpiece, its carved wooden reliefs and its stained-glass windows depicting the religious history of Montreal. The basilica also houses a Casavant organ and the biggest bell in North America, called Gros Bourdon (which you will not see, however, since it is not possible to visit the towers of the basilica).
The basilica was the largest church in Quebec until the construction of Saint Joseph’s Oratory on Mount Royal. It is one of the most famous churches in North America.
The basilica also hosted the wedding of Celine Dion in 1994. But that, you already knew, right?
Mary Queen of the World Cathedral
I have walked many times in front of the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral (basilique-cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde) but I had never entered it before. And I was completely blown away. The cathedral is a scaled-down replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Its Italian architectural style thus differs greatly from the Gothic style of the Notre-Dame Basilica.
The cathedral was built in the late 19th century and is the fourth largest church in Quebec. Its magnificent baldachin is also a replica of the one found in Rome.
The visit of the cathedral is free, and tourists are scarce. Which makes the visit of this magnificent building even more special.
St. James United Church
St. James United Church is another heritage church located on St. Catherine Street in Montreal. It was built in 1889 and was at the time the largest Methodist church in Canada.
When I moved to Montreal more than ten years ago, the front of the church was completely hidden behind commercial buildings. In 2005, as part of the Saint-Catherine Street Revitalization Project, the commercial buildings were demolished, and a square was built in front of the church.
(and because I am a poor tourist, I did not take any pictures of St. James United Church).
Christ Church Cathedral
Located just steps from St. James United Church, the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral was built in 1859 after a fire destroyed the first Anglican cathedral on Notre Dame Street. It was given a Gothic style inspired by the churches of the English countryside of the 14th century. Visiting the cathedral gives almost the impression to step right into the Middle Ages.
The cathedral experienced some architectural struggles during its history (its spire was too heavy and began to lean dangerously, until it was taken down and rebuilt in the 40s). There are still renovation projects underway.
Interestingly, the cathedral gives its name to the Promenades de la cathédrale, a shopping centre built directly under the church and part of the Underground Montreal.
Of course, this list lacks the famous Saint Joseph’s Oratory, the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, St. Patrick’s Basilica and many others that I forget. But that will be for another time!