Blind to a basilica?

Blind to a basilica?

Have you ever not seen something right in front of your eyes?

We’ve all experienced not remembering where we laid a book we wanted to read or forgotten where we set a phone or even our wallet (with all of our credit cards!) only to find them in plain view.

But have you ever missed seeing something as large as a basilica?

Ever since I was a child in central New York and an adult living at times in New England, I’ve been visiting churches throughout Montreal, a beautiful continental city in Quebec with a long and illustrious religious tradition and history and famous for its many beautiful churches.

My wife and I make it habit to visit churches—those we’ve seen before or those new to us—whenever we’re on vacation. This summer, we had the chance to visit Montreal.

In the past, we’ve had the chance to attend Mass and/or pray at beautiful churches in the city nicknamed the “City of Saints” or the “ville aux cent clochers” (city of a hundred bell towers):

  • Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal), a stunning 180-year-old Gothic Revival basilica in the historic district of Old Montreal.
  • The 240-year-old Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, “Our Lady of Good Help”), known as the Sailors’ Church as those who arrived in the Old Port of Montreal would make offerings to the Virgin Mary in gratitude for safe sea voyages. St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame, urged colonists to build a chapel on the site in 1655.
  • The late 19th-century Cathedral-Basilica of Mary, Queen of the World (Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde), an exterior and interior worship space built as a scale model of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The front of the church features the statues of the patron saints of 13 parishes of Montreal instead of the 12 apostles on the façade of St. Peter’s.
  • St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, (Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal), a basilica and national shrine which is the largest church in Canada and is said to feature the third largest dome of its kind in the world. On display in the basilica is a wall covered with thousands of crutches from those who came to the basilica and were allegedly healed after praying with St. André Bessette, C.S.C., who was beatified by Pope John Paul in 1982 and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

But when we ran into a friend and Montreal resident and talked about our favorite churches there, he asked us why we didn’t mention St. Patrick’s Basilica.

We responded that we had no idea that there was yet another basilica in the city limits and wondered out loud where the archdiocese was hiding it! He calmly told us it was on one of the busiest streets in the city.

We couldn’t quite believe that we missed seeing the impressive gothic revival church with a steeple that stretches more than 225 feet high on a street we’ve traveled literally dozens of times. But what a find!

The 12:30 p.m. liturgy we attended was predictably in English—easier for us to understand—rather than the usual French for the other churches we usually visit, with a multi-cultural congregation in attendance (there were several baptisms planned for Filipino-Canadian community members after Mass).

But the architecture was spectacular. The 164-year-old church, known for its historic links to the then Irish immigrant community and the oldest English-speaking Roman Catholic Church in Montreal, features an interior heavily ornamented with motifs that combine a French fleur de lys and Irish shamrocks, more than 80-foot-long pine pillars, three altars, 150 oil paintings of saints and elaborate sanctuary decorations.

While we love our central Florida Catholic parish community, the chance to visit other churches with different cultural sensibilities, traditions and deep histories of faith really gives us a sense that we are, indeed, connected universally as church.

Let me know if you’ve had a chance to visit churches away from home, where you’ve visited and what your experiences were.


About the Author

Mark Lombard, director of the product development division, has worked throughout his career in Catholic publishing. He is married, a father of two and a grandfather of two. Mark is an avid jazz lover, traveling with his wife to catch jazz performances throughout the East Coast.
  • Miriam Penaflor

    i just  visit the Cave Church of St Peter in Antioch, Turkey, It is said to be the First Christian Church in the whole world. Being there makes me realized how lucky we are to celebrate the Eucharist with freedom, thanks to the first Christian who fought and lived for their faith.