Monday, July 09, 2012

Getaway, part 2

When we first walked into the basilica of Notre Dame de Montreal it took a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Once you realize what you're looking at, you still can't take it in. Neither could my rickety little point-and-shoot camera, so here's a professional image that gives you the idea.

But I don't know if the feeling of it can be captured in any photo. You feel like those enormous gothic arches actually open up to a miraculously luminous night sky. You can't quite tell whether you're indoors or out. It's such a beautiful and appropriate way for a building to give tribute to the God of Heaven. At the same time, the intricate decorative work is a gorgeous testament to human efforts and human faith.

This is the photo I took. It's too dark. I would need a tripod and an empty church and a long exposure, I guess. 

Once you adjust, the light is beautiful, all filtering in through stained glass windows at the sides and the rose windows in the top of the arches.

Rose windows with saints and fleurs de lis, as well as stars and other symbols.

Our cute tour guide, Adrienne, came from the northern part of Quebec. She studies art and architecture history at the University of Quebec at Montreal. She was fabulous. She got us all seated in the oaken pews, decorated with carved busts of the Virgin Mary and the twelve apostles, and started in on a quick summary of the history of Montreal and of the basilica.

An apostle.

It turns out the basilica as we see it is a remodel. The original was completed in an English Gothic style, with large stained glass windows behind the altar. The sun through them in the mornings blinded the congregation. The remodel was an enormous undertaking that involved adding rose windows in the ceiling, stained glass on the side walls, and the intricate and beautiful sculptures that are now behind the altar. 

Many of the side windows show scenes from the history of the city. Adrienne said that's fairly unusual. This one depicts Jeanne Mance, a pioneer nurse.

The topmost part of the altarpiece is a depiction of Christ crowning His mother with a crown of glory. Her robe is inset with real sapphires and emeralds. I found it incredibly beautiful and moving, seeing Mary not in her usual beatific pose or holding an infant, but in the ultimate interaction with her exalted son, being recognized for her vital role and her righteous life. None of my pictures of this were very good. You should look on the church's web site, above, and one of the pictures on the main page shows it quite well.

There's a pulpit at the left that was built to help everyone hear the sermons before the advent of electronic amplification. It's very ornate and beautiful with statues carved in yellow pine. 

I particularly liked these two prophets - Ezekiel and "Jeremie," or Jeremiah, as we know him.Also the sign - please don't touch!

Looking up at the pulpit

Adrienne told us that Vatican II required all masses to be conducted from the front of the cathedral, so after that the pulpit was not used. And now, with microphones and speakers, it is not so much needed. Still beautiful, though.

Next we went into the secondary chapel, located behind the main altar. It's kind of two churches in one! This presented a stunning contrast to the main basilica in so many ways. Instead of the deep blue of the night sky, this room glowed golden. Every surface in it is yellow pine or black walnut. Immediately your eye is drawn to the enormous brass relief sculpture behind the altar.

See the Trinity at the top? Sun, dove, and human face. The arches represent the human journey through life toward God. You can see Adrienne at the lower right explaining it all!

This chapel was burned by an arsonist in the late 1970s and then rebuilt. The priests made an interesting choice in its new design. Some parts of it replicate the 19th-century style, but the ceiling, walls, and altar piece are very much of the late 20th century. They wanted to acknowledge the history of the place, without building a "fake, old" church, in Adrienne's words. I really like the mixture. And I love the honesty.

Danish Modern walls, French Gothic balconies.

When the chapel was burned, there was one piece of luck, or maybe a blessing. Two pieces of the original stained glass windows from the original design of the basilica were found sandwiched between walls. These required some repair but again, this was completed in a way that does not attempt to deceive at all. The replaced pieces are easy to distinguish.

The salvaged windows remain in their original frames. They depict Louis IX of France, who built a shrine to the crown of thorns that became the inspiration for the basilica in Montreal (thus the thorns in his hands), and St. Peter holding the keys to heaven.

Next we headed upstairs to the balconies. Here we got a close-up view of the decorative painting,as well as the amazing stained glass windows. There are also a lot of modern electronics up there for the big sound-and-light show they do in the cathedral. That would be a lot of fun to see, I imagine.

Dr. G in the balcony, with amazing, colorful decorative painting and gold leaf work.

I loved seeing so many women depicted in the stained glass. Of course, lots of men were there, too. But I kind of mostly took pictures of the women.

Mary, flanked by cherubs and crimson-winged angels

St. Therese, patron saint of musicians - located beneath the magnificent organ. Her angels have blue wings.

The life of Jeanne d'Arc in three panels ... and a lady on our tour who apologized to me afterward for getting in my picture. She was very nice.

Mary as a child with her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. 

Closer up of St. Anne. I really like her. C'mon, it's Jesus' grandma! That's rad! 

Unfortunately I have forgotten who's depicted in this window. I'm so sorry. It's lovely.

The Virgin Mary. Stunning. I love the way the radiance of her halo is expressed in the glass. Also, all these side windows actually open, which I understand is not the usual M.O. Pretty neat.

I also really enjoyed the 19th-century decorative painting on the ceiling and walls of the balconies. There is some damage from water that entered the basilica during and after massive ice storms. They are raising funds for restoration.

The final stop on our tour was the organ. It's pretty massive, with about 7000 pipes in all, some located in rooms we were not able to see. I wish we could have stayed around to hear it played.

I'm a Mormon girl. I appreciate an impressive church pipe organ!

This post was enormous, I know. But it was one of my favorite parts of my trip, and I wanted to be able to share it! It's definitely worth going to see in person if you can. 

As we toured the basilica, I thought so much of my dearly loved Catholic friends, and my Mormon feminist friends who yearn for expressions of the divine feminine, and the more-than-impressive pioneer women of Quebec and those in my own history who have given so much to preserve faith and culture and education. They are very much tied together. Notre Dame de Montreal was a privilege to be able to see.

1 comment:

{krista} said...

That is so pretty! One of my favorite parts of New Orleans was the St. Louis Cathedral. It was just stunning!