Saturday, August 16, 2014

Montreal: a little history

Our tour guide at the Basilica was a cute, young, French speaking woman. First thing, she asked us where we all were from: US, Australia, Greece, Italy, Bangladesh, Canada.
"Anyone know who was the founder of Montréal?" she asked in a cute French accent. Silence. "Maybe you have seen his statue just across from the cathedral." And so it was.
We learned that, in 1642, Maisonneuvre founded the French colonie of Ville Marie, dedicated to, who else, the Virgin Mary. In 1726, the colonie becomes the city of Montréal.
The white stone outside the west door marks the outline of the original small church, which was torn down in the early 1800's to make way for the building of Notre Dame. Ironically, an Irish Protestant architect was chosen to build this Catholic church. The architect's design included a 70' x 35' stained glass window behind the altar. It must have been spectacular. But, the sun came blazing through the glass each morning, blinding the faithful, as well as leaving the church too hot. So, a wall was built, and painted blue, to entirely cover the window.
Later, the 32,000 seat church was too big, so a smaller, 300 seat chapel, with accompanying 1,200 pipe organ, was built. Now, the large stained glass window was entirely hidden on both sides. And forgotten, until 1972, when an arsonist burned down the chapel. Today, the chapel is modern, and exposes all that could be saved of the original stained glass window, the King of France and the Apostle Peter, or Paul.
The church was designated a basilica, in the not too distant past, because of the beauty and richness of it's decoration.

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