Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral – Montreal Then & Now
By Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Montreal. It is built in the Baroque Revival style of the second half of the 19th century, and is the third largest church in Quebec after St. Joseph’s Oratory and the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.
Construction of the cathedral was ordered by Mgr. Ignace Bourget, second bishop of Montreal, to replace the former St. James Cathedral which had burned in 1852. His choice was to create a scale model of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Architects Victor Bourgeau and Joseph Michaud were sent to Rome in order to draw the plans of the cathedral. The first stone was laid on August 28, 1870, but construction came to a standstill each time there was a shortage of funds. Two events marked this period: the financial crisis of 1875-1876, and the resignation in 1876 of Bishop Bourget. Construction stopped for seven years, during which Bishop Bourget collected funds to help his successor, Bishop Édouard-Charles Fabre, resolve the financial difficulties. Despite his age and frail health, Bishop Bourget visited approximately 150 parishes. He passed away on June 8, 1885, and five days later, his remains were placed in a vault in the unfinished cathedral. Work continued under the cathedral’s procurator, Canon Racicot, and on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1894, Archbishop Fabre consacrated the new church as Saint James Cathedral, after St. James the Great, the patron of the parish the church served. In 1955 it was rededicated to Mary, Queen of the World, by Pope Pius XII at the request of cardinal Paul-Émile Léger.
The cathedral covers nearly 4,700 square meters, and is built in the shape of a Latin cross. It has a large portico built in coursed ashlar, and a largel dome, topped by an 18 ft high wrought-iron cross. Instead of the statues of the 12 apostles on the façade of St. Peter’s in Rome, the front of the church is topped by statues of the patron saints of 13 parishes of Montreal who donated them. All statues were sculpted by Olindo Gratton between 1892 and 1898. They represent (left to right): St. Anthony of Padua, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Hyacinth, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul, St. John, St. James the Greater, patron of this very cathedral and its predecessor that was destroyed by fire, the St. James Cathedral, St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Charles Borromeo, and St. Francis of Assisi. The monument to Bishop Bourget next to the church was erected in 1903.
In the apse, a statue of Mary, Queen of the World, a patron of the cathedral, can be found. It is made by Sylvia Daoust. The walls of the cathedral are made of embossed limestone. Covering the altar, located under the dome, is a baldachin, created in Rome in 1900 by Victor Vincent, a reproduction of the famed ‘baldacchino’ in St. Peter’s, created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is fully hand-made and made with red copper and gold leaf. The church features a Casavant Frères organ, inaugurated on September 22, 1893. In 1933, Archbishop Georges Gauthier, fifth bishop and third archbishop of Montreal, inaugurated the bishop’s mortuary chapel, located on the left of the nave, halfway between the main entrance and the altar. The tomb of Mgr. Bourget, created in Rome, is located in the centre. The remains of the bishop that lay in a crypt under one of the pillars in the cathedral, were transferred to his tomb on April 27, 1933. The titular bishops are buried on the right-hand side and the auxiliary bishops on the left-hand side. On Aug. 20, 1951, Father Giovanni-Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, visited the cathedral. On August 31, 1969, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla also visited the cathedral. He would return on September 10, 1984 as Pope John-Paul II, the first pope ever to visit Canada.
On March 28, 2000, the cathedral was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Source: Mtl Diocese / Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada