By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Located near the corner of St. Denis and St. Catherine Streets, with its façade is of marble, stands the Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes Chapel (Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes), a masterpiece in architecture and decorative art from the Roman-Byzantine style by architect, painter and sculptor Napoléon Bourassa. Bourassa described it as “a labour of love”, not only because he devoted eight years to build it but also because the work was – as he described it – “intimately connected to my way of being, thinking and feeling “.
Construction started in 1873 and the chapel was officially opened for worship by The Priests of Saint-Sulpice of Montreal on April 30, 1881. Since then, the Marian enclave has become an oasis of prayer and peace for pilgrims from Montreal and from all over Canada, and beyond, a great place to visit with the Lord and His Mother Mary.
The interior consists of a nave which is supported by columns of gray marble and reinforced by arches, and narrow aisles, a transept and a choir. A large central 89 feet high dome rises at the intersection of the transept. Bourassa covered the walls with murals and encrusted the altar and pillars with gilt and ornamental carvings. The center of the dome illustrates the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The dome is supported by four pendants, each one featuring a painted angel. These angels appear to contemplate their Queen who sits on a background of stars and cherubs.
Immediately striking the eye upon entering the church, is a large statue of the Virgin above the altar, the work of Philippe Hébert, a pupil of Bourassa.
It represents the Virgin as often modelled by the painters – with the hands crossed over the breast. She is standing on the clouds, and the text shown is from the book of
Revelation 12:1: “A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head”. The light shining down from a hidden lamp is to represent the “clothing with the sun”.
The statue was blessed by Bishop Fabre in 1881.
Beneath the church is a chapel representing the alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary to a young girl Marie Bernarde “Bernadette” Soubirous in a grotto near Lourdes, France, in 1858. At that time a miraculous fountain is said to have started to gush out of the rock, making miraculous cures still up to this day.
Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes features a 1880 Casavant organ, located at the back of the nave in a small gallery elevated over the main entrance. The organ was rebuilt in 1909, electrified and provided with a new detached console in 1959. The case, pipework and façade pipes are the original 1880, however.
Dominating the exterior facade of the chapel is a 9 feet statue of the Virgin, erected in 1904, and the creation of Parisian sculptor Joseph Lefèvre. Cast in bronze and covered with a thin layer of gold foil, the statue of the Virgin is standing on the sphere of world, with her left foot crushing a serpent. It was restored and re-installed on Sept. 11, 2004.
The tiny Roman Catholic Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel is one of the most ornate pieces of religious architecture in the city. and the only one of its kind in America. It is located at 430 Ste Catherine East in Montreal.
A historical note: Napoleon Bourassa’s youngest son was Henry Bourassa who is widely known as the editor of Le Devoir, and who was for some years leader of the Nationalist Party.