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Notre-Dame, Montreal, Canada

Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Year built: 1829
Architect: James O’Donnell

The church of Notre-Dame, located in the historic district of Old Montreal, was originally constructed in 1672. By 1824, the congregation had completely outgrown it, so Irish-American architect James O’Donnell was commissioned to design a new building. The goal was to create a church that could accommodate up to 10,000 people.

A key proponent in the Gothic Revival architectural movement, O’Donnell’s design is regarded as one of the most dramatic in the world. Filled with religious statues and hundreds of wooden carvings, it has a vibrant colour palette, including reds, blues, purples, silver and gold.

The main construction work took place over five years, and the stained glass windows of the Basilica are unique in that they depict scenes from Montreal’s religious history, rather than the Bible. More than 11 million people visit Notre-Dame every year, and it was the setting of Celine Dion’s wedding to René Angélil in 1994.

James O’Donnell

Born in 1774 in County Wexford, Ireland, James O’Donnell migrated to the United States at the age of 38 and took up residence in New York City. Some of his major works in the US included the Fulton Market, the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, and Christ Church. Elected to the American Academy of the Fine Arts in New York in 1817, the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal is considered his most notable piece of architecture.

The only person buried in the crypt of the Notre-Dame Basilica, O’Donnell converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. Many believe this was due to the realisation that he could not be buried there otherwise.

I have never seen so much history and beauty all in the one place. You truly feel like you stepping back in time: from the detailed glass stained windows, to the magnificent alter – it is truly breathtaking. – Carly Thomas

Learn more about Gothic Architecture.