Old Quebec City,
When thinking about a trip to Italy, one might picture stepping into St. Peter’s Square, viewing beautiful baroque façades that are quietly waiting to be discovered throughout the cobble-stone alleyways of Rome or climbing the road into Assisi.
What if there were a way to experience both of these cities, with an added element of French architecture?
There is — in Canada’s cozy Old Quebec.
The specific location: 16 rue De Buade. Here, along the cobblestone streets, travelers will find Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral.
On a recent visit to this walled-in city, I made a pilgrimage to this basilica, which was originally built in 1647; it is a sanctuary that still stands in glory, after being restructured over the effects of two fires.
Notre-Dame was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. In 1664, it became the first parochial church north of Mexico. Devastatingly, in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War, the British set fire to and attacked Notre-Dame. Reconstruction of the church began shortly thereafter, but due to delays caused by political difficulties, the work was not complete until about 10 years later. What perseverance of all those who played a part in rebuilding the basilica in order to restore it to a place of glory and wonder!
Upon completion in 1771, the interior of the cathedral was designed; Jean Baillairge and Francois, his son, oversaw this element of the project. The main altar arrived in 1797 and was created to resemble the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica. In 1843, Thomas, the son of Francois, recommended that the façade of the church be reconstructed to mirror the Church of Sainte-Genevieve in Paris, which in turn made Notre-Dame the owner of the most exceptional Neo-classic façade in Quebec.
Nearly a century later, Pope Pius IX would elevate the cathedral to a minor basilica.
In 1874, it became the first and official North American site for Catholic pilgrims.
Almost 150 years later, this remains a popular site for Catholics, including popes, as Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the church. When John Paul II traveled to Canada in September 1984, he began his visit by praying inside the sacred space of Notre-Dame.
Upon visiting this church myself, I understand why he wished to begin his journey inside. There is a warmth and sense of belonging that one feels after walking within its doors.
On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2013, the basilica became guardian of one of the seven permanent “holy doors” in the world, with the other six residing in Europe. A holy door represents the unity of the universal Church, and all people are invited to cross the threshold, no matter their denomination.
A holy door represents a passage that leads to both conversion of heart and an outpouring of blessings. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked that both temporary and permanent holy doors be opened.
The holy door in Notre-Dame can be found as one enters the Sacred Heart Chapel on the north end of the cathedral and will remain open until Nov. 13.
Gazing at Mary
A striking image stands above the main altar, a vibrant painting of Our Lady, which was done by a Sister of Charity of Quebec, Sister Marie de l’Eucharistie.
This image of the Blessed Mother welcomes all those who enter the basilica’s doors. When one gazes upon her beauty and peaceful demeanor, his heart and mind cannot help but be lifted to the heavens.
There is something special about Our Lady’s graceful posture, too. In this image of a youthful Mary, she holds her maternal hands close to her heart.
Sitting on the old, wooden church pew with eyes set on her, one feels as though she is gently and lovingly pressing you against her chest, just as a mother would comfort her child.
As I visited the shrines within the warmth of Notre-Dame Basilica, I was startled by a heart-pounding crack, as a lightning bolt struck nearby and the vibrato echoed throughout the entire basilica, flooding it with sound. Rain soon began to cascade on the cobblestone streets outside.
With the doors of Notre-Dame open wide, it did not take long for people to find refuge within the welcoming embrace of the church. As I observed the new visitors around me, I noticed how each person was taking in this unexpected opportunity to bask in the newly found stillness and peace in the church’s inviting arms.
A woman sat to my left, her upturned face looking at Our Lady, her eyes open in gentle wonder and curiosity. I couldn’t help but think that her heart was leaning into the Blessed Mother’s with a childlike prayer pouring forth from her soul.
Behind me, a golden glow seeped into the entryway and spilled on to the tile floor. Silhouettes of playing children filled in this frame of light.
As each person entered the church, the Blessed Mother stood before them, in all of her majestic glory. From her place above the altar, she lovingly watched her children before her: her children playing and her children praying.
Perhaps not every spontaneous visitor entered through the permanent holy doors of Notre-Dame, but the basilica itself fulfilled the mission of what the holy door stands for: Notre-Dame de Quebec is active proof of the universal Church, where all are invited, no matter who they are or the journey they are taking.
Susanna Bolle writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.
Weekdays: 7am to 4pm
Sunday: 8am to 4pm
Closure at 8:30pm during summer.
Monday to Friday: 8am and 12:05pm
Saturday: 8am and 5pm
Sunday: 9:30am, 11:30am (and 5pm during summertime)
The Basilica-Cathedral is located in Old-Québec along De Buade Street. The holy door is located on the north side of the basilica-cathedral.