Built in the Gothic Revival style, the church is highly decorated. The vaults are coloured deep blue and decorated with golden stars, and the rest of the sanctuary is decorated in blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. It is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues. Unusual for a church, the stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict biblical scenes, but rather scenes from the religious history of Montreal. It also has a Casavant Frères pipe organ, dated 1891, which comprises four keyboards, 92 stops using electropneumatic action and an adjustable combination system, 7000 individual pipes and a pedal board.
In 1657, the Roman Catholic Sulpician syndicate arrived in Ville-Marie, now known as Montreal; six years later the seigneury of the island was vested in them. They ruled until 1840. The parish they founded was dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary, and the parish church of Notre-Dame was built on the site in 1672.
François Baillairgé, an architect, designed the interior decoration and choir 1785-95; facade & vault decoration, 1818.
The church served as the first cathedral of the Diocese of Montreal from 1821 to 1822.
By 1824 the congregation had completely outgrown the church, and James O'Donnell, an Irish-American Anglican from New York City, was commissioned to design the new building. O'Donnell was a proponent of the Gothic Revival architectural movement, and designed the church as such. He is the only person buried in the church's crypt. O'Donnell converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed perhaps due to the realization that he might not be allowed to be buried in his church.
The main construction work took place between 1824 and 1829. The cornerstone was laid at Place d"Armes on September 1, 1824. The sanctuary was finished in 1830, and the first tower in 1841, the second in 1843. On its completion, the church was the largest in North America. It remained the largest in North America for over fifty years. A new pipe organ was built in 1858 by Samuel Russell Warren.
The interior took much longer, and Victor Bourgeau, who also worked on Montreal's Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, worked on it from 1872 to 1879. Stonemason John Redpath was a major participant in the construction of the Basilica.
Because of the splendour and grand scale of the church, a more intimate chapel, Chapelle du Sacré-Cœur (Chapel of the Sacred Heart), was built behind it, along with some offices and a sacristy. It was completed in 1888. In 1886 Casavant Frères began building a new 32-foot pipe organ at the church, completing it in 1891. It was notably the first organ with adjustable-combination pedals to be operated by electricity.
Arson destroyed the Sacré-Cœur Chapel on December 8, 1978. It was rebuilt with the first two levels being reproduced from old drawings and photographs, with modern vaulting and reredos and an immense bronze altarpiece by Quebec sculptor Charles Daudelin.
Notre-Dame Church was raised to the status of basilica by Pope John Paul II during a visit to the city on April 21, 1982. The Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Church was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989. The Gothic Revival style Basilica is a Montréal landmark, 1823-29.
On May 31, 2000, the provincial state funeral for former Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice "Rocket" Richard was held in front of thousands, both inside and outside the Basilica.
On October 3, 2000, Justin Trudeau gave his eulogy just steps from the High Altar during the state funeral of Pierre Trudeau, his father and Canada's 15th prime minister.
It was also the setting of Celine Dion's December 17, 1994, wedding to René Angélil and hosted the memorial service for Angelil on January 22, 2016.
The basilica offers musical programming of choral and organ performances. It is a tradition among many Montrealers to attend the annual performance of Handel's Messiah every December at Christmas.
The basilica now charges visitors CAD $6.00 for admission unless they are there to attend mass. "And Then There Was Light," a sound and light show detailing the history of the church, is also offered in the evening, Tuesday through Saturday (tickets are $10 for adults [18+], $9 for seniors, and $5 for children and young adults).
The closest Metro station is Place-d'Armes, on the Orange Line.
- Jean Girard (1725-1765)
- Guillaume Mechtler (1792-1832)
- Jean-Chrysostome Brauneis II (1833-1844)
- Leonard Eglauch (1845)
- Jean-Baptiste Labelle (1849-1891)
- Alcibiade Béique (1891-1896)
- Joseph-Daniel Dussault (1896-1921, with the exception of eight months in 1916)
- August Liessens (1916)
- Benoît Poirier (1921-1954)
- Pierre Grandmaison (1973–present)
- Adam Charles Gustave Desmazures
- List of basilicas in Canada
- Montreal's other basilicas:
- Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral
- Saint Joseph's Oratory
- Saint Patrick's Basilica
- Rémillard, François (1992). Old Montreal - A Walking Tour, Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec.
- Livesey, Herbert Bailey (2003). Frommer's 2004 Montreal & Quebec City, Frommer's, 104. ISBN .