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Mary, Queen of the World
13 of 18

Montreal Cathedral Is Small St. Peter's
By Linda Busetti

Tourists walking near Dorcester Square in the west end of Montreal may look twice when they see Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral set among high-rise hotels and office buildings.

The cathedral is a reproduction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but covers about one quarter of the area and is half as tall.

Montreal’s first cathedral, at the intersection of Rue Sainte Catherine and Rue Sainte Denis, was reduced to ashes in an 1852 fire. The second Bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget, sought a new site for Montreal’s cathedral in the developing west side of the city. Protest against such a seemingly radical idea caused Bishop Bourget to delay construction.

In 1870, while the bishop attended the Vatican Council in Rome, the architecture of St. Peter Basilica inspired him to put his plans for a cathedral in motion. Later that year, a cornerstone was laid for the cathedral, which was designed by architect Victor Bourgeau. Construction of the massive stone structure with copper roof was interrupted from 1878 to 1885. Bishop Bourget’s successor, Archbishop Charles Edward Fabre, ordered the cathedral’s completion. A cast-iron cross was set atop the cupola at a height of 252 feet. In 1958, this cross was replaced by a 20-foot aluminum cross.

Instead of statues of the Apostles as stand above the doors of St. Peter’s, the statues above the main entrance of Mary, Queen of the World represent the patron saints of parishes which donated them — St. Anthony of Padua, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Hyacinthe, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul, St. John, St. James (in the center), St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, St. Ignatius, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis of Assisi.

The cathedral was opened in 1894 and became St. James the Greater Parish in 1904. Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger renamed the cathedral Mary, Queen of the World in 1955.

As you enter the cathedral, a chapel to the left contains relics of saints, particularly the remains of St. Zotique, a martyr, beneath the altar. Also in the chapel are souvenirs of the Canadian Papal Zouaves, troops who came to the defense of Pope Pius IX when Victor-Emmanuel, King of Piedmont, invaded the Papal States.

Midway on the gospel side of the cathedral is the Bishops Mortuary Chapel, completed in 1933 as the final resting place of the bishops of Montreal. With walls and floor of Italian marble, the central focus is Bishop Bourget’s marble tomb with a bronze figure of the bishop in repose atop.

Below the cupola is the magnificent reproduction of Bernini’s Baldacchino, the main altar in St. Peter Basilica. Victor Vincent completed this work in Rome in 1900 and it was donated to the cathedral by the Sulpician Fathers. It is handmade of red copper and decorated with gold leaf.

Throughout the cathedral, artwork depicts the history of the Catholic Church in Canada and specifically Montreal. Blessed Marguerite Bourgeoys, the foundress of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, is shown teaching young Indian children near the towers of the old "Gentlemen’s Fort" in 1694. The martyrdom of Jesuit missionary Fathers Jean de Breboeuf and Gabriel L’Alemant by the Iroquois is the focus of another painting on a cathedral wall. Incidents relating to the founding and colonization of Montreal are represented on the arches of the transept and side aisles. Another painting celebrates the life of Jeanne Mance, a foundress of Montreal, who was known for her special care of the sick.

A statue of Mary, Queen of the World by artist Sylvia Daoust stands at the rear of the church.

Various texts dealing with the life of James the Apostle that are incorporated into the frieze found in the nave and transepts remind the visitor that the saint was the original patron of the cathedral.

Mary, Queen of the World is a short walk from many of the major downtown Montreal hotels, and just across the street from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

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