Description of Historic Place
St. Patrick’s Basilica National Historic Site of Canada is a large stone church built in 1843-47 in the French Gothic Revival style. It sits on a large lot occupying one half of a city block near the southwest corner of Réné-Lévesque Boulevard and Saint-Alexandre Street in a busy commercial sector of downtown Montréal, Québec. The striking basilica features various French Gothic Revival details such as a tall, central tower and a prominent rose window. The formal recognition consists of the church on its footprint.
St. Patrick’s Basilica was designated a national historic site in 1990 because:
- it is a fine example of French Gothic Revival architecture in Canada;
- it witnessed and provided physical and spiritual support to one of the largest early influxes of Irish immigrants to what is now Canada and remains the heart of the Irish population of Montréal.
St. Patrick’s Basilica was constructed in 1843-47 as the parish church of Montréal’s growing Irish immigrant population. As soon as the church was completed, its clergy helped care for Irish immigrants suffering from a typhoid fever epidemic. Due to its continuing religious, charitable and educational vocations, St. Patrick’s became the heart of the Irish community in Montréal. Its real and symbolic role was evident in its choice as the location for the funeral of Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868.
St. Patrick’s Basilica is a very early and fully expressed example of the French Gothic Revival style in Canada. This revival style was based on extensive studies into 13th-century French architecture carried out by French scholars. They and their followers appreciated the period’s rational approach to the relationship between architectural and structural elements. St. Patrick’s illustrates this approach in the clarity of its structural elements, in its symmetry and in its verticality, and in the use of archaeologically correct decoration.
The designers of St. Patrick’s Basilica, architect Pierre-Louis Morin and the Jesuit priest Félix Martin, incorporated the use of French Gothic Revival style in the building. Both men had sound knowledge of and interest in French medieval architecture through practice and, in the case of Martin, through close familial relationships with proponents of the style. The interior of St. Patrick’s Basilica features remarkably complete examples of Québec ecclesiastical craftsmanship and artistry. It was originally decorated in 1845-51 and additions were made twice later in the century. The initial decoration was supervised by Victor Bourgeau. Antoine Plamondon created the paintings of the Stations of the Cross, and the main altar and two side altars were richly carved by Perrault, Paré and Ouellet.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1996; Commemorative Integrity Statement, December 1997.
Key elements which relate to the heritage value of St. Patrick’s Basilica include:
- its large scale, with seating for over 1700 people;
- the quality of construction materials, including its limestone masonry, stone decoration, copper roof and exquisitely rendered ceiling carpentry;
- its French Gothic Revival style, evident in its soaring height, its compact rectangular plan with a central nave and side aisles, its circular apse, its façade, its structural organization, its exterior decorations concentrated on the façade and its interior arrangement;
- its French Gothic Revival principal façade, with its strong verticality, central tower, rose window, near-grade main entrance flanked by two side entrances opening directly into the nave and side aisles, pointed-arched openings, towered buttresses, and archaeologically correct Medieval portico;
- its French Gothic Revival structural design, based on a quadripartite vault;
- its consistent approach to fenestration and decorative openings, as seen in its rose window, the narrow lancet windows along the aisles and around the apse, the row of occuli along the upper level of the apse, and the lancet openings and blind arcading of its bell tower;
- its exterior decoration, including the statue of St. Patrick above the main entrance, the geometric tracery of the rose window, the crocket capitals of the piers and columns and the archaeologically correct decoration of the portico, entrance surrounds and east porch;
- its interior arrangement, with its six-bay nave, high side aisles, elegant pair of arcade piers, and tall imposing sanctuary;
- its interior decorations, including the central chandelier (ca. 1896-1915) and the articulation of masonry features such as vault members and arches in plaster;
- its Irish cultural references, including the use of three-leafed clovers as a primary iconographic symbol in its sculptural and chromatic decoration;
- its conscious integration of Irish and French iconography, including the alternating pattern of clovers and fleurs-de-lys in decorations;
- its collection of artwork, furnishings and decorations associated with Roman Catholic ritual, including the paintings of the Stations of the Cross by Antoine Plamondon, the main altar and secondary altars created by Perrault, Paré and Ouellet, the altarpieces depicting the Annunciation and the Death of Saint Joseph, the stained glass windows produced by the Grey Nuns, the false marbled columns, the murals, the stained glass windows produced in the workshops of Arnold and Locke, the stained glass windows created by Guido Nincheri, the benches, the statues, and the organ;
- its location in the centre of the city.