Here are some highlights of the architectural and decorative wonders of the Basilica.
The theme was developed around the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, the sacrament that renews the sacrifice of Christ. The Crucifixion is in the center of the altarpiece: Christ is represented dead on the cross, the Virgin and Saint John stand on either side of the cross and Mary Magdalene is kneeling at her feet.
Around the Crucifixion, we see four scenes from the Old Testament which announce the sacrifice of the Cross and the Mass:
- Bottom right: the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham.
- Bottom left: the offering of bread and wine made by Melchisedech.
- Top left: Moses gives the rules of worship which will be made by offering animal sacrifices on the altar.
- Top right: the high priest, Aaron immolates a lamb according to tradition.
The central axis of the altarpiece displays Calvary, placed above the high altar. Under this altar, is the Last Supper according to Leonardo da Vinci, carved out of wood: it is the institution of the Eucharist, on the eve of the death of Christ. In the upper part of the altarpiece, is the coronation of Mary. The crowned Christ (Messiah) is the conqueror of death, from whence his resurrection. He crowns his mother. The visual composition directed towards the vault is indicative of the path to heavenly happiness, with its angels and stars on an intense blue background. This path, symbolizing life, is traced in the sacrifice of Christ and the Mass.
THE CELEBRATION ALTAR AND THE AMBON
Since the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the priest must celebrate Mass in front of the people. In 1998, a new altar was installed. The sculptor-designer Denis Duguay, drew inspiration from the architecture of the high altar, and raised it behind the choir to make it visible. The inauguration took place at Christmas, in 1998.
The pulpit is an important showpiece of the basilica. Formerly, the priest went up there to pronounce his sermon. The architect Victor Bourgeau (1809-1888) designed this pulpit during the renovations of the 1870s. Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850-1917), a well-known sculptor, built the ornate piece, and notably, seen on the ground, are the two prophets of the Old Testament, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. As with the altarpiece, the pulpit signifies that the Old Testament of the Bible is the basis of the Christian faith. Above this, at the level of the guardrail, there is a series of statuettes representing, among others, Christ sitting and teaching Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
THE GREAT CASAVANT ORGANS
It was the Casavant Frères firm of Saint-Hyacinthe who constructed the organ of the basilica in 1891. Since then, the instrument has undergone some restorations. On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, its composition was increased to 7,000 pipes: the largest measuring 10 meters (32 feet) and the smallest, 6mm (1/4 in.). Since 2002, the organ has 92 sets arranged on four keyboards, with a pedal board. The current console is from 1962.
THE CHAPEL OF SAINT-SACRAMENT
This glass chapel allows the faithful to pray in peace and to adore the Blessed Sacrament preserved in the tabernacle of the altar. The latter is dedicated to the Sulpician martyrs of the French Revolution of September 2nd and 3rd, 1792. Beside it is the altar dedicated to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whose statue is signed by Elzéar Soucy. It is surrounded by paintings by Ozias Leduc.
To mark the Notre-Dame centennial celebrations in 1929, the parish priest Olivier Maurault saw the construction of new stained-glass windows in the basilica, for which he raised the necessary funds. He himself decided on the theme of the stained-glass windows on the ground floor, evoking the religious and social life of the time of Ville-Marie. Quebec artist Jean-Baptiste Lagacé would design the cartoons. The stained glass windows would be made at the Francis Chigot workshop in Limoges, France. Stained-glass windows are representations of the history of the founding of Montréal.