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Inside the City's Oldest Chapel: One of Old Montreal's Most Popular Attractions
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel & Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum
An Old Montreal landmark rebuilt and erected in 1771 over the original stone ruins of the oldest chapel ever built in Montreal circa 1675 courtesy of Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys, Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours is one of the most beautiful churches in Montreal, a chapel rich with historical, archaeological and spiritual significance. Admission, opening hours and other details on visiting the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel and the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum are featured further below.
The Tomb of a Saint
Canonized as Canada's first woman saint in 1982, Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys was of massive importance to Montreal's development as a settlement and eventual city. But if it were up to some church superiors at the time, she would have lived her life within the walls of a convent rather than out in the open as an iconic community contributor, one of Quebec's most revered historical leaders, a chapel,... school, and uncloistered congregration founder negotiating multiple threats that plagued Ville-Marie and the New World, from Iroquois attacks to disease, harsh winters and political unrest.
Ironically, she had tried to follow Catholic convention in the first place and engage in monastic life in her native France only to be rejected by the convents for which she sought membership, to the confusion of multiple biographers. Some claimed said rejections were over her not being of a high enough social class to be welcomed into the fold.
Interestingly, the values of the order she built up from scratch, the Congrégation de Notre Dame de Montréal, had no qualms accepting members of different social classes. Its guiding principle was to assist the poor and ensure educational opportunity for both girls and boys, rich or poor. Bourgeoys was especially taken with safeguarding and empowering women immigrants and women living in poverty, offering them refuge and teaching them the skills to earn a living and build a home.
What Bourgeoys achieved as the founder of one of the first uncloistered religious orders for women in the Catholic Church in 1658 was nothing short of revolutionary. That Bourgeoys released sisters from the closed-off walls of convent life to live and circulate freely among the populace was a freedom the Church attempted to revoke on more than one occasion, in spite of support from the settlement's highest religious authority, the Apostolic Vicar of New France François de Laval.
In 1671, this conflict in “values” went as far as requiring Louis XIV's intercession to protect her order from her own Church intent on limiting her role in the community, a powerful ally which was startling to some given Bourgeoys had no money nor friends in Paris, let alone access to a King swamped by scheming nobles at Versailles known for spending months if not years attempting to secure comparable favor.
As Louis XIV said in a written order officially guaranteeing her congregation's role in the community, “Not only has she performed the office of schoolmistress by giving free instruction to the young girls in all the occupations that make them capable of earning their livelihood, but, far from being a liability to the country, she has built permanent buildings, cleared land-concessions, set up a farm...”
But securing her congregation's future didn't stop there. For a deeper look at Bourgeoys' life and allegedly mystical death, read her biography. And when visiting the chapel, look for Marguerite Bourgeoys' tomb at the left side-altar below the statue of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours.
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, Crypt and Archaeological Site
From offering a gorgeous view of Old Montreal from its tower to granting access to the crypt and archaeological ruins below Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, the chapel museum transports visitors back in time to the building's roots as a favored First Nations campsite with evidence and artifacts dating back 2,400 years to its transformation as the site of the oldest stone chapel on the island of Montreal, one which eventually earned the nickname ''The Sailor's Church'' given the area's rising status as a leading North American port in the 19th century.
Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours offers Mass in both English and French. English Mass is on Saturdays at 4 p.m. from the second Sunday of Easter until November. French mass is held every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. And then Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon from March through to mid-January. Additional masses are held on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Schedule is subject to change without notice.
Chapel Opening Hours
October 11, 2016 to January 15, 2017: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
January 16 through February 28, 2017: closed
March 1 to April 30, 2017:11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day
May 1 to October 9, 2017: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day
October 10 to December 23, 2017: TBA
December 24, 2017: Christmas Mass at 8 p.m. (in French)
December 25, 2017:11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
January 1, 2018: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Note that Chapel and Museum schedule are subject to change without notice.
Admission to Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours itself is free (donations welcomed).
Admission to Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, the crypt and archaeological site is $12, $9 seniors, $9 students aged 13 to 25 with I.D., $7 ages 6 to 12, $30 family rate (2 adults and 2 youths ages 16 and under). Admission rates subject to change without notice.
Adjacent Marché Bonsecours and near the Bonsecours Basin, Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours is located at:
400, St. Paul Street East
Old Montreal, Quebec H2Y 1H4
Getting there: Champ-de-Mars metro
Tel: (514) 282-8670
Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours WebsiteContinue to 2 of 4 below.
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What Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel Used to Look Like
The original Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel as erected by Marguerite Bourgeoys in honor of the Virgin Mary in 1675 was much humbler than its 1771 reconstruction, serving its purpose as a community focal point in Montreal, then known as pioneer settlement Ville-Marie, a colony founded less than 30 years earlier, in 1642.
Very little is left of Bourgeoys' old chapel. A fire decimated it in 1754 except for one wooden statue, the one she brought back from France to place in her original 1675 chapel and a reliquary, both found miraculously intact among the ashes. They're on display at the left side-altar in the chapel.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
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Beneath La Chappelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours
Evidence of regular encampments and artifacts dating back 2,400 years suggests the area upon which Marguerite Bourgeoys chose to build the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel was once upon a time the site of a popular camp site for First Nations, likely over several generations.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
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Above La Chappelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours
The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel tower offers a gorgeous view of Old Montreal and the Old Port.