With soaring arches, terraced galleries and stained-glass windows, the Notre Dame Basilica is a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture. Built in 1885, the basilica is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa. It is one of the largest and oldest surviving churches in Ottawa and a Canadian National Historic site.
As you enter the nave, the arches frame the long chamber and propel the eye toward the altar. Slim stone columns on either side separate the aisles and form arches that support the domed ceiling overhead. Terraced galleries look out onto the nave, while stained-glass windows with Biblical depictions adorn the walls. Above the galleries the row of blind arcades creates a textural architectural image, reflecting the style of Victorian Gothic architecture. As you look up, notice how the arches and the curved lines leading up toward the domed ceiling create a sense of movement and vastness in the space.
The sanctuary around the altar is rich in Gothic adornments, original iconography and sculptures of Biblical figures inspired by medieval traditions. These images combine traditional aspects of the church with 19th-century Canadian traditions. Take a moment to look at the lateral altars at the entry to the sanctuary. These are sculpted from wood, covered with gold leaf and adorned with valuable stones. The stunning reredos, the altarpiece behind the main altars, is 50 feet (15 meters) high and depicts the Christ of Glory in the center. Notice the detail on the main altar it is decorated with relief on a bronze tabernacle of the resurrection, the nativity and Christ’s teachings.
Notre Dame Basilica is open daily for mass and private prayer. However, sightseers are requested to time their visits between services, so check the website for times before visiting. Guided tours of between 30 and 45 minutes are available and advance booking is required. The basilica is easily accessible by public transportation, parking is available and it is a short walk to Parliament Hill and the National Gallery of Canada.