Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, also known as the “Sailors Church,” represented one of the last major stops on our day tour of Old Montreal. This wasn’t for lack of things to do; rather, the foot issue I’d been dealing with at the time was starting to become a bother and made it quite uncomfortable to amble about. As such, my time visiting this lovely church was marred by increasing pain, which obviously detracted from my overall enjoyment from what is a lovely – and somewhat quirky – house of worship.
In any event, the Sailors Church was built in 1771 on the foundations of an even older church (which, I think, makes it one of the oldest churches in Montreal). It was designed by Marguerite Bougeoys, one of Montreal’s first teachers. The design is at once opulent and practical: Opulent because of the ornate biblical scenes that decorate the ceiling concomitant with beautiful stained-glass windows; and practical because the church isn’t large and serves a clear and definite purpose. Yes, it’s no Notre Dame Basilica, but it carries its own unique charm and character.
Besides the ornate ceiling work and obvious religious symbolism found throughout the sanctuary, this church’s most defining characteristic has to be the wooden model ships that hang from the ceiling, giving Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel its alternate name (“Sailors Church”). “But,” you might ask, “why boats?” And that’s where this church’s connection to the Old Port and sea comes into play. Beginning in the 19th century, sailors arriving from the Old Port would make a pilgrimage to this church and make offerings to the Virgin Mary as thanks for her help in safe sea voyages. The model boats and the church’s nickname are meant to emphasize this unique connection with Montreal’s Old Port and St. Lawrence River. I think this is a really neat touch and adds something special to the church.
Marguerite Bougeoys Museum, which first opened in 1998, is also housed in the church; however, we did not visit it, nor did we visit the archeological site or lookout tower. Again, I blame the foot pain! That issue notwithstanding, we still enjoyed our visit to this church and highly recommend it to those exploring Old Montreal. It is much more than meets the eye!