When John and I were about to get married, his dad told us that our biological age didn’t match our internal age. We were really about forty, and he meant it in a good way. Likewise, when we quickly went from married to married with a family, our friends weren’t totally surprised. Many of them said they couldn’t imagine doing those things right then, but they made sense for us.
Even though the only way we get to something like forty is if you combine our ages, the children in us live, and our trip to Montreal was proof. Sure, we chose family-friendly activities because we had a toddler along with us, but really they were things we probably would have done even if we were on our own. Okay, so maybe we wouldn’t have gone to the playground, but we still would have walked to the clock tower nearby.
The first wonderful thing we did was go to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Since we’re daily Mass-goers, we wanted to stay in a hotel near a church, and we’d heard this one was something to see. Really, the church wasn’t just something to see, it was something to experience.
I love churches in cities. With or without soundproof walls, they can be an escape from the noise, traffic, and busyness of the streets. In New York especially, churches can look rather small from the outside, but once you pass through the doors, you feel like you’ve been invited into some kind of expanding Alice-in-Wonderland reverie, like there’s somehow more room inside than outside. Notre-Dame (modeled after the one in Paris) was big enough on the outside, but inside felt like it went on forever.
I didn’t take photos of the church for two reasons: 1) I know my photography skills wouldn’t do it justice and 2) I totally forgot. Despite the chilly Montreal morning, when I entered the basilica, I was engulfed by a luminosity that can only be described as a precursor to Heaven, and that’s just what was intended. Normally I prefer sculpture in churches to paintings; I see the unity of God and man more clearly in a figure hewn from stone or wood. There were plenty of statues in this church, but it was the painted ceiling that really made the whole thing pop. Colored a warm, inviting blue, the ceiling was covered with golden stars. The uppermost scene on the altar was the coronation of Mary, with the crucified, risen, and crowned Christ crowning his mother Queen of Heaven and Earth. Majesty radiated through the whole church. Golds, blues, purples. Everything shimmered and shined, and yet felt so warm and real at the same time. It may be the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen, and it alone was absolutely worth the trip.
When we first visited the church, we noticed banners for a sound and light show called, “And Then There Was Light.” The program was forty minutes long, and the brochure we read implied that children as young as Jacob were welcome. The timing fit perfectly into our evening schedule, so we bought tickets for later that day. I admit, I was a little skeptical about a sound and light show in the church, but we figured buying our tickets probably helped the church some, and it was at least worth a try.
Oh boy, was it ever! When we arrived for the show, white sheets were hung from the sides of the mezzanine sections (I’m not sure if that’s quite what to call them, but they were similar to elevated seating at an opera) and a giant projection screen was set up in front of the altar. John and I were given headsets that would tell the story in English, and we sat in our assigned pew near the front. Good thing we got tickets early! There were lots of people there—and there was a second showing later that night, too!
The program was not only light and sound, but also vignette films that traced the history of Montreal from its colonial period through the various stages of constructing the church. It was more of a dramatized historical documentary than simply a “sound and light show.” Partway through, the projections screens sunk away and the sheets were pulled up so that various elements of the church could be literally highlighted. It was an incredibly cool way to learn the history of the church and the area, and will be my number one recommendation for visitors to the city, traveling with a toddler or not, Catholic or not.
Looks like I had more to say about this church than I expected! Stay tuned for the second great Montreal family adventure tomorrow . . .