A Wooden Basilica in Montreal

I went to Montreal last week, and had a chance to visit the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, a stunningly beautiful example of Neo-Gothic architecture:

Now, while Neo-Gothic is really a 19th century interpretation of gothic style rather than an example of the real thing, what’s exciting about NDBM is that it’s built out of wood! painted wood! Look closely:

In other words, this is what the gorgeous carved and painted wooden churches of the middle ages would have looked like, especially considering the most recent round of renovations was inspired by Sainte-Chapelle in France, built by Louis IX in the 13th century. It really shows that stone is not necessary for creating the magical grandure of a sanctuary, and explains why Anglo-Saxons, for one, did not particularily privilege stone as an artistic material. Sitting in that church really brings to the fore that a wooden church need not necessarily have been any less effective, grandiose, or rich (sensually and financially) than a stone one, and that building a church in stone was a choice based on considerations of longevity, rather than conspicuous consumption.

NDBM also forcibly reminds us how real a problem longevity really is in a wooden church: although the original church was supported by whole pine trunks, they have since rotted and had to be filled with concrete. It has also been a victim to fire and arson: a thrilling tale involving a man in the confessional with a candle. Roll the dice, advance 3 spaces.

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