As you enter the Place Royale, your eyes are immediately drawn to the little silver and gray stone church which seems to dominate the square. Physically, it is quite small and in age, it isn’t the oldest in Quebec but in ambiance and location it certainly is hard to beat. Notre Dame began its life as a chapel dedicated to the Christ Child in 1683 under the auspices of Quebec’s first Bishop, Francois de Laval. It occupies the site of Samuel de Champlain’s original Abitation. In 1690 when Governeur Frontenac defeated Admiral William Phipps, the church was rededicated as Notre Dame de la Victoire (Our Lady of Victory). Eleven years later when Admiral Walker”s fleet was shipwrecked on its way up the St. Lawrence River to attack Quebec, the church was renamed Notre Dame des Victoires (Our Lady of the Victories).
Unfortunately, Our Lady’s protection was not enough to save Notre Dame from General Wolfe’s bombardment of 1759. The English felt that the best way to demoralize the French Catholic’s was to target their churches, which they did with great success.
In 1763, rebuilding was begun under the direction of the noted Canadian architect Jean Baillarge. After three years and a major fire, it was ready to serve the Catholics of the Lower City. By 1829, Notre Dame had become the parish church of Quebec’s growing Irish Community.
Today Notre Dame is still a parish church with Sunday Mass at 10:30am. If the case full of marriage request forms is any indication, it is also a very popular wedding location.This really made me wonder since the interior of the church is very simple, with plain wooden pews and a simple wooden floor. Aside from the magnificent altar, designed by David Ouellette it can”t compare to the Cathedral for beauty. It must be the coziness that holds the appeal or the history, I can only guess which.
One of the treasures of Notre Dame is the the miniature ship hanging from the ceiling. This amazing little vessel was first hung here by the Marquis de Tracy who came to Canada in 1664 with the Carignan Regiment. Most of us of French Canadian extraction have one of these brave young soldiers in our background. Even if your not French Canadian it warrants a look.
While you are near the Place Royale take the time to check out the archeological dig. They have uncovered the cellars of some of the very early homes and also check out the mural which gives you the history of Quebec all in one spot on the side of a building. It’s fascinating to see 400 years summarized so concisely and there is a sign to tell what each of the tableau means (in case you can’t guess).