The first plan dates from 1839. The work on the building's structure was conducted between 1841 and 1865, and the interior ornamentation, from 1876 to 1885. Missionnaries on temporary postings initiated the actual construction. It was only after the arrival of the Oblate Fathers in 1844 that the work proceeded on a regular basis.
In 1847, the poor mission church was prematurely transformed into a cathedral, the seat of the first Bishop of Bytown, Most Reverend Joseph-Eugène-Bruno Guigues, O.M.I. With the growth of the diocese under the second Bishop of Ottawa, Most Reverend Thomas Duhamel, and with the impetus of a visionary artist, Canon Georges Bouillon, the cathedral was finally completed in 1885. Dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in 1853, Notre Dame Cathedral was elevated to the status of basilica in 1879.
In 1999, the Cathedral underwent a major restoration. This was the first phase of a multi-year project.
In 1978, both the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa officially recognized the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa as an historic monument. The cathedral is indeed the oldest surviving church in Ottawa. It stands on the site that was occupied by the first Catholic chapel open to both anglophones and francophones of Bytown.
Today the spaciousness, majesty, and sacred character of the interior of this cathedral strike the visitor just as they did a hundred years ago. In the reigning dimness, one soon makes out the long, narrow, and high central nave, with its line of imposing Gothic arches running from the entrance all the way to the main altar. On each side, bundles of slender columns divide the nave from the aisles. Supported by these columns and covering the side aisles are terraced galleries that look out into the nave and help to define its vastness. Above these large arches runs a blind arcade, with three arches per span, which accentuates the rhythm of the nave. Over each segment stands a high window. In the sanctuary, the large arches progressively open up to a view of the windows set in behind them, the blind arcades display their theatrical decor and the high windows look like beams of light beneath the imposing sculpted flowerlet that terminates the lierne and unites the ribbing of the apse in a crown above the main altar.
The Sanctuary The most surprising and fascinating aspect of this sanctuary is the richness of its Gothic ornamentation and the originality of its iconographic programme. It is in studying the decoration and especially the sculptures of the sanctuary that the spirit of Canon Bouillon's utmost creativity becomes evident. Strongly inspired by a long medieval tradition and influenced by the neo-Gothic movement, this iconography is at once complex yet coherent, traditional yet innovative, symbolic yet largely accessible. Although it has a traditional air, it bears the markings of its nineteenth century central-Canadian roots. The sanctuary of Notre Dame of Ottawa permits us to enter into the circle of a great assembly: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints gathered around Christ, amidst the angels, in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. But surprisingly, in different niches of honour, we recognize Saint Joseph, patron saint of Canada, as well as Saint John the Baptist, and St. Patrick, patron saints of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
The Lateral altars At the entry to the sanctuary, in the two lateral rows joining the nave's side aisles, have been erected secondary altars of sculpted wood, covered with gold leaf and decorated with precious stones; they are rather like the shutters of a giant triptych of azure and gold. The altar located on the left side of the sanctuary was built in 1879 and dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The other one, on the right-hand side, dates from 1885 and is consecrated to the Virgin Mary; it is the most splendid of this church's three altars, and Canon Bouillon's final realization in the cathedral.
The Stained-Glass Windows
The first series of stained-glass windows installed in the cathedral dates 1879. Made by the English glassworker Horwood, these windows consist of geometrical motifs painted in grisaille and embellished by light touches of vivid colours. Most of them were replaced between 1956 and 1961 by a series of 17 historiated windows, made by the artist Guido Nincheri of Montreal, telling of the mysteries of Christ's life and that of the Virgin Mary. Of particular prominence is the large window located just above the cathedral's main entrance. The tall figures painted in the center of this window represent, from the left to right: St. Patrick, St. Paul, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Peter, and St. John the Baptist.
All choirs recruit year round. If you and/or your children are interested, please contact the office for information.
The Blessed Sacrament will be present in the chapel after the 5 PM Mass on Thursdays and Fridays throughout the year.
A Brief History and Parishes of the Archdiocese of Ottawa – 125 years
This hard cover book, containing 256 glossy paper pages with full colour throughout, shows some of the dynamic life and activities of our parishes. It is currently available at the office at a cost of $35 each.
Confessions are held 15 minutes before each mass
La Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame/Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica 2010