Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 4, 2001
Quebec church has historic significance
Wolfe's cannonballs left only the church's walls standing
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
QUEBEC — Crowded between the great cliffs of Quebec City and the historic St. Lawrence River in an old dockside area of narrow streets is a church of great antiquity. It's the centrepiece of recently restored Place Royale, picturesque Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires.
The significance of the little 300-year-old structure to the history of Canada is acknowledged by the tens of thousands of tourists and school children who annually visit the oldest stone church north of Mexico.
Although Jacques Cartier had wintered at the future site of Quebec in 1535, it wasn't until 1608 that Samuel de Champlain built his first residence here.
Footings of his "habitation" were identified in 1976 on the church site, excavated and re-interred. Positions of walls and towers have been marked on adjacent streets so visitors can stand precisely beside, or in the house of the father of Canada.
Following an 80-year period during which the fortress/house was added to, rebuilt and even occupied by English invaders for three years, it was replaced by a church. Eglise l'Enfant Jesus, dedicated to the Christ child, was constructed under the direction of Canada's first bishop, Francois (de Montmorency) Laval.
When settlers successfully repulsed an attack by English Admiral Phipps in 1690 the new church was renamed Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire to commemorate the event. Twenty-one years later, when another invasion attempt was frustrated by a storm that destroyed much of the enemy fleet, the name was expanded to the plural, des-Victoires.
Despite such fortuitous beginnings, the congregation was to be subjected over the next 200 years to catastrophic fires and repeated deadly epidemics.
In 1759, cannon fire from Wolfe's batteries across the river virtually destroyed Quebec's Lower Town leaving only the walls of the gutted church.
Rebuilt four years later, Notre-Dame was again severely damaged by a fire in 1766. No significant harm was done to the building during the 1775 attack by American generals Arnold and Montgomery.
Beginning in 1829, Irish immigrants, who for awhile formed one-fifth of the city's population, made this their parish church but later on, the entire Lower Tower fell into disrepair.
Proposals to demolish the old building were resisted and, after renovations, the church was declared a provincial historic site in 1929. And in 1944 it was redesignated as a parish with regular weekend Masses.
Renovations and interior decor by well-known regional artisans has resulted in an attractive oasis of calm for visitors desiring relief from the crowded boutiques, restaurants and other historic places that surround Place Royale.
Noteworthy features inside Notre-Dame include the church's trademark, a model sailing ship suspended from the ceiling, a reminder of the city's close association with seafarers; the ornate, towered white and gold reredos and Sainte-Genevieve side chapel.
It is, of course, open most days to the public and at times tours are offered.
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