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Montreal's Museum of the First Canadian Female Saint: Marguerite Bourgeoys and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel
Learn All About This Amazing Woman and See Some Great Scenery!
French-born Marguerite Bourgeoys arrived in Montreal in 1653, when the Canadian city had about 50 inhabitants, and persuaded them to build the city's first stone chapel. Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is still an operating church in the Vieux Montreal, or Old Montreal, section, and it has an attached museum dedicated to Bourgeoys.
Tourists should plan on stopping by the chapel and visiting the museum when they are in the Vieux Montreal section, and should allot about an hour to 90 minutes to see everything. We recently toured the museum and chapel, and here are a few of the highlights.
The close-up here is from the only known portrait of Marguerite Bourgeoys. The painting can be seen in the museum. The photos in this review are our own unless otherwise noted.
``Our Lady of Good Help''
Serving Montreal Residents for More Than 350 Years
The current chapel, whose name translates to ``Our Lady of Good Help,'' is the third church on the site where Bourgeoys first rallied Montreal's colonists to build a place of worship in 1655. That first wooden building was replaced in 1678 by a stone one.
Fire destroyed the stone chapel in 1754, and the current building was opened in 1771.
It is not a particularly large church, or even very distinctive to look at from outside. But it fits right into the Old Montreal neighborhood, and looked very inviting when we approached.
Canada's First Female Saint
The first section of the museum is a wall that contains an illustrated history of Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was born in Troyes, France, in 1620. After joining a local cloister, she was asked to travel to the fledgling colony of Canada and arrived there in 1653.
In addition to being the champion of the chapel, she opened Montreal's first school, in a stable, and taught topics including religion. Bourgeoys returned to France to recruit more women from the cloister, and returning to Montreal they led what was considered a fairly radical lifestyle at the time: they were uncloistered.
Bourgeoys died in 1700. In 1982. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1982, making her Canada's first female saint.
We aren't very religious, so we didn't know much about her before we arrived. We were impressed by her bravery and determination, and how much she helped the early residents of Montreal.
Marguerite Bourgeoys' Life
Visiting the Top of the Chapel
69 Wooden Steps to a Great View of Montreal's Old Port!
After reading about the saint, you walk up 69 steps to the top of the church tower, where there is an outside area that provides a great view of the Old Port and Old Montreal. (Please note: I didn't see any way up to the top for the handicapped or people who have a hard time climbing, so if you want to visit the museum for the tower and need to use an elevator you might want to check first before you pay!)
I enjoyed being outside and seeing the view. There is also an exhibition inside the tower that explains that the chapel became very popular with sailors in the 19th century. The exhibit's displays contain wooden model ships and a church bell cast in 1771 in London.
See below for some of the views from the top of the tower.
This photo is the youngest member of the Goldenrulecomics' family heading up the tower stairs.
Views From the Chapel TowerClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Church's Angels
Beautiful Work From Artist Philippe Laperle
On either side of the tower are two angels from 1892 that were the work of Philippe Laperle. They are the only two remaining of 14 statues installed at the chapel in 1893-1894. The church also has a small statue of the Virgin Mary on the front steeple.
The life-size statues are beaten copper over wood, and are really impressive. It is cool to see them against the backdrop of the city, and I can only imagine what it must have looked like a century ago when there were more than a dozen of them watching over the local residents.
Down to the Crypt...
The Location of the Original Chapel From 1754
Under the current chapel is an archeological site that includes the exact location of Bourgeoys' original chapel from 1754. It turns out the church is the oldest place in Montreal to retain its original foundation, so an excavation in 1996-1997 was able to locate the exact location of the original chapel in building's crypt.
The crypt has numerous artifacts from the early days of the church that were found during the excavation, including bottles, plates and other every day items used by the early settlers.
There are also church objects, including a nice statue of Saint Michael the Archangel defeating the Dragon from 1890.
Francis Back, Montreal Illustrator
Children's Books and Movie Storyboards
After the crypt there is a two-room exhibit dedicated to the work of Montreal illustrator Francis Back. The first room of this temporary exhibit displays Back's art illustrating the history of the region and explains his craft.
The second room is a display of some of his works, including the covers for many historica novels including a paperback version of Jules Verne's The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz. The books were all French editions, so I wasn't very familiar with them.
More interesting were some of the storyboards that Back created for various movies. The photo here is one of the storyboards that he did for ``Babine,'' a movie that came out in 2008. His credits stretch back to 1990 and include ``The Spiderwick Chronicles,'' also from 2008.
There is a drawing area for children that created some much-needed diversion after spending so much time among the more serious exhibits. The museum's website says this is a temporary exhibit but I didn't see any information on when it would close, so if you are going there just for this best to check first that it is still on.
The True Likeness
The Only Known Portrait of the Saint
After returning to the main floor the tour continues in a room containing the only known portrait of Marguerite Bourgeoys. The painting, called the True Likeness, was done by Pierre Le Ber immediately after her death in January, 1700.
The exhibit explains the somewhat fantastic reason behind the portrait's current name. At some point after the original painting was done, someone made the decision that her image wasn't good enough. So someone painted over the portrait, making her look a little less stern and more idealized!
In the mid-twentieth century the painting was restored to its original condition. Photos weren't allowed, so the one here and the more idealized version below are public domain images.
The museum concludes with a room of miniatures depicting the life of the saint and another room dedicated to the sisters and their congregation. The miniatures were a bit corny, to be honest, and we breezed through the congregation room fairly quickly as it was a bit too localized.
We did pop into the church proper, but it was Sunday morning and there was a Mass going on so we weren't able to look at much and I didn't feel it would be respectful to take photos.
The Idealized Version of Marguerite Bourgeoys
Have You Ever Been?
Have You Toured the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum and the Chapel?
A Short Video of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel
Book Your Room Today
We have used Hotels.com to book our recent vacations, and haven't had a problem yet. You do have to spend a bit of time reading the reviews to make sure the hotel you select is exactly what you want, of course. Sometimes a good price just means that the hotel has had a lot of poor reviews and has dropped what it charges to attract customers!
One other bit of good news is that you get a free night's stay after booking 10 nights. The freebie has to be on a subsequent trip, but it has helped us save money. Check out Hotels.com today:
A View of the Church From Down the Street
Top Things to Do in Montreal
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Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum
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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!
Thanks for visiting!