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Montreal’s oldest chapel, known as “Sailors Church“, where small model ships hung from the ceiling, offered by sailors in gratitude

David Goran

The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is one of the oldest churches in the district of Old Montreal in Montreal, Quebec. The first teacher in the colony of Ville-Marie and the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, rallied the colonists to build a chapel in 1655.

One of the oldest churches in Montréal. Source

One of the oldest churches in Montréal. Source

She decided to undertake the building of a chapel of pilgrimage dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the time, the pilgrimage was an important devotional practice, and Marguerite Bourgeoys wanted the Blessed Virgin to have a place dedicated to her in Ville-Marie. With the help of the early Montrealers, Marguerite Bourgeoys began her project.

Interior view. Source

Interior view. Source

The history of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel extends back almost as far as that of Montreal itself. Source

The history of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel extends back almost as far as that of Montreal itself. Source

The ceiling, decorated by painter Édouard Meloche between 1886 and 1891, illustrates the life of the Virgin. Source

The ceiling, decorated by painter Édouard Meloche between 1886 and 1891, illustrates the life of the Virgin. Source

Work on the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel began in 1657, but, unfortunately, the work was delayed. It resumed again only in 1675 and was completed three years later. The chapel was then the first stone church built on the island of Montreal and is the only church, with Notre-Dame Basilica, that still exists in what is now the historic district of Old Montreal.

Pipe organ inside Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Source

Pipe organ inside Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Source

The 16th-century statuette of the Virgin, brought from France by Marguerite Bourgeoys, emerged unscathed from the fire that damaged the chapel in 1754 and has been credited with miraculous powers.

In 1673, returning from France, Bourgeoys brought a wooden image of Our Lady of Good Help. Source

In 1673, returning from France, Bourgeoys brought a wooden image of Our Lady of Good Help. Source

Model ships hang from the ceiling to honour the Virgin's protection.. Source

Model ships hang from the ceiling to honour the Virgin’s protection. Source

Emphasizing the connection of the chapel and the port, the chapel is often called the Sailors’ Church. In the 19th century, the chapel came to be a pilgrimage site for the sailors who arrived in the Old Port of Montreal; they would make offerings to the Virgin in gratitude for her “good help” for safe sea voyages. Ex-votos in the form of model ships hung from the ceiling have been offered by sailors in gratitude for the Virgin’s protection.

The original wooden structure was rebuilt in stone and frequently altered; its present face dates from the late 19th century. Source

The original wooden structure was rebuilt in stone and frequently altered; its present face dates from the late 19th century. Source

An ex-voto is a votive offering to a saint or to a divinity. It is given in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude or devotion. Source

An ex-voto is a votive offering to a saint or to a divinity. It is given in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude or devotion. Source

In 2005, Marguerite Bourgeoys's mortal remains were brought back to the church, where she now lies in the sanctuary. Source

In 2005, Marguerite Bourgeoys’s mortal remains were brought back to the church, where she now lies in the sanctuary. Source

The Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum. Source

The Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum. Source

The chapel now houses the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, dedicated to the life of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys and to the early history of Montreal and the chapel site. It was opened to the public in May 1998 and a number of important archaeological discoveries are on display. The archaeological site reveals over 2,400 years of history.