Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dedication Anniversary of the Ottawa Cathedral (1853)


On September 4, the Church of Ottawa celebrates the dedication of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica on that day in 1853.

The importance of the cathedral church in the liturgical life of the diocese flows from the role of the Bishop as the high priest of the Lord’s flock.

Every parish community is related to the Bishop, and therefore the anniversary of the cathedral church’s dedication as a place of worship is celebrated throughout the diocese.

The anniversary of the dedication of a cathedral church is to be observed on the date of the church's consecration, with the rank of a solemnity in the cathedral itself and of a feast in the other churches of the diocese; white vestments are worn.

As this liturgical observance falls on a Saturday in 2010, it is recommended that, in the Lord’s Day Masses of Saturday evening and of Sunday, September 4&5, the Prayers and Preface of the Dedication of the Cathedral (celebrated outside the cathedral in the case of the parishes and chapels) be combined with the readings of the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

At the cathedral, I will preside in French at the 17h15 Masses on Saturday and Sunday and in English at noon on Sunday.

Here are some historic notes gathered from various sources including the cathedral website where one can make a "virtual tour" or request a guided tour (

The cathedral's site at Sussex and St. Patrick was originally home to a small wooden church dedicated to St. James (Saint Jacques) built in 1832. This structure was demolished in 1841 to make way for a larger church, designed by local builder Antoine Robillard and Father Cannon who requested a Neo-classical design.

However, in 1844, after the lower section was completed, the Oblate Fathers took over the parish and Father Telmon was sent from France to finish the construction.

Father Telmon decided to redesign it to be a more standard Neo-Gothic structure, a style which was growing in popularity. This left the lower features, such as the main entrance, Neo-Classical, while the rest is Neo-Gothic, for example, the large windows over the doorway features Gothic pointed arches and tracery.

The main structure was finished in 1846, but it was not until 1866 that the spires were installed. The steeples are topped with standard French-Canadian tin and bells.

The cathedral's exterior is fairly reserved, but the interior is as far more ornate, designed by Georges Buillon; it is brightly painted and decorated with carved features, exquisite stained glass windows and hundreds of statues of various religious figures. Louis-Philippe Hébert completed thirty large wooden sculptures in the choir.

Above the high altar is Christ the King reigning in glory, bestowing a crown on his Mother Mary as the Queen of Heaven, with St. Joseph attending. Below this scene there are large statues of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick, the holy patron saints of fracophone and English-speaking [Irish] Catholics.

Mgr Joseph-Eugène-Bruno Guigues, OMI, First Roman Catholic Bishop of Bytown/Ottawa

In 1847 the church became a cathedral when Most Reverend Joseph-Eugène-Bruno Guigues, O.M.I. was appointed the first Bishop of Bytown; he is honoured with a lifesize statue to the right of the Cathedral (corner of Sussex and Guigues; his successor, Archbishop Thomas Duhamel's statue is on the corner of Sussex and Guigues). The cathedral was given the honorific title of basilica in 1879.

The Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame is the oldest church in Ottawa and the seat of the city's Catholic archbishop. Its twin spires and gilded Madonna are easily identifiable from nearby Parliament Hill and the surrounding area.

The church was recently renovated and restored in the late 1990s. Services are held in both French and English. Composer Amédée Tremblay notably served as the church's organist from 1894-1920.

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 on September 4, 1853, the Cathedral underwent a major restoration in the 1990's (resulting in the closure of the cathedral for close to two years), to prepare for the celebration of the diocese's sesquicentennial in 1997. This $10M updating was generously provided for by a subscription campaign.

It was the first phase of a multi-year project; most recently (2009-2010) a new steel roof was installed and, to take advantage of the scaffolding erected for this project, the exterior windows were painted and the cross on the south side o the roof was gilded. Donations to this $1.8M amelioration are still being received by the cathedral.

A marker inside Notre Dame cathedral commemorating the blessing of the cornerstone of Eglise St-Jacques-Bytown on October25, 1841

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