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Ships on the ceiling in Quebec

Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, by Eliza Myers

I’ve come to expect certain staples on a historic church tour, such as statues, paintings and stained-glass windows. However, Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours completely startled me with model ships hanging from the ceiling. I certainly did a double take when I first saw the ships seemingly floating inside the basilica.

“Looking up, you will see something that you will not normally see in churches,” said the church’s tour guide, Marc Alexandre, while pointing to the hanging ships. “The ships are there because this church became a natural point of convergence for sailors. It became known as the Sailor’s Church. The first ship brought here in 1872 is still here.”

The 1771 basilica has other intriguing facets, such as ceiling paintings that were covered for 90 years by fabric and the Museum of the Crypt Chapel, located below the church. The underground crypt room had been used as a storage area for many years, until church staff members discovered its archaelogical significance during a cleanup project in the 1990s. They not only found the remains of the 1678 chapel, but they also uncovered an aboriginal fire pit from 1,000 years ago.

“You may wonder how we are able to date such a fire pit,” said Alexandre. “The answer comes from things we found in the pit. Arrowheads and pieces of pottery are the keys to knowing what time it is from.”

The contrast between the brightly lit basilica above and the dark, secretive crypt below made the basilica tour full of interesting surprises I loved discovering.

Quebec’s National Shrines