Notre Dame Cathedral of Ottawa is a masterpiece created entirely by our architects and sculptors. It belongs to a class of wooden and stone churches which bears witness to a fine building tradition, and it ranks among some of the inspired works whose great beauty comes as much from their magnificence as from the profound faith of the artisans who crafted them.
Many pictures of the Cathedral and of its interior artwork can be found under "Cathedral Photo Gallery" on the left.
The Interior of the Cathedral
Today the spaciousness, majesty, and sacred character of the interior of this cathedral strike the visitor just as they did a hundred years ago. In the reigning dimness, one soon makes out the long, narrow, and high central nave, with its line of imposing Gothic arches running from the entrance all the way to the main altar. On each side, bundles of slender columns divide the nave from the aisles. Supported by these columns and covering the side aisles are terraced galleries that look out into the nave and help to define its vastness. Above these large arches runs a blind arcade, with three arches per span, which accentuates the rhythm of the nave. Over each segment stands a high window. In the sanctuary, the large arches progressively open up to a view of the windows set in behind them, the blind arcades display their theatrical decor and the high windows look like beams of light beneath the imposing sculpted flowerlet that terminates the lierne and unites the ribbing of the apse in a crown above the main altar.
The most surprising and fascinating aspect of this sanctuary is the richness of its Gothic ornamentation and the originality of its iconographic programme. It is in studying the decoration and especially the sculptures of the sanctuary that the spirit of Canon Bouillon's utmost creativity becomes evident. Strongly inspired by a long medieval tradition and influenced by the neo-Gothic movement, this iconography is at once complex yet coherent, traditional yet innovative, symbolic yet largely accessible. Although it has a traditional air, it bears the markings of its nineteenth century central-Canadian roots. The sanctuary of Notre Dame of Ottawa permits us to enter into the circle of a great assembly: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints gathered around Christ, amidst the angels, in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. But surprisingly, in different niches of honour, we recognize Saint Joseph, patron saint of Canada, as well as Saint John the Baptist, and St. Patrick, patron saints of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
The ornamental ensemble of the sanctuary conceived by Canon Bouillon was realized between 1876 and 1885 by a team of craftsmen, carpenters, and sculptors, the most familiar being Philippe Pariseau, Flavien Rochon, Olindo Gratton, and Philippe Hébert. Often the same men who laboured at the cathedral site also worked on the Parliament Buildings. Most of these men lived nearby and were either parishioners or fervent admirers of Bouillon, although some were total strangers to the city, such as Philippe Hébert, a Montreal artist whom Bouillon summoned in 1879. At that time this young sculptor had neither a job nor prospective employment and was planning to move to the United States. He later became famous throughout Canada for his monumental bronze sculptures, and the cathedral prides itself on having more than sixty of his wooden sculptures: his greatest sculptural ensemble.
The Stained Glass Windows
The first series of stained-glass windows installed in the cathedral dates 1879. Made by the English glassworker Horwood, these windows consist of geometrical motifs painted in grisaille and embellished by light touches of vivid colours.
Most of them were replaced between 1956 and 1961 by a series of 17 historiated windows, continuing the tradition of teaching biblical events through pictures in glass. They are the work of Guido Nincheri of Montreal, and tell of the mysteries of Christ's life and that of the Virgin Mary.
Of particular prominence is the large window located just above the cathedral's main entrance. The tall figures painted in the centre of this window represent, from the left to right: St. Patrick, St. Paul, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Peter, and St. John the Baptist.
The Side Altars
At the entrance to the sanctuary, in the two lateral rows joining the nave's side aisles, have been erected secondary altars of sculpted wood, covered with gold leaf and decorated with precious stones; they are rather like the shutters of a giant triptych of azure and gold.
The altar located on the left side of the sanctuary was built in 1879 and dedicated to the Sacred Heart. On the right side of the sanctuary is the altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin (pictured). Built in 1885 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is the most splendid of this church's three altars, and Canon Bouillon's final realization in the cathedral.
The Treasures of the Cathedral
The collection of sacred vessels, liturgical vestments, old silverware and antique oil paintings which are in the possession of the cathedral is precious and of great interest. Most of these artworks come from Europe, and are mainly of Italian origin.
A chasuble and a stole in cloth of gold, part of a superb enselble of rich liturgical vestments.
Golden chalice decorated with precious stones offered to Alexandre Vachon (sixth bishop of Ottawa), by his mother, on the occasion of his ordination to the priesthood, May 22, 1910.
Golden chalice decorated with six enamelled medallions, offered to Canon Georges Bouillon on the occasion of his golden jubilee, January 25, 1924.
Golden chalice richly decorated with precious stones and twelve enamelled medallions, offered in 1886 to the Diocese of Ottawa by les Dames de Ste Anne, very likely on the occasion of Archbishop Thomas Duhamel's installation as first archbishop of Ottawa, July 24, 1886. In addition, from the same collection, a golden ciborium of the same style, but wthout any inscription.