The architect of the church, Mr. Frank Wills of Salisbury in England, was heavily influenced by the ideas of Augustus Pugin and the English Camden society. Pugin and his allies favoured Gothic Revival Architecture, rooted in the Medieval church tradition, as most appropriate for religious buildings, especially ones claiming an English heritage.
Wills copied the architecture of a fourteenth century parish church in Snettisham, a small English village in Norfolk.
Unfortunately, he died while the foundation was still being laid, so his designs were carried out by Thomas Scott, another Englishman, living in Montreal. Scott also designed Bonaventure Station in Montreal and Union Station in Toronto.
St. Mary's Snettisham
Notice the Gothic features of the Cathedral
- It is built in the shape of a cross, total length 62 m, width 33m and height 70m.
- Features a tower surmounted by a tall spire
- Faced in stone. Arched windows and doors
- The large red entrance door is framed by a stone triptych of 3 arches.
- The windows are filled with stained glass. Look at the large rose window above the entrance.
- Look for turrets and buttresses, all typical Gothic features.
Do you see the gargoyles? Their practical use is as a drain spout, but people also like to think that they are warding away evil spirits.
Notice how the stone around the door is crumbling. Originally Caen stone from France was used on the surface of the Cathedral, but this soon deteriorated in our Montreal climate. Most of the old stonework was replaced by Indiana limestone in 1920, but as you can see there are still problems with the stonework in places.
Digging down to bedrock
An impressive feature of the new cathedral was its tall steeple, one of the few in Canada erected of stone. This was a mistake because the ground beneath was too soft and unstable to support the weight. The church began to tilt. By 1920 its top was leaning two feet towards Ste Catherine and the spire was taken down.
We’ll talk more about the spire as we walk towards it, but while we’re at the front of the cathedral, older Montrealers will remember how between 1987 and 1988 an enormous pit was excavated under the cathedral building and huge pillars were raised to support the structure above.
The pit became the shopping mall – Les Promenades de la cathédrale. If you visit the mall you will see those same pillars resting on bedrock and keeping the church upright. If you know the old gospel song “The wise man built his house upon the rock …” you might want to sing it!