The Aura experience replaces an earlier attraction, Let There Be Light, which had been installed in 2001 and ran for 15 years as a tourist attraction.
The Aura experience is a much more elaborate production and has been designed to showcase the basilica and its treasures to their best advantage during the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations this year. It also coincides with the 360th anniversary of the founding of the parish.
The landmark basilica, often mistaken for a cathedral, is the Sulpician monastic chapel. It was built on Place D’Armes in 1829 to replace the original parish church.
Over the years, Notre Dame has been recognized as the city’s main centre of Catholic worship: D’Arcy McGee and Pierre Trudeau were buried from the church, Luciano Pavarotti sang in the basilica and Celine Dion was married in it.
Its monumental interior designed by Victor Bourgeau is so ornate that actress Sarah Bernhardt once described the decor as being “too theatrical” for her liking. The stained glass windows, imported from Chigot de Limoges in France, are unusual in that they do not depict biblical figures but scenes from the history of Montreal.
The Aura experience lasts for about an hour. It is being produced by Moment Factory, the same company responsible for the dramatic illumination five years ago of the façade of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
“Unlike the previous show which had a story line, our show is more immersive, it envelopes you in the visual and sensory experience,” said creative director Tarik Mikou. “The main difference is our show enhances the overwhelming colour, the beauty of the altars, the paintings and the scupltures. It is not about the history of the church, but about its richness.”
The Quebec government has lent its support to the project.
“It is a spectacular luminous experience which will highlight the architectural grandeur of this place of worship,” said Martin Coiteaux, the provincial cabinet minister responsible for the Montreal region.
Manon Blanchette, president and CEO of the basilica’s operations, says the project affirms “Notre Dame’s openness to the world” by highlighting its neo-Gothic architecture and its historic religious, liturgical and cultural importance.”
Individual tickets for the show range from $13.80 to $23. More information is available at basiliquenotredame.ca.
(Hustak is a writer in Montreal.)