Construction

The church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Visitation is the fourth church of Champlain's parish. Built in 1878-1879 by the master-builder Gédéon Leblanc (born in 1832) from Princeville. The church opened it's doors on October 9th 1879. The building stands 137 feet (42 meters) long by 67 feet (20.4 meters) wide. The vault is 52.5 feet (16 meters) in height while the bell-towers raise to 143 feet (53.6 meters) off the ground.

The outside appearance takes after the pattern of the church of Saint Stanislas, a neighbouring parish. The inside was achieved in 1881 as designed by architect Jean-Baptiste (Louis-Joseph) Bourgeois (1856-1930), then aged 25. It is greatly influenced by the neo-romanesque style.

The nave is divided into three bays by a double row of corinthian columns decorated with acanthus leaves. It is caped in it's central part by a cornice on which lies a semi-circular arch, while the aisles are covered with low ceilings.

The church has since been recognized as a Historic Monument by the Department of Culture and Communication of Quebec in the year 2000.

Frescoes

The wall paintings are the work of François-Xavier-Louis-Édouard Meloche (Montreal,1855-1914), who was a painter-decorator, architect, and student of Napoléon Bourassa. Meloche completes the actual decoration of the church of Champlain during the autumn and winter of 1882 at the age of 26. He was assisted by Toussaint-Xenophon Renaud (1860-1946) at the age of 22. Mostly inspired by the prints of an illustrated bible made by Lutheran Julius Schnoor Von Carolsfeld and by four large sculptures drawn by Henri Bouriché for the retable of the Notre-Dame church in Montreal, the paintings of Meloche are complemented by relevant excerpts of biblical texts. Architectural elements are painted in "Trompe-l'œil", such as the columns, mouldings, sculptures and other decorative themes.

On the west lateral wall, Meloche portrayed four great prophets of the old testament. Starting from the left are Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah and Isaiah.

On the east lateral wall, four women of the old Testament are facing them. Again starting from the left are Mary, who portrays the beloved one of the Song of Songs, then Judith, Esther and Rachel who personifies the mother of the Holy Innocents.

In the chancel, four high priests of the old Testament foreshadow the Christ's sacrifice. From left to right we can see Moses, Melchizedek, Abraham and Aaron.

On the vault starting from the east side of the chancel, the artist pictured the main events of Mary's life : her Birth, her Presentation at the temple, the Annunciation, the Visitation, Jesus's nativity, the Flight into Egypt, the Home in Nazareth and the Assumption. The central panel of the romanic vault is dedicated to Mary, the queen. At the top of the vault, three grisaille paintings depict the creation of Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve after the sin and above the organ, King David playing the harp.

All the frescoes were carefully cleaned in 1978. A few retouchings or restorations were done the same year, but only on the rear wall.

Paintings

Nine oil-paintings are hung on the walls of the church. They are all earlier than 1840. The five largest were restored in 1994.

The Visitation, which hangs above the high altar, is signed by Noël-Nicholas Coypel (1690-1734), a french artist whose work is preserved in many important museums of Europe. The painting having arrived in Champlain between 1714 and 1716, it could have been responsible for the parish's patronage change which was originally established under the name of "The Presentation of Mary". This oil-painting which was framed in the style of the day, adorned the walls of the second church built around 1700.

The Immaculate Conception is attributed to friar Luc of the Recollect Order (Claude-François,1614-1685) who was a french artist recognized as the "Painter of the king". He assisted Nicholas Poussin in the decoration of some of the halls of the Louvre Palace in Paris. Purchased before 1687, this painting adorned the first church and is more than 300 years old.

The Death of Saint Joseph was done by William Von Moll Berczy (1744-1813), who is aknowledged as the best canadian painter of his time. Painted in 1810 at the request of his reverence Pierre Vézina. This painting adorned the third church, which was built in 1807-1808. It was exhibited in 1991 and 1992 in major museums in Ottawa, Québec city and Calgary. It's framing is the work of François Normand (1779-1854) a sculptor from Trois-Rivières and was commissionned in 1813.

The Saint Geneviève ex-voto, on the right side of the central door, is a painting yielded out of devotion and is a reminder of a miraculous event. Ex-voto suscepta means "according to the vow". On the painting, a procession of worshipers can be seen leading towards what could be the second church of Champlain, built around 1700. The history of this painting is not known. Saint Geneviève which is celebrated on the third of January, was invoqued to counter drouts or sickness and to insure year-round prosperity. This painting is an 18th century Canadian work of art.

Saint Geneviève, on the left side of the central door is another painting representing the patron saint of Paris. This one is a painting accomplished out of devotion. It was imported from Europe and painted before 1750.

Mary's Education or Saint Ann and Mary, is an old copy slightly simplified of a painting by Pierre-Paul Rubens (1577-1640), which is kept at the Antwerp Museum. This 18th century painting can probably be attributed to a Québec artist.

Christ's Crucifixion is caracterized by the Christ's arms brought close together in the Jansenist manner. It probably dates back to the 18th century.

Virgin Mary is represented by two oil-paintings which are quite similar. The relief of the face and the mannerism of the hands are clues that tend to identify the paintings as european and from the 18th century.. The cast framings are in the Louis X111 style.

Furniture

The church pews were made in 1879. The high altar, the lateral altars and the pulpit's basin all date from 1881, which is the year the inner decorations of the church began. The stairs and the sounding-board are subsequent additions and date from 1914, at which time the pulpit was suspended to the column. Formerly, the pulpit was on rails and the sacristan would roll it into place at the center of the lower part of the chancel.
The paschal candlestick is the work of François Normand (1779-1854). It was commissionned in 1813 for the third church. The high altar is attributed to the same sculptor in 1826. It is in fact the sepulchre of the lateral altar of the third church. A few components of the old retable were used in the 1960's as the current basis for the font, while the basin, which is made of wood, is in fact an old sanctuary lamp used in the first church as mentionned in the 1687 inventory.

The dog-keeper's pew, near the exit, was occupied by the church constable whose main tasks consisted in maintaining order in the church, opening and closing the doors during weddings and funerals, warming up the stove,without mentionning preventing dogs from entering the premises. Another such pew is located in the rood-loft.

At the rear of the church, the two oil lamps mounted in the center of the pews are a reminder of the lighting system before the electrification of the church in 1914. The church relied on 34 lamps that the beadle had to light up and turn off for every celebration.

Goldsmithing

The four candlesticks placed on both sides of the celebration altar and the Sanctuary lamp can be dated to 1854.

Stained-glass windows

Most of the 19 stained-glass windows were offered by well to do parishionners. These stained-glass windows were progressively installed from 1930 onwards. We have yet to identify the manufacturer.

Organ

Purchased in 1939 from Saint-John-Berchman's parish of Montreal, the organ was itself made in 1928 by the Casavant firm of Saint-Hyacinthe. The instrument counts on 16 sets of keys to confer an overall romantic resonance. It is registered under the number 1257 and was completely restored in 1995.

Flooring

In 1978, the floors of the chancel and the aisles were remade in oak, following the specifications of architect Jean-Louis Caron.

Bells

A chime composed of four Paccard bells casted in Annecy-le-Vieux in France was set in place in 1961.

Opening hours:

Summertime
Free or guided tours

Tuesday to Friday
10.00 AM to 9.30 PM (Mass at 5.00 PM)

Saturday
10.00 AM to 4.30 PM (Mass at 7.30 PM)

Sunday
11.00 AM to 4.30 PM (Mass at 10.00 AM)

Off season
Guided tours by reservation only

No entry fee, parking available on site

The church is accessible to the handicapped.

Address:

989 Notre Dame street (road 138)
Champlain (Qc)
G0X 1C0

Telephone: (819) 295-3594

E-Mail: Rene.Beaudoin@clafleche.qc.ca
claudedurand@tr.cgocable.ca
jean.turcotte@tr.cgocable.ca

Road directions:

For easy access to the church
Highway 40, exit 220
Road 138 towards Champlain