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Madonna della Difesa

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Madonna della Difesa Church, © Madonna della Difesa Parish Madonna della Difesa Church, © Madonna della Difesa Parish

Built from 1918 to 1919, Montreal’s Italian church, Madonna della Difesa, was Guido Nincheri’s project from beginning to end: he designed its architecture, painted its frescoes and other murals, made the stained-glass windows, painted some of the paintings that adorn its walls, and designed most of the sculptures.


Madonna della Difesa

6800, avenue Henri-Julien 

Designated National Historic Site in 2002

Construction Dates: 1918-1919

Architects: Guido Nincheri and Roch Montbriant

Decorative Works: 1928-1959


Nincheri had studied architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence, but he never became a member of The Province of Quebec Association of Architects, which meant that he could never sign architectural plans on his own. Therefore, when he drew the plans for Madonna della Difesa, he associated himself with Roch Montbriant.

Without getting into the complete history of the Montreal Italians and the founding of the parish,[1] let us say that. at the time, most of the families living in the area that is now Little Italy came from Southern Italy, particularly from the provinces of Caserta and Campobasso. At the end of the nineteenth century, there had been apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Casacalenda, a small town near Campobasso, more specifically in an area called “La Difesa.” Later, a small church called “Madonna della Difesa” was built in honour of the Virgin and sculptor Amalia Duprè donated a statue of the Virgin to the small church.

The Montreal Italians, inspired by these events, commissioned a replica of Duprè’s statue and obtained permission to place it in Saint-Jean-de-la-Croix Church, where they attended Mass before the construction of their own church. A short time later, when the Italians quarrelled amongst themselves, they were expelled from Saint-Jean-de-la-Croix by the local priest and ordered to take their statue with them. They eventually founded their own parish, which they also called “Madonna Santissima della Difesa.”

Santa Maria delle Carceri, Prato, by Sailko

When Nincheri designed the church, he considered this history and sought inspiration from another church that was built after a Marian apparition – Santa Maria delle Carceri, a church in his native Prato. Designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, the Santa Maria delle Carceri Basilica is built in the shape of a Greek cross (i.e., a cross whose arms are of equal length). For Madonna of La Difesa Church, Nincheri kept the Greek cross, but expanded the apse with a semicircular sanctuary to accommodate processions and he extended three arms of the cross so that a gallery of windows and vestibules could be added to illuminate the interior of the new church and its bright decorations. (By comparison, Santa Maria delle Carceri has very small windows and is quite dark.) The exterior was redesigned in a Romanesque-Lombard style with its lesenes – or pilaster stips – and blind arcades. He further added three large rose windows and tympanums above the doors, one of which includes a bronze statue of the Virgin of the Seven Sorrows. campanile – or bell tower – was planned but never built. 

The interior of the church was almost exclusively decorated by Nincheri, which makes Madonna della Difesa one of his most complete projects. A wonderful panorama of the church can be seen here.

Below is a list of the decorative works made or designed by Nincheri. These will be analyzed in greater details in separate articles.




Other Technique

1. Apse

1. Dome

2. Transept Vaults



1. St. Giuliana Falconieri (1924)

3. St. Mary Goretti (1964)

2. The Vision of Mary by the Seven Founders (1964)



1. Matthew

7. Thaddeus

2. Simon

8. Peter

3. Thomas

9. James the Minor

4. Philip

10. Bartholomew

5. James the Great

11. John

6. Paul

12. Andrew



1. High Altar

6. Sacred Heart of Jesus

2. Communal Rail

7. St. Joseph

3. Pulpit

8. Our Lady of Sorrows

4. Mary Queen of Heaven

9. St. Lucy

5. St. Anthony of Padua

10. Tympanums




1. Our Lady of Seven Sorrows

1. Stations of the Cross

2. Crucifix

Madonna della Difesa, by Tango7174


[1] A detailed history of the church and parish can by found in Guglielmo Vangelisti. Gli Italiani in Canada. Montreal: Chiesa italiana di N.S. della Difesa, 1956.


Further Reading

Claudio Cerretelli. La basilica di Santa Maria delle Carceri a Prato. Firenze: Mandragora, 2009.

Mélanie Grondin and Roger Boccini Nincheri, Our Lady of La Difesa Church: Historical Guide. 2nd edition. Montreal: Paroisse Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense, 2017.

Camillo M. Menchini, OSM. Our Lady of Defense Church: An Historical Guide. 1st edition. Montreal: Paroisse Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense, 1965.

Guglielmo Vangelisti. Gli Italiani in Canada. Montreal: Chiesa italiana di N.S. della Difesa, 1956.

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