Madonna della Difesa


Madonna della Difesa Church, © Madonna della Difesa Parish

Madonna della Difesa Church, © Madonna della Difesa Parish

6800, avenue Henri-Julien, Montreal 

Designated National Historic Site in 2002

Construction Dates: 1918-1919

Architects: Guido Nincheri and Roch Montbriant

Decorative Works: 1928-1959

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.

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.


Santa Maria delle Carceri, Prato, by Sailko

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. 



1. Apse

2. Transept Vaults

Other Technique

1. Dome



1. St. Giuliana Falconieri (1924)

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

3. St. Mary Goretti (1964)



1. St. Giuliana Falconieri (1924)

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

3. St. Mary Goretti (1964)



(255) 352-6258


8am to 5pm

Divi Museum


1234 Divi St. #1000 San Francisco, CA 94220.