Monday, July 27, 2009

New France and Old Québec: Some History and Architecture

Speaking at a dinner in his honour at the Windsor Hotel in Montréal in 1881, the writer Samuel L. Clemens, better known to the world as Mark Twain, commented that "[t]his is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window."

While he was speaking of this in the context of the city of Montréal, and speaking rather generally about "churches" at that, his comment does nicely paint an image of the depth of history of the Church within Québec as well.

I determined that it might be of interest to consider some of the history and architecture of the Archdiocese of Québec, especially since so many of us may be unfamiliar with its history. I do not claim to be an expert myself, though I have attempted to cull together some credible historical sources from the Archdiocese itself and others which, in keeping with the focus of the NLM, will also provide a nice bridge to the consideration of some of the architecture of some of the institutions mentioned. But at the same time, by no means should this be considered any attempt at a comprehensive presentation; it is really meant to just whet your appetite.

Let us begin with a very brief account of the founding history of the Archdiocese itself which sets out a bit of the context:

The first phase of the Church’s installation in New France dates back to 1615 with the arrival of the Jesuit community, who were followed by the Recollets in 1625. Both communities permanently established themselves in Québec City in order to serve the new colony and to evangelize the Amerindians.

Named as an official missionary territory by Rome, Québec was erected as vicariate apostolic by a Propaganda decree approved by Pope Alexander VII on April 11, 1658. The same decree named François de Laval bishop of Pétré and vicar apostolic of Canada in Northern America. The bulls of the new bishop of Pétré were given in Rome on June 3 of the same year.

Sixteen years later, the apostolic mission was raised to the level of a diocese, appointed directly by The Holy See. Clement X signed the Bull of erection of the new bishopric on October 1, 1674. Thus Mgr. de Laval became the first bishop of Québec ...


The aforementioned Bishop Laval, or Blessed François de Laval, was born in France in 1623 of a family descended of French nobility. Educated under the Jesuits, he was ordained at 24 and consecrated a bishop in 1658 in the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Près de Paris. He came to Québec City in June of 1659 and founded various institutions including the Seminary of Québec (erected 1663) and the Petit Séminaire (erected 1668).

Blessed François was known for his missionary spirit and was a bishop very close to his people, inclusive of visiting the sick and his priests. He died in 1708.

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Séminaire de Québec

Two views of the seminary as it is today. It is an impressive and stately structure.

(Image source)

Cathedral Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Québec

The Cathedral Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Québec is located on the site of the first chapel built by Samuel de Champlain in 1633. The present church was built early in the 20th century after a fire consumed the previous one.

(Image source)

Residence of the Archbishops of Québec

This Archbishop's residence was constructed in the mid-19th century, from 1844-1847 by architect Thomas Baillargé.

(Image source)


The famed church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires was erected in 1688 by Mgr. de Laval on the site of Samuel de Champlain’s “l’Abitation”.

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

The history of this church is also tied up with the struggles between the French and the British. The British laid seige to Quebec City, a walled city, on the night of Thursday, July 12, 1759, causing great destruction. The church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires was one of the many buildings that were destroyed, with only the walls remaining. The church was rebuilt in the 19th century.

For those who would like to see more of the historical churches and religious institutions of Québec City, visit this link.

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Other Views of Old Québec

I thought some of our readers may be interested in a few other general views of the old city. Enjoy.

(Image source)

(Image source)

(© Mark Schretlen)

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