Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

The Petit Séminaire de Québec

Adjoined to the ancient Cathedral Basilica of Notre-Dame in Quebec City is the Petit Séminaire. The Séminaire de Québec was founded in 1663 by the Blessed François Laval to train priests for the Vicariate Apostolic of New France, and the Petit Séminaire, its secondary school, was founded just five years later to teach both colonial French and native Indian youths. Among the school’s former pupils are four prime ministers of Québec, two lieutenant-governors (as the Queen’s viceregal representative in the province is known), and many other writers, politicians, and important figures of history. The Petit Séminaire survives today as a private Catholic secondary school.

Laval University was once part of the Grand Séminaire de Quebec and was located in the seminary’s quarters just beyond the Petit Séminaire. While most of the university moved to a new campus in the mid-twentieth century, the School of Architecture returned to Vieux-Québec in 1989 and is located in part of the Petit Séminaire’s buildings. The Université Laval’s School of Visual Arts followed the School of Architecture’s move in 1994, and is located elsewhere in Vieux-Québec.

2008 is the four-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Québec in 1608. It is also the three-hundredth anniversary of the death of Msgr. Laval. The great churchman of la Nouvelle-France is now recognized as “Blessed”, having been beatified by John Paul II in 1980.

The university uses a differentiated version of the Blessed Msgr. Laval’s arms as its own, and a banner of the university arms flies from the façade of the Petit Séminaire.

Of the architecture, the Canadian Encyclopedia notes: “The Séminaire’s buildings were laid out according to 17th-century planning principles, with wings or pavilions arranged around interior courtyards reached through a covered carriageway. The principal quadrilateral, though composed of buildings ranging in age from the 17th to the early 20th centuries, displays features characteristic of French regime public architecture: rubble masonry covered with stucco, or crépi, casement windows with small panes of glass, steep roofs with dormers, and massive chimneys set in raised firewalls.”

The Petit Séminaire’s courtyard is used as a playground for students. Sadly, the beautiful chapel has been deconsecrated and is now used as a performance venue and meeting hall. Most of its decoration, however, has remained intact.

“DIES NOSTRI QVASI VMBRA” — Our days on the earth are as a shadow (I Chron. xxix. 15), the sundial in the school courtyard reminds.

While the view through the school gates towards the courtyard is definitely one of the Old World, the view from the school outwards is undoubtedly of the New World. It is one of the happy circumstances of Québec that both worlds freely coexist in one place.

This post was published on Monday, September 29th, 2008 8:51 pm. It has been categorised under Architecture Canada Church Heraldry Quebec and been tagged under , , .
Mrs. Peperium
1 Oct 2008 2:41 pm

I will admit that it is a unique view that an old and once venerated Roman Catholic Chapel being being deconsecrated and now used as a performance venue and a meeting hall as well as Quebec itself, the once most Catholic of provinces (I think), having the lowest birth rate today in all of Canada is evidence of the happy circumstances that the Old World and the New World freely coexisting.

Methinks it sounds as if the Catholics have abandoned their posts…

Andrew Cusack
1 Oct 2008 3:38 pm

Indeed, Mrs. P. A view so unique that no one holds it.

Mrs. Peperium
2 Oct 2008 8:47 am

Really. You might want to check your ideas with the Vatican. Quebec, once gloriously Catholic as you explain, now has the lowest birth rates in all of Canada and allows same sex marriage. Not civil unions but marriage. Marriage, a sacrament in the Catholic Church.

But I guess you are right. Because the empty Catholic buildings are kept up well, the Catholics in Quebec have done a fine job of holding down the fort. My bad.

Andrew Cusack
2 Oct 2008 9:47 am

Wow Mrs. P, good job at taking some words directed at architecture and attributing non-existing conclusions to them!

But perhaps you could point out where I was praising low birth rates and same-sex “marriage”?

I think you’d be hard pressed to prove the Vatican objects to having the best of traditional architecture from the Old World and the New World intermingling, but hey, I’d be willing to hear you giving it a shot.

Captain Stephen Chledowski
2 Oct 2008 2:12 pm


It appears that you had a splendid time in La Belle Provence! It is nice to see that our Canadian history is appreciated for what it is. I find I am always enriched with a wonderful appreciation of the Catholic culture and traditions so unmistakably prevalent in Montreal or Quebec City. In particular I enjoy visits to Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde which is of course as you know a scale replica of St. Peter’s Basilica, but is also the official Chapel for the Canadian Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Did the weather hold out for you to explore? We on the East Coast of Canada were not so fortunate this week as Hurricane Kyle pounded many parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.


9 Oct 2008 6:23 pm

I think I see Mrs. P’s point, or at least I think I understand her upset.

If you really want a cracker, there is nothing so frustrating and painful as an empty cracker box; it cannot satisfy, no matter how nice the crackers look on the outside of the box. Indeed, one might begin to think that it would be better to throw away the cracker box, lest he be tempted to despair.

I’d rather live in a city full of ugly churches that are well attended than have my heart broken on the daily living in Quebec.

5 Nov 2008 10:57 pm

Dear other commentators –
If you feel that the faith has fallen so far in Quebec than perhaps you should pray for a revival there. Lord knows, every inch of our beloved country needs one but if Quebec falls in the faith we all so. So pray for that city and that province. As a good sign, the Cardinal has reopened the petit seminary for the training of young men towards the Priesthood and it filled up within only two months. Pray that this type of thing continues. Also if you would rather spend time in a lively catholic city with ugly churches then perhaps you should make the move to this beautiful corner of the world and help to reignite the faith there.
If you are already living there and working toward that goal or on your knees so that the people there might be brought back then kudos to you…. if not… you should pray for the people that are there.
Sincerely Sean Wilson

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