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.