Quebec City, Canada: Monastery of the Augustines
For hundreds of years, Quebec’s Augustinian monastery was tucked behind brick walls, the public not allowed. The Augustinian nuns themselves were mostly cloistered, except when they worked in the hospital that was attached to the monastery.
But like so many religious orders, the sisters’ numbers have declined drastically in the last 50 years. From a peak monastery population of 225, now only 7 Augustinian sisters still live in the monastery.
The sisters’ average age is now 83. But advancing years haven’t stopped them from being forward-thinking. They decided to continue their mission to heal people’s bodies and souls in a very modern way: by turning most of their monastery into a 65-room wellness center. They’ve turned it into a secular space dotted with religious art and antique furniture from the monastery. This was an ambitious and expensive project. Since opening in August of 2015, the wellness hotel has been very successful. It’s a beautiful and comfortable place for Catholics and non-Catholics to stay.
If you want a more religious experience, you can visit as a pilgrim and get spiritual guidance from the mostly French-speaking sisters. Or you can simply stop by for a fascinating visit to the monastery museum.
The museum details the history of the Augustinian sisters in Quebec. The first three Augustinians arrived in 1639. Over the next centuries, the order built 12 monasteries and hospitals in Quebec, with the goal of treating each patient as though he or she were Christ. The museum houses a small percentage of the order’s 40,000 artifacts from their lives in the province. Visitors will see lots of old medical and apothecary paraphernalia, the refectory where sisters ate their meals in silence while a novice read religious texts, and the 21-piece Augustinian habit dating back to the ninth century. The display of a funeral pall is striking. When the women became nuns, they lay on the ground and were covered with the funeral pall, symbolizing their death to their former lives.
Blessed Mary-Catherine of Saint Augustine, the monastery’s most famous nun, arrived in Quebec in 1648. The monastery has a whole center devoted to her. She’s remembered and respected for many things, including writing hundreds of letters home on behalf of illiterate colonists, bringing a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Mary to Canada, miracles of healing, and for spreading the gospel to First Nations people. Her Aboriginal students gave her the native name “Iakonikonriiostha,” which means “she who beautifies the soul.” The monastery’s chapel holds the Blessed Mary Catherine’s femur and cervical bones in a glass relic case.
The hotel and museum are located inside Quebec’s walled city. The hotel is very reasonably priced and the location excellent. Museum entrance is free for guests, $10 for non-guests and $15 for a guided tour.
Finding the Monastery of the Augustines:
Address: 77, rue des Remparts, Québec (Québec) G1R 0C3 Canada
Article contributed by travel writer Teresa Bergen