Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Evening photo of the building courtesy of Le Monastère des Augustines
Le Monastère des Augustines
77, rue des Remparts
Quebec (Quebec) G1RoC3, Canada
Located in the heart of Old Quebec City, just steps away from all the activities in this delightful Ville, is the UNESCO Heritage site of Le Monastère des Augustines; a wellness retreat with a story to tell.
In 1639, three incredibly brave young Augustinian Sisters boarded a sailing ship and departed the safety and serenity of their cloistered monastery in Dieppe, France with a mission. Their mission was to establish a hospital for the Aboriginal peoples of New France – the area today known as the Province of Quebec. The missionary order of Jesuits that had traveled to the new world years earlier in anticipation of converting Aboriginal peoples to Catholicism, inspired a French noblewoman, the Duchess of Aiguillon, to finance the nuns journey with the hope that it would turn the tide of conversion for the Native population. The Augustinians were a cloistered order so sadly for the Duchess, the undertaking by the Sisters was not to convert but to serve by healing, and that they did with great zeal.
Unaware of what they would find in their new home, they three intrepid Nuns packed everything they would need for their mission into one large wooden trunk, including the medicinal plants and herbs used in their healing practices. For security they each had a key to the trunk which could only be opened when all three were inserted together. For three long months they endured the unimaginable hardships of the crossing but when they finally arrived they were welcomed by the First Nation peoples they had come to minister to.
Within a few short years these enterprising young women had established The Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, the first hospital north of Mexico. Over the years as the order grew, 11 more monastery hospitals were opened along with schools for training aspiring young native women in the healing arts. Everything that was needed for survival in the new world, as well as medicinal plants to treat their patients and food to feed the community was produced by the Sisters who ministered to everyone without judgment or regard to origin, religion or financial status. Their philosophy of four pillars for good health treated the whole body, mind, emotions and spirit… in other words holistically. Remarkably, it has taken over 400 years to catch up to the holistic treatment of the body that the Augustine Sisters developed and practiced in the 17th century.
The Augustinian Sisters ran the hospitals until the soft revolution of 1965 when medical practices came under the control of the government of Canada, and the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec was turned into a Wellness Center still keeping intact the Sister’s mission to minister to the needs of the community. The old building has been completely restored incorporating much of its original architecture making it a truly unique museum/hotel/spa, all in one. Six Sisters are still in residence and while no long active in the healing arts; their songs can still be enjoyed during daily Vespers in the Augustinians choir.
Le Monastère des Augustines is a distinctive Wellness Retreat not a religious center in any sense of the word. It is far from your usual state-of-the-art spa but maintains the vision of the Augustinians by offering guests the four pillars they initially established for good health. Spa treatments are offered for the body; Holistic Consultations for the mind; Yoga and other physical modalities for emotional balance; and breathing and meditative walking exercise to support the spirit. No distractions to total relaxation and healing in the way of TV or radio are provided in the rooms and guests are even encouraged to place their cell phones in a bag specially knitted by the Sisters once they retire for the evening.
The accommodations are twofold: a contemporary room with en suite bathroom or a converted 17th century authentic room which was once a Nun’s cell with modern bathroom facilities conveniently located just down the hall. Each of the authentic rooms has a distinct personality, accented with decorative articles produced by the Sisters and furnished with refurbished items used by them. The wrought iron single beds are wonderfully comfortable and there is a sink is in every room. Cozy bathrobes are provided to visit the spotlessly clean bathrooms but it is suggested that you bring your own flip flops or slippers for the short trek across the hall.
The bigger contemporary rooms are also sparsely decorated but with a larger bed and more amenities. In either case the rooms have a warm friendly vibration and a feeling that care has been taken to support you during your stay.
Additionally, there are 10 heritage rooms available for group retreats, workshops, conferences, etc. including the awesome 17th century vault which makes a perfect event space. During my stay we were treated to a moving musical performance in the vault made so much more magical by the ambiance of the space.
The first floor museum is a collation of the artifacts and practices of the Sisters accumulated over their almost 400 years of service. Although we had a guided visit I found that going back on my own to more completely delve into what this amazing Order of women accomplished solely through their courage, intelligence, ingenuity and dedication was inspiring.
One would be remiss not to mention the Mindful eating practiced at Le Monastère’s reataurant Le Vivoir. Chef Dereck McCann is as artful in the kitchen as he is at sharing his love of good food and drink with guests in the dining room. All products are procured locally with Chef McCann having a personal relationship with all his providers. He knows what produce is in season and when the best livestock are available. Every meal is a selection of the freshest ingredients and always includes fish, poultry and/or meat along with vegetables and salads of every description and combination. Desserts tend to be the quality one would expect from a French trained chef and local wines are appropriately selected to add to the enjoyment of each meal. One night Chef McCann prepared a masterpiece of culinary creativity for our small group of visiting travel writers and blew us all away with his unorthodox combinations of ordinary ingredients prepared in extraordinary ways.
Le Monastère des Augustines is a destination spa/retreat with several different packages offering 2,3,4 night stays including accommodations and all meals along with snacks available all day with gratuity included; classes (Yoga and QiGong) and other wellness activities; guided museum tour; spa treatments; and so much more.
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