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Faith and Spirituality

Living one’s faith

Faith occupies a central place in the life of an Ursuline. It is present in all her actions, both big and small, on a daily basis. This omnipresent faith is also reflected in the places the community inhabits.

The Ursuline Chapel in Quebec City, the heart of the monastery, is undoubtedly the most compelling example of this. Various devotional objects, holy images, prayer books, reliquaries and maxims can be found throughout the monastery rooms, common areas and corridors as a visible display of their faith.

Reliquary on stand

Cardboard, velvet, gold and silver
France
17th century
21 x 10 cm

This reliquary is decorated with gold and silver embroidered flowers. The top section, in the shape of a heart, once housed a relic. The Ursulines had many reliquaries, which in the 17th century were said to be “precious and portable little vessels used for encasing relics.”

The Ursulines obtained the large majority of their reliquaries during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1674, the Saints Chapel was erected above the nuns’ chancel for the purpose of displaying relics. In 1700 the Ursulines began holding a day of celebration in honor of the holy relics every second Sunday of August!

Agnus Dei reliquary

Wood, paper, glass, sealant, gold and silver
Unknown artist
18th century
39.50 x 35 x 8.50 cm

This reliquary was imported from France. The background is made of black velvet and the wood frame is sculpted and gilded with tempera. It features a sun monstrance encircling a wax medallion depicting the Lamb of God, an important symbol in the Catholic religion.

This reliquary is a fine example of paper rolling, also called quilling. This technique consists of taking thin strips of paper and rolling them up. They are then arranged to create different designs. Here everything you see inside the frame, except the medallion, was made by quilling.

You are probably familiar with the fleur-de-lis! Its origins lie in French history, representing the sovereign’s divine right to rule. Long-time emblem of the monarchy, today this symbol is a reminder of the French presence in North America today.

Altar crucifix

Silver and gilded copper
Unknown artist
17th century
58.30 x 22 x 14 cm

The origin of this altar crucifix remains a mystery. Oral tradition says it belonged to Madame de la Peltrie, benefactor of the Ursulines. She is said to have brought it with her when she came to Quebec City in 1639. However, it is difficult to find a record of it in the Ursulines’ history. The object is not mentioned with certainty before 1900, when it was listed in the Ursulines’ annals.

A study of the object and its ornamentation places the silver base in the 17th century, although it was later regilded. The acanthus leaves and cherub faces were popular motifs under King Louis XIII. The other sections of the crucifix likely date from the 18th or 19th centuries.

Chalice

Gold and silver
Pierre Rousseau II, silversmith
Circa 1637–1638
26.70 x 15.50 cm

Few pieces of silverwork or goldwork from New France remain in existence today, making this one exceptional. Canon law requires the use of precious metals in the making of chalices. The chalice shown here, made by French silversmith Pierre Rousseau II, is made entirely of silver. Only the cup is made of vermeil, a silver alloy gilded with gold.

Several antique objects come with their own stories and anecdotes, not all of which can be verified but that are nonetheless deeply rooted in oral tradition. As such, it is said that this chalice was used by Monseigneur François de Laval, first bishop of Quebec City, when he celebrated mass with the Ursulines.

To emphasize the sacred nature of this piece of silverwork, the base is lavishly decorated. The ladder and colum depicted here are two instruments from the Passion. These objects, often seen in Catholic imagery, symbolize Christ’s sufferings.

Black Madonna

Plaster, canvas, paper, paint and gold
French origin
Before 1650
18 x 5 x 3 cm

This small figurine represents a crowned Black Virgin holding the baby Jesus in her arms. Black Virgins were part of medieval iconography. They take their name from their dark color, often limited to the face and hands. But why black? This is a question that remains shrouded in mystery. Historiographers do agree on one thing—Black Virgin is not the same as African Virgin.

The statuette is made of plaster. It is the only plaster statue from this period conserved by the Ursulines. Although it is not known when it came into the Ursulines’ possession, it is believed to have been made in France prior to 1650. According to oral tradition, this Madonna is said to have survived the fires of 1650 and 1686 that ravaged the monastery in Quebec City.

Devotional panel

Wood, iron, paint and gold
Artisan made
Undated
19 x 28 x 2 cm

The inscription on this wood panel reads, “Tota Pulchra es Maria et Macula non est In te,” a prayer to the Virgin Mary taken from Song of Songs. The Latin text can be translated as “You are all beautiful, Mary, and the original stain [spot] (of sin) is not in you.”

Gilded pedestal

Wood, plaster, gold and pigment
Artisan made
17th century
23 x 26 x 26 cm

This trapezoid pedestal with curved sides was carved and gilded with tempera by the Ursulines, who began gilding when they arrived in New France in 1639. Marie of the Incarnation (1599–1672) was skilled at the art of gilding. The founders of the Ursulines made a concerted effort—and a successful one at that—to pass their expertise on to their novices in New France.

The front side of the object is decorated with the Blessed Virgin’s monogram, a symbol recognized by the intertwined letters M and A (for Ave Maria). The monogram’s prominent position is a good illustration of the importance of the Ursulines’ devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

The right side features a rose tied with a knot, while the left side depicts a peony, also tied with a knot.

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