Monday, September 16, 2019

The Augustine Nuns of Quebec and their Mission to Care for the Sick

The first hospital to treat the sick in New France was set up by the Augustine Sisters, they were also known as the Hospitaller Sisters because of their mission to care for the sick. They arrived in Quebec in 1639. The founding sisters of the Augustines in Quebec were Mothers Marie de Saint-Ignace Guenet, Marie de Saint-Bonaventure Forestier, and Anne de Saint-Bernard Le Cointre . Their first settlement in Quebec was in today's Sillery. Their financial supporter was a niece of the French Cardinal Richelieu named Marie-Madeleine de Vignerot, Duchess of Duchesse d'Aiguillon, who stated the focus of the Nuns should be on treating  the Native Americans in order to convert them (unfortunately Europeans brought diseases with them that resulted many deaths). This first site for the treatment of the sick was basically a Native American camp site. They ministered to the sick at that site until their hospital and monastery were completed in the town of Quebec where they were safe from attack by the Iroquois.

The hospital the Sisters founded was called Hotel Dieu, a name used in France for such facilities. A teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Laval in Quebec City sits on the original site of the Hotel Dieu.

The Hotel Dieu Hospital was said to have a high cure rate for its time. An early doctor in this facility was well known for his surgical skills. According to the website "Ville de Quebec":  An early doctor was, "Michel Sarrazin, who in 1700 successfully performed the first mastectomy in North America. His patient, a nun diagnosed with breast cancer, died 40 years later at the age of 77."

The sisters couldn't rely on medicines shipped from faraway France so they had to learn to make their own. They used traditional French herbal medicines along with new ones they were introduced to by the Native Americans.

The site of the hospital was expanded over its more than 300 year history with many additions added. There are 3 cemeteries on the grounds. One cemetery was for the poor, and another for those who died during the Seven Years War.

A description of the Monastery buildings from the website Encyclopedia of  French Cultural Heritage in North America:  "The Augustinians of Dieppe, France, arrived in Quebec in 1639 and set up temporary quarters in Sillery until their Hôtel-Dieu—or hospital—was completed in 1644. Thirty years later the site housed a monastery, chapel and two wards for the sick. In 1695 two new wings were added to the existing buildings to form a square courtyard. Fire ravaged the premises in 1755, leaving only one 1695 wing and the “noviciate” wing from 1739–1740 in usable condition. Reconstruction work began in 1756 and lasted until 1758. A chapel, also overlooking Rue Charlevoix, was built between 1800 and 1803. The chapel and some of the works of art it contained were classified historic monuments by the Quebec government in 1961. The monastery, its grounds, the surrounding wall, and neighbouring buildings were classified a historic site in 2003."

The Augustine Nuns founded 12 Monasteries and hospitals in Quebec.

There were two hospital facilities in the area of the town of Quebec. One designed to treat on a short term basis, and another was a long term care facility as described below.

A virtual tour of the Augustine Museum

The Museum contains medical equipment and other artifacts that belonged to the Nuns.

Those applying to become Augustine Nuns were given a pattern to make the postulates gown

The Augustine Nuns like their Ursuline counterparts were cloistered. The only time they weren't cloistered behind walls and bars is when they served in the hospital.

Communion Wafer box 18th Century

Inhaler for dispensing medicine 

Electrotherapy device from around about 1855

 Anesthesia mask made by the Sisters in 1848 

Sterilizer from about 1920

Anesthesia mask late 19th and early 20th century 

Hypodermic injection kit Early 20th Century

Phrenology skulls were used to predict mental traits based on bumps on the skull. 

Stethoscope 2nd half the the 19th Century
Surgical instrument set used to remove musket balls soldier during the  Battle of the Plains of Abraham

Extreme Unction Kit for giving last rights

Blood letting  the sick was thought to restore health ,above is a tool for this process.  

Cupping was another process thought to have curative affects. Above are 19th Century cups. 

Disinfection table for surgeon in the 19th Century. It would contain a hand washing basin, soap, and towels. 

The Sisters were supposed to treat patients as if they were Christ. This painting is a demonstration of that kind of care. 

The Monastery Facility

The old monastery building is as fascinating as the medical museum. Walking the halls takes you back in time. I thought the atmosphere was calming. Most of the old Monastery has been converted into a hotel. I think it would be a nice quiet place to stay. Breakfast is eaten in silence as it was when the Sisters were here.   

The dining hall where silent breakfasts are still served

Storage cupboard for dining hall

Ancient Staircase

The staircases that were built in 1757 by Joseph Auger are particularly interesting. Very historical staircases they will make you feel you've traveled back in time. You can use them in there creaky old delightful condition to get up the stairs if you're lucky and the doors to them aren't locked. 

The Monastery Chapel built between 1800 and 1803. Like the Ursuline Chapel the Nuns had their own chapel separated from the other worshipers.

The Augustine Monastery is well worth a visit if you are visiting the City of Quebec. It's a peaceful place to meditate, and learn about the history of Quebec.