National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 18, 1971

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The Early Chapel of the 
Recollect Fathers in Trois-Rivières

by Jean-René Ostiguy

Article en français

Page  1

The historical importance of this chapel has never been questioned by any one, although very little is certainly known about it. It became St. James's Anglican Church in 1830, and is so today.

Construction of the first Recollect Convent in Trois-Rivières began in 1693. In 1703 a chapel pertaining to it was erected - to be replaced by a new one in 1754 (and not in 1720, as was earlier believed). The text of the contract between the Recollect Fathers and the mason, Toussaint Bertrand, dates the new chapel and gives a fair idea of its original structure.

After the Conquest, the Recollect Fathers had to leave Canada. Shortly after their departure, in 1776, the chapel was used for Protestant services (mostly those of the Anglican Church). In 1823, a renovation took place, mainly (as far as the outside is concerned) in the replacement of the steeple by a small bell tower and the lowering of the roof. The small bell tower, of Renaissance and Georgian appearance, is not lacking in interest. On the inside, the chapel was given an entirely new subdivision, and the ceiling was changed completely. With the help of documents quoted or reproduced in this article, one can make a drawing (fig. 10) which would approximate the façade of the original chapel. The drawing draws attention to the contrast between its appearance then and now, and immediately calls to mind the façade of the church of the Recollect Fathers in Quebec (1693) by Juconde Drué, and also the well-known "plan Maillou." Comparisons can also be made with similar architectural schemes in France.

St. James's Anglican Church itself was subject to subsequent renovations, and nothing remains of its earlier interior decoration. As early as 1779, religious objects (notably the central altarpiece) were taken to the Ursuline Convent in Trois-Rivières, and to the Recollect Convent in Quebec City. In 1799, the Ursulines gave several of these objects to a Lady Macarty, but chose to keep the altarpiece for themselves. The altarpiece obviously escaped the fire of 1806, since it is later said to be in the sacristy of the parish church at Saint-Maurice (Champlain County), where it went around 1845 and remains today. We know that in 1721 the sculptor Jean Jacquiers dit Leblond (1688 - before 1734) promised to make an altarpiece similar to the one that he had done earlier for the church of the Recollect Fathers in Trois-Rivières. In all probability, this first altarpiece had been done (around 1718) for the very first chapel built in 1703, and would have been moved to the new chapel in 1754.

The altarpiece of the Saint-Maurice parish church is remarkable for the perfection of its composition. It reveals a self-contained exuberance, in the motifs themselves as well as in the organization of the main parts of the ensemble (which compromises four levels of decorative elements). Leblond's knowledge of architectural orders is well displayed in these decorative elements. The logic of pertinent iconography is also developed here.

Study of the early chapel of the Recollects in Trois-Rivières reveals the chapels place in the stream of clear architectural traditions.  Its original altarpiece shows well the religious iconography of the early eighteenth century and stands as an object essential to our knowledge of the School of Trois-Rivières under the French regime.

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