Next to the cathedral, the old Séminaire de Québec was founded by the aggressive and autocratic Monseigneur François de Laval-Montmorency in 1663. At its construction, the seminary was the finest collection of buildings the city had seen, leaving Governor Frontenac muttering that the bishop was now housed better than he. Primarily a college for priests, the seminary was also open to young men who wanted to follow other professions, and in 1852 it became Laval University, the country’s first francophone Catholic university. Today, only the school of architecture remains; the other departments were moved to the western suburb of Sainte-Foy.
Public access is limited mainly to the ever-expanding Musée de l’Amérique Française (Museum of French America), whose four sections occupy a small part of the old Séminaire. The entrance – and departure point for one-hour guided tours of the seminary – is in the Welcome Pavilion in the Maison du Coin, next to the basilica. Upstairs, adjacent to a small exhibition on the early colonists, the Roman-style chapel has a Second Empire interior housing Canada’s largest collection of religious relics – bones, ashes and locks of hair of various saints. Laval’s memorial chapel contains his ornate marble tomb (his remains are now in the basilica). The whole interior is a bit of a sham, though: fed up with rebuilding after the chapel burnt down yet again in 1888, the church authorities decided to construct the pillars and coffered ceilings out of tin and paint over them; the stained-glass windows have been painted on single panes of glass and even the tapestries are the result of some deft brushwork.
The wrought-iron gates between the Welcome Pavilion and the basilica lead into a vast courtyard flanked by austere white buildings; pass through the gates to visit the rest of the museum. Alternatively, take the underground corridor directly from the chapel; along the way a photo exhibit fills in the history of the Séminaire’s buildings. Either way, you end up at the museum’s Pavillon Jérôme-Demers, which displays a tiny sample of the eclectic items gathered by Québec’s bishops and the academics at Laval – scientific instruments, an Egyptian mummy (with a remarkably well-preserved penis) – as well as ecclesiastical silverware and some of Laval’s personal belongings. The museum’s name derives from the exhibition on the second floor, The Settling of French America, which illustrates the history of the emigration and settlement of the more than nineteen million North Americans of French stock.