Precious Blood Monastery Chapel in Saint-Hyacinthe

In his circular of 1887, Joseph-Thomas Rousseau, painter, considered the decoration of this chapel as the most important enterprise of his career.

Saying that, he had not yet foreseen decorating the church of Arthabaska or the chapel of Saint-Césaire where his work was to be just as important, if not more so, considering the scope of the theme as well as the number of paintings. Considering the three sites, the Precious-Blood chapel is undoubtedly where the greatest number of alterations have occurred. It is difficult to know exactly what the decorations were like at first; but we do have a few photographs in that regard. We will therefore try later to distinguish the original project and the actual state of the chapel along with the alterations made from year to year.

The chapel next to the residence of the Sisters of the Precious-Blood, a Community founded in 1861 in St-Hyacinthe, was built in 1871 by Abbé Lecours, who, at that time, was parish-priest of Notre-Dame in St-Hyacinthe. Contributions and donations were solicited to cover the costs. The work began in the summer of 1871. Fr Charles de la Croix, a French priest, took over (in 1876), a few years after Curé Lecours was assigned to Ste-Rosalie; Fr. Charles continued the project and completed minimal interior touches before the blessing of the church (on January 16th) 1877.

(…) Later, Abbé Lecours returned to St-Hyacinthe and took up permanent residence at the Monastery of the Precious-Blood, (in 1882). This benefactor contributed (on March 13 1886) the cost of completing the decoration of the chapel.

Rousseau, who resided in this small town of the South-Shore, was therefore a clear choice for the job, -(this enterprise was given him on March 30th 1886)- especially as five of his wife's aunts were sisters of the community: Marie-Luce, M.-Hermine, M.-Restitute, Sophie and M.-Tharsile Gendron. Family links largely contributed to the choice of a painter, or quickly determined it. Construction began in 1886 ( …).

The chapel was dedicated to the Precious-Blood. However, it seems that Rousseau did not work alone, but rather was helped by one of the nuns (Soeur Véronique-de-la-Passion, Virginie Dion). She would have completed several canvases in the chapel; (16 of the 36) may be attributed to her.

But let us quote a few newspaper reporters who described the canvases in detail, and expressed their appreciation of the chapel. The Courrier de St-Hyacinthe published two articles signed only with initials, but shortly afterwards published a report on the inauguration of the chapel: -( April 30th, )- 1888.

"One must admit that the chapel itself well deserves such an honour since it is, without doubt, the most beautiful of its kind in the country. There is certainly no other as well endowed with Roman-Byzantine art work. The many paintings of this chapel have already been critiqued by writers more experienced and more competent than myself.
(…) The Love of the Cross, Jesus Reviled, The Widow's Pence, etc., and paintings of hosts of Angels have already earned the artist many well-deserved compliments. I would like to add my humble opinion to such praises, and convey to Mr. Rousseau, painter-artist, my most heart-felt congratulations for the order he followed, not only for the chapel as a whole, but even for the slightest details.(...)

The large canvas covering the archway of the vault on the front wall of the chapel may be considered as a learned and touching sermon on the Saviour's Sacrifice. That magnificent painted sermon has three parts:
1- Jesus' Love for Souls, His preaching, the Institution of the Eucharist, etc., are found in the first five paintings.
2- Christ's patience under stress while being tortured by ungrateful sinners is portrayed in the next five paintings.
3- The last five depict the generosity of the Son of God Who sacrificed the last drops of His Blood for the salvation of sinners.
Many many emblems and inscriptions have been placed everywhere as brilliant digressions, or as learned quotations, amid numerous choirs of Angels.

Should one wish to admire the merits of the Blessed Virgin or of St Joseph, the artist gives one this opportunity in spades, on each of the lateral vaults.

The wall spaces between the windows are decorated with paintings of saintly women and men most honoured by this pious community of the Precious-Blood. Those paintings are the work of reverend Soeur Véronique of this monastery. Without saying that the good sister worked with the rigor and exact lines of the best works of Mr. Rousseau, I say that she has delicately produced truly remarkable harmonious shades with a fine stroke and the polish of a deft brush.

Briefly, the beautiful decor, the judicious choice of inscriptions, the variety of emblems and especially the beautiful paintings which enhance this chapel will long elicit the admiration of connoisseurs, and will always be a source of inspiration for the painters of religious art.

Such is the Precious-Blood Monastery chapel. Benefactors as well as all of St-Hyacinthe should be proud of such a worthwhile work of art.. And such is the status of Mr. J.-T. Rousseau at the early age of thirty-five.” (1)

The second critique, more complete but just as flattering, lists the paintings of the apse and vault and gives a brief appreciation of each one, with special attention to “ Christ crushed under his Cross ” considered the masterpiece of the chapel, and to “The Crucifixion” as another remarkable painting.

He adds: "I hope that your dear readers visiting this sanctuary, will not be deceived by the humble appearance of the chapel's exterior. It is a real surprise box, a rough boulder filled with gold. Such was my impression as soon as I was aware of its beauty. What lofty thoughts inspired such religious ornamentation! How well all the details and harmonious tones create one general effect !" (2)

Jean-Noël Dion

Joseph-Thomas Rousseau, Painter/Decorator

The Historical Society publishes for its readers today the first of a series of fifteen articles by Jean-Noël Dion. This article describes the career of Joseph-Thomas Rousseau, painter/decorator.

Not very well-known today, Rousseau is reported to have lived in Saint-Hugues and in Saint-Hyacinthe for about fifteen years, from 1875 to 1891, before leaving for the United States.

We are amazed by the number and size of the paintings he produced in the churches and convents of our area, and elsewhere in the province.
Claire Lachance, President

The present chronicle is intended to continue the series begun some time ago about the painters/decorators whose numerous works are found in the churches and convents of the Saint-Hyacinthe area, but who are practically unknown to the public. This modest research project will bridge a gap and simultaneously make known some of the men who practised their particular art at a certain time.

We have mentioned that there were a good number of painter/decorators in the XIXth and early XXth centuries. It goes without saying that religious painting was about the only outlet for painters at that time; without the Church Councils and Clergy who could provide funds, the artists could barely have survived in Quebec where art was treated as a poor cousin and developed only sporadically, since there lacked both promotions and policy to finance it.

A few Québécois painters were able to make themselves known or command respect in their milieu either through dogged determination or for their obvious talent: Plamondon & Hamel, Charles Huot, Napoléon Bourassa, Adolphe Rho in the Nicolet area, Ozias Leduc of Saint-Hilaire are the best known. They displayed great effort in developing a religious art which might be considered in many ways as lacking originality, but for some of them, newness, rigor and depth were achieved.

In this profession, most decorator-painters were Italian: Pierrovi who taught the European method through his work at Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Galigardi at the Gésu, and later Cappelo who worked along the same lines at Napierville and at the church in Laprairie. Let us recognize the perseverance and contribution of Québécois painters too often eclipsed. The artist who is the subject of this study was among those who at the time had to struggle to get a contract, even if that meant being constrained by tradition and by a certain pictorial style.


was born in Saint-Isidore of Beauce county, on August 9, 1852. He was the son of Louis Rousseau, a well-to-do village merchant who was later to become a farmer, and of Luce Huard. He attended the local primary schools, but was later registered with a private institution. Early in life he demonstrated a great liking for drawing and painting, but his parents tried to dissuade him from adopting art as a profession because they knew the obstacles he could meet and deal with. But the young man chose to insist on the latter, feeling that he could succeed in such a career. He therefore headed for Montreal and followed courses in drawing with M. Raveau (1828-1896) for a period of three years. Damas Raveau, born at Épernay, France, immigrated to Canada and became a teacher at École normale Jacques Cartier where Napoléon Bourassa initiated a course in Drawing in 1861. But his studies in Drawing at that school were apparently not enough to allow him to master the rudiments and techniques of murals, since there were no courses being offered in Quebec at that time to train painter/decorators. We can therefore suppose that, as was the custom at the time, he became an apprentice to a few other painters or artists.. That was how he began practising the trade, and within a few years succeeded in acquiring quite a reputation.

On May 2, 1875, Joseph-Thomas Rousseau married Hermine Gendron of Sainte-Rosalie, the daughter of Jacques Gendron, the local store owner. They would have five children among whom François-Adélard, Mastaï, Fabius, and Maria. It is supposed that he settled in the area, possibly in Saint-Hughes, because four years later, when he received a contract for two paintings from the Parish Council of Sainte-Rosalie, they are said to be "works of Joseph Rousseau of Saint-Hughes".(1) Moreover, according to information found about him, he began his career between 1880 and 1881 when he produced minor decorations: Saint-Hughes, 1880; Saint-Antoine, 1880; Saint-Denis, 1881. Within that time, he relocated in Saint-Hyacinthe. A short paragraph in the newspaper La Minerve dated November 8, 1882, suggested that he resided there. " Mr. Joseph Rousseau, a well-known painter-decorator, left Saint-Hyacinthe yesterday morning for Europe". (2)

A short biography of Rousseau is available in A Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography, Geo Maclean Rose, Rose Publishing Company, Toronto, Vol II, 1888. p.158.
Early Painters and Engravers in Canada, J. Russell Harper, University of Toronto Press, 1970. P.273
(1) J.-O Archambault, Histoire de Sainte-Rosalie, Société d'Histoire régionale de Saint-Hyacinthe, 1939, p.85.
(2) Notes from the Musée du Québec.

Precious Blood Monastery Chapel in Saint-Hyacinthe
Disposition des toiles de Rousseau

(Here is the order of Rousseau’s paintings:1 to 5)
In the Sanctuary:
1-2-3 – Groups of Angels
4- Angels forming a guard for Jesus in the Sepulchre
5- Angels forming a guard for Jesus at Calvary

6- By S. Véronique: (On His Resurrection Day), Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene
7- By S. Véronique: The Calvary (altered)
8- By S. Véronique: The Eternal Father gazing upon His Son (carried by angels to) the sepulchre

9-10 Side altars(removed):(Today:-9-Tabernacle and -10- Statue of the Virgin Mary)
Medallions surrounded with palms (by Rousseau)

(Paintings from 11 to 25 :by Rousseau)
11- Jesus stripped of his garments
12- Jesus crushed under His cross
13- Veronica and the Sacred Shroud
14- Pilate presents Jesus to the people
15- Jesus reviled by the High Priest’s attendants
16- Jesus insulted by the attendants
17- The scourging
18- The kiss of Judas
19- Jesus in the Garden of Olives
20- The Last Supper
21- Jesus enters (Jerusalem)
22- The Widow's Pence
23- At the centre: Angels
24- Interior chapel separated by the cloister grill
Wall of the left nave
25-(In Memory of Bishop Joseph LaRocque and
Mgr Joseph Sabin Raymond: by Rousseau

(Paintings from 26 to 31:by Sœur Véronique)
26- Jesus (received by Martha and Mary) at Bethany
27- Saint Catherine of Sienna
28- The wise Virgins
29- Saint Rose of Lima
30- Saint Michael the Archangel
31- The holy Women (coming back from Calvary)

33-(The Holy Family: by Soeur. Marie-Reparatrice)
32-34 Stairs leading to the right loft

(Other paintings, from 35 to 41:by Sœur Véronique)
35- The Souls in Purgatory
36- (Jesus conversing with) the Samaritan
37- Saint Jerome
38- Saint Agnes
39- Saint Thérèse
40- The Sacred Heart
41- The Immaculate Conception

N.B. What is seen between (….) is a modification of the original text. These changes, in reference to the biographical notice of Sœur Véronique-de-la-Passion, were made by S.J.C., a Sister of the Precious Blood of St-Hyacinthe, in March 2003.