ABBEY OF SAINT-BENOÎT-DU-LAC / SAINT-GILBERT-ENTRE-LES-LOUPS
This was the near mythical monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups. The home of two dozen cloistered, contemplative monks. Who had built their abbey as far from civilization as they could get.
It has taken hundreds of years for civilization to find them, but the silent monks had had the last word.
Twenty-four men had stepped beyond the door. It had closed. And not another living soul had been admitted.
Until today. (The Beautiful Mystery, Chapter Two)
Among the most memorable—and visually stunning!—real places in Louise Penny’s canon is the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, the locale that inspired the fictional Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups. The religious affiliation and events of the book bear no resemblance to the Benedictine Monks of the real abbey, as explained by Louise: “it became clear in researching [The Beautiful Mystery] that I couldn’t set the book in a monastery, or even an order, that really existed, so I dug into history and found the Gilbertines, an order that actually once existed, but went extinct.”
Situated on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, the real abbey was built in 1912 by Benedictine Monks fleeing the anti-clerical laws in France. The magnificent monastery was commissioned in 1938 with plans provided by the renowned architect and fellow monk, Dom Paul Bellot.
The monks themselves, numbering about 50 in all, devote themselves to obedience and prayer, and are keen practitioners of Gregorian Chant (See the video below).
While very cerebral and spiritual, the Benedictines believe “one must live by the work of one’s hands.” The monks operate their own orchard and cheese factory and the products of their harvest can be purchased at the Boutique de L’Abbaye. Don’t miss “Le Moine,” a cheese very similar to gruyere or the “Bleu Bénédictin,” a soft blue cheese. They also make superb ciders from their own apples—a sweet non-alcoholic blend and their specialty, Le Kir Abbatial, which is a hard cider that pairs exceptionally well with desserts.
If you’re planning on visiting the abbey, make a day of it. Walk the exquisite grounds, attend a mass—whether you’re secular or religious—there’s nothing quite like it; admire the architecture of the Abbey itself; or, if you’re really in search of solitude, stay the night!
For more information, please visit: https://www.abbaye.ca/en/
Music is a central theme in The Beautiful Mystery. In fact, Louise has said, “a piece of music can transport us to another place and time, and not just evoke that memory, but the emotion. It can inspire great courage, and reduce us to tears.”
Did the Gregorian Chant of the Benedictine Monks evoke any memories and emotions for you?
The Beautiful Mystery is the first of Louise’s books set wholly outside of Three Pines. How did you feel about this?