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)

monk of Saint-Benoît-du-LacAmong 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.

Saint-Benoît-du-Lac

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: http://www.st-benoit-du-lac.com/

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?

Discussion on “Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac / Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups

  1. Susan Allen says:

    have been to this Abbey many times and you are so right, it is magical!

  2. Karen Wolf says:

    Gregorian chant always lifts me out of my pain racked old body, raises my soul up and fills me with both great joy and great sorrow. I have a wide collection of chants on disc, and when living in Europe, I loved going to churches where Gregorian Chant was the liturgy, no musical instruments other than the beautiful voices, the gift of God to the choir and often the congregation. As a part of the mass, Gregorian Chant is a deeply sacred and stirring form of worship. When I read The Beautiful Mystery part of me long for that total dedication to a life of seclusion, in joyful harmonious prayer lifted up to God and Jesus, Mary and all that we humans long for.

    • Christina Rice says:

      Your response moved me. I share many of your thoughts: When I read The Beautiful Mystery part of me long for that total dedication to a life of seclusion, in joyful harmonious prayer lifted up to God and Jesus, Mary and all that we humans long for

  3. Karen I Ford says:

    I grew up in an Episcopal parish with a choir director who taught us Anglican Chant. The practice of chanting brings the words into focus and has a way of being meditative at the same time. Today we use modified Anglican Chant although St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle has the service of Compline every Sunday night. The Cathedral is always full — a perfect way to end your Sunday. The choir is made up of 16 men’s voices and has been in existence since the 1950’s.

  4. Lois Dunnington says:

    “The Beautiful Mystery” is the book that completely captivated me and drew me in to read all the others. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a series, it just happened to be what was on the library shelf. I was enthralled with all of it and longed to actually hear what Gamache was hearing. Since being smitten by that first book, I am a committed Louise Penny/Armand Gamache fan.

    • Maggie Holmes says:

      Beautiful Mystery is my favorite, but I always tell people to start at the beginning. The development of the whole arc is perfect. Even when rereading the books I love to see the development.

    • Johnny Toma says:

      Exactly how I stumbled upon this book and Louise Penny! Thank God we still have libraries!

  5. Julie says:

    I think this is the most beautiful of the Gamache books – and perhaps, a little respite before the great suspense and fear brought out in How the Light Gets In. I found the Abbey such a calm, reassuring place to “be” while I read the book – and I think I needed that to be ready for the rest. After Bury Your Dead, we were in such pain for Armand, and after The Beautiful Mystery, we were strong enough again to face what lay ahead. Perfect timing on Louise Penny’s part – but just what you’d expect from one as expert as she.

  6. Peg in Wisconsin says:

    I first met Gamache in this book. It was read by Jim Fleming on Wisconsin Public Radio’s program “Chaper A Day” about a year and a half ago.

    Our local library had “Bury Your Dead” so I read that one first and it is still my favorite. Like Lois Dunnington, it just happened to be what was on the library shelf. The Champlain thread was so fascinating, I had to read the rest of the books.

    • Bobbie says:

      Jim Fleming has the perfect voice to read this book. I think that Chapter a Day introduced many Wisconsin Public Radio fans to these beautiful Louise Penny books.

  7. I love Three Pines, but I also loved visiting the monastery for The Beautiful Mystery. I am Eastern Orthodox and we have a different chant tradition, but I love Gregorian chant and loved having it be the central theme of the book. It’s nice to know the real monastery is a place I could visit if I ever make it to Quebec.

  8. Maurice says:

    Maurice in Vermont, just south of the Border with Quebec. The book and the comments are most touching. I grew up with Gregorian Chant and found myself enlightened by the reply that Gregorian stirs our emotions as well as our memory, so true!

  9. Nancy Wright says:

    “The Beautiful Mystery” was also my first Gamache book. What a wonderful journey it has been to read all the other books chronologically. But “The Beautiful Mystery” remains my favorite.

  10. Jewel Hanley says:

    I have read and listened to your books on audible. I love the voice of Ralph Cosham (hope I spelt that right). He is a perfect voice for Gamage.

  11. Kerry Buzzell says:

    I am going to read this book on my holidays. St. Benoit is just down the road from my home town of Magog, Quebec. We have been there many many times. Now that we live in Ontario we always visit the abbey to get our fix of curd cheese, caramel sauce, etc.
    We also go into the chapel to listen to the monks, it seems each year there are less.
    Such a beautiful place, so peaceful!

  12. Juanita Fowler says:

    A friend told me about Louise Penny, so I went to the library and found the Beautiful Mystery. Then I went back to book #1 and read them all – rereading Beautiful again. The first time I had no idea of why or how Jean-Guy Beauvoir had become addicted to the pain killers. It was as though the clues to a second mystery were revealed as I read the first books. Actually I’m glad I began with the Beautiful Mystery,

  13. Anita Santin says:

    I am rereading Beautiful Mystey now … First time through I read it while listening to Gregorian Chant …it was fabulous to hear those voices while reading yours!
    Thank you for all of your wonderful works!

  14. Linda Chudej says:

    The Beautiful Mystery is enchanting, suspenseful, spiritual, and thought-provoking. I enjoy getting to know Gamache more in each book I read. He’s a truly amazing person. I was excited about The Beautiful Mystery being set in some place other than Three Pines since the monastery is a very intriguing setting for me.

  15. Edeltraut says:

    I loved this book and I know th real abbey. Gregorian and orher regious chants are one of our cultural treasures – just listened to some exquisite relugious chants in two German cathedrals this spring: divine. The novel also had the monks make blueberry chocolates. The monks in Mistassini in Quebec do make such chocolates when wild blueberries are in seasom. You get fresh blueberries in dark chocolate which is exquisite and only available in summer in Quebec. When I gifted the novel to a friend I found the chocolates for him – that’s how I enjoyed the book myself, vert soothing – thank you Louise :-)

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