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Anglican Cathedral of St. John The Baptist - City of St. John's Heritage Site

Anglican Cathedral, St. John's, NL
Anglican Cathedral, St. John's, NL
Anglican Cathedral, St. John's, NL

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

City of St. John's Heritage Building, Structure, Land or Area

Description of Historic Place

The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a stone, English Gothic Revival church built on a hill in downtown St. John’s. It is located at 16 Church Hill and is bound on all sides by city streets. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was designated for its historic and aesthetic values.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has historic value because it is the oldest Anglican parish in North America, founded in 1699 by Reverend John Jackson. Between 1699 and 1905 an estimated seven churches built of wood and, later, stone, were built on or near the site of the Cathedral, including the present one. In 1720 the first of three wooden churches to occupy the site of the present Cathedral was built. In 1839 the parish was elevated to diocesan status as the Diocese of Newfoundland; the parish church had become the diocesan Cathedral.

In 1844 Edward Feild became Bishop of St. John the Baptist Cathedral, succeeding Bishop George Aubrey Spencer. Spencer had commissioned the construction of a stone cathedral and a cornerstone was laid August 24, 1843. However, during the Great Fire of 1846 the wooden crating that held the Irish limestone purchased for the construction ignited and reduced most of the stone to chalk. When Bishop Feild assumed his position he put measures into place to re-dedicate the foundation stone and complete the church. Feild commissioned a new design from the noted English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. The nave was built between 1847 and 1850 and it alone served as the Cathedral church for thirty years until the transepts and choir were begun in 1880 and consecrated in 1885.

During the episcopate of the fourth bishop, Llewellyn Jones, the Cathedral was almost destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892, and rebuilt under his leadership. This fire, which consumed much of St. John’s, was equally devastating to the church. Timbers burned, the roof collapsed, the nave was destroyed, the clerestories fell and all but one stained glass window were destroyed. Restoration of the church commenced in 1893 and the choir and transepts were rebuilt first. This part served as a place of worship until the reconstruction of the nave, which was begun in 1902 and re-dedicated in 1905.

In 1984 the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was the recipient of the Southcott Award by the Newfoundland Historic Trust for architectural excellence. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has aesthetic value because it is one of the finest examples of stone, Gothic Revival church architecture in the province. Built following the plans of Gilbert Scott, son of Sir George Scott, the building is an extraordinary expression of the Church’s desire for a “proper” cathedral building. The Cathedral is built in English Gothic Revival style based on a Latin cross plan. The vaulting in the transept and choir ceilings was raised beyond that of the nave. The rock used in the building is white, fine-grained sandstone which was imported, dressed, from Scotland. Approximately 7500 tons of Newfoundland quarried bluestone was used in the building of the walls.

Other architectural features are the clerestory, the buttresses, the triple lancet windows and a slate roof. The multi-gables have finials at their peaks and there are round windows located prominently in each gable end and there is a rose window above the High Altar. The Cathedral has numerous gargoyles and carvings; these include sculptures of actual people prominent in the Diocese, the nation and the Empire during the construction of the church, such as Queen Victoria. The oldest gargoyle located in the south transept is approximately 1000 years old; it came from the roof of Bristol Cathedral. The Cathedral also has numerous other plaques, relics, and historic pieces of stonework, as well as a museum and archives.

Source: City of St. John's, meeting held 1989/07/21

Character Defining Elements

All those elements that embody the Gothic Revival style of architecture, including:
-mixed stone construction;
-steeply pitched gable roofs with slate shingles;
-lancet windows;
-clerestory and buttresses;
-round windows; and
-gargoyles and other sculptures.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 016 Church Hill
Construction 1847 - 1847
Sir George Gilbert Scott
William Hay
Style Gothic Revival
Building Plan Cruciform
Website Link