A Short History of St. John's Anglican Church
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South Shore Genealogical Society

This is the leaflet that was handed out to tourists visiting St. John's. It was compiled by Basil Brownless in 1999 and is used with permission.

A Short History of St. John's Anglican Church

When nearly 1500 German and French-speaking "Foreign Protestants" were first landed by the British as settlers on the hillside which is now Lunenburg in June 1753, they had too much to do in building their first winter homes and fortifications for the town to attend to the building of a church.

The first year all services were held in the open air on the green where the present church stands. The congregation was mainly German and Lutheran. A minister had arrived with the settlers, a missionary sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Rev. Jean Baptiste Moreau.

The minister was French, and knew little German. He had previously been a Catholic priest and prior of the ancient Abbey of St. Mathieu, near Brest.

The building of the church began the following year, with a grant of £ 476 from the authorities, the Lords of Trade & Plantations.

1754 The First Church

The first church took a few years to complete, and for the first 60 years it had no pews or heating. It was built in the style of a New England meeting house with a gallery on three sides.

1754 painting

There were squared windows upstairs and downstairs just like a Georgian house. It had a huge three-decker pulpit towering up to the gallery, directly in front of the altar, and a round conical tower like many in Germany.

1840 The New Tower

A new tower was built. It was square, designed by a local schoolmaster, WIlliam Lawson. The new tower was 12 feet and 70 feet high and had "handsome pinnacles in the Gothic style."

1840 painting

Much of the tower of 1840 still survives in the present tower, with its spacious porch and stairways. There was also a vestry room, where the bells are now rung, a singing pew, and gallery space.

1870 The Great Reconstruction

The original church was neat and compact, and the parisihioners were not anxious to see any change, but it was not large enough for the growing congregation. So changes began...big changes.

from an 1870-92 photograph

First the tower was moved 35 feet westward to its present position. Then the windows, the galleries, the end wall and the flat plaster ceiliing were removed. What was left was moved 25 feet to form the nave of what was virtually a new church, and joined to the tower with an additional 10 feet of construction.

There was then room to build the present chancel. The walls of the nave were completely refashioned with Gothic windows to match the beautiful Gothic work in the chancel.

In charge of all this was David Stirling, a gifted Halifax architect, who was responsible for the entire Gothicization of this church, including the tower. His greatest achievement was the reconstruction of the main roof in the nave. The original roof had been brought from the old King's Chapel in Boston, which by good fortune was being rebuilt in stone at the time when the Lunenburg church was first constructed. In place of the flat ceiling and the original roof trusses, David Stirling copied the method of the medieval builders in England and constructed hammer-beam roof supports, with curved principals and collar beams.

1892 a Committee of Carpenters

When the church again needed to be enlarged, a committee of five carpenters from the congregation was put in charge. Plans were drawn up by Solomon Morash, a master carpenter and a key figure in both church and town.

The side walls were moved out to provide the side aisle, and the main supporting timbers of the building were encased in marbleized octagonal pillars. The roof supports were cleverly copied to match the architect's design for the main roof.

The carpenters also enhanced the outside of the church by having 14 attractive pinnacles surmounting the buttresses around the perimeter of the building. These have since been boxed in.

Apart from these alterations, the church remains an outstanding example of Carpenters' Gothic, in which features traditionally rendered in stone are interpreted in wood.

At a ceremony on Thanksgiving Sunday, October 1998, the plaque outside the church was unveiled designating St. John's as a National Historic Site.

The Altar

The Bells

The beautifully carved oak table depicting a representation of Leonardo da Vinci's greatest work, The Last Supper, was given by Henry and Margaret Zwicker in 1926

The ten chiming bells in the tower were given by Lt.-Col. C.E. Kaulbach in 1902. Many tunes are played on these bells, and in the summer season they are chimed every afternoon, except Sunday, from 2:00-2:30 p.m. You can go up into the gallery to watch them being rung.

The Square

The Parish Hall

The church was not consecrated until 1826 because originally it had no title to the strip of common land on which it stood, but the entire square was granted to the church in 1820 by the Governor of the Province

The building opposite the church, which is now the Parish Hall, was built in 1775 and was formerly the Lunenburg courthouse. It contains one of the town's treasures, a Royal Coat of Arms of George III, the oldest mural in Nova Scotia.

The Crypt

The Windows

Underneath the floor of the church are the graves of 17 of the early parishioners, including the first minister, the Rev. J.B. Moreau, and two other early ministers.

The nave windows were installed after World War II. They tell the story of Christ's life - the Christmas cycle on one side and the Easter cycle on the other. The window in the tower, the Fishermen's Window, was dedicated in 1981.


News Updates

Photographs of the church before, during and after the fire:

November 1, 2001 - The Burning
November 2, 2001 - The Aftermath
The interior after the burning - November 2001
The interior clean up progress - December 7, 2001 and December 28, 2001
The exterior encapsulation progress - January 16, 2002, January 23 - 27, 2002, January 31, 2002, February 7 - 15, 2002 and February 23 - March 2, 2002
Non-structural elements
The restoration of the altar
The exterior before
The interior before
The interior Christmas 1991
"Simon Birch" 1997

Canadian Heritage Minister, Sheila Copps, commits financial assistance at parish hall meeting November 16, 2001
Photograph of Solomon Morash, master builder in charge of the 1892 changes
A Short History of St. John's Anglican Church
People buried under the Church 1761 - 1826
Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia Historical and Architectural Survey and relevant Links
The Commemoration of St. John's Anglican Church as a National Historic Site October 11, 1998
Interesting Facts & Figures about St. John's

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