The Development of Newfoundland Church Architecture
The following essay is adapted from a lecture given by
Prof Shane O'Dea to the Newfoundland Historical Society on September 23, 1982.
There is a marked distinction in the architecture of religious buildings in
Newfoundland, a distinction determined at first by period and then by denomination.
The earliest churches, built before 1846, tended to be similar to each other, and
essentially primitive or at least simple. In the 1840s the cathedrals of both the
Roman Catholic and the Anglican churches were begun in the capital, and these had a
significant effect on churches later constructed by these denominations. In
consequence, when looking at Newfoundland's religious architecture, one is looking
at an early period that runs from 1662 to 1800, followed by a span of limited
development (1800-1846), then by a interval of cathedral building, and finally
by a period when these cathedrals influenced other construction. This essay focuses
on the latter two phases of church architectural development.
Anglican Church, St. John's.
The Anglican Church was inspired by Gothic Revival architecture.
Photo by Duleepa Wijayawardhana. Reproduced by permission
of the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project ©1998.
The churches built before 1820 tended to be rudimentary buildings, lacking towers,
steeples and chancels, and were almost indistinguishable from local fish stores.
Distinctions began to develop when the two major denominations - Anglican and
Roman Catholic - began to build their respective cathedrals. The Roman Catholic
community built their cathedral as a Romanesque Revival structure. The Anglicans,
led by Bishop Edward Feild, were influenced by the Gothic Revival.
In an effort to establish and promote the use of Gothic Revival architecture in
Newfoundland, Bishop Feild commissioned the distinguished British architect Sir Gilbert Scott to
design the Anglican Cathedral. He also brought over William Grey as
principal of Queen's College, and made him diocesan architect. Grey designed
numerous wooden Anglican churches in rural Newfoundland that combined local
materials and craftsmanship to create models for other clergymen to follow.
The last surviving church designed by Grey is St. James Anglican church at Battle
|St. James Anglican Church, Battle Harbour, 1991.
Completed in 1857, St. James is typical of Anglican mission churches
built throughout Newfoundland in the 19th century.
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of
Newfoundland and Labrador ©1998.
Although Grey left Newfoundland in 1857 and Bishop Feild died in 1876 their
architectural influence carried on. The Gothic Revival remained the definitive
Anglican style until after the First World War. In 1892 the congregation in
Trinity borrowed a design from Nova Scotia and built the finest surviving Anglican
Church in Newfoundland.
The Catholic churches built in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th
century do not show the same commitment to one architectural style. J. J. McCarthy
of Dublin designed St. Patrick's, one of the earliest Catholic churches planned
after the Cathedral, in the Gothic style. McCarthy was an associate of a leading
figure in the English Gothic Revival movement, A. W. N. Pugin. The design for St. Patrick's
appears to have been inspired by Pugin's design for St. Mary's in Killarney, Ireland.
For Newfoundland Catholics, Renaissance or classical models came to dominate.
The greatest of these was the cathedral at Harbour Grace. Begun in the
1860s under Bishop Dalton and pursued by his successor, Bishop
Carfagnini, it was modelled after St. Peter's in Rome. Finished in
1884, it was destroyed by fire in 1889.
||Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Harbour Grace, nd.
Catholic churches were modelled
after Renaissance or classical architectural designs.
Unknown photographer. From Moses M. Harvey, Newfoundland illustrated : “the sportsman's paradise.” Concord, N. H.: T.W. & J.F. Cragg, 1894, p. 91.
In the twentieth century, renaissance forms have been used more readily in the
construction of Catholic churches. This reflects the religious and cultural connection
between Catholicism and Rome, and possibly, a desire to distinguish itself from
© 1998, Shane O'Dea