Description of Historic Place
Christ Church Cathedral National Historic Site of Canada is a gracious mid-nineteenth-century cathedral whose elegant spire rises above the historic centre of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Dramatically sited on a generous green near the Saint John River, the cathedral recalls its English antecedents and has become an icon of Canadian ecclesiastical architecture. Official recognition refers to the building on its lot.
Christ Church Cathedral was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1981 because:
- it is a superior example of the Gothic Revival style in Canada.
The heritage value of this site resides in its physical illustration of the Gothic Revival style of architecture. Christ Church Cathedral is one of the best examples of ecclesiological Gothic Revival architecture in Canada and it established an architectural pattern followed in the design of many large and small churches in 19th-century Canada. In its architecture, logic and decoration, Christ Church Cathedral conforms to the aims of the Ecclesiological Society, an Anglican reform movement that actively sought a revival of medieval church models, both in ritual and in architecture. Modelled after a 14th-century church in Norfolk, England, the plans were drawn by the English architect, Frank Wills, at the request of John Medley, the first Bishop of New Brunswick and member of the Society. During the final stage of construction, the prominent English architect, William Butterfield, modified the east end of the cathedral by constructing a single tower in place of two. He also designed much of the cathedral’s original furniture and plate. The cathedral’s stone walls, crossing tower and picturesque massing echo the building’s interior, and were typical of the Gothic Revival style. Following a fire in 1911, J. deLancey Robinson of New York completed a restoration in 1911-1913 that included the lengthening of the spire and the conversion of the former vestry into the present chapel.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minute, June 1980.
Key elements that relate to the heritage value of this site include:
- its location in the historic heart of Fredericton;
- its picturesque siting on a green sward, overlooking the Saint John River;
- its relatively large scale for its time and place, making it an influential architectural model in Canada;
- its integrated Gothic Revival style, evident on its exterior in the tall, elegant spire, historically accurate decorative details, steeply pitched roof, deeply carved mouldings, pointed arch windows, elaborate window tracery, steep gables, integrated buttresses, niches, and finials;
- architectural elements that conform to ecclesiological principles, including a cruciform plan, high nave, flanking side aisles, short transept arms, sanctuary, porch entrance, single tower over the crossing, Gothic Revival style detailing, and clear articulation of interior spaces through exterior forms;
- interior elements in the Gothic Revival style, including large octagonal piers, ribbed and pointed arches, the organization of piers and arches to create an arcade between the nave and side aisles, exposed wood trusses, and curved wood brackets;
- interior elements that conform to ecclesiological principles, including the organization of the building into distinct parts, the high altar at the east end, the communion rail, the crossing beneath the tower, and the deep chancel;
- its stonework, including rough-dressed and smooth-faced sandstone masonry composed of stone quarried from Grindstone Island in the Bay of Fundy and other parts of New Brunswick, and its Gothic-inspired window tracery composed of Caen stone;
- the craftsmanship of its interior decoration, including decorative tile work, lectern, chandelier lighting, woodwork, wooden furnishings and church plate;
- its stained glass windows.