Description of Historic Place
St. Jude’s Anglican Church National Historic Site of Canada is a small church built in 1871 in a modest rendition of the High Victorian Gothic Revival style, located in the city of Brantford, Ontario at Alexandra Park, just east of the downtown core. The church is distinguished by its striking interior, painted in 1936, which features a series of painted murals and decorative motifs influenced by the Arts-and-Crafts movement and modelled on the work of the movement’s founder, William Morris. The formal recognition refers to the building on its legal property.
St. Jude’s Anglican Church was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1993 because:
- its interior decorative programme is an important cultural document illustrating the popular influence of the Arts and Crafts movement on ecclesiastical wall painting in Canada;
- with its murals and decorative motifs of intertwining vines and foliage, St. Jude's is the only known example in the country so clearly reflecting the designs of the movement's founder, William Morris;
- the decorative programme was executed by one of the most prolific church decorating firms in Ontario history, the Browne family.
The painted interior of St. Jude’s exemplifies Arts-and-Crafts principles, including the integration of art with architecture to create a harmonious and humanistic whole, the elevation of handwork over machine work, and an interest in nature.
The decorative work at St. Jude’s, consisting of flat-rendered, naturalistic foliage intertwined with Gothic detailing, more closely imitates Morris’s work than any other known Canadian ecclesiastical example. The painting style of the murals, inspired by the late 19th-century work of the Pre-Raphaelites associated with Morris, reflects the biblical imagery popularized in the printed media during the early 20th century. In keeping with the Arts-and-Crafts approach, the murals feature landscape elements, soft painterly effects, and gentle and romantic lighting. The murals and painted decorations enhance and are in turn enhanced by the medieval-inspired architectural features of the church’s interior.
Three generations of the Browne family decorated more than 450 church interiors in Ontario, including that of St. Jude’s. Peter Charles Browne, a decorative painter who trained in Scotland at the height of the British-based Arts-and-Crafts movement, began the family firm in 1905 after immigrating to Ontario. The amount of work carried out by the Browne family exceeds that of any other known firm or artist engaged in similar work in Canada. The decorative program at St. Jude’s was likely executed by Peter Browne’s son Thomas, under Peter’s guidance.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1993.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of St. Jude’s Anglican Church include:
- the series of painted murals around the nave presenting events in the life of Jesus Christ and using religious imagery typical of the early 20th century;
- the decorative motifs applied to the nave, reminiscent of William Morris’s fabric, wallpaper and book illustrations, and consisting of flatly treated, but naturalistic, meandering and intertwining foliage, interspersed with Gothic-style detailing;
- the decorative designs of the chancel, similar in colour and form to Morris designs installed in British chapels;
- the painted programme in the baptistery at the base of the tower, including two murals framed with foliage and geometric motifs;
- interior features that mutually enhance the painted interior, including, the intimate scale of the interior, the use of dark wood for the ceiling, wainscoting and pews, the Gothic arches, and the stained glass windows.