Church of the Holy Cross National Historic Site of Canada
Church of the Holy Cross
Église Holy Cross
Links and documents
1905/01/01 to 1906/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Church of the Holy Cross Facing is a remarkable and picturesque interpretation of the Gothic Revival style in wood built by and for members of the Skookumchuk First Nation community. Situated in the village of Skatin (Skookumchuk), the church is sited in the very heart of the community and oriented towards the Lillooet River. The front façade features three, slender, eight-sided spires rising from wooden slatted bell stages. The church is comprised of the main worship hall and a lean-to vestry at the east end of the building. The walls of the worship hall, church office and towers comprise horizontal, overlapping wooden white-painted siding on a wooden frame. The roof and spires are covered with plain and decorative cedar shingles. The designation refers to the interior and exterior of the church building.
The Church of the Holy Cross was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981 as a fine example of a Gothic Revival Style mission church.
The building is an impressive church in the Gothic Revival style, rendered in wood and located in an isolated area of British Columbia. Its distinctive profile, including its three gothic revival spires, makes it an instantly recognizable landmark for the First Nation and other residents of the province. Historically, the church was one of many mission churches built by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic order that established missions in many aboriginal communities across western Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The church has been a symbol of the community that has served as a welcoming spiritual centre for the Skatin people and others of the Stl'atl'imx Nation for the last century.
The craftsmanship evident in the church's construction is testimony to the skill of its builders. The worship hall contains a highly decorated altar at the North/east end, backed by an elaborate carved screen (reredos). The ceiling above the altar area (chancel) steps down to a pointed vault and two semi-circular side vaults, giving visual importance to the altar screen and the side altars on either side. The church also possesses a beautifully carved wooden dove that was originally suspended above the area reserved for the host. A low communion rail separates the chancel both physically and spiritually from the nave featuring burgundy-painted wooden bench pews with carved ends that laid out on either side a central aisle. Two unpainted carved wooden confessionals are located at the back of the hall and two flights of wooden steps located at each corner lead to a balcony for the choir with seating of similar design to that already described and a decorative painted fretwork handrail. Although the details reflect the influence of the Gothic Revival style, there are subtle and complementary departures from that style reflecting a mixture of European and First Nations design motifs evident in the cross and arches of the tabernacle, the beak-like ends to the lobes of the fleur-de-lis, the turned and reeded post, and the shaping of the base on the pew ends.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1981
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- its orientation to the river;
- the interpretation of the Gothic Revival style in wood, including the overall symmetry of the church, pointed windows, the multi-sided towers and three spires;
- the relatively elaborate southwest end entry contrasted by the plainer treatment of the body of the church;
- the variety of window types including a rose, lancet and fan windows and the relationship between the expanse of wall and the number and size of the windows;
- the interior layout of the church, including; central double doors with windows, leading to a centre aisle; pews with carved ends; the elaborately carved altar on a raised platform; carved confessionals with decorated handrails; the stained glass in the windows, including the rose window and fanlight; the tripartite division of the ceiling above the sanctuary;
- the interior volume defined by the main hall, naturally lit by twelve stained-glass windows, which cast coloured light onto the plain walls, lending much to the interior's special character;
- the walls and vaulted ceiling of the interior covered, with narrow white-painted boards stopping against a vertically boarded band (wainscot) at pew level, give the interior a light, airy feel creating a space with good acoustics and providing a contrast to the more elaborate elements such as the carved ceiling medallions;
- the boards on the walls arranged in patterns resembling the bottom of a basket;
- the choir, balcony, and staircases at the southwest end, naturally lit by small, pointed and circular windows;
- the continued use of the church as the spiritual centre of the community of Skookumchuck;
- the confluence of Christian faith with Skatin First Nation spirituality as reflected in the form and detailing of the church, evidenced by the Gothic revival style manifested with First Nations carving techniques;
- the liturgical objects and fixtures associated with the function of a church, including the church bell; communion chalice; processional cross; piscina holders for holy water.
Government of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Act
National Historic Site of Canada
Theme - Category and Type
- Building Social and Community Life
- Religious Institutions
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Architecture and Design
Function - Category and Type
- Religion, Ritual and Funeral
- Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec
Cross-Reference to Collection