Description of Historic Place
St. Mary's Anglican Church is located on the corner of Morden Road and Highway No. 1 in Auburn, Nova Scotia. This classical Georgian era church was built in 1790 and continues to house an active congregation. The church, cemetery and property are included in the provincial designation.
St. Mary's Anglican Church is valued for its outstanding adaptation of the English Neo-classical architecture and its relatively unaltered appearance. It is also valued for its close association with Bishop Charles Inglis and the history of the Anglican Church in Nova Scotia.
St. Mary's Church is one of the oldest churches in Nova Scotia, and was the second Anglican Church to be consecrated in British North America. The Church was completed in 1790 and consecrated by Bishop Charles Inglis, the first Bishop of Nova Scotia. Inglis lived many years at his estate in Auburn, an area settled by Loyalists in 1784, and was closely involved in the construction process.
Like many of the early Anglican churches in Nova Scotia, St. Mary’s history is closely tied to the military history of the province. The land on which St. Mary's stands was donated by Colonel James Morden. Morden had fought with General Wolfe at Quebec, and was, at the time, the Ordnance Keeper of the garrison at Halifax. He was also the holder of one of the largest early land grants of the Aylesford Township, which at the time encompassed Auburn. Morden also financially contributed to the building of the church.
The church was built and designed by Master Builder William Matthews with the assistance of Jabex Benedict, brick maker; his brother Michael Matthews, stone mason; and Benjamin Foster who made the shingles. Matthews was associated with the Dockyard in Halifax and is possible he was commissioned by Morden to build the church. Most of the church was built from pine found on the property; door and window frames were brought from Halifax. Tradition also records that the nails used in the church were forged in Halifax and carried by soldiers on foot from Halifax to Auburn. The church continues to serve an active congregation.
St. Mary's is outstanding architecturally because of its near perfect adaptation of the monumental stone church architecture of English architect Sir Christopher Wren. The reduction of Classical pediments, capitals and architectural detail of a scale suited to wood was brilliantly achieved. Most of the clear Colonial-period window glass remains. The Gothic stained glass in the sanctuary was fitted in 1918 without disturbing the original windows.
St. Mary’s has undergone several alterations; however the exterior remains virtually unaltered. In 1826 two side galleries were added to allow for the growing congregation. In 1865, in conjunction with the installation of a stove, the pew doors were removed to allow for better heat circulation. In 1890 the original chancel was moved farther east to make room for an organ bay. At the same time a new vestry was built north of the chancel and a doorway opened beside the Bishop's pew to connect the nave and vestry.
Surrounding the church is the cemetery, graced by mature trees, which is still active. The cemetery contains many headstones for the areas earliest Loyalist settlers.
Today St. Mary's Church continues to stands as a well-known landmark and is one of the most widely-known and recognized church buildings in Nova Scotia.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 51.
Character-defining elements of Saint Mary's Anglican Church relating to its Neo-classical style elements include:
- wooden structure of the hall type plan;
- pediments and capitals;
- low-pitched roof;
- square tower with steeple and rose windows;
- round-headed windows;
- corner boards;
- Palladian window in sanctuary;
- round-headed wooden front door.
Other character-defining elements of St. Mary’s Anglican Church include all original and historic elements including:
- frame, walls and floors or local pine;
- Gothic-shaped stained glass window inset in Palladian window in sanctuary;
- wooden widows containing original Colonial period glass;
- remaining original wooden roof shingles;
- wooden cladding;
- original wooden pews;
- original Coats of Arms;
- two side gallery and vestry additions.
Character-defining elements of St. Mary's Anglican Church cemetery include:
- mature trees;
- original and historic grave stones and monuments, with their surviving inscriptions;
- grass-covered interment areas.