Description of Historic Place
The building at 743 King Street West, known as the Church of the Good Thief, is located in the community of Portsmouth, in the City of Kingston. The church is a limestone building designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect Joseph Connolly. It was constructed from 1892-1894.
The exterior of the building and the scenic character and condition of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (1980). The property was designated by the City of Kingston under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1978 (By-law 9360A).
Located at 743 King Street West, on a well groomed lot, the Church of the Good Thief is in the community of Portsmouth, in the western part of the City of Kingston. A landmark in the community, it is located on a hill, making the tower visible from a distance. Also located on the property, is the rectory. The rectory was built in 1895 of red brick with stone detailing and also designed by Connolly. Along King Street West is a stone retaining wall which distinguishes the property's southern edge, and contains the stairs leading to the church entrance.
The Church of the Good Thief is associated with provincially significant architect Joseph Connolly (1840-1904), Archbishop James Vincent Cleary (1828-1898), and the Kingston Penitentiary. Connolly studied under J.J McCarthy, “the Irish Pugin” in Dublin, Ireland. He arrived in Toronto, in 1873, and was the architect in whole or in part for 34 Roman Catholic churches and chapels in Ontario. Archbishop Cleary (Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston), also an Irish immigrant, hired Connolly to design the Church of the Good Thief and the rectory. The cornerstone for the church was laid in 1892 and the dedication was on April 24, 1894. The first priest at the church was Rev. J.V Neville, a nephew of Archbishop Cleary. Prior to the opening of this church, Portsmouth worshipers, the majority of them of Irish descent, traveled to St. Mary's Cathedral, in Kingston, for services.
The church was constructed approximately one kilometre from the Kingston Penitentiary. Convicts quarried the stone and carried it to the church site. They were paid 25 cents a day. The parish priest at the Church of the Good Thief was also appointed as chaplain to the Kingston Penitentiary. Due to the connections with the Penitentiary, the church was named in honour of St. Dismas, the Catholic patron saint of prisoners and Dismas was one of the two thieves crucified beside Jesus. He was also known as the Good Thief, and for a time, this church was the only one in the world to assume this name.
Joseph Connolly's, Church of the Good Thief's was designed in the Romanesque Revival style. Contractors for the construction of the church were Langdon and Sullivan of Kingston. The church, built of random-coursed rusticated limestone ashlar, is rich with masonry detail. The front façade is symmetrical and demonstrates highly skilled craftsmanship. Above the entrance doors, at the centre of the façade, is a statue of St. Dismas which was installed within a small niche, in 1952. Round-headed windows flank each side of the niche. Each of the four Romanesque windows has a limestone window hood. Above the statue of St. Dismas is an oculus with a stone surround. Just below the peak of the church are two oculi flanking an arched louvered opening. At the corners of the façade are stepped stone buttresses. The side walls are divided into four bays separated by stone buttresses. The first bay contains a single oculus and the other three bays contain a small Romanesque round-headed window. A square bell tower at the northeast corner rises above the church and is visible from a distance. It has a crenellated parapet, projecting battlement, two arrow-lit windows on each side, and two small round-headed windows on each side. Three sides of the tower have a stepped buttress at the corners. High Victorian Eclectic design is exemplified in the church's picturesque composition, mixture of historic styles, and the tower's single turret at the southeast corner, which is topped with a cross and resulting in an asymmetrical appearance. The slate-clad gable roof is decorated with a polychromatic pattern, with three crosses, symbolizing the crucifixion. The roof ridge is topped with wrought-iron detailing. At the peak of the church on the front and back façades is a stone cross. Additions were constructed at the rear (1994) and entrance (1997) of the church.
Source: OHT Easement Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of Church of the Good Thief include its:
- solid massing and stone construction in Romanesque Revival style
- High Victorian Eclectic reflected in the detailing
- picturesque composition
- mixture of historic styles
- random- coursed rusticated limestone ashlar
- symmetry of the front façade
- stepped buttresses
- plain rear elevation, free of decoration
- multi-patterned steep gable slate-clad roof depicting the three crosses of the crucifixion
- wrought-iron detail along the top of the roof ridge
- statue of St. Dismas
- two oculi flanking an arched louvered opening
- side walls divided into four bays separated by stepped buttresses
- first bay with single oculus
- three bays with small Romanesque round-headed windows
- square bell tower at the northeast corner
- bell tower's asymmetrical construction
- bell tower's arrow-slit windows
- bell tower's stepped buttresses
- bell tower's single turret
- bell tower's crenellated parapet
- bell tower's projecting battlement
- key location on a hill
- siting on a well-groomed property
- stone retaining wall
- rectory built in 1895 and designed by Connolly