Description of Historic Place
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located on Waterloo Street in Saint John, consists of the stone, Gothic Revival cathedral and the stone, Gothic Revival/Italianate Bishop's Palace, which serves as a residence for the bishops in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Bishop's Palace are designated Local Historic Places for their historical and religious associations with early Irish Catholic immigrants to Saint John and for their architecture.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is recognized for its association with Irish immigration in Saint John and for that community’s devotion to the Catholic denomination. Between 1845 and 1847, approximately 30,000 Irish arrived in Saint John, more than doubling the population of Saint John. During this period, Saint John was second only to Grosse Isle, Quebec as the busiest port of entry to Canada for Irish immigrants.
Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly arrived in Saint John in 1852 and was confronted with the challenge of providing a place of worship which would accommodate the large Irish Catholic population. His vision was of a cathedral “as a centre of action and rallying point for all future operations in the diocese”. In 1853, four hundred men gathered as volunteers in the work of digging the foundation at the site. Local quarries supplied the stone to construct the Cathedral and it is estimated that 221 stone cutters were employed at various times. Three thousand people were present for the first Christmas Mass in 1855 when Bishop Connolly dedicated the Cathedral, and later, in 1885, the completed Cathedral was consecrated with great fanfare.
In 1860 Bishop John Sweeney was consecrated and he set out to complete the work. The chapel, chancel, and entrances were finished in 1861, in which year the adjacent Bishop's Palace was also built. In 1871 the Cathedral’s spire, which reaches 300 feet above sea level, was completed and is believed to have subsequently served as a navigational aid for vessels entering the harbour. The wider Catholic community of Saint John has continued to regularly add to the Cathedral in the form of improvements and commemorations.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has architectural value as a major work of Saint John architect Matthew Stead (1808-1880). Stead's other extant major work is the Prince William Street Post Office. He also designed St. Paul's (Valley) Church in Saint John. The Cathedral is an excellent example of a high style, high quality stone place of worship in the Gothic Revival style that serves as a city landmark. Built on a cruciform plan, it features English Gothic-style massing, elements and ornamental detail. The interior of the church features arcading between the nave and side aisles with a niched statuary, a clerestory above, richly carved woodwork furniture in the chancel and an ornate Lady Chapel to the north of the main altar. The interior also features much commemorative and liturgical furniture and ornamentation dating from the full range of the history of the Diocese.
The second significant building on the property is the Bishop's Palace, which is also a fine example of a uniquely styled, quality stone ecclesiastical building in the city. Constructed of ashlars masonry, it is an example of Gothic Revival architecture with Italianate elements. Its rectilinear massing with heavy roof overhang and cornice of stone modillions resembles an Italian Renaissance palace. The pointed-arch dormers and prominent pointed-arch elevated entranceway are Gothic Revival, duplicating the design elements of the main entrances to the Cathedral.
Source: Planning and Development Department – City of Saint John
The character defining elements of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception include:
- cruciform plan;
- polychrome, ashlars masonry;
- asymmetrical front façade;
- high, pointed copper spire atop four-tier steeple with lancet and rose windows, decorative blind arcade, buttresses, pinnacles and a niche with Gothic tracery and a statue of the Virgin Mary;
- large rose window on front façade;
- slender belt courses separating varying tiers and storeys of the massing;
- strong vertical elements in ornamental sandstone of buttresses and pinnacles delineating every corner;
- main entrance and two side entrances on front façade, each with heavy carved arched wooden paired doors set into deep pointed arch with multiple plain moulded archivolts with one channel of quatrefoil rosettes and one pilaster on each side topped by a simple foliate round capital;
- pointed arch of doorway topped by stone lintel hood moulding and carved medieval foliate label stops with moulded crenellations above and quatrefoils carved into the spandrels;
- gable peaks decorated with carved vertical and figurative elements;
- large high relief carving of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper fresco, topped by false parapet with eight shields carved in low relief with Christian iconography over north entrance;
- side façades featuring lancet windows with Gothic tracery separated by two-tier buttresses culminating at side-aisle roof;
- leaded stained glass windows.
The character defining elements of the interior architecture of the Cathedral include:
- ornament and furniture commemorating Christian iconography and events in the history of the Parish;
- chancel with elaborately carved wooden Gothic pulpit, bishop’s chair and altar screen;
- Lady Chapel north of main chancel;
- elaborate faux-finished Gothic altar table forward of main chancel;
- Casavant Frères pipe organ;
- pointed arch arcades between nave and side aisles featuring gothic carved wooden niches in each spandrel housing statuary;
- ornamental wooden trusses supporting raked nave roof;
- clerestory of paired lancet windows.
The character defining elements of the Bishop's Palace include:
- rectilinear five-bay massing;
- dressed stone ashlars masonry construction;
- hipped roof;
- four stone chimneys with ornamented caps;
- deep roof overhang with Italianate cornice and closely-spaced stone modillions;
- window placement and proportions;
- windows are smaller and progressively less ornamented with label stops on each higher storey;
- three small lancet dormers on main façade and one between each chimney on side façades;
- small square central lantern at centre of roof with flared hipped roof and copper finial.
The character defining elements of the entrance of the Bishop’s Palace include:
- wide stone steps with outward curving low walls;
- pointed arch doorway with lights inset in the Gothic tracery;
- heavy carved arched wooden paired doors set into deep pointed arch opening with multiple plain moulded archivolts, one channel of quatrefoil rosettes and one pilaster on each side topped by a simple foliate round capital;
- doorway topped by stone lintel hood moulding with carved medieval foliate label stops with moulded, crenellations above and quatrefoils carved into the spandrels.