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Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa

Diocesan Archives 51 O13 68
Diocesan Archives 51 O13 68
By on April 1, 2022

A Corona—But Not a Virus

Here, courtesy of a photographer who stepped in to document the Easter decorations at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa 113 years ago, we see the original chancel as built in 1872, albeit only one quarter the size proposed by architect King Arnoldi.  Another 23 years would come and go before a new chancel was built to the size he recommended.

The details we behold here are dazzling in their detail and intricacy.  Central to it all is the great brass light fixture called a corona, with electric lights, and decorated with brass maple leaves, fleurs-de-lis and perhaps even a crown—ostensibly based on the ‘corona’ designed by Henry Hobson Richardson as the lighting “fixture central to his conception of the interior of Trinity Church, Boston” at about the same time that the new Christ Church, Ottawa was opening its doors for the first time to receive worshippers.  Never mind that Richardson’s corona was meant to complement the Romanesque Revival design of Trinity Church, whereas Christ Church was Gothic Revival.  For Ottawans the corona fixture at Trinity was the last word in new church design, and they were determined that Christ Church should not be left behind.The photographer had done his homework.  He chose an overcast day so the details of the chancel window donated by Nicholas Sparks’s family would clearly show.  But the stained glass and the corona fixture were by no means the only items in the chancel glowing in this picture.  The very walls were variously stenciled, papered and painted with gleaming gold designs.  The altar rail gleams, being made of solid brass, and when it proved too small for the replacement chancel, it was taken over to Saint Bartholomew’s Church.  A brass processional cross is visible.   

Even the organ pipes were painted with gold highlights.  The words on the archway above the organ pipes, also painted in gold, read, “Sing Unto the Lord: Praise His Name.”  They cannot be misconstrued, unlike those above the main chancel arch (not visible here), “Hear, Thou in Heaven Thy Dwelling Place; And When Thou Hearest, Forgive” which some wags claim was a comment on the quality of music.  Much time had passed since a church organist was dismissed in the late 1870s for playing controversial music—the offending composer being some unheard-of chap named Johann Sebastian Bach.  The frontal on the altar is sumptuous in its intricate detail.  In addition to a brass cross and candlesticks there, we see a pair of menorahs.

Electric light had long since been installed at Christ Church Cathedral by the time this photograph was taken, but the corona when first installed may have been equipped for gaslight, as Christ Church had had gaslight since the 1850s.  Some things never change, however.  In the foreground on the far right we see that the pulpit was located on the right, whereas in most well-organized churches it is on the left hand side.  The Bishop’s seat can barely be made out in the far corner on the left hand side a century before it was moved in the larger replacement chancel from the right hand side back to the left.  With choir pews filling the remainder of the space in the chancel, one can only wonder in this circumscribed space how long the communion section of the service took in what increasingly was becoming recognized as too small a chancel.  What, one may wonder, was the purpose of the row of pegs surrounding the chancel on high?

The Archives collects parish registers, vestry reports, service registers, minutes of groups and committees, financial documents, property records (including cemeteries and architectural plans), insurance records, letters, pew bulletins, photographs and paintings, scrapbooks, parish newsletters and unusual documents.

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