Cathedral has a treasure in glass


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If every picture tells a story, then the walls of this historic cathedral must speak volumes.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2010 (4247 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If every picture tells a story, then the walls of this historic cathedral must speak volumes.

Tucked away along the scenic banks of the winding Red River, surrounded by tombstones and out of sight of motorists hurriedly rushing along Main Street, is one of Winnipeg’s hidden treasures.

St. John’s Anglican Cathedral, established in 1822 by Rev. John West, is the oldest Anglican parish in Western Canada and the birthplace of the Anglican Church here.

cheryl girard / winnipeg free press Great East Window over the high altar features coats of arms of the Anglican dioceses in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario at the turn of the 20th century. Archbishop Machray's likeness is at the bottom.

Its history has been recorded but what may not be as well-known is its history may also be viewed. For if you look closely inside the cathedral, its tale is vividly told in the colourful and beautiful images of the stained-glass windows and mosaics that line its walls. Historic and religious figures are brilliantly depicted and their story can be seen on virtually every wall of the cathedral.

Four church buildings have stood on this site, selected by Lord Selkirk as a place for the Red River settlers to erect a church. The cathedral that stands here was built in 1926. It displays elements of medieval English design; the architects were Parfitt and Prain of Winnipeg.

The story unfolds when Rene Jamieson, who has been conducting tours at St. John’s since 2001, walks in and points out the windows in the nave, the main body of the church where parishioners sit. Most of the windows here “depict the biblical story,” she explains. They were designed by McCausland of Toronto and installed in 1926.

Cheryl Girard / Winnipeg Free Press John West preaching.

“Historically, stained-glass art was used to teach the story of the life of Christ to illiterate people. Only a small percentage of people could read and write in the Middle Ages,” she says. The Annunciation, the Nativity and the Resurrection are just a few of the subjects depicted.

One window in the nave, designed by Cakebread Robey and Co. of England, depicts Rev. John West preaching to a group of settlers, Hudson Bay Company employees and aboriginals who are wearing a full headdress of feathers.

“The headdress was not worn by the aboriginals who lived here and they certainly would have had much more respect than to wear them to a prayer meeting,” Jamieson says.

One of her favourite windows is the Crucifixion window, an art-deco design by Jones and Willis of London.

The Great West Window is an enormous work, designed by Western Art Glass of Winnipeg. Installed in 1970, it shows the risen Christ surrounded by various leaders in the history of the Rupert’s Land diocese.

The “movers and shakers,” Jamieson says, include Rev. Henry Budd, “the first indigenous person anywhere in the world to be ordained as an Anglican priest.”

Also shown are Colin Inkster, sheriff of Rupert’s Land and the warden of St. John’s for 63 years, Archbishop Robert Machray, Rev. Samuel Matheson and other major figures from Manitoba’s history.

Rev. Robert McDonald, missionary to Yukon for 40 years, is portrayed in the same window.

“People come every year to see his gravesite,” Jamieson says. “He translated the Book of Common Prayer into Tukudh (the language of some aboriginals in that area). Many who are of aboriginal descent visit and talk of him with great love.”

Even larger still is the intricately detailed and beautiful window over the high altar.

“The whole window is a memorial to Robert Machray, a powerful and charismatic man, a great believer in education, who founded St. John’s College and started the training of local priests.”


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Group or individual tours are available by calling the office at 586-8385. Tours of the historic cemetery, which contains notable names from early Manitoba, are also available.

The cathedral is at 135 Anderson Ave. in Winnipeg and is currently served by interim priest, Canon Richard Condo.

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