St. James United Church, 201 Main Street, C. 1862-4

"I have no hesitation in saying that for elegance, chasteness of design, massiveness of outline, and harmony of details--both externally and internally--it is not surpassed by any church of the same description in the three provinces. It is an ornament to the beautiful town of Antigonish and reflects great credit on the skill, good taste and fidelity of Mr. Munro, the builder, as well as the christian liberality of the congregation." Such were the fulsome words of a visitor to the recently opened and dedicated St. James in 1864. Four years earlier, the congregation had decided to proceed with the construction of a new Presbyterian Church. The trustees stipulated certain stylistic preferences; they wanted a spire, not a dome, as well as a tower projecting 3 feet from the building. This new structure would replace their plain place of worship, 36' x 54', situated nearby. Construction began in 1862 under the supervision of Alexander MacDonald "Sandy the Carpenter". With his premature death, the responsibility for its completion fell to Alexander Munroe.

St. James represents an interesting fusion of classical and gothic detailing. The front gable end, as well as the porch, are pedimented in the classical mode; the corner pilasters, return eaves, prominent mouldings and dentil trim (square, tooth-like decoration) are also classical in inspiration. Gothic influences, however, are evident. The peaked Gothic windows and louvred openings in the belfry, the multiple-arched gothic window tracery, the arched recessed doorway and the finials which accent the four corners of the platform suporting the belfry as well as the pointed roof-spire were all conventional Gothic elements. The pointed arch, in particular, was the most salient feature of Gothic revival. The "heaven-pointing spire" and the "pointed arch" allowed Gothic architecture to express the human need to establish a relationship between heaven and earth. The blending of architectural styles was a wide-spread phenomenon in rural Maritime Canada, especially among Presbyterians, who responding to the dicates of tradition and progress, retained a decided preference for the plain meeting house and traditional, classical styles, but embraced the more fashionable Gothic revival styles of the mid-19th century.

Researched by Michele Murray

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