By Gisele McKnight
There is no escaping God at St. Anne’s Chapel of Ease. A holy ambiance permeates everything, and it is impossible to ignore upon entering the chapel on the grounds of Christ Church (Parish) Church in downtown Fredericton.
It looks old, it smells old, and it is old at 170 years. The thick stone, with the Te Deum — an early Christian song of praise which is part of Morning Prayer — written on the walls around the perimeter; ornate butternut wood carvings; magnificent stained glass on lancet windows; Minton tiles; sandstone exterior; and the upright and horribly uncomfortable pews all point to a much earlier era.
It is described as an “elegant specimen” of English Gothic Revival style, based on architecture popular during the reign of Henry III in the 13th century. The design is based on a parish church in Cambridgeshire, England, built here by a young architect named Frank Wills, who also played a role in the building of Christ Church Cathedral, five blocks away.
Christ Church (Parish) Church and its rector, Archdeacon Wandlyn Snelgrove, would like to share the mystery and wonder of this special place with you this summer in the form of tours.
They’ve received funding from Employment & Social Development Canada under the Canada Summer Jobs 2017 program to employ a student tour guide from late June to late August, Wednesdays to Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.
As well, for five consecutive Wednesdays beginning July 5, there will be noon-hour concerts. The church is located at 245 Westmorland Street, and its buildings occupy the length of the block between George and Charlotte streets.
Carol Blacklock has taken the lead on the summer job project and tours and has immersed herself in the history of the chapel.
“My favourite part is not the seats!” she said. “You feel uplifted when you go in there. You can sit and think, reflect, and feel more at peace.”
For well more than a century, parishioners did that very thing. This was the parish church for Anglicans who lived in the western half of bustling downtown Fredericton. The 170-seat church was so overwhelmed with parishioners that three Sunday services had to be held to accommodate everyone. A photo from 1936 shows more than 200 Sunday school members and teachers.
“I went here all through university in the late 1940s,” said Harvey Malmberg, former diocesan archivist and a member of the congregation. “The chapel was always crammed.”
It was around this time that Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the National Hockey League, was an altar boy here.
By the second half of the 20th century, it was clear that St. Anne’s was too small for the congregation. In 1962 a modern church building — Christ Church (Parish) Church number 3 — was built adjacent to St. Anne’s, thus reverting it to its original chapel status.
Now it’s used for a few weddings and funerals, and it’s always full on Christmas Eve.
The first church built by Bishop John Medley in the new diocese, it became the pattern upon which more than 100 Anglican churches in the diocese were built, although out of wood, not stone.
“This is the precursor to all other [Anglican] churches in New Brunswick,” said Darrell Butler, a Christ Church (Parish) church member.
He wants to encourage Anglicans and everyone else to visit during this sesquicentennial year in Canada.
“Anglicans throughout New Brunswick may want to explore their own history,” he said. “In coming to the chapel, they’re seeing the first church Medley built in the diocese. He really brought a sense of the international church here.
“It’s a chance for Anglicans to get a better understanding of who they are and a better understanding of where it is in the world.”
Darrell, Harvey, Carol and Wandlyn promise an engaging tour that will leave visitors impressed with the chapel’s features, particularly since it remains largely unchanged since its consecration 170 years ago.
For further information, contact Christ Church (Parish) Church by telephone (506-451-0630) or visit the website (parishchurch.ca).
Historical information shared by Harvey Malmberg, Darrell Butler and Carol Blacklock were much appreciated for the writing of this story. A longer version of this story will appear in the June issue of the New Brunswick Anglican.