Last month it was announced that St. Michael’s Cathedral is temporarily closing its doors for renovations. To accommodate the Cathedral’s parishioners, additional weekend masses will be held at nearby St. Paul’s Basilica starting this weekend (Saturday 6:00 p.m.; Sunday 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.). Following summer break, masses will feature music from St. Michael’s Choir School.
It's appropriate that St. Paul’s will stand in for the Cathedral; before the completion of St. Michael’s in 1848, St. Paul’s was the diocese’s unofficial cathedral. It was the sole place of worship for Toronto Catholics and, by default, the seat of our first bishop, Most Rev. Michael Power.
For those who will be temporarily attending St. Paul’s, and for those with an interest in visiting the city’s oldest Catholic parish, we offer a brief history of the church, its architecture and artwork.*
Established in 1822, St. Paul’s was the first Catholic parish between Kingston and Windsor and, consequently, the original church of what is now the Archdiocese of Toronto. The first structure was a red brick Gothic-style building completed in 1824 on the present site (83 Power Street).
|Old St. Paul's Church, Power Street, Toronto, 1824-1889|
Photograph published in The Story of St. Paul's Parish by Rev. E. Kelly (1922).
The original church was a red brick Gothic structure.
In its early years St. Paul’s served the Irish coming from their famine ravaged homeland. In 1847, a typhus epidemic raged through the city, killing 850 people, including Bishop Power. Many were buried in mass graves on the church grounds.
During the nineteenth century St. Paul’s was a bulwark of Catholicism in a very Protestant city. As the city grew and prospered, from “Muddy York” to an industrialized urban centre, so too did St. Paul’s. By the turn of the century a dozen more parishes were erected in the city to accommodate the growing faithful. St. Paul’s Parish was reinvigorated with the building of the present church - a much larger edifice. Its construction was initiated and overseen by its pastor, auxiliary bishop of Toronto, Most Rev. Thomas O’Mahony, and completed in 1889.
The designer of the new church was renowned architect Joseph Connelly, who was also responsible for St. Mary’s (1852). His decision to forsake the Gothic for Italian Renaissance was considered daring and internationally en vogue for the time. St. Paul’s is built in the Romanesque basilica style with Ionic colonnades separating the central nave from the side aisles. It has rounded instead of pointed arches and a plain campanile rather than a sharp spire. Connelly imitated the style and design of the Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-The-Walls in Rome. The new St. Paul’s was solid, imposing, impregnable - a visible statement of faith.
Following Bishop O’Mahony’s death in 1892, the newly appointed pastor inherited an unfinished church. Dean John Hand embarked on an ambitious scheme to decorate the church with the beautiful murals, stained glass windows and statuary that make the church’s aesthetics truly remarkable. Dean Hand commissioned the following works:
1893: Four paintings by unknown Belgian artist: “The Conversion of St. Paul”; “The Last Supper”; “Gethsemane”; “Annunciation”1894: Commencement of the installation of stained glass windows and the clerestory windows1898: All-wood organ by R.S. Williams & Son and enlargement of the gallery1899: Statue of St. Paul, west façade1901: Stations of the Cross, made of stone in Europe1905: Completion of the campanile. The bell from the original St. Paul’s was installed in the new tower1908: Three marble altars and pulpit1911: Ten paintings of the life of St. Paul on the ceiling of the nave, “Ascension of our Lord” and “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” by G. Caroselli1921: Soldiers’ World War One Memorial, west façade1933: Pietà and memorial to Bishop Michael Power and Irish Famine victims
|Photographs Collection, PH0093/57P|
Photograph showing the apse and sanctuary in the 1950s.
The marble high altar and pulpit were commissioned by Dean Hand in 1908.
|Photographs Collection, PH0093/47CP|
One of the nave ceiling paintings of the life of St. Paul: " Paul in prison in Rome"
The scenes were painted on canvas and glued to the ceiling.
A Minor Basilica
St. Paul’s Church was designated a Minor Basilica on August 3, 1999, in time for the Millennium Jubilee celebrations. The title is granted by pontifical authority to churches that meet a variety of conditions. For example, the church must: stand out as a centre of pastoral and liturgical activity; be large enough to carry out exemplary celebrations; and enjoy a certain renown throughout the diocese. The historical importance of the church and the worthiness of its art are also considered. St. Paul’s is the twentieth church in Canada to receive this papal honour.
From its origins, St. Paul’s has welcomed the stranger, the immigrant and the impoverished. Now it will also welcome the displaced Cathedral parishioner until March 2016.
*This historical summary has been adapted from a document written in 1999 by historian Michael Power to support the application for Minor Basilica status.