The Cathedral Church of St. James is an Anglican church built in the nineteenth century in the neo-Gothic style. The church boasts one of the tallest steeples in Canada. It holds a peal with twelve change-ringing bells.
The current cathedral is the fourth church building on this site. A first church was built here in what was then the town of York in 1708. It was a modest wooden building and resembled a large house rather than a church.
During the War of York in 1812, which pitted the British Empire against the United States, the church was damaged by the Americans. After the war the church was repaired and enlarged. A bell tower was added as well.
In 1833 the church was replaced with a stone church built in the neoclassical style. The church burned down in 1839 but was immediately rebuilt. Around the same time the church was elevated to the rank of cathedral. Ten years later, during the Great Fire of Toronto, the church is once again reduced to ashes.
In 1850 a new and even larger cathedral church was built, this time in the neo-Gothic style. This cathedral, the one we see today, opened for services in 1853 after three years of construction. Its spire and front portico were only completed much later, in 1874.
The church was built by Frederic Cumberland with the help of his partner Thomas Ridout, who was responsible for the Gothic design.
The church has a central nave with two side aisles. The cream-colored walls and many windows result in an unusually light and airy interior.
The stained glass windows are well worth a look. The ones on the left were created in London and tell the story of the Anglican church from the ninth to the nineteenth century. The central windows in the apse were designed after famous paintings including Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (bottom) and Raphael’s Ascension (top). They were created in the 1880s by the Mayer Company of Munich. On the right you can see a window with the Apostles, created by the famed Tiffany company of New York.
The pulpit, situated near the chancel, dates from 1870 and is decorated with paintings of the four evangelists and St. James the Apostle, to whom the church is dedicated.
In the porch on the left you can see a marble baptismal font. It is the only item that survived the fire of 1849. Opposite, in the east porch, is the baptistry, with a much larger font.
The most impressive feature of the church is its soaring bell tower that was built in 1865-1870 to a design by Henry Langley, a Canadian architect who specialized in church building. The design was probably based on sketches made by his colleague William Storm. The tower’s spire rises to a height of 93 meters (305 ft). Now dwarfed by skyscrapers, the impressive tower was long used as a navigational beacon for ships on their way to the harbor of Toronto.
The tower houses the so-called ‘Bells of Old York’, a peal of twelve change-ringing bells. Each bell is rung by a change-ringer. On Sundays, around 10:10, you can hear a concert of ringing bells if you happen to be in the vicinity.