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The Weather Network
Jun. 23, 2021 | Wednesday
Editorials and Opinions
Arch-i-text: Before and after
St. Vincent de Paul, before and after. (Supplied)

No examination of church architecture in Niagara-on-the-Lake would be complete without including St. Vincent de Paul, which has been identified as “the oldest surviving Catholic church still used for regular worship in the province of Ontario.”

Reflecting the pattern of settlement in Upper Canada, the portion of Niagara’s population identifying as Catholic lagged behind that of Protestants. In fact, it took until the latter part of the 1820s before there were sufficient congregants to justify the construction of a church.

Built in 1834, the new church followed the typical rectangular-with-centred-steeple form of the period. It’s exterior, certainly more modest than neighbouring St. Mark’s, would have been sheathed in clapboard (which was later stuccoed over), with tall, pointed arch gothic-style windows on either side of the entrance at the base of the steeple and marching down both sidewalls.

Still, while the exterior may have been simple, the interior boasted tall, carved pilasters from the tops of which rose arching vaults reminiscent of those found in gothic cathedrals. These vaults were a testament to the skilled craftsmen who created in wood what would have been stone and plaster in a grander building.

So, it stood serving its congregation until the early 196’s when fundraising and a single large donation combined to underwrite an expansion. Peter Stokes, fresh from a restoration of St. Mark’s, was commissioned to lead this project.

Stokes chose to preserve the original footprint of the church in its entirety, removing only the steeple to allow for a new addition on the front of the building. Fascinatingly, he decided on a dodecagon for his design, which, while an uncommon form in North America, can be found here and there across Europe. This 12-sided polygon was a form often used in churches built by the Templars to create a circular interior, which their tradition held was the shape of Solomon’s Temple.

Above the main entry doors were placed three banded windows and centred in each of the exposed sides a single full-height window – all modern renditions of the classic pointed arch gothic style featured on the original structure. Seamless white stucco ties both new and old together while raised banding creates a three-arch repetition of the banded windows on each of the other sides of the polygon.

In all, respecting both old and new.

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