St Anne's Anglican Church

St. Anne's Anglican Church is located on Gladstone Ave in the Brockville residential neighbourhood of Toronto, Ont (near Dufferin and Dundas). It was designated a National Historic Site in 1996. Built in 1907-1908 in the Byzantine Revival style, St. Anne's Anglican Church contains a remarkable collection of paintings by prominent Canadian artists, including three members of the Group of Seven.

The plan of St Anne's owes its origins to Reverend Lawrence Skey, rector of the church from 1902-1933. Trained as a theologian, Skey firmly believed in a return to the pre-Roman roots of Christianity. Shortly after his appointment at St Anne's, Skey took a sabbatical leave to study church architecture. His travels took him to Istanbul, where the magnificent Early Byzantine church Hagia Sophia (532-537AD) made a strong impression on him.

Upon his return to Toronto, Skey held an architectural competition and awarded the contract for the construction of the new church to a young Toronto architect, William Ford Howland, who may have accompanied Skey to Istanbul. Howland's proposed design, radically different from the conventional Gothic architecture preferred by the Anglican Church of Canada, was not popular among the parishioners. Nevertheless, Skey prevailed. Work was finished in two years by October 1908, costing $55,000, a considerable sum in those days.

St. Anne's is constructed of concrete and brick and is based on a cruciform plan with a distinctive central dome, 21 meters in height (compared to the 55.6 metres of Hagia Sofia). The supporting pendentives (triangular, spherical corner supports for the dome) spring from four columns of Caen stone.

Once the church was built, Skey turned to decorating the drab concrete interior with art. At the Arts and Letters Club on Elm Street, he became friends with J.E.H. MacDonald, who embraced Skey's plans. In 1923 MacDonald accepted a commission to paint and decorate St. Anne's and he brought in nine more artists including two other members of the Group of Seven, Fred Varley and Frank Carmichael, along with architect William Rae and sculptors Frances Loring and Florence Wyle.

Skey made a strong contribution to the subject matter of the decoration. Greek symbols linked St Anne's to the past. The pendentive paintings illustrated the life of Jesus. The great dome was decorated in red with various symbols. The cornice of the dome carried scripture in gold leaf: "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Varley painted the four massive heads of the prophets Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. The Transfiguration by MacDonald, a subject on which Skey had written, was set above the central window. The principal paintings were placed in the four pendentives: The Nativity (Varley), the Crucifixion (MacDonald), the Resurrection (H.S. Palmer) and the Ascension (H.G. Stansfield). Art critic John Bentley Mays in 1995 described the overall effect as "a symphony in colour and design." The church murals are the Group's only known religious artworks. Skey retired from the church in 1933.

See also Religious Building; Toronto Feature: St. Anne's Anglican Church.