Gothic Revival

The Gothic revival, began in Britain, and recalls the Gothic architecture of the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe.  The neogothic movement was firmly rooted in the romanticism movement which placed and emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. Canada experienced a huge interest in the Gothic revival, compared to other countries, causing the style to be in favor for over 100 years, gaining popularity in the 1820’s, and finally going out of style in the 1930’s.


St Marys basilica, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop in Halifax. Located on the corner of Spring Garden road and Barrington street the initial construction of the church occurred between 1820-1830.

Catholics were not permitted to build a church in Halifax until 1783, presumably in an attempt preventing large numbers of predominately Catholic French from overrunning the city. The church of Saint Peter, a small wood frame building was constructed, and opened on July 19 1784. located roughly on the site of the current final 2 bays and apse, it faced Grafton street, and was in use until 1829.

dscn2580-jpg-6944630The original facade is rather simple – three pointed arch doorways, with pointed arch windows above, with a projected central bay. The flat topped tower was terminated with a parapet and pinnacles on the 4 corners. though simple in form, the church slightly predates Montreal’s Notre Dame as first significant Gothic revival building in Canada.

The Gothic revival (or neo-gothic) style was based on romanticism, and renewed interest in the medieval period. The original Gothic period ran from the 12th to 16th century and was responsible for a number of very famous European churches. Neo-gothic details include Pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses. The Gothic style was particularly suited to the Canadian climate, with steep roofs and thick walls. It also served to tie Canada back to its European roots.

J.S. Clow, 1840 watercolor of the original interior.

Though no notes or documentation of the original design survive, it is though that the interior is a gothic interpretation of Gibb’s St Martins in the Fields. Early Gothic revival buildings in Canada maintained a Georgian look to them – the form and proportions of the building were Georgian, but featured gothic detailing. The initial interior of St Mary’s, The Nave and isles are present, as the the vaults without ribs. The interior appears to be faced stone, but is most likely plaster imitation. The Church featured a Semi circular Apse, though it appears to be screened from the nave by a series of pointed arches. also notable are the galleries above the aisles.

An extensive renovation program begun in 1862 Saw the original church building expanded with the demolition of the original apse, construction of an additional 4 bays and a new 5 sided polygonal apse. The expansion was the work of designed by Irish born, Brooklyn based architect Patrick C. Keely. In his expansion, he chose to integrate and renovate the existing church. Among the changes, Keely installed larger windows, replacing what had formerly been 2 windows per bay with single larger lancet window.

The interior changes included a new Apse, and the removal of the side galleries, opening the aisles to the roof. the vaults were ribbed, and the style of the Columns was changed. St. Marys basilica as we know it today is best known for its granite Facade, which was erected later in the renovation program between 1868-1874. The remainder of the church is constructed of iron stone, and Gothic details are limited to Lancet windows.

1870, with new tower being installed. Note Glebe house same as in 1840 engraving

The St. Mary’s Glebe House on the Corner looks Georgian in form and proportion but if you look closely, you can see Gothic details over the windows, and the entry porch. this Glebe house was erected in 1802.

The Canadian Architect and Builder Featured a plate and wrote of the New Facade in 1893

“St Mary’s Cathedral is regarded as being the finest sacred building in Halifax. The architect was a Mr. McCarthy of New York. The entire front and spire is built of Dressed granite. The sides are not in keeping with the front of the structure, but are built of iron stone with free stone facings. it is a matter of regret that a structure upon which so much money has been spent should be finished in this manner. if the whole building had been completed in a style to correspond with the front, and erected in a square by itself instead of allowing other buildings to hide a part, it would have shown to much better advantage.”
heaping some criticism, obviously unaware of the buildings history, and Getting the name of the Architect wrong.
St Matthews United Church,located just around the corner from St. Marys on Barrington street, dates back to 1857, when the original 1754 building burned. Built at a new site, the church is located on the Barrington street side of Bishop Binneys lot.
the Church is built in a simpler Gothic style, and is less ornate then the final St Marys, but likely very similar in appearance to St Marys as she originally Existed prior to renovations. St. Matthews is in many ways a larger version of many of the gothic churches that exist in smaller communities around Scotia.


The current St Mary’s Glebe House was built in 1897, and also features Gothic detailing but is more eclectic in nature. Somewhat more understated are the ChurchField barracks. The ChurchField Barracks, (locally known as the 12 apostles) are a 12 unit townhouse on Brunswick street. The ChurchField Barracks originally served as married Officer living quarters, for officers stationed at Citadel hill. They were built in 1903 by the British Army.


The Churchfield name comes from the fact that they were built on the Garrison Chapel Grounds, the chapel itself located at the corner of Brunswick and Cogswell. Most of that context has since been replaced, largely due to suggestions that the land was prime area for expansion in the 1946 Master plan.

The Historic Places registry describes the Barracks “as a good example Gothic Revival style and is unique within Nova Scotia. The units feature steeply pitched gabled roofs with covered porch entrances that provide shelter and easy run off of rain and snow. Each unit features a gabled Gothic style dormer and an enclosed porch with a small window. As well each unit has a sentimental window on the first story with radiating voussoir and sandstone window sill. “


Floor Plan Courtesy of the Eleventh Apostle Blog – the blog of a full gut and renovation of the 11th unit. It includes Lots of pictures of what the insides look like.

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