St. Michael's Cathedral, Toronto, 1848

Pictorial Tour

200 Church St., Toronto
(in downtown Toronto, at Bond and Shuter Streets, east of Yonge St.)

(416) 364-0234

Sunday: 8 a.m. (cantor), 10 a.m. (Junior Boys Choir), 12 noon (Senior Boys Choir), 5:00 p.m. (cantor and organist), 9:00 p.m. (cantor and guitar)
Monday to Friday: 7 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 12:10 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 8:00 a.m., 12:10 p.m., 5 p.m. (Sunday Vigil)

Confession and Devotions
Confession: 11:45 a.m. (Monday to Friday), 5:15 p.m. (Thursday, Friday), 3-5 p.m. (Saturday)
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: 12:40 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. (Monday to Friday)
Rosary: 11:30 p.m. (Saturday)


A Short History of St. Michael's Cathedral

St. Michael's Cathedral, situated in the heart of Toronto, is the principal church of Canada's largest English-speaking Catholic archdiocese. A sanctuary of quiet prayer in the midst of the city's busy sidewalks and streets, this venerable edifice is a link to the early days of the metropolis and the scene and witness of many solemn ceremonies.

When the Cathedral was first planned twenty-two years before Canadian Confederation, the location on the northern section of a market garden which extended down to Lot (Queen) Street was considered "too far" from town. Today, the Cathedral is only a few blocks east of Toronto's ultra-modern City Hall, its financial district, and the Eaton Centre. The cream-coloured brick structure has darkened with age and acquired a tower and graceful steeple, its clear panes have given way to stained-glass works of art, and illustrious leaders have taken up their last sleep in its crypt. Though the Cathedral's interior has been modified several times, enough remains of its original dimension and style to proclaim the vision of its builders and the generosity of its supporters.

The Cathedral is the work of both prelates and rich and poor people. When Fr. Michael Power, pastor of La Prairie, Quebec, was named first bishop of Toronto on December 17, 1841, one of his major problems was to build a cathedral in his new See of Toronto, at that time a city of 13,000 with a Catholic population of 3,000. Part of the purchase price of the land came from his own modest savings. Another source of funds was a Sunday "penny collection" contributed by the Irish faithful, who were rich in faith but poor in goods.

The Honourable John Elmsley, a convert to Catholicism, was an outstanding benefactor who, with his friend Samuel G. Lynn, another convert, headed the Cathedral building fund and contributed much time and talent to saving the enterprise from receivership. As consecration is a ceremony which is permitted only for a debt-free church, they finally pledged their personal fortunes as mortgage security so that this could take place.

Bishop Power laid the cornerstone of the new church "well and truly" on May 8, 1845, and the consecration of the completed edifice took place on September 29, 1848. The celebrant, Rt. Rev. Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, was accompanied by an impressive concourse of prelates from Ottawa, Kingston, and Montreal, Mass was the celebrated for the first time over the stone containing relics of Sts. Clement and Peter, martyrs. Bishop Power, a victim of typhus, had died in 1847 but his work had been carried on by administrators.

The Cathedral's architect was William Thomas, who also designed eight other Toronto churches and the historic St. Lawrence Hall. Much influenced by Jon Elmsley's Anglican antecedents, the architecture of the Cathedral is inspired by the plan of Yorksminster in England, one of the greatest examples of fourteenth-century Gothic. This explains the two faces, representing King Edwin of Northumbria and Paulinus, first bishop of York, carved in the pillars flanking the main doors. The great chancel window, the work of the noted French artist Thevenot, also reflects the inspiration of Yorkminster. The window, one of three gifted to the Cathedral by the Most Reverend Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel, second bishop of Toronto, was installed in 1858, relieving the excess of light which was one of the early complaints of worshippers. The present Stations of the Cross also recall Bishop de Charbonnel's generosity and piety with their inscriptions in the original French.

Several major renovations and changes have been carried out since the redecorating of the interior was completed in the 1890s. In 1937, Archbishop James Charles McGuigan, who was Ordinary of the Archdiocese from 1934 until 1971, redecorated the Cathedral's interior. The present paintings, murals, achievements of arms and symbols which adorn the vaults and walls of the Cathedral date from that time. The two largest paintings on the sanctuary ceiling portray Christ celebrating the Eucharist for the disciples whom He met on the road to Emmaus and as a boy of twelve teaching the doctors in the temple.

A new series of changes in the Cathedral's interior were begun in 1980 under Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter and his Cathedral Rector, Monsignor Kenneth Robitaille. A new marble high altar, pulpit, and altar of the Blessed Sacrament, decorated in a Gothic style that matches the Cathedral's architecture, were added to a raised sanctuary. A semi-circular oak reredos was constructed behind the altar and six smaller chairs were placed on either side of the episcopal chair, symbolizing the presbyterium—the bishop surrounded by his priests and deacons. The wooden Gothic canopy, which used to stand over the archiepiscopal chair, the sanctuary lamp, and other beautiful Gothic decorations were combined to create a splendid shrine for the Blessed Sacrament on the right-hand side of the sanctuary.

Far above the Cathedral's high altar, a cardinalatial "Red Hat" hangs from the ceiling. This was conferred by Pope Pius XII on James Charles McGuigan, the first cardinal of English Canada, on February 18, 1946.

The Cathedral is still gloriously served by the great organ which was installed by Archbishop Joseph Lynch in 1880.

St. Michael's was endowed with its present tower and steeple at the beginning of Confederation. Reflecting the spirit of the times, it was conceived as an ecumenical project with financial contributions from many leading citizens including George Brown, the Protestant champion of the day. Though the 260-foot reach of its steeple is surpassed by the skyscrapers of downtown Toronto, the Cathedral today is an ever-increasing influence in the lives of thousands of people.

(Source: pamphlet from St. Michael's Cathedral)

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