The Old Centenary Methodist Church on Wentworth Street in Saint John holds the distinction of being a Local Historic Place due to its connection with the Great Saint John Fire of 1877. This building exemplifies the architectural style employed during the reconstruction period after the devastating fire, which wiped out two-thirds of the city and remains one of the most disastrous events in Canadian history. The use of stone and brick in the area symbolized a commitment to building a more fire-resistant city. The design elements of this structure and others in the vicinity reflect the determination of Saint John’s residents to rebuild their city better than before.
Originally built in 1839 to commemorate the centennial of Methodism, the first Centenary church on this site was a wooden structure that succumbed to the 1877 fire. The Methodists were severely affected by the fire, losing three of their main churches, including this one, which had the largest Methodist congregation in Saint John. The current church was dedicated on August 27th, 1882.
In May 1883, Saint John celebrated the 100th anniversary of the United Empire Loyalists’ arrival, with a watch-night service taking place in this church, chosen for its large seating capacity among Protestant places of worship. After the formation of the United Church of Canada in 1925, the church became known as Centenary United Church. In 1999, the dwindling congregation moved to smaller premises, leaving the building vacant and vulnerable to vandalism until it was acquired by concerned citizens. It now serves as a multi-purpose center and increasingly popular concert venue called the Gothic Arches.
The building is also notable for its impressive Gothic Revival architecture, designed by New York architect John Welsh. The church features an exquisite collection of lancet windows and trefoil and quatrefoil patterns on both its interior and exterior. The steeply-pitched roof is constructed using a “hammer-beam” technique, which involves short beams rising in steps from the top of a wall to the roof peak, resulting in a more open space. Although the timbers used in hammer-beam roofs were functional, they also served as decorative elements.
Designed to seat at least 1,600 people and accommodate up to 2,000 in total, the church boasts a stunning Gothic doorway on the Princess Street façade, flanked by stone columns. Solid stone buttresses provide support to the building’s corners and sides, topped with imposing pinnacles. The magnificent stained glass windows, crafted by J.C. Spence of Montreal, include side lancet windows that showcase exquisite artistic work. The memorial windows in this church are considered the finest in Saint John and among the most remarkable examples of biblical themes depicted in stained glass throughout the country.
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