The fallen steeple of the old St. Philip’s Anglican Church is in the national news again this week — the Heritage Canada Foundation has declared the church “one of the country’s top 10 endangered places.”
There’s no doubt about it — that old church was stunningly beautiful before somebody sawed through the steeple and sent it crashing ignobly to the ground. To paraphrase a popular religious saying, that probably isn’t what Jesus would have done.
A fallen steeple isn’t on par with a fallen archangel, but objective observers can’t help but be perplexed that the righteous purveyors of rectitude — parish and diocese leaders — didn’t even bother to ask police to investigate the wanton vandalism that created headlines from St. John’s to Victoria.
Their desire to have the old building torn down apparently transcends moral or legal considerations.
On the other side of this dark argument, the Church By the Sea Committee and the Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s town council have succeeded in their efforts to protect the old church as a heritage structure.
It’s hard to argue against that designation. The setting and backdrop of the old church is so spectacular that it has been featured on postcards.
And yet, town residents must be left wondering whether a scenic background is a fundamental requirement for heritage designation.
Several miles away, there was another aged church that looked quite similar to the Gothic style of the old St. Philip’s Anglican Church.
St. Lawrence Anglican Church was nestled on a quiet road in the old section of Portugal Cove.
It was the second or third building on the site, which had been used for a church for about two centuries.
On one side of the church was a road, and on the other side flowed tiny Main River. Behind the church, there was an 1800s cemetery overgrown with trees. A parking lot was in front.
About six years ago, the St. Lawrence parish moved to a new church nearby. The old church, steeple and all, was put up for sale. It is now a residence and secondhand shop.
Architecturally and historically, the old St. Lawrence Anglican Church was the equal of the old St. Philip’s Anglican Church. The main difference was that the former was landlocked, while the latter enjoyed a famous view of the blue waters of Conception Bay.
There was no controversy when the old St. Lawrence Anglican Church was put up for sale.
Nobody established a Church By the River Committee.
Nobody talked about heritage.
The town council was largely uninvolved and uninterested. Local residents, myself included, talked mostly with curiosity about what the asking price might be.
Thankfully, the building is still there. It is still lovely and picturesque, despite a hideous mural painted on its steeple.
These days, too many arguments are won simply by referring to history, culture, heritage or 500 years of this or that.
It is, of course, easy to see the rightness of preserving and saving the old St. Philip’s Anglican Church.
But the wrongness of the way it is being pursued is overpowering.
You don’t have to be Anglican, or even religious, to see that it would be highly offensive to establish a museum in the midst of a graveyard.
In fact, any use for the building other than as a place of worship would be difficult to defend. To parishioners, it is hallowed ground.
The best solution is to state the truth: that old church is widely loved and admired because it is so stunningly pretty.
So, preserve it and keep it, but don’t use it. And don’t make parishioners pay a cent for it.
If the public and the town council want to preserve it, they should pay for it.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at
The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org