Mohawk chapel to be restored

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A two-year campaign has been launched to raise $850,000 for restoration of Christ Church, Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks in Deseronto, on eastern Ontario’s Bay of Quinte.

Heritage Canada has committed $425,000, another $35,000 will come from the congregation and the remaining $390,000 is sought from individuals and corporations in Canada and abroad.

The 155-year-old gothic building’s stonework is crumbling, its cellar is in danger of collapsing, wood casements around the windows are badly decayed and the heating and electrical systems need upgrading.

Chief Donald Maracle of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks said the building is well loved and well used by the Anglican community in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. “It’s a limestone structure and, with the effects of acid rain and normal aging, there is a lot of cracked stonework to be repaired,” he said.

Christ Church is also a tangible link with Canadian colonial history.

In 1710, four chiefs of the Iroquoian Confederacy visited England to establish a military alliance between their people and the Crown. Meeting with Queen Anne at St. James’s Palace, the leaders asked for a missionary, who was sent to Fort Hunter in upstate New York. The Queen also sent a sterling silver double communion set and a reed organ to the newly established church.

Like thousands of others loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution, the Mohawk people of New York State were forced to abandon their traditional homeland and escape to the Bay of Quinte area of Upper Canada.

Once they landed in Upper Canada, a party led by Captain John Deserontyon arrived and built a chapel in thanksgiving for their safe deliverance.

Queen Anne’s silver survived the upheaval of the move north and part of it is still used on special occasions at the chapel. It was divided between the Tyendinaga Mohawks and those who settled along the Grand River at Oskweken, near Brantford.

The settlers’ church in Deseronto became a Chapel Royal in 1798, when King George III gave a triptych – a three-paneled altarpiece – bearing the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer in the Mohawk language. He also donated the church bell, believed to be the first in Upper Canada.

Later, Queen Victoria sent the church a Bible, King George V gave the chapel its royal coat of arms, and Queen Elizabeth presented a communion chalice in 1984.

The present church building was completed in 1843 and was refurbished after a fire in 1906. For much of its history, native and non-native Anglicans have worshipped together at the chapel.

“That would have been very unusual in the 1840s; native and non-native people didn’t generally get together,” said Chief Maracle. “But this is yet another unique part of the history.”

The window above the altar was donated by Dr. Oronhyateka, who was the first academically accredited native American medical doctor. He also brought back the olive-wood altar cross from a trip to Jerusalem. Nancy Devine is a freelance writer living in Aurora, Ont.

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