By John Lutman
Last month, the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist at Huron University College received an unusual gift – a bishop’s chair that formerly had graced the chancel of Christ Church, London, now closed.
The church was the second oldest Anglican church in London after St. Paul’s Cathedral, having been built in 1863. The last rector of Christ Church, Rev. Canon Greg Smith (a professor in Huron’s Department of Theology), arranged for the chair’s transport to Huron University College.
Why the chapel at Huron? Huron University College was the founding college for Western University, the idea having been conceived by the second Bishop of the Diocese of Huron, Isaac Hellmuth.
Tradition has it that the chair was occupied by Bishop Isaac Hellmuth when he presided over the meetings at Christ Church in 1877 which in 1878 led to the formation of The Western University of London, Ontario, today’s Western. No documentation, however, accompanied the chair to prove the assumption.
The chaplain of the Chapel, Rev. Christopher Kelly, asked me to conduct research to determine if the tradition was indeed true. On consulting the Diocese of Huron Archives’ history file for Christ Church, London, I found the answer. An essay submitted to Huron University College history course (written by Jane Humphreys and William Cliff) initially offered some encouragement – the communion table and Chancel chairs were donated by Rev. G.M. Innes on the church’s opening in 1863. Could the bishop’s chair have been among the furnishing purchased at this date? If true, Bishop Hellmuth could have indeed sat in the chair when he presumably chaired the Western University meetings in 1877.
Disappointingly, the next few sentences scotch the rumour. The authors go on to explain that the “parish hall [of Christ Church] hosted the historic meeting that led to the establishment of the University of Western Ontario [Western University]…Michael Boomer,…Dean of Huron, presided over the meeting.” Dr. J.J. Talman’s “Huron College 1863-1963” and A.H. Crowfoot’s biography of Hellmuth, “This Dreamer”, confirmed Humphreys’ and Cliff’s assessment. Nevertheless, Cronyn, Hellmuth and every subsequent bishop would have sat in the chair during services at Christ Church that they attended.
Oh dear, so much for tradition! Happily, the chair now rests in the Cronyn Room of Huron Church House beside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
John Lutman is archivist for the Diocese of Huron.