When nearly 1500 German and French-speaking “Foreign Protestants” were first landed by the British as settlers on the hillside which is now Lunenburg in June 1753, they had too much to do in building their first winter homes and fortifications for the town to attend to the building of a church.
The first year all the services were held in the open air on the green where the present church stands. The congregation was mainly German and Lutheran. A minister had arrived with the settlers, a missionary sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Rev. Jean Baptiste Moreau who was French and knew little German.
The building of the church began in 1754 with a grant of ₤476 from the authorities, the Lords of Trade & Plantations.
The first church took a few years to complete, and for the first 60 years it had no pews or heating. It was built in the style of a New England meeting house with a gallery on three sides. There were square windows upstairs and downstairs just like a Georgian house. It had a huge three-decker pulpit towering up to the gallery, directly in front of the altar, and a round conical tower like many in Germany.
In 1840 a new tower was built. It was square, designed by a local school master, William Lawson. The new tower was 12X12 feet and 70 feet high and had handsome pinnacles in the Gothic style. Much of the tower of 1840 still survived in the existing tower, with its spacious porch and stairways. There was also a vestry room, where the bells rung, a singing pew, and gallery space.
In 1870 was a Great Reconstruction. The original church was neat and compact, but not large enough for the growing congregation.
First the church was moved 25 feet westward to its position. Then the windows, the galleries, the end wall and the flat plaster ceiling were removed formed the nave of what was virtually a new church.
There was then room to build the present chancel and add ten feet to the nave. The walls of the nave were completely refashioned with Gothic windows to match the beautiful Gothic work in the chancel.
In charge of all this was David Sterling, a gifted Halifax architect, who was responsible for the entire Gothicization of this church, including the tower. His greatest achievement was the reconstruction of the main roof in the nave. The original roof had been brought from the old King’s Chapel in Boston, which by good fortune was being built in stone at the time when the Lunenburg church was first constructed. In place of the flat ceiling and original roof trusses, David Sterling copied the method of the medieval builders of England and constructed hammer-beam roof supports, with curved principals and collar beams.
When the church needed to be enlarged in 1892, a committee of five carpenters from the congregation was put in charge. Plans were drawn up by Solomon Morash, a master carpenter and a key figure in both church and town.
The side walls were moved out to provide the side aisles, and the main supporting timbers of the building were encased in marbleized octagonal pillars. The roof supports were cleverly copied to match the architect’s design for the main roof.
The carpenters also enhanced the outside of the church by having 14 attractive pinnacles surmounting the buttresses around the perimeter of the building.
Apart from these alterations the church remains an outstanding example of Carpenter’s Gothic, in which features traditionally rendered in stone are interpreted in wood.
At a ceremony on Thanksgiving Sunday, October 1998, a plaque was unveiled designating St. John’s as a National Historic Site.
November 1, 2001 St. John’s was destroyed by fire. It’s congregation voted to fully restore St. John’s to its pre-fire state.
In its earliest years, St. John’s followed the custom of burying prominent parishioners beneath the church. There are records of 17 burials under St. John’s three former rectors, and the rest prominent members of the laity or their children.
There have been no burials in the crypt since 1826.
There was a plaque fitted on the floor of the chancel with the names, age and date of burial of the 17 parishioners.
List of persons buried in the crypt of St. Johns:
Mrs. Ann Phillips (de la Bertauche)
Born Nov. 17, 1730
Baptised December 2, 1730
Baptised in Savoy Church, UK
Date Buried: Nov 5th, 1761
She is the sister of Mrs. J.B. Moreau
Wife of John Phillips, Surgeon and late General Practitioner at Lunenburg. Ann Phillips nee Ann de la Bertauche came from Halifax at the age of 16 as one of the Rev. J. B. Moreau’s party of 6. The Moreaus and Phillips worked closely together and shared in agriculture pursuits.
Rev. Jean Baptiste Moreau
Date Buried: Feb. 15, 1770
The first minister of St. John’s, a missionary sent out by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. With such a diverse congregation, Moreau had to preach in three languages to accommodate the hundreds of people who came from all the settlements in the surrounding area.
Head Stone has the following Inscription – “Here lies the mortal part of the Rev. J. B. E. L. Moreau for twenty odd years a missionary of a French congregation at Halifax and Lunenburg, who departed this life Feb. 15th, 1770, age 59 years.”
Charles Patrick Pernette
Date Buried: June 12, 1772
Son of Joseph Pernette and his wife the former Frederica Augusta Erad. Joseph Pernette born in Alsace played a prominent part in the settlement of the Lahave River. His wife was a daughter of Surgeon J. B. Erad who has come to Lunenburg with Leonard Christopher Rudolf.
The Hon. Sebastien Zouberbuhler
Date Buried: Feb.3, 1773
He was born in Switzerland. He had been to South Carolina, Maine and Louisbourg before coming to Lunenburg. He was probably the only person in Lunenburg proficient in all three languages. He was elected member of the legislature in 1759 and became a member of the council in 1763. He was a staunch supporter of St. John’s. He wanted Lunenburg to be a community of only one church. As a councilor he saw all the Government’s correspondence and he felt that he knew the people he tried to be the bridge which would bring the community together.
The Rev. Paulus Bryzelius
Date Buried: April 13, 1773
He was born in Sweden however was proficient in the German Language. In Europe he served the Moravians. In Pennsylvania he served the Lutheran and in Nova Scotia the Anglicans. In Europe the Moravians and the Lutherans worked closely together. In Pennsylvania the Lutherans and the Anglicans worked closely together. He was ordained by the Bishop of London at the age of 54 to become minister to the German congregation at Lunenburg. The Rev. F. M. Ziegenhagen chaplain to George II gave him a German prayer book which he used initially with success at Lunenburg. Later he discovered the text differed quite widely from the English version. He then translated a new German Version. He was new to the Anglican Church and did not have a Bishop to consult with on matters. The Lutherans and Calvanists in the congregation had difficulty with his translation which prompted them to begin building their own churches. He was an able preacher. He suffered an attack while preaching the Good Friday Sermon and died shortly after.
Miss Frederica Francisca Jessen
Date Buried: Nov. 25, 1773
On Tomb Stone: “Here lieth the immortal part of Frederica Francisca Jessen, only daughter of D. C. Jessen, Esq. born 13th day of June, 1757, died 23rd day of November, April 16th, age 16 years.
Date Buried: Dec. 4, 1774
There is no record of the child’s baptism. She was probably daughter of John Creighton and wife the former Lucy Clapp who were married Dec. 8, 1760.
Patrick Sebastien Rudolf
Date Buried: Dec. 29, 1775
Probably died of small pox, which was prevalent at that time. A son of Leonard Christopher Rudolf and his wife the former Dorothea Catherine de Brevan.
Date Buried: Jan. 8, 1776
She died of small pox. A daughter of Peter and Susanne Izelin. A Montbeliard family who committed to move to Tatamagouche but returned to Lunenburg.
John Frederick Mason
Date Buried: Jan. 10, 1776
Son of Peter and Mary Mason active members of the church.
William Daniel De La Roche
Date Buried: Oct. 1, 1776
Son of the rector and Ann de la Roche. He was born Nov. 13, 1775 and baptized the next day due to his infirm and dangerous state.
Mrs. Francisca Barbara Jessen
Date Buried: Jan. 2, 1807
The sister of Leonard Christopher Rudolf and the wife of D. C. Jessen. She came to Nova Scotia separately from the original colonists and arrived between 1752 and 1755. She was born at Mescheim, Germany.
Tomb Stone: “Here lieth the immortal part of Frances Barbara Jessen, consort to D. C. Jessen, Esq. Was born in the year 1722, at Mesheim, in Franconia, Germany. Died at Lunenburg, January 1st, 1807. age 85 years.”
Dutlief Christopher Jessen
Date Buried: Aug. 12, 1814
Born in Holstein, Germany. Came to Halifax as a wine barrel cooper. He became Justice of the Peace; Judge of the Inferior Court; Registrar of Deeds; Lieut. Col.of the Militia; a member of the assembly and collector of excise. He gave a paten and two chalices to the Lutheran Church and a paten and chalice to St. John’s. He was a faithful parishioners of St. John’s.
Inscription from Headstone “Here lieth the immortal part of D. C. Jessen Esq. born 25th of February, 1730, at Holsteen, in Germany, died at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, August 12th, 1814, age 82 years.”
The Rev. Thomas Shreve
Date Buried: Aug. 24, 1816
He had been recommended to the Bishop of London for Ordination by Governor John Parr. He was ordained in 1787 at the age of 33. He was rector of Parsboro 1788-1804. He came to Lunenburg and served until his death. Part of his ministry was to promote the reading of books. He helped the merchants to obtain supplies and the urged the people to buy and read them. St. John’s was over 50 years old and required considerable repairs. Rec. Shreve obtained two hundred pounds from his friend Governor Parr and with good support of the congregation was able to do a creditable job.
Miss Margaret Cheyne
Date Buried: Jan. 11, 1821
Was the daughter of Charles Cheyne of Edinburgh and Ann his wife. Margaret Cheyne represented the Cheynes of Esselmont in Aberdeenshire. She was a descendent of many noble families in Scotland. She was sister-in-law to the rector Rev. Roger Aitken 1817-1825.
Francis Joseph Rudolf
Date Buried: April 16, 1823
Was the son of Leonard Christopher Rudolf and Dorothea Catherine Rudolf. He was baptized on June 8, 1761. He had been a church warden in 1811. In those days a committee of the vestry assessed each family a levy to support the Church. The Wardens were duty bound to collect the total sum. It was recorded that this warden was not a good collector and was 37 pounds & 11 shillings in arrears and the vestry proposed suing for the sum.
Date Buried: June 1, 1826
He was Lieut. Col. Of the Militia and was Judge of the Inferior Court. He had been a church warden in 1811. In those days a committee of the vestry assessed each family a levy to support the Church. The Wardens were duty bound to collect the total sum. It was recorded that this warden was not a good collector and was 37 pounds & 11 shillings in arrears and the vestry proposed suing for the sum.