Among the casualties of the Second World War was the architecture of Europe. Countless magnificent, ancient structures crumbled under the blasts of bombs and shells. Churches suffered as well; centuries of craftsmanship and painstaking, devotion to craft were reduced to rubble in seconds.
But in Meaford, fragments of European ecclesiastical history are preserved in the stained glass windows of Christ Church Anglican. Broken glass from 125 English and European cathedrals and churches have gained new life in the beautiful Gothic windows, and while the stone church itself is more than a century old, its windows contain glass once gazed upon by clergy and churchgoers during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The first Anglican service in Meaford was conducted in Stephenson’s Inn in 1856, and six years later, the parish built a frame building on the south side of the Bighead River. In 1876, a more substantial stone church welcomed the congregation, and within 14 years, the stone building had expanded to include a bell tower and a larger building which has now become the parish hall.
In 1938, a young rector arrived at the church, and Reverend Harold Appleyard quickly plunged into working with the congregation, the community, and the building, spearheading the difficult task of excavating under the original church to create a basement with a passage under the cloister to link it with the parish hall basement
But when war broke out in Europe, it wasn’t long before Reverend Appleyard heard the call. He joined the Grey and Simcoe Foresters in 1941as Chaplain, and on Sunday, March 22, 1942 preached his farewell sermon before leaving to join the Canadian Chaplain Service.
The destruction in England struck him as appalling nearly as soon as he landed. He quickly began to collect shards of stained glass from the shattered windows of damaged churches, and soon began to envision using them for a memorial window at his parish church. On volunteer fire duty one night in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, he met an architect responsible for London’s ancient churches, who referred him to the Cox and Barnard Stained Glass Works in Hove, Sussex. The firm offered to design and re-lead the glass into windows to fit Appleyard’s Meaford church – free of charge in gratitude for the Canadian war effort.
After being shipped to Europe, Appleyard continued his collection, retrieving glass from churches in France, Belgium and Holland, and a year after the war ended, the church unveiled them as memorials to the parishioners and townspeople who had been killed or wounded during the years of fighting.
“During my first few moments in England, the appalling destruction of homes and churches alike, along with the courage of the British people, made it desirable to link their sacrifice with ours,” said Appleyard at the service dedicating the memorial windows, his words heard in a broadcast across Canada and Britain.
The church, which became a Centre for Prayer for World Peace in 1999, is celebrating its 150 year anniversary this year. You may visit Christ Church and see the windows on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon. For information on the windows or booking tours, call Sharleen Schefter at (519) 538-3365. www.christchurchmeaford.com