Trinity College Chapel

The Chapel


For the first 30 years in the ‘new’ location on Hoskin Avenue, Trinity College’s chapel services were held in Seeley Hall, originally designed as the Library Reading Room. In 1953 work began on the present Chapel; work was completed in 1955 and it was consecrated the same year. The Chapel was a gift to the College from businessman Gerald Larkin, who orchestrated the substantial contribution of Canadian artists to the decorative features of the building.

The Chapel was the last work of British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960), who’s other designs include Liverpool Cathedral, the Cambridge University Library, and the famous British red telephone boxes. The local architectural firm was George and Moorhouse. An authentic Gothic structure, the Chapel is built of solid masonry with load-bearing walls carrying a self-sustaining vault rib system with intervening spaces of acoustic treatment. The design is a simplified perpendicular Gothic style and is not a copy of any existing building. The main Chapel extends 100 feet to the reredos and is 47 feet high at the vault bosses. The exterior is sandstone, the interior a combination of Indiana limestone support and stuccowork, while the floor is Roman travertine.

The collaboration between Sir Giles Scott and Gerald Larkin produced an ecclesiastic space that achieves a sense of harmony and unified effect. Great restraint has been shown in the unadorned masses between the windows, the nearly monochrome expanses of glass, the simplicity of the pews. This restraint allows for the joyful discovery of individual elements within the Chapel, and it allows the full brilliance and impact of the light to be felt. Sir Giles Scott visited the Trinity College Chapel only after its completion, and pronounced himself satisfied.

Trinity College Chapel

The Narthex

Visitors first walk into the Narthex from the main hallway of the College. To the right just inside the door is a 17th century Italian credenza. Straight ahead are two stained glass windows removed from the old Trinity College on Queen Street West containing the coats of arms of Sir John Beverley Robinson and John Strachan. On the north Narthex wall is a painting of the crucifixion, entitled Mediterranean Christ by the Spanish artist Juan Sala Santonja (b.1923). Turning around to face the entrance you will see Emmanuel Hahn’s carved tympanum of the Madonna and Child entitled Puer nascitur nobis.

The Nave

Trinity College Chapel Nave Apse WindowOn the east wall of the nave is a memorial to those who died in both World Wars, designed by architect Allan George (1973-1961) a Toronto architect and a principal in the firm of George and Moorhouse. This firm’s work for Trinity College includes the East and West wings dating from 1941 and St. Hilda’s College on Devonshire Place.

The three heraldic roundels in the lower frame were likely designed by A. Scott Carter (1881-1968), a British-born Canadian painter and heraldry designer whose work is extensively represented in Strachan Hall. He is well known for his heraldic designs for Hart House and St. Thomas’ Church on Huron Street.

Oak pews designed by George and Moorhouse seat 130 worshippers. The carved Dons’ Stalls at the rear of the nave were designed by Sir Giles Scott; their leaf cresting echoes the motifs on the bronze grill by the west transept.

Continuing down the aisle to the east transept you will see a hanging of the College arms created by Anna Clark, wife of Archbishop Howard H. Clark, Chancellor of Trinity College from 1971 to 1982.

Below is a carved lintel stone depicting the gathering of the animals into Noah’s Ark, by Jacobine Jones (1898-1976).

Entering the door into the porch you will see the lovely stained glass triptych of angels, all that remains from the central window of the sanctuary of the old Trinity College Chapel. These three angels are among the most beautiful pieces of stained glass on the University of Toronto campus. Pre-Raphaelite in style, they are superb examples of design and execution from the 1880’s. The glass is by McCausland Glass Company, the oldest of Toronto’s stained glass makers. Still in business today, McCausland Glass continues to supply Trinity College with hand-made replacements for the leaded glass windows throughout the College. Turning around to re-enter the Chapel you will see the tympanum God of the Universe by Jacobine Jones above the door. 

Returning to the Chapel and facing south towards the apse, you will see the main altar, created by Toronto artist Gordon Peteran in 1994, the gift of the class of 1944 in memory of those who died in World War II. The altar is made of quarter-sawn oak on which are mounted six cast bronze panels. The mensa is supported by other bronze motifs evocative of the Three Persons of the Trinity. The basic surface shape of the altar resembles a vesica, echoing the Gothic arches of the Chapel. The top is inscribed with the first two lines of High Flight, a poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. RCAF, (1922-1941). Otherwise, the symbolism of the altar is intended to be evocative, rather than literal. It was dedicated by the Rt. Rev’d Terence E. Finlay, Bishop of Toronto, on April 19, 1995. The lectern was also designed by Peteran.

Behind the altar is a simple limestone retable beneath which lies the ashes of Archbishop G.F. Kingston, former Dean of Residence and Primate of All Canada. Above is a gilded and painted alabaster triptych by the English sculptor Albert Stafford, from a design by Sir Giles Scott. Behind the triptych is an elaborate carved reredos designed by Sir Giles and constructed of the Indiana limestone used throughout the interior. The reredos forms the central portion of a wall between the sanctuary and the sacristy within the hexagonal apse.

To the left of the altar is a 17t century English oak high-backed chair; its companion is a later reproduction.

The austerity and restraint characterizing the structure of the Chapel extends to the stained glass windows, which have only occasional touches of colour. The windows along the nave have plain glazing, letting in a softly filtered light and reiterating the simple solemnity of the unadorned walls. The three south windows, directly behind the altar, contain an abstract, geometric pattern, except for small figurative elements that portray symbols of the four Evangelists. The windows were designed by E. Liddall Armitage for Whitefriars Studio; Sir Giles Scott’s collaborated with him frequently on other projects. Records in the Trinity Archives document that the apse windows were contracted from James Powell and Sons (Whitefiars).

The Lady Chapel

Trinity College Lady ChapelThe Lady Chapel in the west transept is frequently used for services and provides a quiet place for meditation and prayer. A bronze grill, eighteen feet in height, designed by Sir Giles and cast in England, separates it from the nave. Simple rush-bottomed chairs seat about 60 people below a polychrome, coffered ceiling, designed by A. Scott Carter, one of the surprise touches of colour incorporated into the Chapel. The carved oak altar was moved from the chapel of the Queen Street campus; the quality of the carving suggests that it was the work of William McCormack, an English-born master carver. The sedilia behind the altar is a composite piece created by Peter Wilde from fragments of two prayer desks used in the Old Chapel. The beautifully carved symbols of the Four Evangelists may be the work of William McCormack. The sedilia was a gift in memory of Robertson Davies from his widow and contains the coat of arms and dates of the author. Behind it is a 17th century Flemish tapestry made in the “feuille de chou” style of the French Gothic period. At the north end of the Lady Chapel is a blonde oak organ, made by Quebec craftsman Karl Wilhelm in 1982. The stone baptistery is covered by a charming wooden sculpture by Jacobine Jones depicting two praying angels.

Entering the Lady Chapel, visitors are faced by a large window consistent with those in the nave. Superimposed on this window are two remarkable panels removed from the Chapel on Queen Street: King David and St. Peter. These figures are the work of the McCausland Glass Company of Toronto. Some of the windows from Old Trinity were saved in part through the efforts of Canadian stained glass artist Yvonne Williams. Her other contribution here is the six small windows within the Lady Chapel. She used four panels of early glass, a gift to the College, incorporating them into her design. They include the Annunciation, dating from about 1500, and two later armorial panels. Two other early glass panels, part of the same gift, are suspended below St. Peter and King David.

As you walk back down the nave to leave the Chapel, look up to the choir loft which contains a two-manual organ made by Casavant Fréres, Canada’s oldest firm of organ-builders. The organ was renewed and revoiced in 2008. To the left of the choir loft are two small panels of glass from the Queen Street Chapel.


– Sylvia Lassam, Rolph-Bell Archivist, October 2009

  • Bowen, Lisa Balfour. “Bedazzled” in University of Toronto Magazine, Spring 1999, pp. 18-22.
  • Chambers, Douglas. “Trinity College Chapel and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott”. Trinity Convocation Bulletin, 18, No. 1, Summer 1980, pp. 406.
  • Hamilton, Alice and Corey Keeble. “Saints and angels, kings and prophets” in Canadian Collector, Vol. 16 No. 6, 1981, pp. 47-52.
  • Milton, Helen. “Trinity College Chapel”. Canadian Churchman, November 17, 1955. pp.528-530.
  • “Bright, majestic, delicate; the Chapel of Trinity College”. Varsity Graduate, January 1956, 22-26.