The principal altar of a church, by tradition, contains a stone or 'slab' at its centre. In fact, the stone is the altar, the rest making up the altar-table, and it is the most sacred location in the church, being the place of "sacrifice and thanksgiving".
The 'slab' in the high altar of St Jude's has a fascinating history which was told at length in the St Jude's Gazette of December 1948 by the Reverend Sydenham Lindsay (and is reproduced below). In summary, it consists of two stones: the larger one was originally part of the altar steps of Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Montreal, and the smaller one is from St Anne's Chapel in Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal) the capital of French Acadia built (as a Roman Catholic chapel) in 1708 and, following the town's cession to the English in 1710, the site of the first Church of England service in Canada. The two stones are separated by an ancient piece of Egyptian cedar from the 19th Dynasty (over 1300 years before Christ).
The stone was used for the first time at St Jude's at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1911.
The slab is normally concealed beneath the altar cloths, only being exposed once a year from the 'stripping of the altar' on Maundy Thursday through Good Friday until the preparation for the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. If you would like to see it please ask the Vicar after the Good Friday Liturgy.
From the St Jude's Gazette of December 1948
The ALTAR-SLAB, which forms an embellishment of the High Altar in this Church of S. Jude-on-the-Hill, was the gift of " J.M.B." (John Munroe Black, who died on 17th November 1947, age 77), a Canadian friend of the Rev. B. G. Bourchier, MA. It was fashioned in September, 1911, and was blessed by the Right Rev. J. C. Farthing. D.D., Lord Bishop of Montreal, in the Church of S. James the Apostle, Montreal, on the Festival of S. Luke the Evangelist, 1911. On the following day (Oct. 19) the Rev. Sydenham B. Lindsay, B.A., another Canadian friend of the Rev. Mr. Bourchier and of S. Jude's, celebrated his First Communion upon it in the Church of S. John the Evangelist by courtesy of the Rector. It was in this church that Mr. Bourchier preached his first sermon on the Continent of America (Quinquagesima Sunday, 1909).
In connection with the blessing of the Slab, the following facts are worthy of being recorded:
The ceremony occurred on the 201st anniversary not only of the first Saint's Day observed by the Church of England on Canadian soil, but of the first Communion celebrated in Canada according to the Anglican Use; it occurred during the Coronation and Durbar Year of Their Gracious Majesties, King George V. and Queen Mary, and during the Jubilee Year of the Church of S. John the Evangelist, Montreal: it closely followed the public admission (Oct. 11) of Mr. Bourchier to the benefice of S. Jude-on-the-Hill; it took place in a church in which both Mr. Bourchier and his father have preached, and at an Altar on which the Bishop of London celebrated a Low Communion during his visit to Montreal in September, 1907. The Slab was carried to and from this Altar, respectively, by the Rev. Canon Ellegood, M.A. (the oldest priest of the Church of England in Canada, and the senior military chaplain of the British Empire), and by the Rev. Sydenham B. Lindsay, B.A. (the youngest priest in Canada; his ordination having just taken place). The act of blessing was witnessed by the rectors of the Churches of S. John the Evangelist, S. James the Apostle, and the Advent—in which edifices Mr. Bourchier preached during his visit to Montreal in 1909—and by the Ven. Archdeacon Norton, D.D., Rector of Montreal, in whose Cathedral Mr Bourchier witnessed the presentation of a Pastoral Staff to the Bishop of Montreal on Easter Even 1909.
The slab left Canada for England on October 27, 1911 (the Vigil of the Festival of Simon and Jude), and reached St Jude’s Vicarage on November 6 (the Festival of S. Leonard, patron saint of prisoners and captives, and a contemporary of St Augustine of Canterbury). On December 21, 1911 (the Festival of St Thomas) it was used by the Bishop of London at a Celebration in the Chapel of Fulham Palace. On Christmas Eve, 1911, it was placed in the High Altar of S. Jude's, and dedicated by the Right Rev. W. W. Perrin, Bishop of Willesden (formerly Bishop of Columbia, Canada). It was used for the first time (at St Jude’s) as a throne for the Divine Presence at a Solemn Midnight Eucharist on Christmas Day, 1911, the Rev. Mr Bourchier being celebrant.
The slab consists of two stones, the smaller, or darker in colour, forming the centre-piece of the larger, or lighter. The latter is of French origin, having been quarried in Caen about the middle of the nineteenth century. When the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church at Montreal, Canada, was opened in the autumn of 1859, it formed a portion of one of the two steps at the Communion rail – a relationship which continued undisturbed for half a century, during which time the step was pressed by the knees of thousands of communicants from all parts of the world. In 1907 (the year in which the Bishop of London first visited Canada) a new pavement of coloured marble and jasper was laid throughout the chancel and choir of this pretty Gothic edifice, and the discarded steps and tiles passed into the possession of Mr Robert Reid, the contractor to whom had been entrusted the task of laying the new pavement. Through the courtesy of this gentleman, a section of the upper step was obtained, and out of this section the larger of the stones forming the Altar-Slab was fashioned. From its former lowly position at the foot of the Altar in the English Cathedral at Montreal it has, therefore, been exalted to the place of “sacrifice and thanksgiving” on the altar of the Church of S. Jude-0n-the-Hill – a meet reward, surely, for years of faithful and humble service in the worship of Almighty God.
In thus recording the history of the larger of the two stones forming the Slab, it may perhaps be fitting to add: The Rev. Edmund Wood, M.A., who was primarily responsible for the visit of the Rev. Mr. Bourchier to Montreal in 1909, began his work as a clergyman of the Canadian Church in the Cathedral from which the stone was taken. In 1860 (the year in which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales—afterwards King Edward VII.— visited Canada) he was deacon-in-charge of its Chapel-of-ease, then situated some nine or ten blocks away from the Cathedral. During his occupancy of this position it was his custom once a month to lead his communicants in solemn procession through the streets of Montreal from the Chapel to the Cathedral in order that he and they might receive from the hands of the Cathedral priests the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. In 1861 he founded and became rector of the Church of S. John the Evangelist. His translation from the Church Militant to the Church Expectant occurred on Sunday, September 26. 1909, the call to higher service reaching him suddenly and unexpectedly at the hour of the early Eucharist. Thus passed to his eternal rest this faithful and devoted priest of Holy Church, this holy and humble man of heart, this pioneer leader of the " Catholic Movement" in Canada, this " father " of surpliced choirs in the Canadian Church.
It is an interesting fact that the Altar-Slab was dedicated by the Bishop of Willesden on the 35th anniversary of the ordination of " Father " Wood's successor in the rectorate of S. John's Church.
The smaller stone was taken from the foundation of St. Anne's Chapel at Annapolis Royal, Canada—the Place of the Nativity of the Church of England in Canada, and the site of the oldest European settlement to the north of the Gulf of Mexico on the North American continent, the town having been founded by the Sieur de Monts, under the name of Port Royal, in 1604, as the capital of the French Province of Acadia. This Chapel was built within the walls of Fort Anne in 1708 by Subercase, who succeeded de Brouillan as Governor. For two years it was used as a Roman Catholic place of worship by the French garrison and the Acadian colonists. On October 9, 1710 (the year in which the top-stone of S. Paul's Cathedral, London, England, was laid), it fell into the hands of the victorious English, who held within its walls a service of thanksgiving for the success, against Subercase, of the arms of H.M. Queen Anne, through Colonel Nicholson. This was the first service held in Canada according to the rites of the Church of England. It took place soon after the French garrison had withdrawn from the Fort with all the honours of war. The Rev. John Harrison, Chaplain to Commodore Martin, of H.M.S. " Dragon," officiated, and the Rev. Samuel Hesker preached. In 1787 Annapolis Royal became a part of the first colonial bishopric of the Church of England -founded in that year under the name of "Nova Scotia." Until that year it had belonged to the jurisdiction of the Bishops of London. The smaller stone, therefore, was derived not only from the site of the oldest European settlement in North America and from the Chapel in which the Anglican liturgy was read for the first time in Canada, but from the most ancient colonial diocese of the Anglican Communion. To the Commissioners in charge of Fort Anne, as well as to the Rev. Harry How, B.A., B.D., Rector of S. Luke's Church at Annapolis Royal, and to Mr. A. S. Maynard, a member of S. John's Church, Montreal, the donor of the Altar-Slab is indebted for this historic stone. It was, in very truth, derived from the Bethlehem of the Church in Canada, even as the larger stone was derived from the land which witnessed the consecration of the first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose See, since its creation in 597, has held the same relative position with respect to English dioceses that the See of Nova Scotia has held since 1787 with respect to all the dioceses of the Anglican Communion in the British Dominions beyond the Seas, namely: first in point of establishment and antiquity.
Deposited between the stones is a small piece of cedar. This was derived from Egypt, the historic land which, in the days subsequent to the visit of the Magi to the Infant Christ, afforded an asylum to the Holy Babe, and His Blessed Mother, and protected Him from Herodian wrath and jealousy. This cedar dates from the XlXth Dynasty (1462-1288 B.C.) and is thought to be older than the Decalogue.
Annapolis Royal has had a most romantic history. It was there that the first field of wheat ever sown by the hand of a white man in all Canada was sown by L’Escarbot, a Parisian lawyer who accompanied Samuel de Champlain and Sieur de Monts to New France in the early days of the seventeenth century. During the bitter strife which subsequently sprang up between the between the French and English nations, and which continued for a period of 150 years, culminating at length in the cession of of Canada to Great Britain. Port Royal was the most assaulted place on the Continent. It was taken by force five times by the English; it was by them abandoned or restored to the French four times; it was unsuccessfully re-attacked by them three times; it was unsuccessfully attacked by the French and Indians twice; and it was taken, sacked and abandoned twice, once by pirates and once by the United States revolutionary forces. It was there, too, that the heart of de Brouillan was buried (‘near a cross where it was intended to build a chapel”), after his body had been consigned to the waters of the Atlantic in September 1705.
"No other spot in all this western world
So oft hath seen the battle-flag unfurled;
So often been the battling cannon’s targe;
So oft the scene of head-long battle charge;
So often heard the Indian war-hoop dread;
Or been by spoiler's ruthless hand bested;
So often borne in war's alternate chance
The flag of England and the flag of France."
By the achievement of Colonel Nicholson in 1710, Port Royal finally ceased to be a French possession Subercase surrendered after a short bombardment, and on October 10 the starving and ragged garrison of only 200 men marched out to be sent home to France. Before the sun had set on that memorable day – memorable alike to alike to England and to England’s ancient and Holy Catholic Church – the French flag had been lowered for the last time from Fort Anne, and Port Royal had become an English fortress.
Co-incident with the cession of Acadia to the British in 1713, the name of Port Royal was changed to Annapolis Royal in honour of Queen Anne, and the town became the seat of Government, a dignity which it retained until 1750. In that year the headquarters of the Government were transferred to the newly-founded City of Halifax, whither the holy silver vessels (royal gifts to the church) were removed for safe-keeping by order of General Lawrence.