Bishop John Charles Roper (1858–1940) was appointed vicar of St. Thomas, Huron Street in Toronto in 1888, when the parish had dwindled to only six people. He is largely responsible for having revived it and introducing the parish to the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Before going to St. Thomas, he had been the Keble Professor of Theology at Trinity College, Oxford, a position he relinquished to become the chaplain of the newly formed Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in Toronto, where he formed a close relationship to its founder, Mother Hannah Grier Coome.
In 1897, he accepted a position as professor of theology at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1912, he became the third Bishop of British Columbia and was translated to be the Bishop of Ottawa three years later, serving for 24 years, the last six as the Metropolitan of Ontario. It is not unlikely that Bishop Roper was presented with the beautifully embroidered “Roper Cope,” made by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, when he became the Bishop of Ottawa. The cope was gifted to the parish of St. Thomas upon his retirement from the Diocese of Ottawa in 1939.
In Household of God, A Parish History of St. Thomas’s Church, the late Merrium Clancy notes that, “Whether in the bishop’s day, or after it came to us, the cope became very worn and the stole is now missing, though there is a reference in the 1949 Altar Guild minutes to its being in need of cleaning. The best that we can do now is to try to preserve it so that we can gaze upon it from time to time.” A speculative version of the cope can also be seen worn by Bishop Roper in a fine triptych painted by Suan-Seh Foo, a parishioner, which hangs in the church’s Lady altar.
In the early 1990s, Altar Guild members Doreen Stanton and Donalda McTaggart thought better of the cope than treating it as an archival object to be admired, and set about its restoration. Ms. Stanton obtained samples of cloth from Watts & Co. in London, England and, after a choice was made, sewed a replica. The plan was to transpose the original embroidery from the old cope to the new one. This entailed a vast amount of work since the original embroidery was badly worn and too fine to transpose. A fatal illness prevented Ms. McTaggart from completing the work and eventually in 2015 it was turned over to the diocese’s Ecclesiastical Needlework Committee, supported by the patronage of Margaret Hardacre in honour of her husband Walter.
Many, many hours have gone into producing the current version, under the direction of Louise Reid, by sewer Doreen Stanton, and especially embroiderer Peggy Perkins. As much as possible, the original embroidery and details were retained where repair was possible, or completely renewed. The new braids and cords were custom made, as were other details. Today the new cope, although somewhat different from when it was presented to Bishop Roper in 1915, is a beautiful example of fine needlework and embroidery. The Ecclesiastical Needlework Committee is thrilled with the results and the parish of St. Thomas is privileged to use the cope for years to come in worship to the honour of God.
Submitted by Willem Hart, a member of St. Thomas, Huron Street.
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