Our History

The Episcopal Church was slow in coming to Farmington, a town whose residents historically were strongly connected with the Congregational Church. It was not until 1873 - 233 years after Farmington
was founded - that St. James Parish was formed under the leadership of The Reverend Edward Brown, Rector of Christ Church, Unionville, and Charles Whitman, a Farmington innkeeper. The first services were held in a local schoolhouse. A year later, the St. James congregation made a chapel for itself over a grocery store and post office on Main Street near Mill Lane. Services were held at this chapel until 1898, when the present stone church on Mountain Road, adjacent to Miss Porter’s School, was completed. 


The church was designed by St. James parishioner Henry Mason and largely built by Mr. Mason and his father, Charles, using local field stone.  Henry Mason also made the wooden altar and reading desk, using wood from his own property.


In 1910, a longer and larger chancel and an organ loft were added to the church building. At that time a local artist, Robert Brandegee, painted the large mural depicting Jesus calling the fishermen James and John that fills the wall behind the altar.    


St. James Parish grew steadily through much of the 20th century as Farmington changed from a small town into a prosperous suburban community.  The parish today draws its membership from surrounding towns of the Farmington Valley.  A second addition to the church was completed in 1939, and a third addition, including the parish hall, was added in 1958.  The present facilities of St. James Parish include a church seating 225, extensive church school facilities, a library, clergy and business offices, a large parish hall and kitchen, and a memorial garden. 


St. James is handicapped accessible.



On Sunday, July 28, 2013 when the parish celebrated the feast day of its patron, St. James, the clarion sounds of the antique bell rang out after many years of silence. 


The structure of St. James Parish, orginally built in 1898 of local field stone, went through several expansions.  During the 1957 renovation, a bell that had long been housed next to the church in a wood framed screen structure was moved to the roof, placed inside a cupola. For many years this bell pealed out various chimes such as The Call to Service or The Angelus. Village residents knew when a neighbor had died and was being buried by hearing the funereal tolling of St. James’ bell.

Eventually the original bell timer system failed. Over the years various remedies were tried, but eventually the hammer strike was so discordant use of the bell ceased.


In July 2013 George Roberts arrived as St. James new rector. He noticed the silent bell and sought to have it ring again. With the enthusiastic support of the church vestry, a Bell Legacy Fund was established and the goal of $8,000 was quickly reached (about half of that amount will be set aside for future repairs/refurbishment.)


During the early summer of 2013, volunteers worked with professionals to bring the bell back to life. Parishioners celebrated the feast day and the bell at a post-service party in the parish hall.

Praying Girl


After the first addition to St. James, Farmington, was completed in 1910, the altar table was made by parishioner Henry H. Mason, the church’s designer and principal builder.


Mr. Mason, it is remembered, carved the altar decoration with his own jackknife. Robert Brandegee, a distinguished local artist, painted the figures which adorn the altar. He also painted the large scene of Jesus on the shore of Lake Galilee calling James and John to follow him and become “fishers of men.” On the right side of the altar is affixed a memorial plaque dedicating the altar to the glory of God and in memory of Harriet Welles-Lee Lee (sic) 1850–1914.


“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.” Luke 24:50


In the center of the altar front stands Jesus, raising his arms heavenward, likely at the moment of his Ascension when he blessed his disciples and commanded them to spread the Good News over all the earth. On either side of our Lord are disciples who obeyed Christ’s command and brought the Christian faith to the British Isles from the third to the seventeenth century. On both ends of the altar (not shown in photo) are representations of eighteenth century men who led our country and the Episcopal Church at the time those institutions were founded. George Washington on the right and Samuel Seabury on the left, our first President and our first Bishop, represent the American fruits of those who evangelized the British Isles.


THOMAS A BECKET 1118–1170 (Position 1, front)

The first figure at the left position on the altar is Thomas a Becket, Becket dressed in the red vestments of a martyr Bishop. Becket was educated in law in England and then inParis, Bologna and Auxerre. King Henry II appointed Becket as Chancellor in 1155. A brilliant administrator, diplomat, and military strategist, Becket aided the king in building royal power. Henry hoped to bolster royal control of the church by appointing Becket Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Becket, however, embraced his new duties devoutly and opposed royal domination of the church. A rift grew between Becket and the king, and when Henry summoned Becket to trial, Becket fled to France. He remained in exile until 1170, when he returned to Canterbury. He was then murdered in the cathedral by four of King Henry’s knights. Becket is not commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of saints.

LANCELOT ANDREWES 1555- 1626 (Position 2, front)

Lancelot Andrewes served successively as Bishop of Chichester, Ely and Winchester and oversaw the translation of the Authorized Version (or King James Version) of the Bible. He was known for his vigorous preaching and his defense of Protestantism against the Romanists and was a close consultant to King James. Andrewes was pivotal in developing a distinctive Anglican theology “reasonable in outlook and Catholic in tone.” He maintained a clear distinction between what is fundamental, needing ecclesiastical commands, and subsidiary, needing only ecclesiastical guidance. His best-known work is the Manual of Private Devotions. His feast day is October 25.

DUNSTAN 909–988 (Position 3, front)

Dustan was Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worchester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. He restored monastic life in England, reformed the English Church, and served as an important minister of state to several English kings. Dunstan became famous as a musician, illuminator, and metalworker. Dunstan went to Rome in 960. On his journey there, Dunstan’s charities were so lavish as to leave nothing for himself and his attendants. On his return from Rome, Dunstan became virtual prime minister of the kingdom. The monks in his communities were taught to live in a spirit of self-sacrifice, and Dunstan actively enforced the law of celibacy. He forbade selling ecclesiastical offices for money and ended the custom of clerics appointing relatives to offices. Parish priests were urged to teach parishioners not only the truths of the Christian faith, but also useful trades to improve their position. Good order was maintained throughout the realm and there was respect for the law and peace in the kingdom. A famous story relates how Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the devil’s hoof when he was asked to reshoe the devil’s horse. This caused the devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe after the devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door (the origin of the lucky horseshoe). Dunstan is the patron saint of goldsmiths, silversmiths, and bell ringers. His feast day is May 19, which is why the date year on English silver hallmarks runs from May 19th to May 18th and not the calendar year.

CUTHBERT c. 634–687 (Position 4, front)

Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, a monk and bishop in the kingdom of Northumbria, an area that encompassed northeast England and southeast Scotland, was renowned for his piety, diligence, and obedience. Cuthbert spent much time among the people, ministering to their spiritual needs, carrying out missionary journeys, preaching, and performing miracles. His asceticism was complemented by his charm and generosity to the poor, and his reputation for gifts of healing and insight led many people to consult him. In 676 Cuthbert retired to a cave on one of the Farne Islands and became a hermit. In 684, he was elected Bishop of Lindisfarne. Legend has it that when Cuthbert’s burial casket was opened 11 years after his death, his body was perfectly preserved. His feast day is March 20.

JESUS CHRIST (Center front)

COLUMBA 521–597 (Position 6, front)

Columba was an Irish missionary monk who introducted Christianity to the Picts, a Celtic tribe in Scotland. He is credited with revitalizing monasticism in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. In 563, Columba and 12 companions traveled in coracles (small lightweight boats) from Ireland to Iona, off the coast of Scotland. There Columba established a monastery, provided the only center of literacy in the region, and served as a diplomat among the tribes. There are also many stories of miracles that he performed. Columba was a renowned man of letters, having written several hymns and transcribed 300 books. Columba is the patron saint of bookbinders and poets. His feast day is June 9.

NINIAN 360 ? –432 ? (Position 7, front)

Ninian was a Brtiton who studied in Rome For 15 years, was ordained priest and bishop, and returned home to evangelize southern Scotland, laying a solid foundation for the Church there. Around 397, Ninian built his great monastery, the White House, so called because the stone work was unusual in an era of wooden churches. It was probably the first Christian settlement in Scotland and is now known as Whithorn Abbye. Ninian is revered as a miracle worker who cured a neighboring chieftain of blindness. Ninian’s feast day is September 16.

ALBAN c. 3rd century A.D. (Position 8, front)

Alban was a Roman soldier and Christian convert who lived at Verulamium (now St Albans, England). During a persecution of Christians in the 3rd century, Alban sheltered a fugitive priest in his home, put on the priest’s garments and delivered himself to the authorities in the priest’s stead. Alban was taken before a magistrate and sentenced to death, making Alban the first Christian martyr in England. St Albans Cathedral now stands at the reputed place of his beheading. Several legends are associated with Alban’s execution,such as the story that the executioner was so impressed by Alban’s faith that he converted to Christianity on the spot and refused to kill him. Another executioner was quickly found but his eyes dropped out of his head when he did the deed and the first executioner was then killed, becoming the second British Christian martyr. Alban’s feast day is June 22.

WILLIAM OF WYKEHAM 1320?–1404 (Position 9, front)

William of Wykeham was born to a peasant family and educated at a school in Winchester. He was appointed Justice and became secretary to the constable of Winchester Castle where he learned much about building. This led to architectural work for King Edward III, for whom he reconstructed Windsor Castle. William was paid for these services by being given the incomes of various churches, and eventually, in 1362, he was ordained. In 1363 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal and then elected Bishop of Winchester, and in 1367, Chancellor of England. William’s motto “Manners Makyth Man,” was adopted by the institutions he founded, Winchester College and New College, Oxford. William is not commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of saints.

SAMUEL SEABURY 1729-1796 (Left side of altar)

Handwriting on our altar identifies this figure as Alfred the Great, but it is clearly Samuel Seabury. Samuel Seabury was the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the first Bishop of Connecticut. Born in Ledyard, Connecticut, Seabury graduated from Yale, studied theology and medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland; was ordained priest in 1753, and served as rector of parishes in New Jersey and New York. In 1783, ten Episcopal clergy in Woodbury, Connecticut elected Seabury bishop. As there were no Anglican bishops in the Americas to consecrate him, he sailed to London. Yet his consecration was impossible there as well, because he could no longer take the oath of allegiance to the King. Seabury then turned to the Scottish Episcopal Church and was consecrated in Aberdeen in 1784, with the condition he would work for the adoption of the Scottish Rite of Holy Communion. In 1785, Seabury became rector of St James Church in New London. His "Communion Office," was based on the Scottish Book of Common Prayer rather than the 1662 liturgy in use in the Church of England. Seabury also argued for the restoration of the weekly celebration of Holy Communion on Sunday rather than the infrequent observance that had become customary in most Protestant churches after the Reformation. Seabury’s feast day is November 14.

GEORGE WASHINGTON 1732–1799 (Right of altar)

George Washington served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797 and as the first commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. He is highly revered by Americans as the "Father of Our Country". Washington presided over the Philadelphia Convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He sought to create a nation capable of surviving in a world torn asunder by war; his Proclamation of Neutrality provided a basis for avoiding involvement in foreign conflicts. He supported plans to build a strong central government by funding the national debt, implementing an effective tax system, and creating a national bank. Washington’s farewell address was a primer on republican virtue and a stern warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars. Washington was baptized in Virginia as a member of the Church of England and served on the vestry of several parishes. He became a Freemason in 1752. Throughout his life, Washington spoke of the value of righteousness, and of seeking and offering thanks for the blessings of Heaven. He was an early supporter of religious toleration and freedom of religion. In 1790, Washington wrote to the Touro Synagogue, Newport, condemning bigotry and praying that “everyone should sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree … [with] none to make him afraid.”

Praying Girl




Cockles are bivalve mollusks, of which the scallop (coquille in French) is a good example.  The scallop shell is the traditional emblem of James, son of Zebedee and has long been the badge of pilgrims on the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. By tradition, Compostela is the burial place of St. James’ remains.


Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to James’ shrine often wore a scallop shell symbol on their hat or clothes. The pilgrims also carried a scallop shell with them, and would present themselves at churches, castles, abbeys, etc., where they could expect to be given as much sustenance as they could pick up with one scoop. Thus even the poorest household could give charity without being overburdened. The scallop shell still serves today as a marker of directions and inns for modern pilgrims.


The association of Saint James with the scallop can likely be traced to the legend that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallops. An alternate version of the legend holds that while St. James’ remains were being transported to Spain from Jerusalem, the horse of a knight fell into the water, and emerged covered in the shells.


The scallop shell became the symbol of the crusaders of the Order of Saint James. They earned the right to emblazon their family shield (coat of arms) with a cockle shell.


In Spanish, the name St. James is Santiago and in French, St. Jacques.  In France, a dish made of scallops with mushrooms in a white wine sauce and served in scallop shells is called coquilles St. Jacques.


The shell above was photographed by parishioner Neil Clark in Vézelay, France.  It is a  bronze way point marker set in the pavement of the street marking the path to Santiago de Compostela.

Praying Girl