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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.

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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.

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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.

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