The parish of St. Barnabas was an offshoot of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral under the leadership of its former dean, the Rev. George C. Betts. The parish was officially chartered on May 3, 1869. The first church building was a small wooden structure at a location near present-day 9th and Douglas. After this building was destroyed by a tornado, a second edifice was erected at 19th and California. This building served the parish for the next 44 years. In 1915 the current property was purchased for the sum of $7,000. Architect for the new building was Charles M. Nye, who patterned the church after English Herefordshire architecture.
St. Barnabas was founded as an "Oxford Movement" parish. The Oxford Movement was a 19th century effort to rediscover the ancient Catholic roots in the liturgical life of the English Church and which called the Church back to the Social Gospel, i.e. fidelity to the call of Christ to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, care for the widows and orphans.
St. Barnabas continued in the Anglo-Catholic tradition centering its mission around the worship of Almighty God and the service of His people, especially the poor. High Mass, celebrated with traditional music and ceremonial, was offered each Sunday, and Low Mass throughout the week. Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament were held monthly. Liturgies at St. Barnabas use the traditional language of the historic Book of Common Prayer with supplemental material from the American Missal and the Anglican Service Book.
In July 2013, the clergy and people of St. Barnabas were received into the Roman Catholic Church as a congregation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Fr. Robert Scheiblhofer, the 14th Rector of the parish, was ordained a Catholic priest shortly thereafter, and he continued to serve St. Barnabas as parochial administrator. On January 1, 2017, he was succeeded by Fr. Jason Catania.
All of the wood carvings, including the pulpit and its figures, the lectern, the statue of St. Barnabas and the Rood group (the depiction of the Crucifixion which stands above the altar rail) were commissioned and carved in Oberammergau, a small town located in south-central Germany. This Bavarian town is not only known for its wood carving but also for the Passion Play presented every 10 years. The exquisite portraiture that has made Oberammergau famous is evident in the features of Christ, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John found on the pulpit.
The first and most important Della Robia relief, that of the Virgin and Child located in the front of the Nave, was installed on March 7, 1922. This piece was cast at the Cantagalli Works in Florence, Italy from an original mold of the 15th century artist, Luca Della Robia. Luca (1400?-1482) originated glazed terra-cotta bas-reliefs, usually with white figures on a blue background. Later he added glazes of many colors, especially green and yellow on wreaths of fruits and flowers around the figures. The St. Barnabas Della Robia is said to be one of only two cast from this original mold, the other being in St. Alban's, Holborn, London. Other pieces in the Della Robia Style are located over the sacristy and Lady Chapel doors and on the back wall of the Nave.
The stained glass windows which encircle the nave are from the world-renowned studio of C.E. Kemp. Kemp could well be considered the father of American ecclesiastical art glass. Windows from the studio of this artist can be found in every major Cathedral in England and throughout much of Europe as well. To this date St. Barnabas Church has one of the most comprehensive collections of Kemp windows in the world. The windows depict events in the life of Christ beginning with the Annunciation (found in the Lady Chapel) through the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. C.T. Kountze commissioned the majority of these windows as a memorial to his wife, Mary Burns Kountze. Installation began in the early 1920's.
Of further interest are the four windows on the Epistle (right) side of the Altar. Commissioned of Ernest Lakeman in 1935, these windows were installed the following year. Lakeman was a student of C.E. Kemp, a contemporary of Louis C. Tiffany, and one of the first three glass artists in the United States. Unlike his contemporaries, Lakeman preferred to work in the French medieval style, the influence of which is evident in these windows.
The side chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Walsingham. Her image is depicted in the stained glass window above the Altar.
Walsingham is one of the most famous shrines of the Virgin. In a visitation to Lady Richeldis de Faverches in 1061, Our Lady requested that a little house be constructed to duplicate her home in Nazareth which was to be a center of devotion and pilgrimage for years to come.
After Lady Faverches had received her vision of Our Lady, a spring of water gushed up indicating the spot on which the shrine should be built. Over the years, Walsingham became one of the most popular places of pilgrimage. The water there has been connected with healings and other miracles, much like those witnessed at Lourdes and Fatima. By the 1500's, it had become so popular that it's wealth was unsurpassed. This later became its down fall. Prior to the Reformation, King Henry VIII paid a visit to the shrine. Later, in 1538, he ordered the shrine closed, and its wealth appropriated for his own use. The shrine was looted and ravaged to the extent that the spring ceased to flow due to the amount of debris.
The legend continued only in popular memory until, in 1922, the Rev. Alfred Hope Patten, then rector of St. Mary's Church, Little Walsingham, found a seal depicting the image of Our Lady and began an archeological quest to locate the original shrine.