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Eastern Caribbean Cathedrals

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

The last post reported on my visits to the seven cathedrals on Puerto Rico that I hadn't seen during my 1999 trip to the commonwealth territory. After five days exploring, I boarded the Norwegian Cruise Line Epic in San Juan. From the fifteenth deck I could see back across the bay from Isla Grande to the Church of Saint Augustine. I was striving to spot and potentially take an aerial shot of either the Metropolitan Cathedral (RC in Old San Juan) or the Episcopal Cathedral in the subbario of Santurce. Not possible, but I got a nice picture of Iglesia San Agustin before the ship left port Sunday evening.

Monday morning found us in the port of Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas. My preparation research included the locations of both cathedrals and a historic synagogue. The port is actually about a mile east of the capital's downtown, but with no other plans, I decided to walk along the waterfront. I started at St Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Episcopal see.

Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

The front gates were locked, and I feared not gaining entry. However, I found a side door open and walked into the dark interior. Ornate, its beauty was still visible despite shuttered windows. No air conditioning, but a gentle cross breeze kept it from being stifling. There was a lovely fresco on the ceiling above the main altar, with the rest of the nave ceiling being also illustrated. I also admired a stain glass doorway.

Heading towards the Roman Catholic cathedral, I spotted the sign pointing to the synagogue. Called the St Thomas Synagogue, (or the Hebrew Congregation of St Thomas) I needed to wait while the previous tour completed, at which point I was admitted and given a solo private tour.

The woman, originally from NYC, spent about half an hour explaining the history of the building, the second oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, with a sand floor to remember the roots of worship in the deserts of the Middle East and Africa. She opened to display the seven scrolls of the Torah, two having come from the older synagogue in Curacao, and a Sephardic wooden casing.

My explorations took me down and then up gentle hills, past a solid Reformed Church founded in 1668, to reach the Cathedral Church of All Saints. Built of stone and mortar, I had gained access through the school gate to climb the side stairs next to a bell tower to enter the church.

Cathedral Church of All Saints, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

The interior is very simple, with open wood beams supporting the wood roof. White walls with a upper level over the rear and side pews, crystal chandeliers would provide lighting during services. After prayers for my mother and grandfather, I left and headed back to the waterfront.

On my way I stopped in what purported to be a brewery. Just opening, they didn't have any beer on tap, but I got a can of Island Hoppin' IPA to support them. Once outside, a brief 15-minute shower had me standing under cover before wending my way back to the port. The USCG ship which had been restocking with food (the sailors were in bucket brigade format) had left, so I headed to the Epic for a late lunch and some further exploration on board.

Tuesday morning found us in the port of Philipsburg on Sint Maarten. Since neither the Dutch or French side have a cathedral, I enjoyed the day by taking an excursion which include a bay cruise on a catamaran and a visit to Marigot, the French capital. On the map above, St Martin is directly below the label for Anguilla.

St John's on Antigua was our port-of-call on Wednesday, in the northwest corner of the island. From the pier, the twin spires of the Cathedral of St John the Divine in Antigua were visible, giving me an easy target for my stroll to the church. Climbing a hill, the church grounds are raised above the lower street level with a serious stone wall and iron fencing.

Cathedral of St John the Divine in Antigua

I had to walk halfway around the grounds to find the entry gate. A substantial and impressive stone exterior houses an interior of brilliant red stained pine wood. In the sanctuary, the cathedra, the bishop's seat, was under a plastic sheet, stymieing my habit of collecting a picture. To the right, at a side altar, a World War I fighter plane's rotor had been converted into an overhead light. This must have been on many visitor's list, as there was a steady stream, greeted by pleasant staff inside, who insisted on face masks and sanitized hands.

Checking with the less friendly front gate staff, I was given fairly good instructions for finding Michael's Mount, the next hill over where both the hospital and the Catholic cathedral are situated. However, those directions assumed local familiarity, so I had to resort to Google Maps. Despite a lack of sidewalks, I made it up to the Holy Family Cathedral.

Holy Family Cathedral, St John's, Antigua

Built in the round, its exterior is white and roofed in black, it looked similar to my local Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Florida, as it also has a single story and is low to the ground. Unfortunately, it was locked and the staff at the manse were unable to grant me access. On one wall was an outside shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes, and a separate glass shrine across the driveway honors Fatima.

Returning down the hill to the port, I was able to find my souvenir, a hat pin, and then chased around for a bit to find a shop to replace broken bands on both watches. The $140 EC converted to $53 US, a cash transaction. Back on board, I had lunch and wrote in my journal.

On my bed was a notice indicating that the Barbados government was restricting visitors to approved excursions. As I had two, possibly three, cathedrals, another synagogue and the house of George Washington to visit, no ship's offering would accomplish this. On arrival in Bridgetown Wednesday morning, I simply ventured out once the ship was finally cleared after a slight delay. After walking through Duty Free, I was put into a taxi with a couple heading to the beach, and dropped in downtown after about a 5 minute ride. A funeral was about to start at the Anglican cathedral, so I headed off to the Catholic cathedral.

Fifteen minutes later, I approached St Patrick's Cathedral. A con-celebrated Mass was underway with three priests and a deacon assisting the celebrant, and the bishop sitting to the side in his cathedra. I quietly slipped into a rear pew and watched. The occasion was the seventy-fifth birthday of a pillar of support to the church. The woman was feted and honored by two priests and the bishop, who blessed the entire congregation as he walked down the central aisle.

The limestone interior has dark wooden pews with no padding for the seat or kneelers. Adorning the walls are regimental plaques and standards of British soldiers who had worshiped there prior to the recent granting of independence. The nave is tall, with a visible wooden roof. A parishioner pointed out an old painting of the Last Judgement which is a treasure of this cathedral. I departed after congratulating the "birthday girl" to head back into downtown.

My walk back took me past a brilliantly white, albeit closed, Bethel Methodist Church, as well as the shell of a theater and an interesting brick memorial.

Crossing a bridge over the river, a tall stone clock tower was off to the left. I was told it was St Mary's, a former church now housing part of the island's historic museum. It later proved to closed for renovations - a good reason to return?

The funeral had concluded and the church was empty. A woman was walking around, closing and locking the shutters as I wandered the Cathedral of St Michael and All Angels, taking in this magnificent church. A large pipe organ is situated in the loft over the main door, opposite the main altars.

Cathedral of St Michael and All Angels, Bridgetown, Barbados

Interestingly, cathedrae are situated on either side of the center altar - one for the archbishop and the other for the resident bishop. A "fence" of iron with gold points barred the quire from the nave - a very open, lightweight barrier that was actually very open. This felt like some of the British Anglican cathedrals I had seen in 2019, and I very much would like to attend a service there some day.

After finding the museum under repair, I figured to head back to the port, as I had forgotten about the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, and the Washington House was too far to walk for this tired boy. A taxi driver suggested that he drive me to the third "cathedral", after I mentioned it, and by the Washington House on our way to the port. He had worshiped at The People's Cathedral, a charismatic church, so he was pleased to show it off.

The People's Cathedral, Bridgetown, Barbados

A single story building with a central peaked roof and white tiling and red crosses on blue walls, the interior was filled with comfortable-looking red seating, reminiscent of a movie theater. Without a bishop, it really doesn't fulfill the strict definition of a cathedral.

On to the George Washington House, where the US first president and his brother had resided about 1750, before his military exploits of the French and Indian War and the American War for Independence. It was closed, so I was only able to see the exterior and gardens.

Back in the port, the driver asked for $40US, a bit more than the $2 I'd paid to get into town or the couple's $20 fare for the beach ride. I boarded the ship and headed to my favorite lunchtime bar for lunch. I updated my journal, reviewed my pictures, and then headed to my cabin to backup the pictures before taking a nap. Similarly to the notice for Barbados, the ship advised of similar restrictions for the next day in St Lucia; however, I had an excursion booked, so I felt a bit more reassured.

Castries, St Lucia was our next port. I had to scramble as my alarm hadn't awaken me (due to my cellphone losing an hour overnight,) but I was on the pier queuing up with what felt like half the thousand passengers from the Epic. My excursion was to the Diamond Botanical Garden and Falls. Our bus took us rapidly through Castries, passing the front doors of the sole cathedral on the island, whipped around a plaza and took off on some of the worst roads for 40km, heading south on the west side of the island. We had a stop at a lookout for the Pitons, and passed through Soufriere. I had approached the guide, and she arranged for the driver to stop briefly on our return at the square for me to get a couple of shots of the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. I was placated, but not satisfied.

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Castries, St Lucia

Delivered back to the port, we could wander the Duty Free area before boarding and a late lunch. That evening, after the regular meet-up of the solo travelers group, I had a solo dinner at The Manhattan of a delicious lamb tikka. I met up with some members of the group after I negotiated with the auction art gallery, and headed to bed.

My plans for Basseterre, St Kitts started with a tour which offered a hour ride around the island on a 30-inch (narrow) gauge railroad. Superb excursion! When we returned to the port area, I got directions for the easy walk to the Immaculate Conception Co-cathedral, across from Independence Square.

No one was in the church, more impressive from the exterior with its twin stone towers than the simple white plaster walls and columns of the interior. What caught my eye was the pair of stained glass windows near the altar - a more indigenous look to the representations of the Virgin and Child.

On the tour ride through Basseterre, we passed by a short clock tower called Trafalgar, as it mimics London. I decided to go take a picture, so headed across the square. A (relatively) tall stone tower piqued my curiosity, so I diverted my route and took a picture of what looked to be a church through the gate. Circling counterclockwise, I passed the Wesley Methodist Church, an interesting structure, walked along a stone wall taller than my six-feet, before coming to an entrance. A sign announced that this was the St George Basseterre Pro Cathedral. Not on my radar, this Anglican cathedral proved to be a bonus. Per the plaque out front, the church occupied the site of the former Roman Catholic Church of Notre Dame, destroyed in 1660.

A couple were sitting on a bench in the shade, so I asked if they had been inside. I was advised they'd found a latched but unlocked door, but hadn't entered. Far be it from me to not prowl about, I found the door and slid the bolt to gain entry. Dark, I walked down the central aisle towards the altar, finding that the architect had placed the pipe organ in the entire right transept.

I walked through town, found the clock tower in the intersection, passed through yet another duty free area and down a very long walkway to the pier and the two NCL ships in port. After boarding and passing through security (facial recognition, rather than card scans) I got lunch and updated my journal. That evening the group had dinner together and returned for a second viewing of "Burn the Floor", a dance revue theater show. Finishing up the evening at "Howl at the Moon", with dueling pianists and a third player: all three were versatile, playing drums, sax, harmonica and kazoo as they improvised our requests.

Sunday morning we were back in San Juan, and a good number of the group signed up for a tour of Old San Juan and a drop at the airport. We visited the Castillo de San Cristobal, drove near the San Felipe del Morro Castle and spent a half hour at a beach in Condado. Once at the airport, we hung out with one member who had booked a room at the Airport Hotel, due to an early flight the next morning. Gradually we all headed into the terminal and got our flights home, ending a great trip.

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