This 166 square mile island of Barbados with a population of around 280,000 people has over three hundred churches catering to about a hundred different denominations. English settlers arrived in 1625 and brought with them their Christian religion, mainly Anglicanism. They eventually established churches in all eleven parishes on the island. There was a small number of Jews and Quakers who arrived in the early to mid 1600’s however, Anglicanism became the predominant faith and remains so today. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to gain access to the interior of all of the churches.
ST. JOHN PARISH.
St. John’s Parish Church sits on a ridge that overlooks the East coast of the island. As with most if not all of the parish churches, it started out as a simple wooden structure in the 1600’s which was built and rebuilt as hurricanes ravaged the island throughout the years. The final rebuild in 1836 is the fifth. This more permanent structure in a simple gothic style is what you see today. In the cemetery, the graves of a former Prime Minister, the Honourable David Thompson and Ferdinando Paleologus, a descendant of the last Christian Emperor of Greece can be viewed. The interior has beautiful stained-glass windows, a pulpit carved from six different types of wood and two curved wooden staircases on either side of the entrance.
ST. JOSEPH PARISH.
St. Joseph’s Parish Church like all the island churches has such a tragic history. This was the last of the parish churches to be established. The first church built sometime in the 1640’s was damaged by a hurricane in 1789 and completely destroyed by the great hurricane of 1831 which resulted in thousands of deaths. The present church was built in 1839 in Horse Hill just beneath Hackleton’s cliff and had spectacular views of the east coast. Unfortunately, this part of the island is prone to land slippage and this once grand structure is now deemed irreparably damaged and unsafe because of large cracks in the walls and foundation. It has been deconsecrated.
ST. PHILIP PARISH.
The St. Philip church was not spared the ravages of hurricanes throughout the years. Built in 1640, rebuilt in 1786 and again in 1836. In the cemetery there are two massive centuries old silk cotton trees. Legend has it that there is a grave where a slave and master are buried together but we couldn’t verify it.
Across the road from the church there were several Quaker burial grounds. Most of that area has been developed but we did find the remains of one of the sites. A peek through the window of one of the crypts reveals the sight of a lead coffin and some bones.
ST. ANDREW PARISH.
St. Andrew’s parish church established in 1630 was one of the few churches that survived the great hurricane of 1831, however, it fell into a state of disrepair and was almost demolished. With some pressure from the parishioners, it was subsequently rebuilt around 1846 and this majestic building which resembles those that dot the English countryside, fits in nicely at this location in the rugged eastern part of the island.
ST. MICHAEL PARISH.
In the capital of Bridgetown is where you’ll find St. Michael’s Cathedral. Built in 1665. this coral stone church has seen its fair of hurricanes throughout the years and has survived with minimal damage. The interior has beautiful stained-glass windows and wooden ceiling in the chancel, it also boasts the largest pipe organ in the Caribbean. There’s a caretaker on site so access to the interior is easy.
In the cemetery you’ll find the graves of former Prime Ministers, members of the clergy, businessmen and other historical public figures. As you walk through the cemetery, you can’t help but notice the ages of the departed, life expectancy in those days wasn’t very high.
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ST. THOMAS PARISH.
This church located in the center of the island in one of the two land locked parishes, the other being St. George. Those early churches were often constructed of wood and were no match for the hurricanes that would ravage the island. The current stone building which represents the third rebuild is dated to 1836. The original church was established in 1629. There are several civic organizations affiliated with this church and services are live streamed as well.
ST. GEORGE PARISH.
Built between 1637 and 1641, the original church was destroyed by the hurricane of 1780. The building that stands today is the rebuild of 1784 and one of only four churches that survived the storm of 1831. With its striking Georgian architecture, this solid structure has stood the test of time.
Hanging behind the altar is the painting “Rise to power” by the noted 18th century painter American Benjamin West. Many of his works adorn the walls of Buckingham Palace. This piece was commissioned especially for the church and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1786. On arrival in Barbados, the painting was placed in storage after a falling out between the Rector (Reverend) and the president of the Council that commissioned the piece. It remained there for 30 years and was finally installed in 1820.
ST. LUCY PARISH
This church is one of the original six that dates to the 1620’s. With its red roof and Georgian inspired architecture, this church really stands out in the surrounding landscape as you approach it. With a seating capacity of about 750 parishioners, this is one of the larger parish churches.
ST. JAMES PARISH
This, the oldest church on the island was established as a wooden building in 1628 by the early settlers who landed not very far from this location in Holetown. Located on what is called “God’s acre”, the current stone structure (est. 1690’s) replaced the earlier wooden building, which was destroyed by you guessed it, a hurricane.
The church bell and the American Liberty bell were made by the same company in England. There’s an inscription on the bell that reads “God bless King William 1696” The St James Church bell predates the US Liberty bell by fifty-six years. Legend has it that one hour before service, the north gate would be opened, the bell would be rung to drive out the devil and once closed, service could begin.
ST. PETER PARISH.
This is the church I attended when I was a youth. It has a similar style to the St.Thomas church, simple and understated. St. Peter was one of the original six parishes and the church was established in 1629 in Speightstown, the northernmost and second largest town. The annual flower and garden festival is one of the “can’t miss” events that’s held here.
CHRIST CHURCH PARISH.
the original wooden church was built at a different location in Dover along the coast in 1629. It was destroyed by a flood in 1669 and washed out to sea. The current location is more inland and at a higher elevation. Throughout the years, hurricanes and fire have all had an impact on this church. What you see today, is the fifth church, circa 1935. On the day of our visit, we couldn’t gain access but will try in the future. There’s a beautifully hand carved pulpit and other furnishings made from local mahogany that I’d love to see.
The Chase family vault and the mystery of the moving coffins had gone on for decades. Whenever the vault was unsealed for the interment of a family member, the previous coffin would be out of place. This continued for several years, coffins would be scattered about, some overturned. This unsolved mystery led to the removal and reburial of the family in a different area of the cemetery.
Read more of the history of the Chase Vault HERE.
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