It's distinct light blue dome is, for many, like the north point on a compass, confirming one's location in Kingston, Jamaica. But, for a whole flock of Christians the Holy Trinity Cathedral is “mother” church. And, February 8, 2021 marks 110 years that this edifice has been serving this double purpose standing in the same spot.
The church itself — Kingston's first Roman Catholic Church — pre-dates these stated years, having originally been constructed in 1810 at the north-west corner of Sutton and Duke streets by a Spanish merchant. That building was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake. The decision was taken to not rebuild at that site and North Street became the new location.
The History of the Catholic Church in Jamaica by Francis Osbourne reports that the event to consecrate the present 12,600-square-foot building involved great fanfare on February 8, 1911 and was attended by thousands, including the island's elite.
The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity boasts massive reinforced concrete walls reaching up 26 metres (85 feet) to its striking copper dome. Designed by Raymond F Admiral, it showcases Romanesque and Byzantine architectural features. The interior was enriched by Brother Francis C Schroen, SJ, a native of Bavaria whose artistry is displayed in the hemispherical interior of the cupola from which rays of light emerge as though from some distant point in the open heavens.
Rector of the cathedral for the last three years, Fr Kingsley Asphall, told the Jamaica Observer the building stands as a visual manifestation of hope for the community; that “whatever happens, the sight of the cathedral evokes stability”.
Over the years, Asphall reports, the ministry of the Word and the witness of the coming of the Kingdom of God remain, “but the outreach, in the time of COVID-19, involves largely meeting the physical needs of the community, which involves issuing care packages and other needed supplies”.
The cathedral is the seat of the archbishop of Kingston. Kenneth Richards, the present archbishop, is the seventh holder of the office. Before him were Charles Dufour, Donald Reece, Lawrence Burke, Edgerton Clarke, Samuel Carter, and Joseph McEleney.
The original magnificence of the cathedral is today only memorialised in photographs, but a mission of restoration is ongoing.
The interior walls had been painted over in a former dispensation. Stories vary as to the reason, as some say the over 3,000 feet of inlaid decorative murals and mosaic artwork had deteriorated, while others say, in response to liturgical trends following Vatican II, they were considered a distraction.
A team, however, worked thousands of hours to disentomb — tile by tile — the grandeur of the artistry that lay beneath the grey paint. Much of the work took place when Richards was rector of the cathedral.
The major work started in 2006 when then Spanish Ambassador to Jamaica Jesús Silva spearheaded a project that would see a partnership created with NCB Foundation, local architects and craftsmen, along with others of the community, including some students from Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, to uncover and repair the mosaic. Among those enlisted was international restoration expert Professor Antonio Sanchez-Barriga, who trained locals in the diligent tasks required.
Notable among the improvements made was the inclusion of culturally relevant imagery in the stained glass windows. Among the black and/or mixed race individuals now represented are Josephine Bakhita of Sudan, who was enslaved for 45 years, became a nun after being freed, and is patron saint in the fight against human trafficking — today is also her feast day; St Martin de Porres of Peru, patron of the poor; Haitian philanthropist Pierre Toussaint; Peter Claver, patron saint of slaves; St Vincent de Paul; and Juan Diego of Guadeloupe.
The Archdiocese of Kingston has drafted a strategic development plan for the years 2020- 2030 that will see more work done to the building. The theme of the plan is 'Eucharistic People: Building the Kingdom of God'.
This impressive structure has been host to many national occasions of celebration and farewell. Among the list are the memorial service when the body of National Hero Marcus Garvey was brought home in 1964; a service commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II to Jamaica (1993); the funerals of prime ministers Sir Alexander Bustamante (1977), Michael Manley (1997), Edward Seaga (2019); and that of Governor General Sir Howard Cooke (2014).
The Holy Trinity Cathedral was declared a national heritage monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust on January 7, 2000.
Despite the growth and development of the city, the cathedral still holds the distinction of being Kingston's largest church building, seating over 1,300 comfortably in its wooden pews. It continues to be the site of many national occasions of worship. Within its walls are secured much historical and cultural patrimony of independent Jamaica.
A mass celebrating the anniversary will begin at 12:15 pm today.