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Dr. Rebecca Tortello

Special Thanks to Alex Lee, Victor Chang and Danesh Maragh for their help with this piece.

IT HAS been said that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world. The number of places of worship in Kingston alone certainly supports that theory. As the capital and one of the island's oldest cities, Kingston probably has the oldest and widest variety of religious institutions of different denominations, including not only different Christian faiths but Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Many of them are located in the small geographical area known as downtown Kingston. They share the distinction of having existed prior to the earthquake of 1907 and, with the exception of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Port Royal, all were rebuilt following that catastrophe.

Kingston's, and indeed all of the island's places of worship, are important for the part they have played in Jamaica's social history, serving as a cornerstone in many cases of the education system, as meeting places for people from different social strata, and as modes of advancement for Jamaican men and women. They are also testimony to the island's architectural and cultural diversity as well as the depth of its people's religious faith.


ANDREW SMITH /PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR - The massive Coke Methodist Church was erected in 1840 and is one of three Kingston churches which survived the disastrous 1907 earthquake
with little damage.

Nearby at East Parade on the eastern side of St. William Grant Park, stands Coke Methodist Church, named after Dr. Thomas Coke, founder of the Methodist Mission in Jamaica.

The first chapel, a remodelled merchant's house, opened in 1790 on the present-day site. Its future looked bleak, however, as the government of those days frowned on missionary activity. There even came a time when the Coke Church had to shut down, dubbed as it was by the grand jury, "injurious to the peace and quiet of the said town" (Senior, pp 120-1). It stayed closed for seven years but when it reopened it did so with a great presence ­ its membership had trebled. It, too, was destroyed by the earthquake of 1907, and the present red brick building built on the same site. It stands as one of Kingston's few brick buildings ­ the use of brick not being encouraged after the earthquake (Senior, p. 120, Curtain, pp. 94-5).

An historical point of interest ­ many aspiring politicians have used the landmark as platform from which to deliver rousing speeches, particularly during the 1930s.



Holy Trinity Cathedral, the principal Roman Catholic church in the island, was opened for service in 1911 to replace the previous structure destroyed by the 1907 earthquake. It is located on North Street in downtown Kingston.

Also close by stands the site of the city's first Roman Catholic Church, built in 1810 by a Spanish merchant on the northwestern corner of Sutton and Duke streets. It was a modest brick building in size but its reach was far as it boasted a congregation of some 2,000. Destroyed in the earthquake of 1907, Empty Picture Box the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, the present Roman Catholic Church on North Street, is its replacement. It is Kingston's largest church and the mother church of the Catholic community. Unlike Kinston Parish and Coke Methodist churches, the Roman Catholics did not rebuild in the same location. Instead, five weeks after the earthquake, a new location was found for the 12,000-square foot building ­ adjoining Winchester Park, the Jesuit headquarters. It opened amid great fanfare in 1911. Crowds of thousands appeared, including the island's elite. Fund-raising was coordinated by Bishop F.C. Collins who raised money locally and abroad (Curtain, p. 95). The Cathedral's large rose windows, massive reinforced concrete walls reaching up 26m to its striking copper dome make it one of Kingston's most attractive buildings (Senior, p. 232).

An historical point of interest ­ it was designed by New York-based architect Raymond Admiral and built by the Canadian company of Walker-Fyche at a cost of US$150,000 (Curtain, p. 95, Senior, p. 232).



ANDREW SMITH/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR - Kingston Parish Church, in Parade, Kingston, has served as the state church of the island from the 17th century. It is believed to have been established before 1699, which is the date of the oldest tomb in the church today.

Described by historian Edward Long as "a large elegant building," one of the oldest and certainly the one most associated with the parish, the Kingston Parish Church has served as the state church of the island from the 17th century. During that time, as in other British colonies, the established church in Jamaica was the Church of England.

Plans for the state church formally known as the Parish Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, were included on the southeastern side of the grid like map of the city drawn by John Goffe. Better known as the Kingston Parish Church, its
actual date of establishment is unknown, but it is believed to have been before 1699, which is the date of the oldest tomb in the church today.

It is further believed that the church may date from the original establishment of the city following the Port Royal earthquake of 1692. This 17th century building had a seating capacity of 13,000 (Curtain, pp. 93-4).


In the 17th century its parishioners were largely free blacks and free coloureds ­ many of whom would stay in church all day so as to ensure their participation in morning and evening services.

As a result of its location, the church has borne witness to many of the island's historic events.

The original building was devastated during the 1907 earthquake, and the present building was built on its foundation in a style similar to the original church, with the exception of the tower. The present church was consecrated at the corner of King Street near the Parade in 1911. The church organ, built in 1722, represents a tangible link to its past.

The church is held in great affection by its parishioners as is evidenced by the gifts that adorn its altar, including the Pieta by artist Susan Alexander in the Lady Chapel, the Madonna and Child by Osmond Watson with the carving of the Angel by Edna Manley on the nave. The Statue of Mary and the Statue of St. Thomas are gifts of the Chinese and Syrian communities respectively ­ many of whom either converted to Christianity or came to the island as Christians.

An historical point of interest is the fact that its Clock Tower, built after World War I in memory of those who died in service to king and country, is said to have given rise to the saying that describes true Kingstonians ­ "Those born under the clock," meaning those born within sight of the Church's Clock Tower (Senior, p. 268).


Not too far away, in the heart of the Duke Street business district, stands the Scots Kirk Church which held the distinction of being Jamaica's main Presbyterian Church. Today, it is a congregation of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (Senior, p. 435).

Originally built in 1819 at a cost of £12,000, the octagonal stone and brick building boasted stately mahogany pillars.
In 1821 visiting artist James Hakewill dubbed it Jamaica's handsomest building. Like many of Kingston's churches, the church was rebuilt on its original foundations following the 1907 earthquake. The new building was made shorter than the first. Funds for the rebuilding were raised locally and in Scotland, with the Jamaican government also providing some financial support.

In 1939, the congregation of St. Andrew's Kirk (located at the corner of East Queen Street and John's Lane) merged with the Scots Kirk church, ending a separation based mainly on the different social status of each of the founders. The church then became formally known as St. Andrew's Scots Kirk.

An historical point of interest ­ the church has made a major contribution to Jamaican choral music, as it was home to the St. Andrew singers. Its organ is said to be one of the finest in the region (Senior, pp. 435-6).

Sources: Chen, J. (2002). "The Chinese in Jamaica" in A tapestry of Jamaica ­ The best of Skywritings, Air Jamaica's in-flight magazine. Kingston: Creative Communications Ltd. and Oxford: Macmillan Publishers. p. 367-369, Curtain, M. (2003). "Historic Kingston churches ­ Some places of worship in the old city of Kingston," in A tapestry of Jamaica ­ The best of Skywritings. Kingston: Creative Communications, Ltd and Oxford: Macmillan Publishers. pp. 93-96, Senior, O. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Kingston: Twin Guinep Publishers, pp. 120-121,257, 268-9, 435-6, 462, Sherlock, P. and Bennett, H. (1998). The story of the Jamaican people. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, Tom Yin, L. 91963). The Chinese in Jamaica. Falmouth: Carib Metal Works Ltd., p. 10.

* Please see Part II on April 3 when we will look at St. Peter Anglican Church, the Jewish Synagogue, the Chinese Temple and the Sanatan Dharma Mandair Temple.


* If any readers have information regarding the development of aviation in Jamaica please email Rebecca Tortello at rtortello@hotmail.com

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Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

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The First 500 years in Jamaica

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A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted December 5, 2005
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