With more than 3,000 square feet of murals and frescos on its ceiling and walls, Kingston’s Holy Trinity Cathedral is, undoubtedly, the most beautiful church in Jamaica and one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean. It covers 12,600 square feet.
Like a beacon, its 85′ copper dome guides the faithful to its doors. Holy Trinity Cathedral was built in 1911 to replace the original Roman Catholic church that was constructed in 1811 and destroyed by earthquake in 1907.
The new building, of Byzantine architecture, was commissioned in 1908 by the Catholic community and U.S. Bishop John Collins. It was designed and constructed by Walker-Fyche, a Canadian company at a cost of US$150,000. The artwork was created by Jesuit Lay Brother Francis Schroen. It is believed to be one of the largest of his work.
Sadly, the murals were painted over in the 1970s either because they had deteriorated over the years and there were no funds to restore them, or in response to liturgical trends following Vatican II, they were considered a distraction.
Whatever the explanation, the cathedral was in serious disrepair. When restoration began in 2008, it was discovered that the murals had been buried under ten coats of grey paint. Many of the stained glass windows that had been destroyed by hurricane in 1951 had not been replaced, the baldachin had been removed, the ceiling and pews were infested with termites, and the organ – only five of its kind exist in the Caribbean — did not work.
Restoration of Holy Trinity Cathedral begun under the leadership of master restorer Professor Antonio Sanchez-Barriga Fernandez of Spain and a team that included 32 young people from the community. The painstaking work continues.
The day I visited, the doors were closed so I walked the grounds taking photos of the exterior. I had started back to the car when someone called and offered to let me in. I gasped when I saw the interior. Though I had seen photos, they didn’t prepare me for the remarkable tableau in front of me. Except for the floor and pews, every surface was decorated. I didn’t know where to start and fumbled the camera several times. My ‘guide,’ one of the trainees, heard my running comments on the beauty of the artwork and invited me to Mass that Sunday so that I could see the cathedral when it is decorated and illuminated. I promised to return.
The ceiling and most of the walls have been restored. New stained glass panels featuring Catholic saints and icons like Saint Josephine Bakhita of the Sudan, Saint Martin de Porres of Peru and Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian slave who purchased his freedom and went on to contribute significantly to raising funds for the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, have been installed.
As I was preparing to leave, the current restorer arrived and offered to show me one of the walls that was being worked on. Several layers of paint were still left to be removed.
Holy Trinity Cathedral has welcomed the Pope and is the venue for many official services and funerals. In 2000, the Jamaican Government named Holy Trinity to the register of historic places.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
1 George Headley Drive at North Street
Sunday Mass: 8:30 a.m.
This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.