The Awesome Splendor of Kingston’s Holy Trinity Cathedral

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral
Holy Trinity Cathedral

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, Jamaica

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston Jamaica
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston Jamaica

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.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston Jamaica
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston Jamaica

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.

Restoration detail, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston Jamaica
Restoration detail, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston Jamaica

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.





44 comments on “The Awesome Splendor of Kingston’s Holy Trinity Cathedral

  1. Nice place – I like the Toussaint stained glass the best. I’m assuming this is a catholic cathedral – Are Jamaicans primarily catholic?

  2. Wow! I love churches, they have such a history and this one is fantastic. I laughed at your ‘fumbled with the camera’ as I have had similar moments when I was so taken, or awestruck that I seemed to lose control of my ability to aim and shoot. I love those moments and you’ve conveyed it well. . .the photos make me feel like I was right there with you. (Wish I had been!)

  3. What a stunning church – the stained glass is incredible! Painting over murals is such a sad thing – I’m glad to hear the process of restoring the artwork is under way. Have you been to the mass yet?

  4. Marcia – what a truly lovely church and Lady Luck seemed to have been on your side that day. Great that you were able to see the inside (I understand why you gasped) and the restoration work in progress. It’s always mind boggling to me how little thought goes into painting over works of art. At least it’s being restored.

  5. The stained glass windows and dome ceiling are quite beautiful! I also like seeing the restoration detail. It’s wonderful that these churches are maintained so well.

  6. That’s beautiful restoration work, and you did such a good job with the interior–particularly the dome. I never seem to be able to capture interiors of cathedrals and basilicas.

  7. Thanks, Vera. I wish I had some tips to share but this time I just put it on automatic. I didn’t want to have to worry about messing up the shots.
    They are doing quite a thorough job with the restoration, I can’t wait to return.

  8. I love visiting churches and cathedrals no matter where we go because there’s so much history to them and it almost feel like a museum. The details of the dome and all that stained glass decor are beautiful. Great job with the pictures. How wonderful that they are able to restore most of the walls.

  9. The work is absolutely beautiful, i can’t imagine what they were thinking and why there was no public discussion. Like you, I’m happy that they’re restoring it, Leigh, and glad that I was able to see it.

  10. Yes, it’s Catholic. You know, there was a time when the Catholic church was the church to go but I read recently — couldn’t remember where so I checked Google — that the Church of God (I think it’s Pentecostal) now has 24% of the population to the Catholic church’s 2%. Not sure when that shift took place.

  11. They’ve sure got a lot of work ahead of them still, but the parts that they’ve already restored look fantastic. I can understand some of the old trains of thought though. If I was going to mass there, I’d be petty easily distracted by all the amazing artwork.

  12. You’ve captured this gorgeous church well. Like Vera, I find it difficult to get good shots of the so frequently stunning interiors of cathedrals and chapels. Never can seem to get the light quite right…

    Are Jamaicans in general religious?

  13. Oh wow, this looks huge. I really like that it seems very much like a typical church, yet totally has a local flavor to it.

  14. Thanks, Sophie, I think I lucked out though. We do have an overwhelming number of churches, most people observe a Sunday or Saturday sabbath and the major religious holidays. I guess that could mean that we’re religious — hahaha, I had to think about that!

  15. I agree, Steve. Hahaha, who’d pay attention to what the priest’s saying when the walls and ceilings are probably so much more attractive?

  16. What a beautiful job they’re doing with the restoration! I’m glad you were able to capture it in your photos. So sad about the murals being painted over, but it looks like the restoration is coming along nicely.

  17. Stunning piece of architecture. Loved the way the inside is decked up. The high walls, the colorful walls and the paintings…
    Also loved the colored glass.
    Thanks for sharing the place. Have a wonderful weekend Marcia:)

  18. That ceiling looks gorgeous! I can imagine it would take a lot of effort in maintenance? But it looks worth it 🙂 It’s good you’re allowed to take photos inside the church. In some churches I visited in Europe, picture-taking wasn’t allowed 🙁

  19. Great shots. I rarely end up posting my photos of churches as I’m never happy with how they turn out, similar to what Vera and Sophie said.

  20. That’s interesting, Laurel. Until Vera and Sophie mentioned it, I didn’t realize it was a problem. I’ve been lucky as most times mine have come out fine.

  21. The church is truly a beautiful sight!! The painted windows, the patterns on the ceiling, everything is just amazing!! I have no words to explain! I love how the colours make this place so beautiful!

  22. Wonderfully shown, Marcia. Interesting that you mention Saint Martin de Porres, because we came across a statue of him in the entrance to a monastery in Cusco. We also visited the well known St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York just a little over a week ago, but I didn’t know there was an old one.

  23. Thanks, Andrew. I had no idea about the original St. Patrick’s until I was researching Pierre Toussaint. I’d love to see that statue of Saint Martin. Do you have photos?

  24. Hi Marcia.

    Yes, I took a photo. Perhaps I’ll be able to include it in a near future Cusco post. If I don’t end up doing that, I’ll get it to you personally.

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