Churches of St Helena

And other religious buildings

Far away across the field; The tolling of the iron bell;
Calls the faithful to their knees; To hear the softly spoken magic spells.

‘Time’ by Pink Floyd, from Dark Side of The Moon

St Helena has historic and more modern churches to investigate

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Churches of St Helena

There are four churches on the island. In addition, the Roman Catholics and Baptists have their own places of worship.
‘Nature’s Neglected Citadel’, W Straker, 1891

Below: Important ChurchesOther religious buildingsChurchyardsPortuguese Chapel, JamestownCurious bellRelated buildingsGravestones and memorial windowsReligion on St HelenaRead More

Exploring our churches and other built heritage is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Church Opening Dates{3}

St. James’ Church, Jamestown

1774

St. Paul’s Cathedral, St Pauls

1851

‍Roman Catholic Church‍, upper Jamestown

1852

‍Baptist Church‍, Jamestown

1854

‍St. Matthew’s Church‍, Hutts Gate

1862

‍St. John’s Church‍, Jamestown

1862

‍Sandy Bay Chapel‍, Sandy Bay

1867

‍Baptist Chapel‍, Knollcombes

1875

‍Baptist Chapel‍, Head o’Wain (Blue Hill)

1918

‍Seventh Day Adventist Church‍, Jamestown

1950

‍St. Helena & The Cross Church‍, Blue Hill

1951

‍Salvation Army Hall‍, Half Tree Hollow

1951

‍St. Andrew’s Church‍, Half Tree Hollow

1962

‍St. Martin’s-in-the-Hills Church‍, High Point

1971

‍St. Mark’s Church‍, Longwood

1973

‍St. Peter’s Church‍, Sandy Bay

1976

‍Salvation Army Hall‍, Jamestown

1977

‍St. Mary’s Church‍, The Briars

1989

‍New Kingdom Hall‍, Half Tree Hollow

1993

‍New Apostolic Hall‍, Half Tree Hollow

1994

‍St. Michael’s Church‍, Ruperts

1996

‍Bahá’í Centre‍, The Gumwoods

1998

Please note: this website does not promote or advocate any faith or religious belief. Religious buildings are described below solely in terms of their interest as historic buildings or examples of more modern architecture.

Important Churches

These churches are important enough to get pages of their own:

St. James’, Jamestown

St. James’ Church, Jamestown

St. James’ Church is situated in Jamestown and is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere; the present building was put up in 1774.

St. James’, Jamestown

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral, St Pauls

St. Paul’s Cathedral is situated in St Pauls and is the official seat of the Anglican Bishop of St Helena.

Interior
{e}

St. Matthew’s Church

St. Matthew’s Church, Longwood

St. Matthew’s Church is situated in Longwood.

Interior
{e}

Other religious buildings

Hear the bell of the Jamestown Baptist Church
…one of the Sounds of St Helena

Click here to hear this audio file, or hover on the icon (right)

Most of the other churches in St Helena date from Victorian times. Sandy Bay Chapel, for example, was opened in December 1867. St. John’s Church, Jamestown opened January 1862 and St. Matthew’s the following month. Knollcombes Baptist Chapel opened in December 1875.

The Baptist Church in Jamestown was located to be near the military barracks so that the troops could be ‘ministered to’. It was completed in 1854 and includes a Meneely Foundry bell, cast in 1852 in Troy, New York. Knollcombes Baptist chapel was build by Governor Hudson Janisch. And if you want to know how the very small number of Roman Catholics on the island could afford such a substantial church, the answer is that it was paid for by the War Department because the few Roman Catholic servicemen stationed here needed a place of worship.

Many of the older churches today have metal roofs, as a result of White Ants action. Some retain their original stained glass windows. St. Mary’s, The Briars was completely reconstructed in 1989 - the photos below show the old and new churches.

Around 60% of our current churches were built since 1950, see Church Opening Dates (above).

More recently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ ‘New Kingdom Hall’ was opened on 9th January 1993. The surrounding wall was added in 2011{4}. The New Apostolic Hall (opened 27th November 1994) is the first building identifiable as any ship approaches Jamestown.

St. Michael’s, in Ruperts, was first proposed by Bishop Claughton in 1860, but was not completed until 12th May 1996. The foundation stone was laid on 18th January 1995 by Governor Hoole and the church is dedicated to the memory of Bishop Edward Cannan (1979-85). It was also at one time intended that it be built using the stone salvaged from the spire of St. James’ Church, taken down in 1980, but actually the recycled stone was found to be too soft so standard cement blocks were used and the spire-stone used only for the dedication plaque (image, below){5}. The Bahá’í Centre, in The Gumwoods, built in 1998, is a wooden structure, organised as a large single meeting room with an extensive open-air deck.

Here are some images:

Churchyards

St. Paul’s Cathedral has an extensive graveyard with many interesting tombstones. The Roman Catholic Cemetery is next door, to the south. Other churches have graveyards, but not St. James’ Church in Jamestown - it and the two other Jamestown cemeteries have been built over and the tombstones relocated. In Jamestown only the Baptist Church has tombstones. You can download a map showing all churches and graveyards{f} (past and present).

If you like exploring churchyards you may want to explore other darker parts of our history.

The Portuguese Chapel, Jamestown

Church Valley in 1658 by Johan Nieuhof
Church Valley in 1658 by Johan Nieuhof

The Chapel
The Chapel{g}

It is known that the early Portuguese discoverers of St Helena built a chapel near their landing place in what is now Jamestown, thus giving the valley its original name ‘Chapel Valley’ (on older maps ‘Chappel Valley’ and sometimes ‘Church Valley’). It is sometimes said that João da Nova himself built the original chapel, using timber from a wrecked ship of his fleet, but this has been disproved{6}, and it is sometimes reported that two friars attended the chapel but this is inconsistent with other accounts. The original wooden building seems to have been replaced by a stone construction which, according to Cavendish was built in 1571.

The original chapel seemed to be a target for the factions seeking to control St Helena in the 16th Century, with alternating reports of it having been desecrated, then re-built, then desecrated again.

The Chapel was clearly still in existence in 1628 because in June of that year John Darby, a Master’s Mate, died while his ship was at St Helena, and was buried in it. But in October 1629 it is reported that the Chapel is by the Dutch of late pulled down. So it seems that the Chapel was destroyed sometime in late 1628/early 1629.

Jamestown has been extensively built and rebuilt since the 17th Century and no remains of the original Chapel are known to exist.

A curious bell

St. Helena & The Cross church bell
St. Helena & The Cross church bell

We are indebted to Richard Grainger, writing in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{7} #48, August 2019{8}, for the information summarised below. We recommend reading the full article.

Anyone examining the bell of St. Helena & The Cross church in Blue Hill, which is easy because it is not mounted in a tower but rather on two posts in the church grounds, may be surprised to see it inscribed ‘Mutlah 1856’ (photo, right). Apparently the bell has been at the church since its foundation in 1951, but is clearly much older.

According to the article, The Mutlah was an iron-built sailing ship constructed on the Tyne in 1856, as per the date on the bell. As Mutlah is a port in India it can be assumed that she carried cargo and passengers between Britain and India, which would have brought her into St Helena on a regular basis. But there is no obvious reason why the ship would have left its bell behind!

Mutlah was sold in 1874 and re-named Josefita but we don’t know whether the bell was detached at that time or later, when Josefita was broken up (date unknown). What is also not apparent is how the bell ended up at St Helena. It is known that it served as the house bell at Bishopsholme for Bishop Holbeck (1905-1931), and remained there under subsequent bishops until it was deployed at St. Helena & The Cross in 1951, so sometime between 1874 and (at the latest) 1931 it came to Bishop Holbeck at St Helena.

How this happened and when we don’t know! If you do, or have a good theory, please contact us or Richard Grainger via ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{7}.

Related buildings

St. James’ Vicarage internal

Also of interest is the Vicarage for St. James’ Church in Napoleon Street, Jamestown. Although uninteresting from the outside, inside it still contains an 18th Century open fireplace and bread oven. The vicarage is home to the vicar and his family, so is not open to the public.

Gravestones and memorial windows

The gravestones and memorial windows in St Helena’s churches and other cemeteries are listed here:
www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2610641.

Religion on St Helena

A true believer is one who does not hurt others with his thoughts, words or actions.
Prophet Muhammad

According to the Wikipedia:

Most residents belong to the Anglican Communion and are members of the Diocese of St Helena, which has its own bishop and includes Ascension Island. The 150th anniversary of the diocese was celebrated in June 2009. Other Christian denominations on the island include Roman Catholic (since 1852), Salvation Army (since 1884), Baptist (since 1845) and, in more recent times, Seventh-day Adventist (since 1949), New Apostolic (since 1994), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (of which one in 35 residents is a member, the highest ratio of any country). The Catholics are pastorally served by the Mission sui iuris of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, whose office of ecclesiastical superior is vested in the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands. The Bahá’í Faith has also been represented on the island since 1954.

According to the 2016 Census, 83.8% of the resident St Helenian population described themselves as Anglican; 4.9% as Jehovah’s Witnesses{9}; 2.5% as Baptists (since 1845); 2.1% as Salvation Army (since 1884); 2.1% as Seventh Day Adventists (since 1949); 1.7% as New Apostolics; 0.5% as Roman Catholics (since 1819); 0.3% as Bahá’ís (since 1954); and 2.0% as other denominations or declined to answer (including three Pastafarians). As in the UK, the number of people describing themselves as ‘Anglican’ far exceeds the weekly attendance at Anglican churches.

Read More

Below: Historic Environment RecordArticle: Entry on the World Monument Fund watch-list

HER image

Historic Environment Record

For more about our historic buildings consult The Historic Environment Record.

Article: Entry on the World Monument Fund watch-list

Published on www.wmf.org/project/saint-helena, October 2011{8}

The jagged cliffs of Saint Helena rise out of the Atlantic Ocean between the continents of Africa and South America, some 1,900Km from the nearest landmass. The once strategic and commercially important island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 and occupied by the British from the middle of the seventeenth century. Saint Helena served as a colonial staging post for the East India Company and was later used as a resupply point for the British seaborne fleet. The Emperor Napoleon, its most famous resident, was exiled here in 1815.

The architecture reflects the island’s storied past, with British, French, Boer/South African, and African influences. Many of Saint Helena’s heavy fortifications still dominate the coastline, and current inhabitants continue to use and adapt the company houses, stores, and forts to their daily lives.

Saint Helena’s built heritage, including Banks Battery and High Knoll, increasingly has suffered from deterioration and partial collapse as a lack of investment, government support, and legislative protection have made it difficult to maintain or improve the condition of many sites. Saint Helena is not eligible for most conservation funding available in the United Kingdom, even though it is a British Territory. Indeed, Saint Helena is representative of several overseas British territories with little access to government resources for heritage stewardship. If more resources were made available to the island, the conserved built heritage could be used to bolster the economy through tourism development, especially after the construction of a planned airport.

Church foundation years

Credits:
{a} Andrew / Peter Neaum{b} www.eggsa.org{8}{c} Tourist Office{d} Hugh Crallan{e} Rambling Wombat{f} Based on a graphic by Chris and Sheila Hillman.{g} From ‘Insula d. Helenæ’ by Theodore de Bry, 1601 Copyright © The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & The Jewish National & University Library{8}

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Footnotes:
{1} Also shows the Church Hall (red roof, right).{2} Without the porch, added later.{3} Date of opening or dedication of the current building. Includes all places of religious assembly, not just ‘Churches’.{4} Local rumour had it that the local Witnesses believed the world would end in 2012 and built the wall to defend their structure…but then, as has been mentioned elsewhere, nothing on the planet is less reliable than a local rumour! Amusingly, it was also suggested at the time that ‘JW’ stood for ‘Jehovah’s Wallbuilders’.{5} The building appears, to us, to be unfinished. The blocks have not been properly pointed and it looks as though it was intended that it be rendered. Presumably the money ran out!{6} See other debunked myths.{7} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{8} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{9} The New Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Half Tree Hollow opened on 9th January 1993.

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NAVIGATION:

HISTORY: History pages index

STRUCTURES: Structures pages index

INFORMATION: Information pages index

You may also find useful: • Subject Index • Site Index

Churches of St Helena | Copyright © John Turner

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