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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.

This page is in indexes: Island Structures, Island History, Island Activity, Island Detail

Churches of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info

Below: St. James’, JamestownSt. Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’sSt. Matthew’s, Hutt’s GateOther older churchesMore modern churchesChurchyardsThe Portuguese Chapel, JamestownRelated buildingsGravestones and memorial windowsRead More

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

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{8}; 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.

Top Twenty things to do Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

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

Top Twenty things to do Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. James’, Jamestown 

St. James’ Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. James’ Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

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. It is sufficiently interesting to get a page of its own.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s 

Location map:
Location Map stpaulscathedral Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

2nd ‘Country Church’ Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
2nd ‘Country Church’
Plantation House & 2nd ‘Country Church’ 1795 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Plantation House & 2nd ‘Country Church’, 1795{a}

The current St. Paul’s Cathedral replaced two earlier churches on the same site. The first is thought to have been built between 1675-8, just above the current church, but was of wooden construction and gradually decayed, with a 1732 Vestry Report telling of …the ruinous condition of the Chapple in the Country….

The second church (pictures, left) was built in stone on the same site, towards the end of the 18th Century or early 19th, but by the 1840s this too was decaying, with the walls propped up with wooden stays. So in 1848 the site for the present church was cleared, and work started.

Designed by distinguished London architect Benjamin Ferrey, the foundation stone was laid by Governor Patrick Ross on 6th February 1850. It was completed in 1851 and held its first service on 3rd September.

It became the cathedral church for St Helena when the Diocese of St Helena was established in 1859. The building was closed from 25th June 1939 until 13th May 1945 while White Ants damage was repaired - it was re-dedicated on 6th October 1946.

You can download a leaflet about St. Paul’s (460.6Kb).

The memorials in St. Paul’s are listed here: www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2495030.

St. Paul’s Cathedral Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Paul’s Cathedral

From the Lytch Gate Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
From the Lytch Gate

From the Graveyard Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
From the Graveyard

Internal view Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Internal view{b}

 

The Bell…and the ‘expert’s

As can be seen from John Isaac Lilley’s 1860s photograph (below), the bell was not originally in the tower…but now it is. This is the history of the bell…{9}

In 1849, when the current building was being designed, one Richard Kempthorne wrote to Bishop Gray that he had received Mr Ferrey’s drawings and generally liked them, but for one criticism:

The West End…runs up into a rather high Bell turret, containing three bells. This rather disappoints me, as I had set my heart upon a LARGE bell…

It is therefore apparent that the bell tower, as designed and built and as shown in John Isaac Lilley’s 1860s photograph, was intended to house three smaller bells, though at the time of the photograph these had not been hung. It can be inferred from later events that this was because concern had been expressed (presumably by an ‘expert’) that the bell tower, as built, would not support the weight of three bells.

The three bells had clearly been procured because in 1867 it was decided to hang two bells in the tower, ‘expert’ opinion having advised that this might be done without risk (the the third bell was given to St. Matthew’s Parish in 1887). No photographic or Records evidence exists to show if this was actually done. However, it is known that a single, larger bell was installed in 1886, even though this bell was not quite as large as Kempthorne desired, requiring the bell tower to be modified to its current design. This is how it is shown in the c.1903 and 1940s photos (below).

Hear the bell (in the tower!), 2002:

Click here to hear this audio file
Right-click to download (63.8Kb)

Click to listen Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Apparently the bell fell from its mountings in 1948 and was taken down, probably because an ‘expert’ advised that the tower had become too weak. But the bell was replaced in the tower in 1967, presumably after advice from another ‘expert’; then again it was taken down in 1978 (another ‘expert’?), and in 1983 a Civil Engineer (yet another ‘expert’) advised that it would be dangerous to replace it. Despite this it was put back up again in the 1990s (one more ‘expert’), where it has remained ever since.

The ringing mechanism failed in 2007 and was repaired two years later, but the bell remained in the tower throughout.

When the bell was not in the tower it was mounted on the two white posts which can be seen in the churchyard (see main photo, above). The posts are still there, presumably in case another ‘expert’ arrives…

St. Paul’s 1860s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Paul’s, 1860s{c}

Bell in tower C.1903 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Bell in tower, C.1903

Bell in tower C.1911 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Bell in tower, C.1911

Bell in tower 1940s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Bell in tower, 1940s{1}

1949 no bell! Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1949, no bell!

1962 still no bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1962, still no bell{d}

1969 bell again! Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1969, bell again!

1982 no bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1982, no bell{e}

1991 on posts Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1991, on posts{f}

St. Paul’s bell 2009 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Paul’s bell, 2009

2012? No bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
2012?: No bell{2}{b}

 

If you have anything to add to this sorry tale of warring ‘expert’s, please contact us.

St. Matthew’s, Hutt’s Gate 

Location map:
Location Map stmatthewschurch Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. Matthew’s church is at Hutt’s Gate in the Longwood District. The original building was constructed in 1861, the cornerstone being laid in December 1861 by Governor’s wife Lady Drummond Hay. The church was consecrated on 14th May 1862 (St. Matthias’ Day).

The church was substantially rebuilt somewhere between 1915 & 1918 and much of the present building dates from then.

One window has a memorial stained glass panel depicting St. Michael which dates from World War 1; since 2006 an outer sheet of glass protects this important memorial window.

In June 2017 it was announced that an appeal had been launched to fund £50,000 for vital repairs. The building is Listed, Grade II.

Original St. Matthew’s 1875 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Original St. Matthew’s, 1875{g}

Sketch by Erich Mayer Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Sketch by Erich Mayer

Original St. Matthew’s c.1903 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Original St. Matthew’s, c.1903

Original St. Matthew’s c.1910 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Original St. Matthew’s, c.1910

Re-built St. Matthew’s c.1920 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Re-built St. Matthew’s, c.1920

St. Matthew’s 1970s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s, 1970s

St. Matthew’s today Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s today

St. Matthew’s area Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s area

St. Matthew’s altar Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s altar

Windows in St. Matthew’s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Windows in St. Matthew’s

 

Other older churches 

Most of the other churches in St Helena date from Victorian times. Many now have metal roofs, as a result of White Ants action. Some have original stained glass windows. St. Mary’s, The Briars was completely reconstructed in 1989 - the photos below show the old and new churches. The Baptist Church in Jamestown was located to be near the military barracks so that the troops could be ‘ministered to’.

Sandy Bay Chapel Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Sandy Bay Chapel

St. Helena & The Cross Blue Hill Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Helena & The Cross, Blue Hill

St. Martin’s-in-the-Hills High Point St Paul’s district Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Martin’s-in-the-Hills, High Point, St Paul’s district

Baptist Church Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Baptist Church, Jamestown

Baptist Church bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Baptist Church bell{3}

Baptist Church middle Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Baptist Church, middle Jamestown

Knollcombs Baptist chapel Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Knollcombs Baptist chapel{4}{b}

Roman Catholic Church upper Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Roman Catholic Church, upper Jamestown{5}

Roman Catholic Church from Sidepath Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Roman Catholic Church from Sidepath{5}

St. John’s upper Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. John’s, upper Jamestown

St. John’s from Sidepath Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. John’s from Sidepath{6}

St. John’s from the west Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. John’s from the west{b}

St. Peter’s Sandy Bay Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Peter’s, Sandy Bay

St. Mary’s The Briars Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Mary’s, The Briars{h}

Pre-1989 St. Mary’s The Briars Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Pre-1989 St. Mary’s, The Briars{e}

St. Andrew’s Half Tree Hollow Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Andrew’s, Half Tree Hollow

 

More modern churches 

The New Apostolic Hall (opened 27th November 1994) is the first building identifiable as any ship approaches Jamestown.

St. Michael’s, in Rupert’s, was first proposed by Bishop Claughton in 1860, but was not completed until 1995. The foundation stone was laid on 18th Jaunary 1995 by Governor Hoole and the church is dedicated to the memory of Bishop Edward Cannan (1979-85).{10}

New Apostolic Hall Half Tree Hollow Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
New Apostolic Hall, Half Tree Hollow

St. Michael’s Rupert’s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Michael’s, Rupert’s

 

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.

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 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Church Valley in 1658 by Johan Nieuhof

The Chapel Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
The Chapel{7}

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 ‘Chappell 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{11}, and it is sometimes reported that two friars attended the chapel but this is inconstent with other accounts. The original wooden building seems to have been replaced by a stone construction which, according to Cavendish{12} 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. Its final fate is not known for certain, but it was presumably demolished some time before the original St. James’ Church was constructed in 1671.

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

Related buildings 

St. James’ Vicarage internal Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

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 cemetaries are listed here: www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2610641.

Read More 

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

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Historic Environment Record

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

HER image Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Article: Entry on the World Monument Fund watch-list

Published on www.wmf.org/project/saint-helena, October 2011{13}

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.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Laugh at funny Churches of St Helena humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


Credits:

{a} By W. Thomas, for ‘European Magazine’.

{b} www.eggsa.org{13}

{c} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866

{d} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{13}.

{e} Andrew/Peter Neaum

{f} Copyright © 1991 Film Unit, used with permission{13}.

{g} From St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875

{h} Governor Lisa Phillips



Footnotes:

{1} The cleric is identified as Bishop Turner.

{2} This photo appears on www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2495030 and is dated Sat Oct 6 16:04:21 2012, but as far as we know the bell was in the tower in 2012. Can anybody help?.

{3} The chapel was completed in 1854 and includes a Meneely Foundry bell, cast in 1852 in Troy, New York.

{4} Build by Governor Hudson Janisch.

{5} How could the very small number of Roman Catholics afford such a substantial church? It was paid for by the War Department because the few Roman Catholic servicemen needed a place of worship.

{6} Also showing the Church Hall (red roof, right).

{7} From an early illustration, but we don’t know which one. If you can help, and possibly provide the original map/drawing please contact us..

{8} The New Kingdom Hall for Jehova’s Witnesses in Half Tree Hollow opened on 9th January 1993.

{9} Many thanks to Cathy Hopkins for researching this for us.

{10} It appears, to us, to be unfinished. The blocks have not been properly pointed and it looks as though it was originally intended that it be rendered. Presumably the money ran out!

{11} See other debunked myths.

{12} Thomas Cavendish is usually said to have been the first Englishman to visit St Helena.

{13} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.



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