St. Johnís Cathedral
St. Johnís Cathedral is one of the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. The orange bricks came to Belize aboard British ships as ballast. Construction began in 1812, and the church was completed in 1820.
Photograph by JC Cuellar
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The History of St. John's Cathedral
Step inside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist - a building rich in 200 years of history and fellowship. Located in Belize City, Belize (Central America), the building is open to the public for worship and tours.
St. John's Cathedral, Belize Oral History
In this "2 Cents Cam", we interview residents of Belize City to document the heritage and history of St. John's Cathedral.
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Baptist otherwise known as St. John's Anglican Cathedral
Here is a little bit of history:
At a public meeting held on February 11, 1811, at which 33 persons were present, a resolution was passed that a Church be built of imported bricks measuring 50 feet by 80 feet located on the South Side of the City on a property that was used for the marching band. The property measured 202 feet (North to South) and 272 feet (East to West). The property was bounded on the South by the Public Ordinance Store, on the North by a narrow street and Mr. McLennanís and to the West by Sarah Neal and Benjamin Longsworthís property.
On the historic twentieth day of July 1812, the Kingís representative, Lieutenant Colonel John Nugent Smyth laid the foundation stone of the first church to be built in British Honduras. The historic date herald a new era in the religious life of the settlement and Spanish America. The Church of St. John the Baptist was to become the first Protestant Episcopal Church in Spanish America. Prior to 1812, the settlers conducted services at St. Georges Caye (1775 -1779), then near the Court House, and prior to the construction of the new Church, at St. Johnís Church located on Church Street.
St. Johnís is the only Anglican Cathedral in the world outside of England where the crowning of Kings has taken place. Three Miskito Kings were crowned there. The first Miskito King, George Frederic, was crowned on January 18, 1816. The second, Robert Charles Frederic, was crowned on April 23, 1825 and the third, George Augustus Frederic, on May 10, 1845. George Augustus was brought to the settlement for his coronation from Nicaragua on the H.M.S. Hyacinth. It is interesting to note that the walls of the Cathedral do not record his coronation, but the death of the H.M.S Hyacinthís Officer, Henry Gillard, aged 27 years, which occurred the same day was recorded on a plaque in the Cathedral.
Have you ever wondered how slaves who did not possess any experience in brick laying could have built such a beautiful Church? This mystery could be explained based on another resolution that was passed on March 2nd, 1812, forwarding the bill for materials and freight for the building of the Church at 1200 pounds sterling. Soon after that resolution, the Magistrates were informed that the Superintendent of Works and his family, two bricklayers and one apprentice were on their way from Great Britain at public expense. It seems that the two bricklayers and one apprentice were the men who did the brick works of the Church and not the slaves. The main contribution the slaves made was that they had the arduous task of hand carrying the bricks (The bricks came as ballasts of ships), which were offloaded behind the Court House and carried to the Churchís construction area, a distance of Ĺ mile.
Once the Church was completed, slaves were allowed to attend services, but even then, their segregation was the order of the day. They were allowed to enter the Church through the door in the West and exited through the door facing the South; the masters entered through the door on the North and exited through the same door. The masters departed the Churchís compound through the gate which was in the East facing the Governorís Residence.
As part of the rejuvenation to occur in Downtown by the Belize City House of Culture and Downtown Rejuvenation Project, the Project will invest in the repairs of critical areas of the church to make sure that it continue to stand as a beacon of our history for the next two hundred years and beyond.
Source: The Cathedral Church of St. Johnís the Baptist, July 20, 2012 ďThrough The Ages 1812-2012Ē A Commemorative Edition by Marlene Parks- Leslie
Postcard mailed in November 1918 featuring St John's Cathedral
The Belize City House of Culture and Downtown Rejuvenation Project has been investing in the preservation of our culture and historic assets of downtown Belize City going on now for about five years. One of the historic assets we invested in was the restoration of St. Johnís Cathedral. The restoration included: cleaning of the outer walls, repairs to windows and doors, and repairs to the roof for a total of about $100,000.00. However, the Cathedral is still in dire need of other repairs. To see how you may assist, you may get in contact with the Anglican Diocese of Belize.
St. Johnís Cathedral is a very important historic asset. Construction started in 1812, which makes it one of the oldest buildings in Belize. History tells us that the Cathedral was built by the Enslaved Africans, but I often wondered how a people who did not have any experience in laying of bricks could have constructed such a perfectly built Cathedral? This is not to say that Enslaved Africans did not have the ability to do this, but laying of bricks requires training and experience that one can only get over time, and St. Johnís would have been one of the first buildings to have been constructed out of this new material; therefore, no buildings to get previous experience. Maybe the answer to my question lies in minutes from a public meeting around that time which stated that two master brick layers were hired from England for the construction. Did they just supervised the laying of the bricks, or did they lay the bricks themselves? History also tells us that ships brought English made bricks as ballast on their return voyage to the Caribbean. The bricks were offloaded behind Court House and the Enslaved Africans were tasked to deliver them at the St. Johnís Cathedral construction site. Could the delivery of the bricks to the Cathedral site been the extent of the Enslaved Africansí contribution to the construction of the Cathedral?
Imported English bricks were also procured to construct the new public buildings. It seemed that the town had switched to constructing public buildings with bricks mainly because the Colonial Administrators realized that wood and thatch were not durable materials. Over the centuries, the town had seen many public and private buildings burnt to the grown. Many were caused by arsons. The Colonial Administrators had seen enough; therefore, a decision was made to construct all new public buildings with bricks. That did not help. The town continued to lose public buildings and so a new strict law was implemented to abate arson. As a result of that new law, an innocent man was accused of arson and was hanged. As a result of the hanging, hanging for arson was eased a little and the fires continued. One of the few public buildings that has never had an issue with fire over itís 206 years of service has been Government House (knock on wood).
1931 photo from the top of St. Johnís Cathedral looking in a Northeasterly direction over Government House property towards Northside. Check out the boat in the Cathedral property or the property adjacent to it. Click image for a larger view.