At the corner of Park and Henry Streets Port of Spain stands the Church of the Holy Rosary. The Gothic structure stands tall and contrasts the modern buildings around.
“Gothic Architecture is a pan-European style that lasted between the mid-12th Century and the 16th Century. It is usually characterized as a style of masonry building that makes heavy use of cavernous spaces with walls broken up by overlaid tracery” (an architectural device by which windows (or screens, panels, and vaults) are divided into sections of various proportions by stone bars or ribs of moulding)”. “Typical architectural features include: Rib vaults, Flying buttresses, Pointed Gothic arches, Stained glass windows were also common (https://interestingengineering.com/).”
To think, it all started April 13, 1857 with Archbishop Vincent Spaccapietra. According to the Archdiocesan Archives, “For a consideration of 10 Shillings, conveyance by certain Trustees to Archbishop Spaccapietra of lots 55 – 58 Park Street for use of Catholic Chapel and School”.
Sr Marie Thérèse Rétout OP states in Parish Beat: “In 1866 Rev. Fr Mariano Forestier OP was entrusted with the task of building a church where Rosary stands today. He made an appeal to God’s people for help. Each and everyone was invited to donate one or more cut stones at the price of 60 cents each.” Fr Forestier visited his flock appealing for their support; they were largely of modest financial means and along with the tradesmen, the parishioners provided labour. A stone chapel, with stones from the St Ann’s River was built in the shape of a Latin Cross.
Information from the Archdiocesan Archives, reports that on October 26, 1866, the Rosary chapel and school were handed over to Archbishop Louis Joachim Gonin and the trustees of the church— Mrs. Louis Aime de Verteuil and Leon O’Connor. A month later, a contract was signed for building. Plans were prepared by Abel Devenish and construction began under the direction of Fr Forestier; Joseph Alexander built the roof. The Chapel was blessed by Msgr Gonin in 1867.
Funding for the altar came from Mrs Bell Smythe, Aurelie Boissiere paid for a bell and Mrs. Louis O’Connor, the “rosary group”—Our Lady holding baby Jesus giving a rosary to St Dominic OP and Sr Catherine of Siena OP— above the altar. The first Mass was celebrated by Fr Mariano Forestier OP May 4, 1867. Construction of a new church began 25 years later in 1892.
Holy Rosary is listed as a heritage site worthy of preservation. Architect Rudylynn De Four Roberts, said it has “museum quality” stained glass and Stations of the Cross. She speaks highly of the “hand tooled” workmanship seen in the textured surface of the stone facade and “attention to detail” in areas such as the doors. De Four Roberts, a founding member of Citizens for Conservation said of the stained glass, “The patterns are stained on to the glass, all the colours, all the flowers, somebody did it by hand and stained it. It’s not little pieces of glass that make up all the things. It is a piece of glass that they have drawn on the glass, and stained it and baked it to set it. It is a lot of work”.
The influence of the French Dominicans can be seen in the choice of images within the Church including the stained glass.
The windows are the work of Master Glassmaker Henri Louis Victor Gesta (1828-1938) of the Gesta Stained Glass Factory, Toulouse, France. De Four-Roberts describe them as “absolutely amazing works of art”. Gesta worked in the workshop of French painter, miniaturist, glass painter Earnest Lami de Nozan. After completing training at the Central School of Arts and Manufactures in Paris he returned to Toulouse and 1852 founded a stained-glass factory in the Arnaud-Bernard district.
Stained glass was called the “poor man’s Bible”. “… during the medieval times when the majority of the world was illiterate and could not afford bibles, the role of stained-glass windows was essentially that of a picture book. So the church used the depiction of Biblical events in stained glass windows as a way to teach those who could not read about the events and lessons in the Bible.” The site also explains the colours used in stained glass had meaning. Red—the blood of Christ, martyrdom of the saints, love, hate; blue—Heaven, hope, green—growth, rebirth, violet—love, truth, passion and suffering www.scottishstainedglass.com.
Next time you visit Holy Rosary RC spend some time looking at its beautiful stained glass and the stories they tell