Trinidad & Tobago has many beautiful churches, all having a rich history. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon visited a few and writes on the St Ann’s RC Church.
Our familiar places of worship hold a special place in our hearts. The memories of the sacred space and sacraments received are vivid even decades later.
The Catholic News visited St Ann’s RC on November 7, with architect, restoration expert Rudylynn De Four Roberts.
She recalled attending Mass at St Ann’s in 1969 when her parents moved to Cascade. She was a student at Howard University in the United States. “Every time I came back to Trinidad, this was the church I used to come to.”
“My sisters and I were married here, and we all sang in the choir; my children were baptised here [1976, 1980].”
De Four Roberts has “an emotional attachment” to the church. She recalls the great acoustics at the time; no microphones were needed. “We could stay up in the loft and everyone could hear us. Occasionally, we’d come down here [pointing to the front of the altar] and we’d sing a special song.”
The church of her memory has undergone changes with time. The choir loft and the wooden floors are gone, and the windows have been changed. “Every time you change materials in old churches, you change the acoustics. Where the walls were lime with a wooden ceiling and a wooden floor, it helped with the acoustic properties of the church. I don’t know what the acoustics are like now,” De Four Roberts said.
She voiced concern that other changes were not sympathetic to the historicity of the original detailing.
The rose window above the choir loft was originally kept opened during services, to allow for ventilation. Churches at that time did not have air-conditioning. Proper airflow was factored into the design of the structure.
With the rose windows opened, the hot air rose to the ceiling and out of this window. This caused a convection current that pulled the breeze flowing through the main entrance and the windows and so cooled the church.
De Four Roberts said with churches now kept closed for varied reasons, the hot air remains trapped inside. “Most of these old churches were built for proper cross ventilation and convection ventilation.”
The beauty of the St Ann’s RC church is in its stonework, rose window, and wooden ceiling. She described its present style as Gothic with contemporary touches.
“The bones of the church, the windows, shapes of the windows, buttresses on the outside…. the outside stonework is Laventille stone.” Yellow Stock bricks were also used. She said these were typical for the period and can be seen also at Sacred Heart RC church.
“Yellow Stock is a high quality handmade yellow brick with some overburns and is commonly known as a ‘London Yellow Stock’, genuinely handmade and manufactured to replicate the reclaimed handmade yellow stock bricks so commonly found in London and the surrounding counties.” https://www.imperialhandmadebricks.co.uk/products/yellow-stock/
De Four Roberts drew attention to the workmanship in the church’s façade. “Look at the different sections of the church and see the difference in the stonework detailing and one can tell which parts are more recently constructed.”
At the north transept, she said the tooling was “more gracious” when compared to the front of the church. The workmanship reflects the different periods and tools available to the tradesmen of the time.
I asked De Four Roberts about the shift away from stonework. She said the architecture of the churches indicates the popular styles of the time. “After the wars, World War I and II, people did not have the money to put into churches like this, you see it in the architectural styles everywhere, houses, everything; everything became simpler less ostentatious.”
The workers and artisans went off to fight in the wars, so their skills were not available as before; cost was another factor.
De Four Roberts said the trusses in the ceiling were “exceptional”. “They come down fairly low on the walls, you don’t have to crane your neck to see them.”
The trusses, although a structural element, were “made to look beautiful, and it was done with a level of craftsmanship you don’t see today anymore”.
In 2019, St Ann’s celebrated 175 years. The church was built on land 29,474 square feet from a Deed of Gift between Right Reverend Daniel MacDonnell and Jeanne Rose Langagne 1844.
The first building was made of tapia with only the foundation being of stone. By 1846, the church could seat about 200 people and 280 in 1877.
October 1878, the parish priest provided an account of work done at the church over the years including: a nave with pulpit and small sacristy, four windows for the sanctuary, new benches, eight windows of the nave in glass and two side doors costing $401.58.
A marble altar was erected from funding ($82.02) from Mrs Smyth and two smaller ones of wood for the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph. Two bells, one large and one small were installed for the bell tower.
The parish priest wrote to the Archbishop October 31, 1883, informing that the church had been repaired at “considerable expense and to repair it a second time is like patching an old garment. It would be difficult to procure such money” (Source: The Archdiocesan Archives).
On June 22, 1983, the church was dedicated after renovations were completed under Fr Eugene Delahunt OP. In the article ‛Bright new look for a 139-year- old church’, Sr Marie-Thérèse Rétout OP reported, “throughout the renovations and additions, the Gothic stye of architecture has been respected and this has truly contributed to the beauty of this house of God.”
The article stated the stained glass in the southern transept came from “grateful parishioners” of St Ann’s dedicated to builder/parish priests Frs Victor Bisquey d’ Arraing who served (1890–1899) and LM Loughlin (1931–1932). Inscriptions indicate the glass in memory of d’ Arraing, who died 1902 was made by French glass painter GP [Gustave Pierre] Dagrant, from Bordeaux, and the one for Fr Loughlin, who died in 1933 came from Grenoble, France.
The “new” stained glass in the northern transept were created by William Earley from Ireland. They depict St Ann and the young Mary, St Joseph, and the young boy Jesus; St Joachim, the husband of Ann.
“The new stained-glass windows were offered by the parishioners to the memory of the mothers of the priests who have served the people of the parish,” the report stated.