Trinidad & Tobago has many beautiful churches, all having a rich history. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon visited a few and writes on the St Patrick’s RC Church.
St Patrick’s RC, Newtown stands off from the busy Maraval Road, Newtown, and someone unfamiliar with the area could easily pass it by.
Looking out from the alcove above the church is St Patrick, the ‘Apostle of Ireland’. “Legends about Patrick abound; but truth is best served by our seeing two solid qualities in him: He was humble, and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s instrument for winning most of Ireland for Christ.” https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-patrick
“Archbishop Spaccapietra laid the foundation stone of St Patrick’s (the previous church was dedicated to Saints Peter and Patrick) on June 24th, 1858. It is of Gothic style and possesses a beautiful marble altar and an excellent organ” (Catholic Directory 1914).
Records indicate it was built of “very fine work of stone” during the tenure of a Fr Lynch in 1856. It had a stained-glass window of St Patrick. The church was consecrated in 1901.
St Patrick’s is listed on the Heritage Asset Inventory of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, the official list of Trinidad and Tobago’s historic sites that are worthy of notation and preservation.
Parishioner Angela Joseph remembers attending St Patrick’s RC as a child for the 6 p.m. Stations of the Cross with her mother and siblings. She lived at 42 Maraval Road and attended Mass 5 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
“I would come with mom and afterwards we would go to the market.” That was before the introduction of a Saturday evening Mass.
Joseph is proud of the antique pipe organ at St Patrick’s, though it has been silent for some time because it has to be repaired. “This organ was the most fantastic organ…as a child when I joined the choir, the organist was Mr Greaves, a nice grey-haired man. He was so good.”
The parish priest in those days was Fr O’ Donnell. Correspondence from the parish priest to the Archbishop [John Pius Dowling] in 1910 suggests the prominence of this musical instrument to church music.
He wrote that the builders of the organ recommended “an additional 2 steps representing 116 more pipes in order to have the perfect instrument. This will be a further cost of £40. These steps do not overtake the volume of sound. They introduce new tones into the instrument and consequently perfect it considerably.”
We do not know if the Archbishop acceded to the request but Joseph does testify to the quality of the sound produced. The sound of the organ filled the entire church, and “it was so beautiful”, she said.
The organist accompanied the choir, and the congregation was silent. It was pre-Vatican Council II, so there wasn’t the participation of the congregation singing. The Mass was in Latin with the priest facing the altar.
Masses were well attended. Joseph recalled, “residents from St Clair, all parts of Maraval, Picton Street, Woodford Street, everybody used to come to church here.”
She said fundraising harvests at St Patrick’s helped fund the construction of Church of the Assumption, Maraval.
De Four Roberts highlighted the old mosaic patterns of the canopy above the altar i.e., the ciborium magnum, known as a baldacchino, and ‘baldachin’.
“A baldacchino is supported by columns and can be portable or fixed, the most famous example of the latter being Bernini’s great structure, built 1624–33, for the interior of St Peter’s, Rome and placed, as a symbol of the enduring power of the Catholic Church, over the tomb of Christ’s earthly successor, St Peter (oxfordreference.com)”.
Sr Marie Théresè Rétout OP in Parish Beat (115) described the various marble used; the baldacchino is of white statuary marble, the rest of Carrara marble and pillars of Sienna marble.
De Four Roberts said, “The tabernacle, I understand, came from Ireland. [Pointing to the detailing] All of that is mosaic tile, the little flowers… it is amazing. If you look at the carving around the mosaic, around the tabernacle, is beautifully crafted carved marble.”
Details of the individuals whose work remains with us today are given by Sr Marie Théresè, “The Tabernacle, with its safe and emblazoned door, is the work of Messers. Smyth and Sons of Dublin (Parish Beat, 115).”
Restoration was done at St Patrick’s in 2008. The central aisle tile pattern was first hand-drawn by the project Architect Robert Las Heras. De Four Roberts said, “even though he was using a modern tile, he designed a pattern that worked with the historic nature of the church. He has an amazing eye for detail and matching colours.”
She added, “the nave windows are new, but Robert complemented the detailing from the old windows so everything works comfortably together. The new is not fighting with the old and makes no attempt to outshine the original historic detailing.”
De Four Roberts said the Stations of the Cross were restored by Judy Sheppard. Anna Serrao, artist, designer, teacher, “created and made intricately fretworked movable coverings for the air-conditioning units within St Patrick’s, and she collaborated with Robert to design the beautiful chandeliers which she handcrafted at her workshop.”