St. Peter's Church.
By Christine Nunes, Contributor
RECENTLY, I journeyed with a small party from the Georgian Society from Kingston to visit St Peter's Church, in Alley, Clarendon. The Georgian Society recently adopted the church, along with Scots Kirk on Duke Street, Kingston. George Faria and Pauline Simmonds, President and secretary respectively of the Society, Sunshine Gooding and I arrived at Alley 10.40 am on a hot, windy Sunday August morning.
St Peter's Church, is one of the oldest Anglican churches in Jamaica, only the Cathedral in Spanish Town (built on the foundations of the Spanish Church of the Red Cross) and the St Andrew Parish Church (1664) being older. The Right Reverend E.L. Evans lists the Anglican Churches and Missions with the names of the Clergy who served them, in a supplement to his 1984 History of the Diocese of Jamaica. In that supplement, the little note on St Peter's, Vere, states: "The Parish of Vere was named after the wife of Sir Thomas Lynch, (Governor from 1672 to 1675 and from 1680 to 1684). The church was originally at Withywood and was also known as "The Alley Church". It existed from 1671, was rebuilt after the 1692 earthquake, rebuilt again in 1715, destroyed again by the hurricane of 1722. In 1751 it was described as "a neat church"
The building is of red brick, with stone quoins at the corners, and a rare (in Jamaica) slate roof, now much damaged by wind and water and by time.
On the southern side, a battlemented tower forms the entrance porch. The altar is at the eastern end of the main rectangular building. Above the altar interesting stained glass windows tell the story of Christ's life, while at the other end a gallery is surmounted by stained glass windows, which incorporate the Lord's Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments. This was to assist those who did not own a prayer book.
We climbed up the steep ladder and had a good view of the bell and of the damaged roof of the main building. Inside the church, I was excited to find that many of the monuments listed in Phillip Wright's Monumental Inscriptions of Jamaica (published in 1966 and listing monuments and inscriptions from the 1600s to roughly 1878) are still in place and still readable. There are tablets on the walls to Gales and Morants, to Wilsons and Osborns. The oldest tablet I was able to read was on the floor, dedicated to Captain George Fawcett and dating back to 1681.In the churchyard, many of the early gravestones have disappeared or been destroyed, perhaps by the herd of cows and goats that wander through. Yet many of the gravestones listed in Wright's Monumental Inscriptions still bear legible writing. Gravestone No 1436 thrilled me particularly, for John Hargreaves Cathcart, who died at Carlisle Estate 2 September 1874 aged 41, was probably my maternal great-grandfather!!
There is obviously an attempt to keep the grounds clear, but as obviously, with limited funds. We lunched beneath an immense old ackee tree, possibly 40ft from edge to edge, which springs directly from two dilapidated graves. To our left, an ancient lilac bougainvillaea stood like a tree, beside the brick wall which separated the church from its driveway and from the disused rectory and church hall. Behind us, the church faced the roadway. In front of us and to our right, the graveyard stretched to the canefields of Monymusk, while pink coralita vines wreathed and covered many of the graves. A large lime tree, springing from a patch of four or five old brick graves, was itself almost smothered by coralita.
Kipling's song of Letting in the Jungle, in the Second Jungle Book came irresistibly to mind:
Our tour guide, Mrs Carmen Downer said there are about 200 members of the church. A new young minister has just taken up his post and there is a service at 7.00 am every Sunday. Reverend Canute Francis, however, has three other churches and two missions to look after.
After sandwiches, cookies and cool drinks, Mrs Downer took us across to the office, which is beside the old rectory. There we looked at some of the old records, which are stored on open shelves in a zinc-roofed room.
They have been water-logged and dried, and Mrs Downer told us that though some of the very old records have been stored in the archives, some of the more recent were so badly damaged in flood rains in the late 1970s, that they had to be dumped. Even the present ones are badly in need of preservation and restoration and proper storage.
Behind the unused, dilapidated rectory is the Mike Robinson Hall, which used to be the very old rectory!
This is a two-storey building, dating from the 1700s. The wooden top storey was replaced in the 20th century by a concrete structure, in which various crafts, such as baking and catering were taught, but the floor between the two stories has now collapsed and the craft project along with it. Likewise, there was once a famous cotton tree, in which legend said that a cannon ball, relict of an attack by French invaders, was lodged, but this has now been burnt by men cleaning bush. It is said they lit the fire to kill ants, and it "got away" and burnt the tree.
There are still several very large guango trees, one with a hollow trunk large enough for a man to stand inside, but even this has been damaged by fire.
I sincerely hope St Peter's, Alley, will not be allowed to crumble.
Save it please for us, not for outsiders to visit and gape unfeelingly at what rightfully belongs to the people of Jamaica - the present people.
Christine Nunes is a regular contributor.