Chris Bodden, Gleaner Writer
Early records referring to the Hanover Parish Church state that it was a plain, neat building of bricks built at a cost of £7,000. The architecture appears to be part Gothic and part Georgian and is the oldest building in Hanover, 288 years old at present. It is believed to have been built in 1725 on the ruins of an old Spanish church.
The Hanover Parish Church is a Jamaica National Heritage Trust monument and is part of the Anglican or Episcopal church in the Province of the West Indies. A historical fact is that up until 1870, it was known as the Church of England, supported by government funds and as such, was the official state church of Jamaica. This, however, was disestablished in 1870, and since then, the Hanover Parish Church is under the supervision of the Diocese of Jamaica in the province of the West Indies. Records show that the first baptism took place in 1725, the first burial in 1727, and the first marriage in 1749.
Formerly, the entrance was on the northern side of the church, accommodating the main means of transport of the day, which was by horse and buggy; however, in 1837, the northern transept was added and the south porch became the main entrance. To the north-eastern side, there is evidence of an archway which is said to be the remains of a tunnel which leads to the barracks at Fort Charlotte, 20 chains away.
Inside, there are tablets on the walls dedicated to the memory of individuals who were prominent members of the society. Among them are two clergymen: D.W. Rose (1806-1824) and John Stainsby (1833-1853). It is generally taken for granted that the Anglican clergy was always on the side of the plantocracy and against slaves, but in the history of the Hanover Parish Church, these were two notable exceptions. Rose, because of his conflict with the authorities on behalf of justice, was sent to prison and fined £100 in 1816. John Stainsby was accused in the Kingston Chronicle as being "worse than the Baptists". His memorial tablet was erected by subscriptions of the congregation who "treasured his memory and deplored his loss".
Another tablet of note is that of Sir Simon Clarke (7th Baronette 1727-1777). A marble memorial tablet is flanked by the figures of Faith and Hope. This was executed by the British sculptor John Flaxman in 1798. Flaxman was one of the leading European sculptors of his time and is responsible for many monuments in classical style in English churches. It is believed that this is the only piece of work done by him in Jamaica and as such is included in the National Gallery of Jamaica's Catalogue of Artistic Treasures.
Sir Simon Clarke married Anne Haughton - heiress to Phillip Haughton of Fat Hog Quarter near Lucea. He was buried in the church and his tombstone under the rector's stall appears to be the only tomb in the church.
Under the front, left pew, there is a tombstone in memory of William Rhodes James, 1813, but his tombstone was apparently brought into the church sometime later as burials in the churchyard were prohibited from 1792. There is, of course, the stained-glass east window, depicting the ascension of Jesus Christ. This was a gift from the then custos of Hanover, the Honourable G.A. Santfleban. The two side windows were given by Fred Emmanuel, assisted by contributions from the congregation. These are all in position today.
In the early days, the altar was a very small one. It, however, was replaced by another, which was a gift from the Savanna-la-Mar church. However, in 1926, a mahogany altar was specifically built from funds contributed by the Sunday school. The cost then was £15 and is still in use. In 1984, during ministry of the Reverend D.H.E. Mosford, the altar was moved forward to enable the clergy to celebrate the Eucharist from the westward position (facing the congregation). The two sanctuary chairs of finely carved mahogany are very old, but it is not known when they were placed in the church.
Of course, the church of the era would not be without a pipe organ. The present pipe organ, however, is well in need of repairs. It is an old Walker of 1891 built by J. Walker and Sons Ltd of England. Time and again, it has been damaged by heavy rains and has needed special attention. It is interesting to note that the minutes of 1870 had this to say about the former organ; "The organ, a noble instrument built by Messrs Flord and Robson, was severely damaged in 1870. There were extraordinary rains, the organ gallery was flooded, and the organ sustained damage. The matter was reported to the governor in September 1870." One wonders what the organ would have to say on the matter.
The churchyard has many old graves with interesting memorial tablets, but it was closed to burial in 1889, although one could get permission if relatives were already buried there. The poinciana trees which beautify the grounds were planted by Mrs Lorenz Santfleban, who got the seeds from Falmouth.
St Mary's has also been graced by royalty. It has been visited by King George V and the Duke of Clarence, who lunched at the rectory and played cricket at the barracks. At the memorial service for King George V, the church was decorated in purple silk with crowns of gold flowers.
Rusea's School has had strong links with the Hanover Parish Church. Many of the clergy were also headmasters of the school. Most times when there was a vacancy, the headmaster was put in charge of the church.
To date, 44 individuals have served as rector of the Hanover Parish Church. Father Percival Lynch, the current rector, is in his 28th year of ordination to the priesthood.
The Hanover Parish Church has for centuries been the rock and comfort for many Hanoverians. Its rich history is a true testament to the need for a meeting place with God where one can find peace in the midst of turmoil and difficulty, reordering one's values and priorities, and in so doing, renew the relationship with God and our fellowman.