HISTORIC AND DIVERSE PLACES OF WORSHIP
Dr. Rebecca Tortello, Contributor
Special thanks to Alex Lee, Victor Chang and Danesh Maragh for their help with this piece.
THIS MONTH we continue with a look at some more of Kingston's historical places of worship. Together they span the 17th to the 20th century and they represent not only different Christian faiths but Judaism, Taoism and Hinduism.
Kingston's, and indeed all of the island's places of worship, are important for the part they have played in Jamaica's social history, serving as a cornerstone in many cases of the education system, as meeting places for people from different social strata, and as modes of advancement for Jamaican men and women. They are also testimony to the island's architectural and cultural diversity as well as the depth of its people's religious faith.
THE SANATAN DHARMA MANDAIR TEMPLE
Also located outside of downtown Kingston, the Sanatan Hindu Temple is the youngest of these places of worship. Built in 1970 by Pandit Munaeshwar Maragh at 114B Hagley Park Road, today it stands as a vibrant place of worship and a tangible reminder of Jamaica's Indian connection which began in 1845. Prior to its erection, many worshipped in their homes, gathering for special celebrations particularly in Clarendon, Westmoreland, St. Mary and St. Thomas. The site was chosen to accommodate the many Indians living in nearby Coburn Gardens. Today, the temple serves as a spiritual hub complete with statues of Hindu gods imported from India and a full band of accomplished Indian cultural musicians. It is open daily with services offered every Sunday at 10 a.m.
An historical note: The Sanatan Hindu Temple is the only Indian temple recognised by the Jamaican Government.
ST PETER'S CHURCH
Located across the harbour from downtown Kingston, built in 1725-26 the present church stands as one of Jamaica and Kingston's oldest churches. Port Royal has been part of the parish of Kingston since 1867. It is Port Royal's fifth Anglican church, earlier churches having been destroyed during the 1692 earthquake. The present St. Peter's has undergone numerous restorations the original brick walls are faced with cement to simulate concrete blocks. In the interior one finds several 18th century memorials detailing the challenges faced by those who made their living on the Caribbean sea during that time period.
The grave of infamous earthquake survivor Lewis Galdy lies in the churchyard. Galdy, who with his brother, Lawrence, was forced to leave France because of their Protestant religion, achieved fame by managing to survive the 1692 earthquake in dramatic fashion (his tombstone tells his tale 'swallowed by the earth, he was then spewed into the sea and picked up by a passing ship.'8 * He also holds the distinction of having been one of those to push for this St. Peter's establishment. St. Peter's Huguenot ties are reflected in the church's marble relief by sculptor Louis François Roubiliac (Senior, p. 462).
An historical note: The communion plate inside the church is said to be a gift from pirate-turned-governor of Jamaica, Henry Morgan.
THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE
Located at the corner of Duke and Charles streets, it is the only place of Jewish worship in Jamaica today. The first place of Jewish worship was located not in Kingston but in the town of Port Royal, built 16 years before the earthquake of 1692. That synagogue has the distinction of perhaps being the third oldest in the region after Salvador Bahia, Brazil and Bridgetown, Barbados. At various times there were synagogues in Montego Bay, Spanish Town and other parts of Jamaica.
Known as 'Shaangare
Shalom', Hebrew for 'gates of Peace' the Jewish Synagogue was built in
1912, replacing an earlier brick building destroyed in the 1907 earthquake
that dated from 1881. The original roof, pillars and gallery were used
in the new
Following on the tradition of most Sephardi synagogues in destinations populated by Marranos (Jews who during the Spanish Inquisition were forced to convert to Christianity but who secretly adhered to their religion) the floor is of white sand.
The synagogue was designed by Henriques Brothers and built by the two Jewish congregations in Jamaica at the time the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. The two groups united in 1883, but the complete amalgamation did not occur until 1921. The two lights burning on either side of the Synagogue's mahogany Ark symbolise this union.
An historical note: Inside the Ark are 13 scrolls of Jewish law from former Jamaican synagogues, some date back over 200 years.
EAST QUEEN ST BAPTIST CHURCH
Also in the general downtown area and started by the Missionary Society of Great Britain in 1816, it was not Jamaica's first Baptist church. That distinction belongs to a church built in the 1780s on what is now known as Victoria Avenue. Some 40 years later in 1822, the East Queen Street Church was established. It could hold up to 2,000 persons and so was somewhat short of the space needed to accommodate the full membership of close to 3,000 people. At that time the East Queen Street Baptist Church's congregation was the largest of any Baptist Church in the world. Following the 1907 earthquake, the building was rebuilt the effort led by the minister who himself lost a leg in the quake.
An historical note: The first Jamaican minister was appointed in 1958.
THE CHINESE TEMPLE
Still in the downtown area, this time in what was known as Chinatown, stands the Chinese Kuan-Kung Temple at 129 Barry Street. Dating back to 1897, it was an integral part of the Chinese Benevolent Society, an organisation formed in 1891, some four decades after the first set of Chinese immigrants landed in Jamaica. In 1895, the Chinese Benevolent Society whose main focus was dispute resolution among the Chinese community, registered with the Jamaican Government. The design and actual construction of the building was completed by Lee Yuan-hua (Yin, 1963, p. 10). The Kuan Kung Temple sits on the top floor which was built especially to house this place of worship. The Kuan Kung deity sits atop a dais looking out unobstructed across the sea. The temple needed to have a clear view of the south (a feng shui requirement).
THE HAKKA PEOPLE
The Kuan-Kung (also called Guan Gong or Tam Gung), a Taoist deity and patron saint of the Hakka people, is associated with loyalty. A large man with a long black beard, he was a highly-decorated military general during China's Warring States Period (220 Ad- 280 AD). Although killed in battle he became revered as immortal and became closely associated with Taoism and the confucionist Hakkas. In Jamaica, the deity was worshipped by the early Chinese who would gather, particularly on Sundays and holidays including Chinese New Year, for feasting and divination. Ceremonial visits often involved paying respect to the ancestors in a ritual known as 'bai sin.' 'Bai sin' involves bringing food to lay before the altar, the burning of incense followed by bowing three times in front of the statue and chanting words of respect and obedience. The latter is often done while waving the incense above your head and explaining why you are there. The incense gets placed into receptacles on the altar and if there is a gong or drum in the temple, it is then struck three times. Gifts (paper offerings) are also often burned to send up to your ancestors for their use (Chen (2004) pp. 72 and 302).
Divination (or consulting fortune sticks) involves seeking guidance. A bamboo container holding 103 narrow numbered bamboo sticks is shaken in front of the deity as the person kneels down and repeats the questions he or she wants answered. Eventually one stick gradually rises above the others and falls to the floor. The number on the stick is noted and the corresponding slip taken from the rack and read. This is Kuan Gung's (Guan Gong's/Tam Gung's) response.
Although the temple is not used for religious worship today as many Chinese-Jamaicans are now Christians, it remains colourful and the Kuan Kung/Guan Gong/Tam Gung still sits majestically on the altar. For many Chinese Jamaicans the temple is an important link to their cultural past and many visit during important Chinese cultural celebrations. Today, the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) is responsible for its upkeep and is working to restore it to its former glory. They have also recently opened a Museum of the History of the Chinese Jamaican people at their new Hope Road location.
An historical note: In its time, 129 Barry Street is said to have been downtown Kingston's tallest building. ChineseTemple
Sources: Chen, J. (2002). "The Chinese in Jamaica" in A tapestry of Jamaica The best of Skywritings, Air Jamaica's in-flight magazine. Kingston: Creative Communications Ltd. and Oxford: Macmillan Publishers. p. 367-369, Chen, R. (2004). The Shopkeepers. Kingston: Periwinkle Publishers, Curtain, M. (2003). "Historic Kingston churches Some places of worship in the old city of Kingston," in A tapestry of Jamaica The best of Skywritings. Kingston: Creative Communications, Ltd and Oxford: Macmillan Publishers. pp. 93-96, Senior, O. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Kingston: Twin Guinep Publishers, pp. 120-121,257, 268-9, 435-6, 462, Sherlock, P. and Bennett, H. (1998). The story of the Jamaican people. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, Tom Yin, L. 91963). The Chinese in Jamaica. Falmouth: Carib Metal Works Ltd., p. 10, www.taoarts.com/pantheon.html
* If any readers have information regarding the development of aviation in Jamaica please email Rebecca Tortello at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted December 5, 2005
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