Why on St Barts ...

For many people, the first question they ask on entering the Church is “Why on St Barts, which is a French island, is there an Anglican Church in such a prominent position?”

To answer this, you have to go back to the 94 years of Swedish rule, when the island was part of Sweden from 1784 to 1878.

Sweden kept the island free from many of the regulatory constraints of the day in order to preserve free trade, as a way of boosting the island’s economy.  The Swedes also allowed freedom of religious worship on St Barts, which was in contrast to many other colonies in the Caribbean.  Back then it was an island with relatively few inhabitants and while there were 5,000 living here in 1800, numbers dwindled to just over a 1,000 in the 1850s.  They hailed from many countries as well as France and Sweden, and some from nearby English and Dutch islands who were practising members of the Church of England.

The prominent church in Gustavia at that time was the wooden church of Sophia Magdalena, situated behind where the Anglican Church is now, near the green Clock Tower.  While the Church of Sophia Magdalena was a Lutheran church, Anglican and other services were also held there.

In 1845 a passing Anglican cleric, Father Rock, on his way between two British islands, Antigua and Anguilla, was persuaded by the local Anglican community to go ashore and hold a service.  Father Rock’s visits continued and the Anglican community then invited the local bishop in Antigua, Bishop Davies, and he visited in 1851.

The old dilapidated Lutheran Church was deemed unsuitable for the flourishing Anglican community; and encouraged by Bishop Davies, the Anglican churchgoers began to raise funds for a new church.  Fortunately for the Anglican community on the island, Sir Richard Dinzey had moved here from Saba and helped raise funds for the Church; both locally and further afield, including in the United States.

Around this time, Gustavia had unfortunately been ravished by large fires, as most of the buildings where built from wood; and also the island had been badly affected by hurricanes.  The funds that were raised enabled the Anglican community to acquire land at the front of the harbour for their new Church.

The cornerstone was laid in 1853 during a ceremony attended by the island governor culminating with a ‘gun-salute’ from the canons of the fort!

The Church was built mostly from stone found on the island. Limestone for the front wall and bricks for the steps were imported from France, and the corners and doors were trimmed with dark lava shipped in from the nearby volcanic island of St Eustatia (Statia).  The building was completed in 1855 and consecrated by Bishop Davies in the same year, the date of which is engraved in stone above the main entrance.

The tireless work of Sir Richard Dinzey is commemorated by the plaque on the inside right wall of the Church with the words: ‘Reader, Seeketh thou his Monument? Look around!’.  Indeed, when we look around our Church we should give thanks to him, and all those who have helped preserve and make St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church what it is today.