by Shawn Cumberbatch
Mother Nature’s efforts might not be enough to ensure the complete demise of the historic St. Joseph Parish Church.
As Barbados TODAY investigations revealed, the Anglican Church has virtually settled on the construction of a replacement at nearby Blackman’s, the Barbados National Trust simultaneously confirmed it was in advanced talks to salvage a section of the longstanding place of worship as a “romantic ruin”.
At the same time, Chairman of the Diocesan Trustees Dr. Hartley Richards said he and other trustees would meet next week to continue discussion on related plans, following the church’s deconsecration last year.
There were plans to demolish the more than a century old structure, which has been prone to land slippage, late last year, but these were put on hold and it has now been learnt that a primary reason was because of the Trust’s proposal and another one submitted to the Anglican Diocese.
Trust President Dr. Karl Watson told Barbados TODAY his organisation was keen to salvage some of the St. Joseph church because of its historic importance to the parish and wider country.
He said after conducting its own evaluation of the building’s stability, the Trust had agreed with the leadership of Anglican Church that it was unsafe for the congregation to continue attending service there.
But that did not mean it could not serve another useful purpose, he added.
“What we have advised and requested of the Anglican Church regarding St. Joseph’s is that it not be completely razed, that it not completely disappear. There are some sections that are not badly cracked and are protected by the buttresses and they could be left standing,” the historian said.
“We have proposed the creation of what in England would be called a romantic ruin. So the roof would come off and sections that are unsafe would come down, but the part of the building would be left standing. We have had a number of meetings, we had a site meeting as well.”
“It’s at that point in time where now the church is in possession of our proposals and we have had meetings with them, we have had a site visit and so on and that’s where the matter is,” he added.
Watson said salvaging part of the rural church was important, calling it “a beautiful building in a lovely location, which has history attached to it”.
“The walls would be brought down to a reasonable height and they are already supported by solid buttresses. So there would be no need to do any engineering work as such because those sections that we have recommended for retention are solid and have not been affected by the slippage, which is really affecting the eastern side of the church,” he explained.
“A good part of it has to come down, we are not disputing that, it is just that we argued the case and I think the church has agreed that it could serve a role as a romantic ruin. There are many old churches in England which are unroofed, some of the walls have been taken down but they are left there and they are historical focal points for visitation and they are used in a variety of ways.”
Watson said what Trust officials had in mind was “a place where people could still go and meditate and you could have open air weddings there, it could serve a number of functions, even though it’s not functioning as a church where Sunday service is carried out”.
“So it’s a way of preserving aspects of the past that are useful in terms of our concept of ourselves, our identify, our heritage. The Anglican Church has been a very powerful and meaningful factor in Barbados’ social history over the centuries so there are a multiplicity of reasons why a retention of a part of it as a tangible memory,” he noted.
It is understood that the Anglican Church, which is one of the island’s main property owners, is contemplating purchasing about two acres of land at Blackman’s near Grantley Adams Memorial Secondary School to construct a new St. Joseph Parish Church, but still has to settle on major issues including funding.
Richards, who is currently overseas, said: “The trustees will meet next week and there are a number of things that we may have to discuss at that meeting.”
Additionally, building project committee head Henry Taylor said there were “certain discussions” about the church’s future which now had to take place with the St. Joseph congregation and others, but that “we are making some good progress as far as that is concerned.”
The existing church structure was consecrated in 1839, but has been abandoned as a place of worship since last year. Its congregation currently worships at St. Aidan’s Church in the same parish. firstname.lastname@example.org