The City Church: Christ Church Cathedral

By Kendea Smith
Photographs courtesy of L. Roscoe Dames

The City of Nassau would not be what it is today without the construction of one monumental structure—Christ Church Cathedral. It is known as the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of The Bahamas, but Nassau was not deemed a city until the Cathedral was built and so one could not exist without the other. The cathedral located on George Street, with its beautiful stained glass windows and its grand structures, has a glorious history behind it. And so it’s little wonder why hundreds of tourists flock to the church on a weekly basis.

The structure builds Nassau
The first church on the current site was destroyed by Spanish occupation in 1684. But it was not until 1723 that the Vestry of the Cathedral, the oldest elected board in The Bahamas, that a succession of structures followed. But the present site of the cathedral was erected in 1830 and the church finally was completed in 1841. It was during the time of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1861 that the Diocese of Nassau was created. The town of Nassau was decreed and declared when Rev. Charles Caufield travelled to England with the designation of Christ Church as a cathedral.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Christ Church Cathedral is its stunning triple stained glass windows that were first installed in 1866. The windows, with their myriad of colors, center on Jesus Christ on the cross, with the Virgin Mary on the left and St. John on the right. The windows on the left and right depict the resurrection and the ascension respectively. The windows were damaged in a hurricane in 1929 and completely destroyed when a fire swept through the cathedral’s George Street location in 1942. It was then boarded up until 1949. Soon after, Charles Munroe, an American, gifted the cathedral with the current eastern windows in memory of his son, Lt. Logan Munroe, who was killed in World War II. Munroe was a regular visitor of the church and commissioned M. Fassi-Cadet of Nice, France, for the windows’ fabrication.

Time passed and the church underwent extensive restoration during the early 1990s. The north and south windows were crafted by Statesville Stained Glass Company of North Carolina in 1995.

Music to our ears: An historic organ
Another important aspect of Christ Church Cathedral is its historic organs, which date back to 1864. Created by Lewis & Sons, the air supply was by manual labor until 1920 when an electric pump was installed. The Kimball Organ Company rebuilt the aging instrument and moved the pipes from the front of the church to the west gallery in 1935. After weathering hurricane and fire damage, the Lewis organ was finally retired in 1954 and replaced by a Walker Organ. In 1986, two organs were installed, both of which were made by the Oberlinger Company. The great organ is arguably the finest in the region. It is built with three manuals, 64 ranks and 3,200 pipes. The instrument was famously featured in the American Guild of Organists.

Time will tell: The tower clock
The existing tower gained a clock in 1865. A careful look at the tower reveals the site of the clock as it was is located three feet lower than the present faces. The new clock was made in 1926 by Thwaites and Reed of London—one of the world’s oldest clock makers. They describe the clock as a “fine example of the flatbed turret clock”. The clock has a cast iron frame and sits on a horse of solid oak. The wheels and bushes are brass with steel pinions and arbors. It has a recoil anchor escapement. The going train drives a clutched bevel gear to a connecting rod that leads the motion of the work of three clock faces. These are 48 inches of diameter of convex copper painted black. The hands, minute markers and numerals are also copper, decorated with gold leaf.

The cathedral will grow
According to Dean Harry Bain, who is the fourth Bahamian head of Christ Church Cathedral, the cathedral is not the state church, though it once was. However, it is still the chosen church for most official government Christian services like state funerals, the Opening of the Legal Year and Remembrance Day; and if a royal were to visit, they would probably attend a service here.

“The church itself is a city stronghold and it is an historical site,” Bain said in an interview with Up and Away. “The Cathedral also has a large outreach, especially our social outreach that looks out for the homeless, many of whom live in the city.”

He added that Christ Church Cathedral is also pivotal because it is located in the country’s business center—Downtown Bay Street. Last year, Christ Church Cathedral held its popular Ash Wednesday service at Pompey Square.

“The Cathedral is unique because it is not like a Parish Church which is centered around residences. The draw of the cathedral for members are some of the ministries that we offer like the music ministry. It is a dynamic church and a church that we know will be around for a long time,” Bain said.

Services are held throughout the week. On Sunday, there are four services: 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. There are also services throughout the week from Monday to Friday.

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