Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception - Castries, St. Lucia

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Castries, St. Lucia, is the largest church in the Caribbean and one of nine basilicas in the Caribbean. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Castries, which covers the entirety of the island nation.
Cathedral in Castries, St. Lucia.

This Door of Mercy is a result of a Papal bull issued by Pope Francis in  October 2015 to designate a Holy Door in each diocese throughout the world to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He stated, "The Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope." 
We visited in a rush to get back to our cruise ship just as a funeral was letting out. So our timing was limited and the crowds prevented some photos we'd liked to have taken. 

It was built in 1897 on Micoud Street in what is now known as Derek Walcott Square (after a St. Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate) and named a Minor Basilica on May 11, 1999.

One of the things that caught our eye in pictures before-hand were the bright colors used to decorate the inside of the cathedral, including trompe l' oeil columns (painted columns that make them look three dimensional) of purple and pink. Unfortunately, the lighting inside was bad for photos and my pictures don't convey the extent of the amazing color.
From near the entrance, looking forward toward the altar. 
Looking back toward the entrance. 
The main altar.
My favorite thing about the cathedral is its adaptation of the Christian story to local culture, with Caribbean and African (slaves brought to the Caribbean) themes. I particularly liked stained glass windows featuring the holy family as black. 
Mary, Jesus and Joseph

St. Lucia's most famous artist, Dunstan St. Omer, did murals inside the cathedral. He designed the flag for St. Lucia when it became a nation in 1979 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for his contribution to the arts in St. Lucia. He is known as the father of the prismism style of painting, which is to show the subject in a fragmented form, as seen through a prism. He has been criticized and acclaimed for his portrayal of black divinity. He was quoted saying, "If my faith depends on Christ being white, I think I will lose my faith because the relationship that exists in the world between the white race and the black race is one of prejudice and inferiority for the blacks." From what I can find, it appears that he did all of the murals around the inside of the building. St. Omer's concern about racial inequality is a main theme in these murals. 
St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639) is the patron saint of mixed race people and those who seek racial harmony. He was born in Peru as the illegitimate son of a Spaniard and a free slave. Native people and Africans were barred from joining religious orders in Peru. The Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima accepted him as a volunteer and eventually the prior allowed him to take his vows, despite the law. He was known for his charity and working with the sick. He was canonized in 1962. 

Here is one of Dunstan St. Omer's depictions of Mary and Jesus as black. 
The Holy Family. Unlike the stained glass above, Joseph has a dark beard, instead of a white beard, 

Bishop Gachet and Father Tapon before the Virgin Mary. Father Tapon began construction of the church in 1894 (it was finished in 1897). It became a cathedral in 1957 when Castries became a diocese headed by Bishop Gachet. 
St. Anthony of Padua, the finder of lost objects and St. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, one of the 12 apostles, the patron of lost causes. Behind them is the image of Edessa, a rectangle of cloth upon which a miraculous image of Christ (here black) has been imprinted, brought by Thaddeus, which healed the King of Edessa. I assume that this represents the need for the natives and black descendants of slaves to be found and healed. 

The Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey (1779 to 1851) is known as the Liberator of Slaves in the New World and "mother of the blacks." Among other things, she established a colony in Guiana and prepared a group of 520 African slaves for emancipation. The majority of them became Christian and learned European ways. She was beatified in 1950.

This depiction of Jesus is not black, so I assume this mural was not painted by Dunstan St. Omer. 
Saint Lucy, or Saint Lucia in Spanish, is the patron saint of the island of St. Lucia. Saint Lucy lived from 283 to 304 in Syracuse, Sicily, and died as a martyr during the persecutions of Diocletian. Late accounts of her persecution depict her as having her eyes gouged out, or taking her own eyes out to discourage a persistent suitor. Then at the time of her burial, her eyes had miraculously been restored. Therefore she is often depicted in iconography with her eyes on a dish. She is also depicted holding a palm branch as a symbol of victory over evil. Several sources note that St. Lucy is depicted above the altar in the cathedral. The only thing I can see that could be that depiction is the star-burst type painting above the three chairs behind the altar.  

A Minor Basilica is entitled to show the Tintinnabulum (bell mounted on a pole) and Umbraculum (umbrella). The only indication I found of them was a mural above one of the doors featuring the Umbraculum. 
Finally, some odds n' ends photos.
A very modern rose window.
St. George slaying a dragon.

An altar to the side of the main altar.
Another altar to the side of the main altar. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I loved this cathedral that embodied everything Caribbean, from the riot of color to the dark-skinned Holy Family.

  3. I thought the dark skin was particularly interesting. I love a culture that adopts its own take on such things.

  4. I had the pleasure of visiting this stunning Cathedral last week and it was truly amazing. I happened to have my professional equipment with me and made a video to show it to those who aren't able to see it in person. I have provided the link below if you wish to check it out!

  5. Does anyone know the mass schedule for Christmas. We will be arriving at the seaport at 8 a.m. Thanks!

  6. Wonderful, evocative blog. Thank you!