Restoring and jazzing up St Mary’s

The restoration of a St Mary’s Church 200-year-old tomb –– damaged by a falling tree –– and the reinterring of the nine lead coffins found therein are a priority of the Anglican institution in its efforts to effect repairs to the hallowed building and maintain its Heritage Site designation.

On January 4, 2015, the tomb, itself steeped in history, crumbled under the weight of the large mahogany tree, believed to be of similar age. Entombed at the gravesite is said to be two members of the Barclay family, the parents and children of whom eventually went to Liberia, one of them becoming the 14th president of that country.

The St Mary’s Church 200-year-old tomb before being damaged by the fallen tree.
The St Mary’s Church 200-year-old tomb before being damaged by the fallen tree.
The wrecked 200-year-old tomb after the tumbling mahogany tree.
The wrecked 200-year-old tomb after the tumbling mahogany tree.

However, when the tree fell and the damaged tomb was excavated, it was revealed that there were in fact nine coffins within. St Mary’s therefore had to have these coffins stored at a funeral home until the tomb could be repaired and restored.

One sad twist was that no sooner had the church secured the tomb with hoarding in anticipation of its restoration, someone entered the churchyard and stole the sheets of plywood and the two-by-four uprights rented to safeguard the spot.

St Mary’s rector Reverend Dr Von Watson would only say: “All we can do is pray for the perpetrators of this crime, because they are so unaware of what they have done and the outstanding significance to this area!

St Mary’s rector Reverend Dr Von Watson
St Mary’s rector Reverend Dr Von Watson

“I am so glad that we have people in this church who, despite the setbacks, will still press on because they know the value of this heritage site that has been entrusted to us to preserve for future generations.”

In this respect, church members are planning a heritage gala and jazz event to be held on the historic grounds of St Mary’s Church in The City, the proceeds from which go towards the full restoration of the tomb and repairs to the church building.

Slated for Saturday, June 6, on the lawns of the church, and entitled Jazz In The Yard –– A Heritage Gala, the affair will include tours of the grounds with noted historian Morris Greenidge, as he speaks to the large numbers of graves and tombs of noted personalities through history. It is believed that the legendary Bridgetown hotel owner Rachel Pringle is buried there, as is fellow hotelier Susannah Ostrehan.

Among other distinguished Barbadians buried at St Mary’s are members of the Chenery, Collymore and Lindo families who were prominent in law and business, and persons of political prominence such as National Hero Right Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod, Mayor E. D. Mottley and former “First Lady”
Mrs Carolyn Barrow.

“We want to bring the churchyard alive, with special lighting in the trees and the music of some of our top musicians here in Barbados,” said jazz event coordinator Angela Phillips.

“St Mary’s Church is so rich in history that we wanted to showcase some of this while at the same time trying to raise funds to preserve that very history,” she stated.

Performers on the night of the event will include Terry Mexican Arthur, but Phillips hesitated to reveal the others in the line-up, explaining that she was yet to confirm  some big names she knew Barbadians would love to hear.

The Jazz In The Yard will form part of the National Heritage Month of June when Barbadians celebrate the anniversary of the inscription of the island’s UNESCO World Heritage designation Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison. It is hoped the jazz event will be preceded by a Heritage Service at St Mary’s on Sunday, May 31, at 4 p.m.


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