Miracle on North Street

Submitted by Jeeraik009 on Sat, 03/20/2010 - 13:46

Kingston's Holy Trinity Cathedral downtown is undergoing a transformation that is bringing life back to its original mosaic artwork trapped for years under layers of grey paint and guilt. The revelation of its vibrant colours is also having a miraculous effect on the surrounding community's young people employed to excavate and repaint its intricately patterned walls. It is as if they are bringing to light a part of their history and a renewed understanding of their Caribbean identities.

Holy Trinity was rebuilt in 1908 after the original edifice was destroyed by the 1907 earthquake. Its Byzantine influenced architecture was commissioned by the U.S. Bishop John Collins and the Jamaican Roman Catholic community while its vast interior was designed in 1911 by Jesuit lay-brother Francis J. Schroen, ironically, a self taught painter whose obsessive personality is evidenced in his highly decorative mosaic-like paintings that embellish the cathedral's shimmering walls. Although Schroen employed religious symbolism and illustrations of saints in his work, it is the sheer volume and detail of his murals that suggest the measure of his religious devotion. Every available space including the 85 foot high copper dome, its alcoves, the alter and vestry, glimmer with Schroen's finely painted meditative designs that bring to mind icon painting from the early Christian era.

In 1970 when black power was on the ascendent and at a time when the Catholic church was trying to revamp its image (especially in post colonial nations) the Cathedral's mosaics were painted over in an attempt to downplay its european aesthetic. The result was a cool, stark grey, functional finish that felt more like a modern gallery than a church.

Today it seems bizarre that Jamaicans would have exchanged Schroen's idiosyncratic vibrancy for blank dull walls that were far from culturally neutral, and the steady stream of appreciative visitors to the church is testimony to our shifting sensibilities and our new age tolerance. The two million dollar collaboration sponsored by the Spanish Embassy and led by master restorer Professor Antonio Sanchez-Barriga Fernandez aided by teams of young people from the community is also evidence of this change. Forty years on, we have learned to accommodate a colonial history that is polyglot and multi-cultural and completely awed by history's brilliantly coloured past. Photo credit © Hope Brooks