Thoughts for Today
From the real world, sublime and challenging
St John’s, Antigua, travelling down ‘Soul Alley’ to
Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Regeneration
We now reflected upon a sense of place in St John’s. We had a day to see behind the façade of the exotic, and to be nearer to the people of this Cathedral city. It is in fact a large town of 22,219 souls, at the last count.
The island is famous for having the Georgian naval dockyard of Nelson, part of the deep-water port. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is still a working dockyard. Nelson was the Captain of H.M.S Boreas between 1784 and 1787 and based from Antigua enforcing British laws in the colonies.
The resort has 365 white sand beaches. Neighbouring island Barbuda has the largest colony of Frigate birds in the world. These delightful creatures followed us for a large part of our voyage. The choice of excursions from the ship on this day varied from swimming with stingrays, beach hopping on an island safari, kayaking, snorkeling and a sunset tropical cruise.
We docked at Redcliffe Quay in the commercial centre which featured many small shops and interesting street names e.g ‘Soul Alley. The pavements were disturbed and broken due to the many earthquakes through the years, and are awaiting restoration. The last earthquake was in December 2019, and measured 4.9 on the Richter Scale. Time has stood still in this place, endearing in its laid-backedness. “Waitin’” (Caribbean spelling) is described by theologian Bill Vanstone as the ‘The Stature of Waiting’.
When we passed a colourful sign just near to “Soul Alley” advertising ‘Oldies Night every Tuesday’ – sadly, we were a day late! As we approached the cathedral our eyes were drawn to the huge ‘pepper pot’ towers of the west end, quake- damaged steps of the old east entrance and a profusion of flowers over the ancient perimeter walls. The iron gates survive from 1789. The latest cathedral is built on a fossilized reef and was completed in 1845. It has a capacity of 2,200 and was designed by architect Thomas Fuller from Bath. On entering the cathedral we were serenaded by Richard, the cathedral caretaker, playing hymns with a Caribbean lilt. The sun streamed through the windowed apse of the east end. Something we had never seen before was the large pulpit with a prominent cross and the Star of David together. It reflects the welcome the Jewish Sephardic trading community received after their persecution from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th Century.
We enquired as to the whereabouts of the Dean and were directed to the prefabricated Deanery Office three streets away. We knocked on the door and were shown into the office by his secretary. Ernest Flemming welcomed us to Antigua, and described his life in the church with the continuing challenge of restoring the large cathedral and running six parishes. He wanted to know about our links with Coventry, and we were able to hand him the Litany of Reconciliation from Coventry Cathedral. Since then Dean John of Coventry has made links with the Caribbean Dean. It was a good meeting, and highlighted the challenges of restoration with the ongoing threat of earthquake and hurricane. The transition from being a cathedral for the Sugar Cane Planter owners to becoming a cathedral for all the people of St John’s has been the story of the last one hundred and fifty years. The Dean sends Christian greetings to us all.
On the way back to the port we walked down Agatha Goodwin Street by a more personal centre of transformation called C.H.A.T.S - Centre for Holistic Advancement of Therapeutic Service - a centre helping those who have any kind of learning difficulties and providing specialist care in speech therapy. It also provides the communities of what used to be called the Leeward Islands (under British jurisdiction) with specialist services for those with living with Autism and their families. The islands celebrated their independence in 1981 coming full circle from the earliest island community going back to 2,900 BC.
We strolled to a dock-side bar for refreshment and wi-fi connection home. The clarity was just unbelievable. The 11pm sail away entertainment was provided by the lively ’Hell Gate Antiguan Steel Orchestra’ .
Our next port of call, the following day was to be Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis. Little could prepare us for more Nelson connections, and our visit to the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton on the island of Nevis ‘The Island in the Clouds.’
We were thankful for our trip down ‘Soul Alley’, and to witness the huge resilience of such a vulnerable community was somewhat inspiring and humbling.
Edward and Jane