St John's Anglican Cathedral

St John's Anglican Cathedral
The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Divine, St. John's, Antigua, West Indies

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Restoration Deans

The Restoration of St. John’s Cathedral has been a project that has spanned the lives of many Deans.  The restoration was started by Rev. Carl Major during the time that the Right Rev. Orland Lindsay was acting Dean.  This section seeks to honour the contributions that all the Deans have made and to remember those who have died.
The Right Rev Orland Ugham Lindsay
Jan 1971—Jul 1971

The Very Rev  Fitzroy Elderfield Pestaina
1971 –1976

The Very Rev Hilton Manessah Carty

The Very Rev William Vincent Lake

The Very Rev J. Rudolph Smithen

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Church within a Church – A Building within a Building

Timber House Frame with Mortise and Tenon Joints


Wooden Floor Beam in the Cathedral

We have all heard this description of the Cathedral but we are now starting to see exactly what this means.  The Cathedral is two separate buildings each with its own unique structure that share a foundation.  The wooden structure consists of a timber frame made up of large wooden beams that run in the floor, in the walls, up the columns and into the roof.  These large beams, some measuring as much as 12” x 12” are joined together mostly using mortise and tenon joints.  This old method of joining wooden beams is done by cutting out or mortising a hole in one beam and cutting down part of the other beam to fit into that hole.  The parts are pinned together with wooden rods or dowels that pass through both pieces.  This timber frame is essentially the skeleton of the Cathedral.  It is to this frame that the wooden pitch pine interior paneling is fastened. 

Wooden Wall Beams and Outer Wall Brick lining

Wood Columns

Wooden Beams in the Roof
The exterior walls consist of cut stone walls that have an inner brick lining.  These walls run from the foundation outer walls all the way up to the parapets that surround the roof.  The only other stone structures in the Cathedral were the aisles stone slabs that rested on the inner foundation walls and on some of the wooden floor beams. 

We can now see the idea behind the engineering.  The outer stone walls shielded the wooden structure in times of hurricanes.  The same walls would then be encouraged to fall outwards in the event of a major earthquake.  This would make their repair/replacement relatively easy as the inner building remained intact.  We are using this feature in our restoration plans.  We are restoring the inner wooden building first.  After that is finished we can then restore the outer building while we worship within.

Parapet Wall Showing Inner Bricks

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Termite Extermination - Stage 1

Termite Extermination Plan

We have decided to exterminate the termites in the Cathedral in four stages.
Stage 1
Spray the foundations with a liquid chemical that will kill the subterranean termites there and leave behind a residue that will continue to protect the Cathedral.
Stage 2
Fumigate the entire Cathedral with a fumigant that will kill every termite in each and every nook and cranny of the church.
Stage 3
Spray the interior walls of the Cathedral after the wood paneling has been removed.

Stage 4
Spray the wooden beams in the roof that are not termite infested. 

This plan combined with the use of only pressure treated lumber and ongoing maintenance treatments will minimize any future termite infestations.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Building to Last

A year ago I stumbled accross the Archbishop's of Canterbury's New Year's Day message 2008.  I found it quite stirring and from time to time I reflect on it.  While the message is one about the environment and the creation of waste by modern society, it is a message that can be applied to a restoration. 

"In a society where we think of so many things as disposable; ...... do we end up tempted to think of people and relationships as disposable?"

"Building to last is something we all understand and if we live in a context where we construct everything..on the assumption they will be replaced before long, what have we lost?"

"God is involved in building to last. ....  He doesn’t give up on the material of human lives.....God doesn’t do waste.  He doesn’t regard anyone as a waste of space as not worth His time.  And so a life that communicates a little bit of what God is like, is a life that does not give up.  That doesn’t settle down with a culture of waste and disposability, whether with people or with things."
 I see this philosophy extending to restoration.  Even after 162 years of use, we are not ready to dipose of the St. John's Cathedral.  If we do what would we have lost?  God is a restoration God because He does not do waste.  He restores, redeems, justifies and saves us through His Son.
The Restoration of St. John's Cathedral might not merely be the restoration of a historic building, it might truly be the restoration of ourselves.

Dean Rudolph Smithen

Dean Smithen often tells us that it seems like he is involved in extensive restoration works at every church he is posted.  From Anguilla to St. Kitts and now Antigua.  The Restoration of the Cathedral has been a challenge that every dean has faced as far back as I can remember.  Dean Baker, Dean Carty, Dean Lake and now Dean Smithen.  Let us hope and pray that Dean Smithen will be the last dean to shoulder this least for the next 100 years or so.

Dean J. Rudolph Smithen hopefully the last of the restoration deans.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What does the restoration mean to you?

I started this blog in response to a request from committee and vestry members to keep a diary.  Truth be told with only one exception (Rememberance Day) I have not really posted my thoughts and opinions on this forum.  This blog is principally about the restoration construction activities that take place at the church.  More often or not when speaking about this blog I often say the blog, not my blog.  I prefer the restoration to have its own spirit and own identity and not be too unduly influenced by my opinions.  But who am I fooling?  Being invovled at so many levels and in so many ways, that is wishful thinking.

So now I am moved me to do something different today.  No doubt I am motivated to respond in someway to the barage of criticism that we have received in the press lately (Is the Cathedral's Integrity Being Undermined?).  And as much as I have tried to avoid it I will be making an "appearance" this Monday on Observer radio's Voice of the People.  Truth is the cirticism is actually a Godsend.  And much of the fears expressed have been due to a lack of information.  People have the right to know and criticism can be a good thing. 

But while my response on Monday will be to inform and assure people, the purpose of this post will be to publicise my personal motivation on this restoration. 

"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18

This restoration is and will continue to be technically challenging, financially intimidating and emotionally draining.  What manner of insanity possess us to attempt this at these times?  There are people who claim that we should close the Cathedral and build a new one.  The Restoration of St. John's Cathedral is worth it because of the beauty and significance of the building.  It is also an active house of worship.  Furthermore many Antiguans have expressed sentimental feelings for the Cathedral.  These are all good reasons for restoration.  But for me I see that the Restoration is a sermon.  A sermon in which all of us have a part to play and a part to say.  I do not believe that God needs the Cathedral in order to express His power and majesty.  He has far greater wonders on this planet and throughout the Universe.  But I believe He is pleased with the effect that the Cathedral has on our hearts.  The challenges we will meet and wrestle with and overcome will only be worthwhile in so far as they bring us closer to God and say to the world that we are a people who love our Creator.  Technically challenging, financially intimidating, emotionally draining but spiritually uplifting.

"Preach the Gospel always; use words only when necessary."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Termite and water damaged wall beams

Interior wall repair from Phase II will have to done now as there is no way we will be able to refasten the interior wooden panels to these rotting timbers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Early Electrical Wiring

We have seen quite a bit of early electrical wiring in the Cathedral.  My internet research has yielded that this was called "Knob and tube" wiring.
This next picture shows where the mains came into the building.  Note the ceramic tubes in the wooden louvres.

Here is the other side of that wall.  Note the structural cracks and the deteriorating stones.  God is keeping us busy.

Roof Works recommence

We have restarted the works on the roof. 

The dry rotted rafters have been removed.

The copper main gutters that lie just inside the parapet wall have been removed along with their timber supports. You can now see the brick inner lining of the outter walls.

Unfortunately we have uncovered some areas of termite damage in some of the main timbers.  These will also have to be replaced.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roof Works

The wood for the roof is here.  We recommence works on the roof tomorrow.

Vestry Floor Demolition

Blessed Stone

We gave a piece of the Cathedral floor to a local artist to see if he could put something interesting on it. This is what he did.

Cathedral Day Tours a Success

The Cathedral Day Tour was a great success.  By a quarter to eight that Saturday morning people were already gathering.  The first tour went in shortly after eight and it was nonstop for the rest of the day.  People were interested and excited during and after the tour.  Many people bought their piece of blessed stone.  In all we grossed a little over $15,000 EC.

Congratulations to all who took part.   However the real fruit of this experience is all the interest that it generated.  We will have to do it all again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cathedral Tours

Tours of
the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
One Day Only
Saturday 27th November 2010
Time 8AM – 4PM

Ø Hear an overview of the history of the three churches that have been built on that site
Ø See the 1840’s underground ventilation and water system which is visible now that the floor has been removed
Ø Spend a moment in quiet prayer at the altar.
Ø Purchase a piece of Blessed Stone – which has been removed from the Cathedral floor. It will come complete with a certificate of authenticity. 

Tours can be pre-booked by calling 779 7518. A minimum donation of $10.00 per person will be accepted for the tour.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fumigation of St. John's Cathedral - Los Angeles, California



They have a hospital, day care centre and soup kitchen on the back of their church and they did not even bother to remove the food from the kitchen.  They do not seem to be worried about the potential harmful effects of Vikane.

Termite Fumigation

How do you kill the millions of termites that have infested every nook and cranny of the Cathedral?  You fumigate.  Spraying only helps with small localised infestations.  When the entire building is infested you must fumigate.  However we have to convince the local Pest Control board that we can do that safely. 

Fumigation involves covering the entire building with a tent and filling the building with a termite killing gas.  While this has been done locally before in the past on other buildings, we are getting some reluctance to allow this for the Cathedral.  Please pray that the Pest Control Board will "sign off" on this project or else our restoration will be very seriously compromised.

Can we tent a building the size of the Cathedral?  The King Kamehameha Hotel in Hawaii was tented and fumigated recently.  As you can see it was a large mulitstory building and it was completely covered with a tent.

Monday, November 15, 2010


There are a number of tourist websites that describe the architecture of the Cathedral as Neo-baroque.  But just what is this style?

The Baroque Revival or Neo-baroque was an architectural style movement in the early 20th century. The term is used to describe architecture which displays important aspects of Baroque style, but is not from the Baroque period proper—i.e., the 17th and 18th centuries. -Wikipedia

Baroque  is an artistic style prevalent from the late 16th century to the early 18th century in Europe...........characterized by dynamic movement, overt emotion and self-confident rhetoric.
...........Baroque architecture ....a means of impressing visitors and expressing triumphant power and control.- Wikipedia
The Széchenyi Medicinal Bath in Budapest

St. John's Cathedral
What do you think?  Does it impress visitors?  Does it express triumphant power and control? It is Neo-baroque?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Sinking Font

No its not an optical illusion.  The font is sinking.
We are still brainstorming how we are going to move it.  It is solid stone and is a survivor of the 1843 earthquake, an account of which can be read here (  One thing is for sure, when we move it, we wont move it far.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day - Lest we forget

At the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War, the war to end all wars came to an end.  The flower of an entire generation perished in this war and as Margret Lockett wrote in her book, "Antigua Then," not a British family in Antigua was untouched.  To this day war rememberance practices and ceremonies are observed at this time because of this war.  There is an entire altar dedicated to those young men who fell in this war and the other wars since.  Their names are inscribed in the many plaques that surround this memorial.  However there is one name there that fascinates me. 

It is Captain Ian Donald Roy McDonald ( a quadruple fighter ace of the then RFC/RAF.  The propeller of his fighter aircraft an SE-5a ( hangs over the altar.

 He was credited with 20 aerial victories and was decorated.  He survived the war only to perish in Iraq during the insurgency there in 1920. 

I pray that the sacrifices that he and all the young men made in these armed conflicts, before and since then, be never devalued or forgotten by those of us whose freedom they secured.  ....all the young men....on both sides of all conflicts.

 May God grant us the wisdom and love for one another to stop sacrificing our young men and women in these armed conflicts.

Termites and more termites

Termites are in the pews, in the floor, in the walls and even in some foundation bricks. They're everywhere!!

We are planning a mass kill.  An extermination of gargantuan proportions.  Thank God we are not Buddists. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cathedral myths and mysteries

For years we have heard that the Cathedral is built on a volcano or that there was some mysterious dark hole in the foundation.  Well the following pictures will show the closest thing we have found to this.  It is we believe an inspection hole or manhole of some sort.  We thought that it was connected to the rainwater drain system underneath the aisles but we have not found any connections.  This hole is located right next to the north door by the vestry.  It was hidden beneath a small section of pews that were built over it right next to the stairwell.  Given the superstitious nature of people years ago, it is not to hard to imagine how this feature could become the source of these stories.  It looks innocent enough in the pictures because the flash illuminates the bottom.  But even on the brightest days it is a dark and mysterious hole.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rainwater Drains Underneath the Aisles

The rainwater from the roof was drained down pipes enclosed within the walls at the four corners of the section of the Cathedral where the Main and cross aisles intersect.  The water was then channeled away by stone and brick gutters that ran under the aisles and out into the cistern on the north side of the churchyard.