One of the biggest tourist attractions across the globe is the monuments that humans have constructed to praise, worship and honour their religious beliefs. History has shown us that when people populated a new land, one of the first things to be built was a place of worship; for kings, queens, pharoahs, caliphs and emperors, the obligatory way to display the divine right to rule was to build the most elaborate and ornate church, mosque or shrine.
In Saint Lucia we have nothing so grand as the Sagrada Familia in Spain, Notre Dame in France or St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican but what we do have are churches that have been built with care and love by generations of Saint Lucians. Centrally featured in each village and town, these churches symbolise the dominance of Catholicism in the lives of the people.
When the French took control of the island in 1763 they introduced Catholicism and, in short order, churches were erected in eleven districts: Gros Islet, Soufrière, Choiseul, Laborie, Vieux Fort, Micoud, Praslin, Dennery, Castries, Anse La Raye and Dauphin. Interestingly, the church in Dauphin was the only church to be built from stone and mortar. The others were by fourches en terre – wooden posts sunk into the ground with thatched roofs made from coconut or sugar cane leaves. As anyone can imagine, these structures did not stand the test of time or the elements.
On October 11th, 1780, disaster struck the island in the form of the worst hurricane ever seen here. It decimated the flimsy construction including the wooden churches. According to Baron de Laborie, the appointed governor in 1782, “The hurricane of 1780 destroyed all the Churches except that of Dauphin, and it is still the only one in existence in the colony.” The powers that be decided to rebuild only five of the churches and, as one could imagine, the people of Saint Lucia were in uproar! One parishioner was recorded as saying, “Some (churches) will be so far away that they will lose two or three days of their slaves’ work, when children are born and are to by taken to Church for Baptism . . .”
In true Saint Lucian (and Catholic) style, people pooled their resources to rebuild in stone all ten of the obliterated churches. Laborie was the first and by 1789 the edifices at Praslin, Soufrière, Choiseul, and Vieux Fort were complete. The others, however, were abandoned or not started because, as anyone who loves history will know, the beginning of the French Revolution was just around the corner.