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The History of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

On 24 July, 1824 the Diocese of Jamaica, which apart from Jamaica itself included the Bahamas and the then British Honduras (now Belize), was established by Letters Patent by King George the Fourth.  Dr. Christopher Lipscombe, who was appointed the Bishop, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace Chapel on 25 July 1824 and arrived in Jamaica on February 11, 1825. 

The Bahamas remained a part of the Jamaican Diocese until its own Diocese was created in 1861, while British Honduras remained under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Jamaica until 1891.  In 2001, the title of the ‘Diocese of Jamaica’ was amended to include ‘and the Cayman Islands’ in recognition of the growth of the Anglican Church in those islands since it came under the formal jurisdiction of Jamaica in the 1960’s.

The Church of England however had been in Jamaica since the conquest of the island from Spain in the seventeenth century. In 1660, after subjugating the Spaniards, the British established civil administration and appointed the first governor. Among his instructions were to give encouragement to ministers “… that shall be sent unto you that Christianity and the Protestant Religion according to the profession of the Church of England may have a due reverence and exercise among you.” There was apparently a delay in implementing this, and it was not until 1664 that the first clergymen arrived in the island which by this time had been divided into seven (7) parishes.

The first church to be established was the church of St Jago de la Vega in Spanish Town and this was built sometime between 1661 and 1664 on the ruins of the Spanish Church of the Red Cross which had been destroyed by the invading British troops between 1655 and 1660. It is this church, rebuilt and enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries which became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Jamaica in 1843. The Cathedral  has national and regional significance as it is not only the oldest Anglican cathedral outside of the British isles, but the site it occupies is perhaps the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in this hemisphere as a church stood on that same spot since approximately 1538.

After St Catherine, churches were established in the parishes of St Andrew (Half-Way-Tree); Vere, (Alley); Port Royal; St David’s, (Yallahs); St Thomas in the East (Morant Bay); St John’s (Guanaboa Vale); St Dorothy’s (Old Harbour) and Clarendon (Chapleton).  As can be seen, some of these parishes no longer exist.   Gradually churches were established in other parishes until all had a parish church. The original structures of these early churches were destroyed by earthquakes and hurricanes and over the years many churches were rebuilt several times. The absence of records makes dating the establishment of some of these churches difficult.

Prior to the creation of the Diocese of Jamaica, the Church in Jamaica was under the nominal authority of the Bishop of London. . Some Bishops took their responsibilities seriously, but the distance made supervision impossible.  This meant that in practice it was controlled by the government authorities in Jamaica which itself was dominated by the planter class.  The church was seen as an ally of the slave-owning interest in the region. As the clergy had no effective supervision, discipline was lax and corruption was rife.

The Establishment of the Diocese of Jamaica

This was a situation the British Government could no longer afford to continue, for from the 1820’s as a result of the work of the abolitionists, there was a growing awareness in Britain that slavery was an evil institution and should be abolished. The Government was also concerned at the growing influence which the other denominations were having among the slave population and decided it was time for the Anglican Church, which was the established church, to minister to the slave population. However it realized that it could not do this within the existing ecclesiastical structure as members of the clergy were on the whole, allies of the planter class which controlled both the central and local governments.

- Rt. Rev. Christopher Lipscomb, first Bishop of Jamaica, 1824 - 1843

The solution was to establish two dioceses in the region and appoint bishops with no previous ties to the region and to provide them with the necessary funds and authority to carry out their tasks.  The Rt. Rev. Christopher Lipscombe was appointed the first bishop of Jamaica which included, apart from Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize.  The Rt. Rev. William Coleridge was appointed Bishop of Barbados.

Bishop Lipscombe was sent to Jamaica with specific instructions to improve the spiritual conditions of the slaves in the hope that this would make them more amenable to their lot in life. In the 19 years of his ministry Bishop Lipscombe ordained 73 deacons and 66 priests, consecrated 31 churches and licensed 41 other buildings for worship.  His episcopacy is therefore important as he not only established the Church on a firm footing, but made an attempt to minister to the black and enslaved population of the island.

Bishop Lipscombe died on 4 April 1843 and was succeeded by Bishop Aubrey Spencer, Bishop of Newfoundland. In Bishop Spencer’s letters of appointment, the   Parish Church of St Catherine was made into the Cathedral of St. Jago de la Vega.  In 1844 Bishop Spencer founded the ‘Jamaica Diocesan Church Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’.  He streamlined the structure of the Diocese in 1847, dividing the country into three Archdeaconries corresponding to the three civil counties of Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey.  In 1854 Bishop Spencer became ill and was forced to retire to England.

Dr. Reginald Courtney, Archdeacon of Middlesex was consecrated a bishop on 24 March 1856 and appointed Co-adjuntor Bishop of Jamaica as Bishop Spencer continued to serve as bishop of Jamaica until his death in 1872.  In 1861 the size of the Diocese was reduced with the establishment of the Diocese of Nassau which consisted of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Disestablishment of the Church

The Church continued to be state owned in that not only did the clergy receive their stipends from the government, but Church property was owned by the state as well. However, out of a population of approximately 400,000, only about 48,000 persons claimed membership in the Church of England.  Nevertheless, the Church received over £40,000 a year from the Government.  The Government could no longer afford to maintain the Church and in 1870 it passed Law 30 of 1870 which provided for the “gradual disendowment of the Church of England in Jamaica” and the establishment of the Incorporated Lay Body of the Church.  The first Synod under Law 30 was held between Sept 29 and Oct 10, 1870 and a Constitution and Canons of the Church were passed.  (This was actually the Second Synod held that year as in January a Synod had met but the Governor refused to recognize its legality as he said that the laymen had been selected, not elected, and he could not hand over the property of the Church to such a body).

The Church now became self-governing and self-supporting, but the first few years were difficult. The laity now had to provide the funds, to maintain the clergy and the churches. They were assisted by friends and societies in England who were generous in their help.  Nevertheless, from 1870 to 1880 the number of priests rose from 55 to 75.

Bishop Courtenay, who had retained the title of Bishop of Kingston and Co-Adjutor Bishop after the death of Bishop Spencer in England in 1872 resigned in 1879. Synod failed to elect a new bishop and the English Committee of Reference composed of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London selected Bishop William Tozer. He had resigned his appointment as Missionary Bishop of Central Africa because of ill heath. He arrived in Jamaica in October but resigned and left the country in April 1880.

Rev. Enos Nuttall, who had come to Jamaica in 1862 as a missionary in the Methodist Church and was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church in 1866, was elected Bishop at a special Synod in July 1880. He was consecrated in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, in October of the same year. He was only 38 years old at his consecration and was to dominate the life of the Church for the next 36 years serving as Bishop of Jamaica as well as Primate and Archbishop of the West Indies.

- Rt. Rev. Enos Nuttall, Bishop of Jamaica 1880 -1916; first Archbishop of the West Indies 1893-1916

In an appeal to the Synod, in 1888, for assistance he itemized his work over the preceding 8 years.  This included 8 diocesan synods, 2 provincial synods, 28 ordinations, 20,000 persons confirmed, 11churches consecrated, most of the churches visited three times each, 3,000 sermons, 1,400 meetings, 40,000 letters and several pamphlets. In order to assist him, Synod agreed to the appointment of an Assistant Bishop and Archdeacon Frederick Douet was elected and consecrated in 1888.  He thus became the first Bishop who had been born in Jamaica and he served until 1904 when he retired on account of ill health.

Archbishop Nuttall continued to make outstanding contributions both to the Diocese and to the Province. It was by his efforts that the Church was placed on a sound footing after disestablishment.  There was a rapid expansion in the number of churches founded especially in Kingston and St Andrew. Churches such as St Jude’s, St Matthews, St Luke’s, St Patrick’s and All Saints, all date from this period.

In 1890, the Deaconess Order was established with the arrival in Jamaica of Sister Isabel and Sister Kate Vick.   The Deaconesses were very involved in education and in 1897 the Cathedral High School for Girls was founded in Spanish Town. This was the parent school of subsequent Deaconess and Diocesan schools. The most noteworthy of these schools (apart from Cathedral High School which in 1954 merged with Beckford and Smith’s to form St Jago High School) were St Hilda’s and St Hugh’s High Schools. 

- Bishop’s Lodge - first used as Bishop’s residence by Enos Nuttall in 1880. This was later used for church offices and then became Deaconess House in 1957.

In 1876 the Diocese began efforts to establish a local Church of England Training College. After initial difficulties, a new building to house this college was opened n 1893 on Church lands near Cross Roads in Kingston.  In 1917 D.W. Bentley on his appointment as Warden of the College wrote in the log book “St Peter is the patron Saint of the College.”  The authority on which this statement was based is lost to history, but the following year Synod unanimously agreed to accept the name ‘St Peter’s College’.

In 1883, during Nuttall’s era, the Province of the West Indies was established with the dioceses of Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Guyana (both established in 1842), Nassau and the Bahamas (separated from Jamaica to form a separate diocese in 1861), Trinidad and Tobago (1872) the Windward Islands (1869) and British Honduras (1891). In 1893 Bishop Nuttall became Primate, a title which was changed to Archbishop in 1897.

On May 31, 1916, Archbishop Nuttall died and was succeeded by Bishop George Frederick deCarteret who had been Assistant Bishop.  During his episcopacy he established as a private venture, Kingston College, a secondary school for boys with Rev. Percival Gibson as headmaster. In 1933 this became a diocesan school.  During this period also, a boy’s preparatory school, which was later named after Bishop DeCarteret, was founded in Mandeville.

- St. Peter’s College – building opened in 1893; destroyed by fire in 1970.

Bishop DeCarteret resigned as bishop of Jamaica in March 1931 and on 19 May Bishop William Hardy who had been Assistant Bishop since 1927 was elected as his successor.  In 1947 Canon Percival Gibson, who had been the headmaster of Kingston College since its establishment in 1925, was elected Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, the first coloured West Indian to have been elected a bishop.  He was also the first Suffragan Bishop in the history of the Diocese as opposed to Co-adjutor or Assistant Bishop.

In 1949 Archbishop Hardie resigned as Diocesan and as a result of the refusal by Bishop Gibson to accept nomination on the grounds of ill-health, the Rev Basil Dale was elected Bishop. He was consecrated in January 1950 and arrived in Jamaica in March.  He served until 1955 when he resigned and was succeeded by Bishop Gibson.  On his enthronement as Diocesan on February 6, 1956, he relinquished the position of headmaster of Kingston College, a position he had held for over 30 years.

The Church in Jamaica

- Rt. Rev. Percival Gibson, Bishop of Jamaica 1956-1967

Bishop Gibson’s episcopacy covered the significant period in Jamaican history when the country moved from being a colony to an independent nation. The Church also reflected this development as in 1964 Synod passed a resolution which changed the name of the Diocese to “The Church in Jamaica in the Province of the West Indies”.  The Church’s involvement in education and social work increased during this period and in 1965 Church Teachers College in Mandeville opened as a tertiary level teaching institution.

A number of new schools such as Glenmuir in May Pen and Bishops’ (later named after Bishop Gibson) in Mandeville were founded. A major development also occurred in theological education, as in 1966 St Peters Theological College closed and the Anglican Church joined several other denominations in establishing the United Theological College of the West Indies which was affiliated to the University of the West Indies at Mona. Bishop Gibson retired in 1967 and was succeeded as diocesan by Bishop Cyril Swaby, the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston

The work of ensuring that the Church remained relevant to the needs of the Jamaican society was continued by Bishop Gibson’s successors. Today, the church owns and operates nine (9) secondary schools which are grant aided in that the Government provides funds for the salaries of the staff and for the upkeep of the schools. Although all primary schools are run by the Government, the Church still owns a hundred and one (101) of the total number. Twenty nine (29) of these schools are regarded as church schools while the remainder are regarded as leased schools in that the Government is fully responsible for their upkeep. The Church however still retains certain rights. The only schools completely owned and controlled by the Church are eight preparatory schools.

The Church has an active outreach programme with many churches funding special projects in depressed or inner city areas. The largest of these is the St Andrew Settlement in Majesty Gardens sponsored by the St. Andrew Parish Church. At the Diocesan level, the Church operates three (3) children’s homes and four (4) homes for the aged.  The Church also operates a private hospital.

Bishop Swaby died in 1975 and was succeeded by Bishop Herbert Edmondson who had been Suffragan Bishop of Mandeville. He resigned in 1979 and was succeeded by Bishop Neville de Souza who had been Suffragan Bishop of Montego Bay.  One of the most controversial issues faced by the Church during the episcopacy of Bishop de Souza was the question of the ordination of women to the Ministry.  Although Synod in 1979 passed a resolution calling for the ordination of women it had to receive the required approval of the Provincial Synod and it was not until February 6th 1994 that Deaconesses Sybil Morris, Patricia Johnson and Judith Daniel on February 6th were ordained to the Order of Deacons. Two years later, on December 22, 1996, these Deacons along with the Revd. Vivette Jennings became the first women to be ordained priests in a historic ceremony at the Cathedral of St Jago de la Vega.  Rev. Judith Daniel created history again in 2001 when she was appointed a Canon of the Cathedral, the first female to achieve this rank in the Province.

In September 2000, Bishop DeSouza retired after serving as Diocesan for twenty-one years, the longest incumbency since Archbishop Nuttall.  Bishop Alfred Reid, who had been Suffragan Bishop of Montego Bay since 1980, was elected the 13th Bishop of Jamaica at a special Synod held in November 2000. He was enthroned as the Lord Bishop of Jamaica in the Cathedral on January 25, 2001.

Over the past forty (40) years the Church has been streamlining its administrative structure to keep pace with the growing population and the development of new towns and communities. In addition to Kingston, the large urban centres of Montego Bay and Mandeville have Suffragan Bishops who are responsible for the churches in their respective regions. In 2005, a fourth region was formed – the Eastern Jamaica Region - with the Diocesan Bishop as the regional bishop.  Each region also has an Archdeacon and a regional council.

According to the Synod Handbook (2008) the Church today has 32,578 registered members (this number excludes children not yet confirmed).  The breakdown is as follows:

Kingston Region 7,800 members in 21 Cures
Mandeville Region 7,828 members in 18 Cures
Montego Bay 6,304 members in 17 Cures
Eastern Jamaica 10,619 members in 21 Cures

There are 103 full time clergy, 32 Supplementary Ministers, 10 Licensed Church Workers and Church Army Officers and 1 Licensed Lay Worker.

The Church in the Cayman Islands

The presence of the Anglican Church in the Cayman Islands dates back to the 1820’s when a church was established in Bodden Town, the then capital of the Cayman Islands. The hurricane of 1837 destroyed the church building and although plans were drawn up for  rebuilding, this never materialized and after 1839 the work of the Anglican Church in the islands lapsed.

It was not until the 1960’s that organized Anglican worship was revived when a number of Anglicans asked the Bishop of Jamaica for assistance. A mission was established and ministers from Jamaica visited on a regular basis. In 1970 the Cayman Islands became part of the Deanery of Kingston and were represented for the first time at Synod.  In April 1979 a new church, St Georges, was dedicated and in 1984 a full time priest appointed. Prior to that, the church was under the oversight of the Rev. Canon Weeville Gordon, Rector of St Matthews in Kingston. By 1987 when St Georges was consecrated, the congregation had increased to the extent that the Synod could approve a resolution elevating the Mission of St George to the status of a ‘Settled Congregation”.

Provincial Matters

The Diocese has continued to be very involved in provincial matters. The Provincial Synod became fully representative in 1959. It then began to be comprised of three ‘Houses’ – the Houses of Bishops, clergy and laity. All the bishops of the Province are members of the Provincial Synod which meets every 3 years. Each Diocese is also represented by two priests and two lay delegates who are elected by their Diocesan Synods. There is a standing committee which continues the work of Synod between meetings.


Anglican Church Cemeteries in Jamaica contain a wealth of information recorded on the gravestones. The Cemetery of St. Andrew Parish Church which is the largest private cemetery in continual use in the island takes up some 8 ¼ acres. It has in excess of 7,000 graves. It is an historic site and the inscriptions provide valuable insights to personalities, customs and culture over the past 350 years. While the inscriptions are remarkable for their content, the designs on the memorial stones also provide clues to the occupations of the deceased. The Cemetery has therefore long been a focal point of interest to genealogists, historians, researchers and archaeologists. This research potential is shared by several other older churches in the island including, but not limited to, St. Thomas, ye-vale - Bog Walk, St. Saviour’s - Harewood, St. Peter’s - Alley and St. Mary’s - Port Maria to name a few. 

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