The history and evolution of Holy Trinity Church
The year 2023 is a significant one for Holy Trinity Church, or Hamilton Parish Church as it was originally known, since it celebrates the church’s 400th anniversary. Viewed from the water of Harrington Sound in Hamilton Parish, the little church rising out of its surrounding white stone graves and cedars certainly has a timeless air.
At first look, it’s easy to believe it has been there since the earliest years of Bermuda’s settlement, just thirteen years after Bermuda’s first governor, Richard Moore, arrived on the Plough. Indeed, enter the churchyard and you’ll see a tablet on one wall of the building which seems to confirm the date. Engraved on it is the inscription: “This church was first erected in 1623 on land given by Samuel Trott of Walsingham.” However, on closer observation, the gabled roof, the pointed arched windows and doors, are far more nineteenth than twentieth century in character since this neo-Gothic style of architecture became fashionable in the Victorian era. Nevertheless, these features, together with the bell tower and spire, were changes and additions to a much earlier and smaller building. Was it first erected in 1623? The most likely answer to that question is “No.” For one thing, according to Hamilton Parish, published by the Bermuda National Trust, Samuel Trott had not yet been born. The son of a London merchant, Perient Trott, who owned two shares or 48 acres at Walsingham in Hamilton Parish, Samuel did not come to Bermuda until the late 1660s.
Why then is Holy Trinity holding to the 1623 date? In 1622 the Somers Island Company had authorised the building of a church for Hamilton Parish, which may have been built on glebe land on the other side of Harrington Sound. If it did exist, as several historians believe, it would have been constructed, like the first St. Peter’s Church of St. George’s, out of cedar with a palmetto thatched roof. And again, like St. Peter’s, it could have been blown away in a hurricane. In any case, as Canon John Stow, priest-in-charge of Holy Trinity and St. Mark’s in Smith’s Parish, points out, the 400th anniversary celebrates the parish, as well as the church itself.
Samuel Trott, possible builder of Walsingham House, stayed in Bermuda until his death in 1699, during which time he may have donated land for the present Anglican church in the parish. As stated in Hamilton Parish, it’s likely that a stone church but with thatched roof was on the present site by the late 1660s or early 1670s. We know it was definitely on the site by 1677 because Holy Trinity still has a silver tankard inscribed “to the Church of Hambleton Tribe” which was presented that year by a mariner, George Ball, who owned land on Harrington Sound. While the site of St. Peter’s Church is certainly the oldest site of an Anglican church in the western hemisphere, it is arguable it’s not the oldest church since the present building was constructed in 1713. Arguably, Holy Trinity Church, or at least the part of it where the chancel is now, has that honour.
While the earliest drawings of Holy Trinity still in existence only go back as far as 1819, we do have some idea of what it looked like, thanks to a description of it recorded in the diary of Major Jonathan Outerbridge (circa 1680–1747). His diary is now lost, but his descendent, Anna Maria Outerbridge (1848–1928), suffragette and historian, had access to it and wrote or quoted the following about the church: “It was a plain structure measuring 56 feet in length, 25 feet in width on the outside and 11 feet 9 inches from floor to ceiling within. The porch was on the southern side the vestry on the north behind the pulpit; the latter was carved of oak brought from England by whom I have never been able to ascertain. This was the only thing ornamental in the church as the windows, few in number were simply closed with cedar shutters. The roof, built of massive cedar rafters, was thatched with leaves of palmetto. These, if easily procured, had the great drawback of being easily blown away.” The roof was blown away and the church damaged in the hurricane of 1712. Apparently Major Outerbridge, who was a church warden and a magistrate, resigned from his seat in the House of Assembly to supervise repairs to the church and to create a new stone roof the following year.
In A Chronicle of a Colonial Church 1612–1826, A. C. Hollis Hallett explains, “Nothing is known of any alterations to Hamilton Parish Church before 1767 when, under the influence of the rector, Lyttleton, the parishioners decided to stop up the chancel door and to erect a communion table and a font. It was further agreed that the table to be ‘first done’ and its frame was paid for in 1768. The parishioners also decided that new windows were needed. The church was sealed in 1770, and in 1776 the windows, seven in all, were altered to become sash windows and glazed with 24 panes each.”
We can see what these windows were like in two 1819 drawings by J.C.S. Green of the church seen from the south and the north. We can also see, as Hallett points out, that the porch was on the north side in 1819, whereas according to Outerbridge, it had been on the south about a century earlier. Archdeacon Jack Cattell, rector of Holy Trinity from 1960, describes in his Story of Holy Trinity Church Hamilton Parish further changes twenty-four years later: “The interior underwent extensive renovation in 1825. The floors were renewed, and the chancel floor lowered to be even with that of the body. New pews were installed, and the sounding board over the pulpit was removed. The minutes record the decision that ‘the columns and other ornaments which separate the chancel from the body of the church should be removed; the column to be placed under the front beam of the gallery, and the circular ornaments be over them in front of the gallery.’”
Another rector, Richard T. Tucker, also affected the building. He had proposed in 1830, at the request of Archdeacon Aubrey Spencer, that the church be enlarged to accommodate black members of the parish, but the parish voted five to one against. Nevertheless, in 1834, the year of Emancipation, the south porch was extended. Ten years later, 25 feet were added to the western section of the nave, according to the parish records. Rather gruesomely, parish records state Anthony Samuel Trott was appointed by the vestry to collect stone and “remove such corpses as might be in the way of the building.” A sketch of the church dated 1862 shows this western extension with its gabled roof and the now familiar arched windows and door. In a photograph taken by Bermudian photographer James B. Heyl at the end of the nineteenth century, the church is now instantly recognisable. It features the spire and tower which were added in 1895 and designed by Bailey’s Bay architect William Downing Wilkinson. Not seen is the new bell with the inscription, “In memory of Revd Alexander Ewing, Rector of the Parish 1791–1817.” This rector was the grandfather of the much-loved Rev. George Tucker, rector of Hamilton and Smith’s parishes from 1869 to 1888 and then again from 1891 to 1907. Appointed Archdeacon in 1898, he was an extremely generous benefactor to Holy Trinity. Thanks to him, for example, the church gained a Bevington organ in 1893. In 1910, as stated in Hamilton Parish, “the cruciform symmetry of the church was completed by the addition of the north transept built in memory of Archdeacon Tucker and the vestry during the same year. The work for this was done by cabinet-maker Arthur Roberts Wilkinson.”
Holy Trinity’s interior is particularly aesthetically pleasing for a number of reasons. The ship-knees used in the construction of the roof and doors reflect Bermuda’s seafaring heritage. Famous for its twenty-seven beautiful stained-glass windows, the church is always suffused with light. Its simple white walls and Bermudian tray ceiling contrast with the carved mahogany high altar installed in 1873, the pulpit, and the beautiful screen erected in 1875 that separates the chancel from the nave. In 1962 the northern transept was consecrated as Memorial Chapel, its altar and credence table having been carved by Bermudian George Trott to match the high altar. Two stained-glass windows on either side of the door in the northern transept commemorate Archdeacon Tucker’s sons, George and Ewing, both tragically killed within days of each other during the First World War. Designed by J. Henry Dearle of William Morris and Company, they depict fortitude and valour. Five other windows were designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, friend of William Morris, and were made by the same company. The bronze baptismal font is modern and very unusual. Mounted on a base of Vermont marble, in 1971, it was designed by Vicenzo Gallucio, who lived in Bermuda, and donated by Mrs. Bernard Wilkinson and her daughter Josephine (Josie) Wilkinson- Gould. A shell rests upon fish thought by the former rector of Holy Trinity, the Rev. Canon Alan Tilson, to be mullets, so popular with the fishermen of St. David’s, but resembling more dolphin fish or mahi-mahi.
Holy Trinity is very much a country church as its cemetery makes obvious. The setting on the hillside dotted with cedars, the tranquil views of Harrington Sound all add to the rural ambience. But so do many of the graves celebrating families—the Hollises, the Outerbridges, the Trotts, for example—residents of Hamilton Parish going back across the generations. Many of those families have been loyal members of this Anglican church, but as Canon Stow points out, the churchyard can have special significance to people from other parishes and to members of other denominations in Hamilton Parish since it’s also the burial place of their ancestors and relatives. “My grandfather is buried here,” many a person will tell him. Not everyone buried in the churchyard was born in Bermuda. For example, American director, producer and screenwriter Arthur Rankin, who worked mostly in animation and who lived in the parish for some years, is also interred here. Some graves are anonymous. One “tabletop” grave may well go back to the 1670s, while others on the waterside were built above a cave, known as the Harrington Sound Notch, which was created by innumerable date pit mussels (Lithophaga nigra) munching their way through limestone. Also in the churchyard is the old sandstone font used inside the church from 1849 until it was replaced in 1971.
Opposite the church, steps leading up to Harrington Sound Road from the water give the clue to how the dead were brought to the church in the days before the road was built—by boat. A hearse house to the east of the church apparently once housed a horse-drawn hearse and dates back to 1859. Nearby is the altogether more modern, twentieth-century church hall, dedicated in 1997 and designed by Bermudian architect Stephen West.
Celebrating an institution often means safeguarding its condition. In 2022, Holy Trinity began extensive renovations getting, as Canon Stow puts it, “this old church to be structurally sound and beautifully presented.” As happened throughout the church’s history, local residents and church members have been very generous and gave more than $250,000 to the capital appeal in the first quarter of 2022.
Celebration also means looking back on the past. The history of the church will be featured in the Trinity 400 Exhibition, curated by Vaughan Evans of the Bermuda Society of Arts and held for three weeks in the Edinburgh Gallery at City Hall, April 1–21. The exhibition’s opening will include an enactment of a significant historical event. In 1826, Bishop John Inglis of Nova Scotia visited Bermuda (the first bishop ever to do so) and consecrated Hamilton Parish Church as St. Andrew’s. Why this name was chosen no one is sure since it never “stuck.” Soon after, the church was named Holy Trinity rather than after the patron saint of Scotland.
The exhibition will be significant, Canon Stow says, since it will include the “timelines showing how events and conditions in Bermuda in any given period relate to those in the wider world. This will not be an idealised view of our past, and not all that is uncovered will make us feel proud, but the journey into a deeper understanding of our heritage promises to be fascinating.” In central place at the exhibition, he adds, “will be our new list of Hamilton Parish priests, brought up-to-date with the addition of the names of clergy from the Ven. Jack Cattell to the present, and reflecting research of recent times conducted by Clara “Keggie” Hallett that reveals more than was previously published about the comings and goings of our early clerics.”
During a music festival held on Trinity weekend, June 2–4, a new icon of the Holy Trinity will be dedicated. It was gifted by writer, broadcaster and apprentice iconographer Carol Henderson, who was inspired by the famous fifteenth-century icon by Andrei Rublev, now in the Monastery of St. Sergius near Moscow. Hana Bushara, intern at the Bermuda National Museum, has been helping Hamilton Parish residents, as well as church members, to contribute their stories and photos to the museum’s Bermuda Family Scrapbook project. In November, the anniversary year will end in the Church Hall with a festival of family heritage in the parish, acknowledging the talents and achievements of both past and present local families.
Offering Community Support
While conducting regular weekly church services and Sunday school, Holy Trinity also assists people in need. The Lord’s Larder, run by Jane Stow from Holy Trinity’s rectory and Helen Tyte from St. Mark’s, receives funds and generous donations from church members to support local families with baskets of dried food and non-perishables, and at Christmas, Jane organized a fund-raiser for gift vouchers. As a former teacher of the deaf, she’s also assisted the deaf community in Bermuda, together with Konnie Tucker, former interpreter in Cuba and wife of Rev. James Tucker at Christ Anglican Church, Devonshire. They both, for example, helped adults in that community receive COVID vaccinations. In addition, Holy Trinity supports Stella’s Voice, an overseas charity in Moldova, as well as local charities SCARS and the Bermuda Diabetes Association.