By Bernard Lauwyck
One of the generally unknown and most mysterious spaces in the Roseau Cathedral is
the CRYPT, where several Bishops and clergy were buried.
I had the privilege to give some priests, architects and friends the opportunity to visit the crypt and get some feedback from them. I learned much from Dr. Lennox Honychurch during his visit, but still many questions remain to be answered. The translations of the Latin and French texts, faded with age, were also quite a challenge, but with the help of many learned minds, I am confident that we got as close as possible to the exact version.
In architecture , a crypt (from the Latin “crypta”) designates any vaulted building partially or entirely below the ground level, such as sewers, the stalls for horses and chariots in a circus, storage cellars.
It was natural, therefore, for the early Christians to call their catacombs “cryptae” , which means “hidden places” in Greek. When churches came to be erected over the tombs of saints and martyrs, underground chapels, known as crypts , were built around the actual tomb.
The most famous crypt is St. Peter’s, built over the circus of emperor Nero, the site of St. Peter’s martyrdom.
As early as the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine (AD 306–337), the crypt was considered a normal part of the church building. Further incentive to the building of crypts was provided by growth of ecclesiastical sanction of burials within the church walls. The Council of Mainz (813AD) officially approved the interment of bishops, abbots, worthy priests, or loyal laymen in a church, and from that time burials within the building, usually in the crypt, multiplied.
The practice was that the crypt had small burial slots called loculi (“little Places).
The Roseau Cathedral crypt has 18 burial slots, three still vacant, which means that 15 persons are buried in this crypt.
The crypt is 8 feet wide and 14 feet long. The height from the floor to the apex of the vaulted ceiling is 7‘-6”. The vaulted ceiling is constructed out of red bricks and from the look of them, they seem to be homemade bricks and not the industrial hard, solid, sharp-edged bricks which were used as ballast in ships crossing the ocean, as are everywhere evident in the town of St. George’s in Grenada.
The chapel above the crypt, which was built by Bishop R.M.C. Poirier, third Bishop of Roseau, was consecrated on the 19th March 1873 so one can assume that the vaulted crypt was from the same period.
The date is inscribed in a large marble plaque set into the wall of the chapel, which was at that time called the St. Joseph chapel, establishing in 1873 the “perpetual cult” of St. Joseph . Saint Joseph the Worker was a powerful saint for Catholic workers. Ten years after Karl Marx’ “Das Kapital”, “Rerum Novarum” was issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891, establishing the Catholic workers movements as an answer to the socialist movement.
The use and name of this space or chapel has changed many times ever since.
After the damage done by hurricane DAVID on August 29, 1979, the marble Baptismal Font was placed in this chapel and it became the Place for Baptism.
During the renovations leading up to the September 7, 1994 ordination of Bishop Edward Gilbert , it was redesigned as the Blessed Sacrament chapel as the two stained glass windows depicting grain/bread and grape/wine still testify.
Bishop Edward Gilbert relocated the Blessed Sacrament and the space became the Marian or Lady’s chapel with the statue of OUR LADY OF FAIR HAVEN.
On the floor in front of Her statue, a plywood sheet covered with carpet hides the stairs to the crypt.
Upon descending the 14 red tiled steps towards the crypt entrance, one notices two marble engraved memorial stones, set upright (vertically) in the walls.
Memorials are a focus for mourning and remembrance of our loved ones. In a Protestant context , the very wealthy often erected elaborate memorials within churches rather than having simply external gravestones.
Memorial stones are very old as one can read in Joshua 4:1-9. “After the nation crosses over, God commands Joshua to set up a memorial of the crossing. “And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying: “‘take twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. …Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.”
As our engraved marble memorial stones were not exposed to rain and sun, they are fairly well preserved, but still difficult to decipher. They are the memorial slabs for the first two Bishops of Roseau:
- Most Rev. Michael MONAGHAN was the first Bishop of Roseau , from his ordination on February 16, 1851 in Port of Spain till his death , at the age of 42 , on July 14, 1855 on the Island of St. Thomas. He was buried there.
Michael MONAGHAN was Irish, from the County Longford, Diocese of Ardagh. and was the bishop responsible for the purchase and installation of the magnificent pure marble HIGH ALTAR, adorned with 7 splendid brass statuettes : St. Peter, St. Paul, Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the 4 evangelists. He designed, planned and erected the Cathedral’s imposing central church tower and steeple, which still dominates the skyline of Roseau today. On January 30, 1855 the wall plate was placed on the new tower.
- The second Bishop of Roseau, Most Rev. Michel VESQUE was French, born in Honfleur, Normandy and was ordained bishop on October 26,1856 in the Redemptorist community at Clapham, London. He died scarcely 2 years later, at the age of 40, on July 10, 1858 on the island of St. Kitts. His body was brought back to Roseau where bishop Théodore-Augustin Forcade of Guadeloupe, among others, attended the funeral service on August 25, 1858 in the Roseau Cathedral.
detail memorial stone in the Roseau Cathedral
Bishop Michel Vesque’s body was exhumed in March 1860 and brought to the UK to be reburied in the cemetery of the Sisters of the Faithful Virgins in Norwood, close to London, where he had been their pastor and spiritual leader for 8 years before becoming Bishop of Roseau.
Michel VESQUE made a huge impact on future catholic education in Dominica by bringing the Order of the Faithful Virgins to Dominica. They started the Convent High School in his own “palace”, and later in St. Yves, with 6 students on February 2, 1858. Bishop VESQUE also introduced the Redemptorists to the Danish islands of St. Thomas, St Croix, which was the beginning of a tremendous missionary trust into all the English speaking islands. The initiatives of a man who was barely two years Bishop of Roseau shaped and still shapes, up to this day, the destiny of thousands of our young people .