The Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension, in New Amsterdam, Berbice, celebrated its feast day of the Ascension on June 5, last. The church also marked its 175th anniversary in the town of New Amsterdam, serving the needs of the Catholic population there.
The original church building at Pope Street was built just two years before African slaves would gain their full freedom.
Its first location was Lot 26 Harkman’s Lane, in New Amsterdam, after which it was moved to Lot 20 Main and Pope Streets, where it would remain to the present day. The Catholic faith continued to be boosted in Berbice when in 1877 another church was built in Glasgow, East Bank Berbice.
The priest’s quarters, referred to as the presbytery, was built in 1885. The Catholic parish in New Amsterdam is famous for having started an educational programme for boys and girls in the 19th Century.
Many would remember the St Therese Girls’ School and the St Aloysius Boys’ School. The convent schools were started by the Ursuline nuns in New Amsterdam. The convent and the schools were built in 1889, catering for the religious and academic needs of children in the town.
The convent and school were built at a cost of $8,000. The following year, the Ursuline Nuns came from Georgetown. They remained in New Amsterdam until 1958 and were replaced by the Corpus Christi Carmelites who had been working at Springlands, Corriverton. The priest’s house at the Church of the Ascension was built in 1885.
The Church of the Ascension continued to exist with two masses on Sundays, one in the morning for the more affluent parishioners of the town who consisted of mostly Portuguese families and another Mass in the afternoon.
There were two priests in the parish. There is no documented information as to who built the wooden church but the building was built in the finest Romanesque architecturally built buildings of its day.
In 1902, the Church was rebuilt. It is interesting to note that some of the materials used on this reconstruction were taken from the Old Dutch chapel at Nemen Nescio. These materials would not be over 362 years old. A stained-glass window depicting the Ascension of Christ into heaven was unveiled on Christmas Eve of 1925.
This window, which still exists, was donated by Mr M. de Mendonca and Mrs P.J. Santos, his daughter.
In 1968, more repairs to the church were carried out. The two towers which were put up in 1902 were deemed unsafe and they were torn down. The front portion of the church was completely renewed and coloured glass replaced the wood.
In 1991, it was found that the church was again in need of repairs. The wood ants had attacked and destroyed the main pillars. General renovations were done which included the demolition of the main altar.
This altar was relocated on the north eastern section of the church. A few years later, a new main altar and baptismal font was donated to the church. These are at present in use and are located in the sanctuary.
The parishioners are working very hard to keep the church building beautiful. This monument has been visited by millions of foreign and local visitors who still express awe at the stained- glass windows, which is the largest picture window in Guyana.
With its fine intricately designed wooden spindles, three-pronged posts and numerous glass windows that exist high atop the church walls and which can be directed to open and close, the building continues to be one of the only Roman-designed buildings in Guyana—with Brickdam Cathedral in Georgetown being another fine example, of course.
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