BUILDINGS and monuments are more than physical structures. They may also serve as memorials, as extensions of the soul, as commemorative landscapes recalling certain events and histories, summoning new generations to inscribe their stories on a living tradition or history.
St Anselm’s Parish in Fox Hill, is one of the more beautiful and well-designed churches in the modern Bahamas. Bathed in mystical and natural light and a Bahamas ethos, it is suffused with the lifeblood of salvation history, Scripture, and the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Community.
It blends that community’s traditions with Bahamian symbols. St Anselm’s website instructs: “The placement of blue green tiles around the church’s interior represents the waters which connect our islands. These waters unite us with the world and with our ancestors’ pathways to The Bahamas. The navy to aquamarine represents movement from darkness to light. Water is the primary symbol used in the Baptism.
“The baptismal font, ambry, altar, ambo and the tabernacle’s base are made of natural materials, including marble, conch shells, and whelks. The shells represent ‘discarded’ individuals – the elderly, sick, addicts and others – whom we overlook and who are able to contribute as well as transform their lives and the lives of others.
“The yellow, gold and cream color rs and wood trims represent the sun and Jesus’s declaration that He is the Light of the world. Sand is represented by the beige walls and tiles, as well as the pink marble tiles.”
Designed and crafted by Antonius Roberts, the crucifix, comprising the corpus mounted on the cross, is suspended in midair at the center of the church, above the altar, the focal point of worship.
The Jesus Christ figure is Afrocentric, his extended arms welcoming all. The cross is made of woman’s tongue tree, the body of Madeira, and the insignia INRI, is made from a piece of left over lignum vitae (tree of life) used to make a staff for Pope Saint John Paul II when he visited The Bahamas.
The new worship space is octagonal, the Biblical number representing eternity, “the new creation, and of Christ leading His people to eternal life.” There is a seamless blend of the old and new sacred spaces.
In 1933, the cornerstone was laid for the first church built on the existing property. Two years later, in 1935, the church building was consecrated. Ninety years later, this Roman Catholic community of faith continues its witness as a part of Bahamian history.
Why is St Anselm’s such a beautiful space? What lessons can other churches and public authorities learn from its design and construction? What lessons can we learn about passing on our history through our built heritage?
The conceptualization and realisation of St Anselm’s took several years of prayerful discernment, parish input and consensus, consideration of various design elements, and the diversity of gifts of members of the parish.
It was not rushed. It was meticulously and lovingly brought to life with tremendous detailed work, conceptually and materially. It involved a process of mindfull deliberation.
Leadership and vision were required. It came in the person of the late Monsignor Preston Moss, who was deeply imbued with a sense of our shared indigenous roots and the indwelling of his Christian faith and Roman Catholic spirit.
Monsignor Moss fashioned a team that included Bahamian and international design talent. It was a collective mission born of gifts in areas such as liturgy, church architecture, construction, visual artistry, engineering, fundraising and others.
Leadership, vision, humility, team work, a sense of history, curiosity, ingenuity, and boldness of spirit were admixed and poured into the structure along with other concrete material that will withstand hurricanes and other tests of time and history.
It is a template we might emulate to create new state structures including a 50th anniversary of independence monument. Can our leaders summon such desire, imagination and will?
In 1943, Sir Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons on replacing the bombed-out Commons chamber. He averred: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than 40 years in the late Chamber, and having derived very great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, should like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity.”
Churchill was a racist and an imperialist. He had little regard, and indeed contempt, for those colonised by the British. But he had a clear and articulate sense of what it meant to be English and, at times, British, though the two identities are not necessarily synonymous.
He appreciated how state buildings, public monuments and other structures mold public consciousness and history, infusing successive generations with meaning and a sense of place and purpose. The grandeur of such structures help to build and to inspire a people.
After nearly 300 years of parliamentary government, though not full democracy; approaching 60 years of majority rule; and after 50 years as a sovereign country, we have failed to erect a modern parliamentary complex. Recall, we are the third oldest parliamentary system in the hemisphere.
This is not solely an indictment of our political leadership. It equally represents a collective and tragic failure of our public consciousness and sense of nationhood. While we often boast of being Bahamian, it is too often an empty and bogus bravado.
Many of our elite, including political leaders, appear to lack a deeper sense of national identity. There is a poverty of imagination that stalks the country.
There is a profound emptiness and lack in many at this 50th anniversary of independence. Many were content with parties and festivities but do not ache or groan for something more substantial to commemorate this milestone.
For many years, the Central Bank has wanted to relocate from its present site, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1973. Despite a national competition for the design of a new complex, resulting in an impressive and modern sand dollar design, and despite the completion of various contracts and other works, the project has been halted.
Next door to where the new bank would have been erected, helping to beautify and enliven the City, the United States has almost completed a new embassy.
We should be embarrassed that a foreign government is erecting such a complex, while we have failed to build any major new state buildings downtown such as a supreme court, parliament, cabinet office or central bank complex. But most of us are indifferent and unmoved by this glaring failure.
We are content and apathetic because we lack a sense of deeper nationhood and history. We do not have a lack of resources required to build such edifices. We have a deep-seated lack of purpose, which is inimical to democratic flourishing.
The late Robert Maynard Hutchins was an education philosopher and served as Dean of Yale Law School and later as President and Chancellor of the prestigious University of Chicago. He issued this warning about democracy: “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”
It appears that many in political leadership do not truly understand and value our history beyond using it for tactical gain and rhetorical flourish.
Did no one in the Cabinet or others involved at the highest levels of planning consider the need to commemorate or memorialise the 50th anniversary beyond certain festivities?
What about renaming New Providence Highway, or another thoroughfare, Jubilee Highway? What about an oral history project for the Jubilee? What about releasing a new three dollar bill decorated with works from Bahamian artists as commemorative souvenirs? What about a sculpture placed on the grounds of Government House?
We still have time if there is the desire to create a monument. A proposal: As have other countries, we should launch a public competition to create a Jubilee memorial.
An independent commission or entity should vet proposals and issue contracts so that any such monument is free of unnecessary political entanglements and related issues that bog down and bloat government projects and contracts.
How likely are we to create such a public monument? We will see. The failure or ability to erect such a monument will be a test of who we are at this 50th anniversary of independence. The proverbial jury of history is out. One wonders what verdict will be rendered by future generations if we fail.