Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception

Cathedral Of The Immaculate Conception.
The first known priest of Castries was a Franciscan priest PERE COSTE who was parish priest from April 1749. |(Castries was then called ''Carenage'' because the bay was suitable for careening of ships). the Parish was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It seems that the first town was located at the foot of the Vigie Hill. It is believed that the first Church building, built in wood, was transferred to the present site in 1767.

Efforts were made towards the construction of a new Church Building from 1807. However, it was not before 1827 that Abbe Lesage, on his arrival at Castries, made special efforts in that regard. Work on the foundation of the Church building began in 1827, but it had to be stopped due to insufficient funds.
Castries Cathedral
IN June of 1831, Abbe Florent Chevalier took charge of the parish of Castries. The parishioners worked hand in hand with him to see that the walls and the roof of the new church building were completed in 1835. The building was not built in the same direction as the present Cathedral, but east-west with the main door on the west facing the Dereck Walcott square.

The church building was solemnly blessed on May 12, 1836 by Bishop Daniel Mc. Donell and was dedicated to St. Florent; obviously to honour Abbe Florent -Chavalier. However, in 1855 the Archbishop of Port-of-Spain decided that the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady on December 8, should again be observed as the Parish Feast of Castries.

In July 1885 Fr. Louis Tapon F.M.I., wrote Archbishop L.G. Gonin of Port-of-Spain about the need for a larger church building. The then building could hardly hold 1,000 people. The population of the parish was almost 9000. In April of 1820 at a meeting presided over by Archbishop Flood of Port-of-Spain, it was decided to extend the church building to the east.

After much hesitation, speculation and delay, it was finally decided to begin work on the construction of a completely new building. the plan for the building was made by Jesuit priest Fr. SCOLES who was at the time Vicar General of British Guyana. He began work on the plan during a visit to St. Lucia in 1891; it was finally accepted in September of 1893 and adopted in July of 1894.

The foundation of the present Cathedral was laid in 1894. It was a very difficult and costly task to lay the foundation because of the muddy condition of the site. Nonetheless the cornerstone was solemnly blessed and laid by fr. Farrel o.p. on April 8, 1894. By the end of 1894 the walls were already ten feet high and by the middle of 1897 part of the walls had been completed and the roof over them had been built.

Most of the year 1898 was spent with the finishing touches of the church building: plastering, flooring, and installing the set of altars and the decoration of the sanctuary. The church building was solemnly blessed by Archbishop Flood on May 11, 1899, Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. The high Altar was also consecrated at that ceremony.

Before the building could be consecrated, all outstanding debts had to be paid and on November 4, 1931 the church building was solemnly consecrated by Archbishop Dowling, o.p. of Port-of-Spain.

In 1956 Castries became a separate diocese within the Province of Port-of-Spain and on May 5, 1957 Bishop Charles Gachet, F.M.I. was consecrated as the first Bishop of Castries. He remained in office until 1974. On December 12, 1974, St. Lucia was elevated to the status of Archdiocese and Bishop Patrick Webster, O.S.B.D.D., then Bishop of Grenada was appointed the first St. Lucian to serve his country as Archbishop.

The Cathedral, the largest in the Caribbean measures 200ft. long by 100ft. wide and reflects the joy, peace, hopes, happiness, history and aspirations of all St. Lucians. Although it is still popularly referred to as ''The Cathedral,'' it was elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica on 11th May, 1999 during year long centenary celebrations.