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Under the period of Dutch colonisation, Catholic Churches were not tolerated. It was under the period of French colonisation that arrangements were made for a priest at Stabroek and at Plantation La Jalousie on the West Coast of Demerara.
However, it was not until 1819 that arrangements were made for the erection of a church at Brickdam, on a portion of the old parade ground at the request of the Catholic Committee: Messrs Fitzgerald, De Ridder, Manget Mibre and Franchland.
Governor D’Urban laid the foundation stone of the first church on December 12, 1825. It was known as Christ Church, but it was later renamed circa 1847 as the Church of the Resurrection. Small and plain in design, this church was replaced by the Lady Chapel, which was built on the southern side of Camp and Hadfield Streets. This chapel was soon dismantled and re-erected at Victoria where it stood until 1921.
The foundation stone for the St. Mary’s Chapel was laid in the presence of Governor Hinks on April 21, 1868. The main building was designed by Cesar Castellani and the tower was designed by Ignatius Scoles. This cathedral (inclusive of the sanctuary) was 120 feet long and 75 feet wide. Constructed of Greenheart and Crabwood, this cathedral was described by Fr. Ignatius Scoles “as a fine piece of Gothic design as one could expect to meet within Western tropics”.
On March 7, 1913, the edifice referred to as the finest in British Guiana, was destroyed by fire owing to the negligence of a Frenchman Henri Bencher Cornelle who left a coal pot burning in the tower, which he was repairing.
On Sunday March 9, 1913, Catholic Mayor, Mr. Francis Dias, convened a meeting where it was decided that fundraising efforts would be undertaken to rebuild a new cathedral. The first contributions raised for the new cathedral. The first contributions raised for the new cathedral amounted to $12 000. On August 15, 1915, Bishop C. T. Galton laid the foundation stone for the present Cathedral.
Designed by an Englishman, Mr. Leonard Stokes, the Cathedral was constructed over a period of 10 years - 1921-1931. On the advice of Reverend Compton Theodore Galton, S. J., titular Bishop from 1901-1931, the Cathedral was made of reinforced concrete. The stone used was granite obtained from the quarries of the Dalli and Wolga on the Essequibo River, and the sand was procured from Leguan.
Though incomplete, the Cathedral was opened and blessed by Bishop Galton, S. J. on March 13, 1921. The entire Cathedral was opened on December 8, 1925. This magnificent edifice is 200 feet long and 1 000 feet wide, with a centre ceiling 60 feet six inches high and a dome 74 feet 10 inches high. The Cathedral was consecrated by the Right Reverend Richard Lester Guilly, S. J., OBE, the first Bishop of Georgetown.
Other noteworthy features of this edifice include an exquisite marble altar, which was erected in 1930 as a gift to Bishop Galton from Pope Pius XI and a marble pulpit, a memorial to the Fogarty family. A metal shrine to the Virgin Mary atop the western facade is a memento of the St. Mary’s Cathedral. This shrine, which adorned the top most pinnacle of the earlier building’s steeple, survived its fall during the fire of 1913.
The National Trust of Guyana undertakes to promote buildings and sites of national, architectural, historic and artistic interest for the benefit of future generations. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is an important structure to Guyana’s social and cultural development. (National Trust of Guyana)