One of the things I most love about visiting a Caribbean island is the chance to visit historic houses of worship that date from long ago. From a cathedral in Kingston, Jamaica, to the Hindu temples of Trinidad, from centuries-old West Indian synagogues with their sandy floors, to modern mosques and other sacred spaces, there are a wealth of treasures within these beautiful islands.
Today, we're focusing on the holy places of the French island of Martinique. In the fishing village of Petite Anse, in a region called Les Anses d'Arlet, Zickie and I gasped at the beauty of the high-steepled church. It's called St. Henri and dates from the eighteenth century. The view from the end of the town's pier, a harmony of hills, sea, and orange-tinted steeple rising into the blue Caribbean sky, is one of the island's most famous sights. You'll find this view on postcards for sale in little shops and within the pages of many guidebooks. Nevertheless, I thought that St. Henri was even more lovely in person, when you could hear church bells peal, smell the salty air, and savor the soft sea breezes.
Still in the south of Martinique, we journeyed to Les Trois Ilets and the La Pagerie Estate. The photograph below shows the interior of the church in Trois Ilets, where in the 1700s a little baby girl, born of a prestigious Creole family, was baptized. She later became famous -- or infamous -- as the Empress Josephine, the fascinating wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.
These sacred structures endure, despite the toll of time and hurricanes, the ruinous effects of sea air, and the thrust of modernization. In northwestern St. Pierre, once known as the "Paris of the Antilles," a terrible volcanic eruption of Mt. Pelée largely destroyed Martinique's thriving capital city. The photograph below shows how the church was rebuilt in the early 20th century.
In many cases, European colonials imported architecture from back home, to remind them of the distant lands they'd left behind. The following photograph shows a replica of Sacré Coeur (based on the original basilica in Paris). What the Europeans found was that the islands insist on their own interpretation, their own way of doing things, distinct materials for construction, so that despite the striking similarities with churches in France, these structures are distinctly Antillean. Tropical. Unique.
When you travel to the West Indies, these stone and rock buildings, imbued with the memories of so many generations, add something particular and incomparable to the experience. They remind us of the people and the cultures that have inhabited these islands long before we arrived. They contain novels-full of stories.
When we're running away to an island, enjoying fine beaches and warm, Caribbean water, Zickie and I also love to take the time to discover these repositories of life and peace. Whatever your religious background or faith, or lack thereof, we want to wish you a day of serenity and hope! Happy Sunday from the Island Runaways.
(Photos credits: 1. St. Henri, Zickie Allgrove; 2. Eglise 3Ilets, JessyFlash2vie, 3. Replique du Sacré Coeur, Mickaël, 4. Eglise du Mouillage, Gaël Chardon. 2 through 4 through Flickr