Overlooking the South Shore of the island, with the Atlantic as a backdrop, stands the church of St Anne (formally Port Royal Church). St Anne is the traditional name of the mother of the Virgin Mary. Building of the original church was begun in 1616, of Bermuda Cedar to a very simple design and thatched with palmetto palm. It was completed in 1626 by means of a levy of two pounds sterling on every pound of tobacco grown! Since then there have been many succeeding structures all of which are said to have incorporated some of the original wood.
The hurricanes of 1712 and 1716 destroyed many of the island’s wooden churches including St Anne’s.
A church constructed of stone was erected on the site and completed in 1719. Although services took place in both buildings the church was only consecrated in 1826 by Bishop John Inglis. The parishioners set about whitewashing the walls and other repairs for Inglis’ visit, but this did not prevent Bishop Inglis describing the church in his diary as; ‘very ancient and much decayed.’ By his next visit in 1830 the church was extensively repaired and both the north and south transepts were added. His diary entry following this visit remarked that the church was ‘now spacious.’
The original font was stolen in 1850
The existing tower was added in 1905
By 1925 the parishioners were alarmed to find that the whole building was falling into disrepair; a thorough job of restoration was undertaken. Tie beams were inserted above the curved ceiling, new floors were laid, an organ chamber built, and additional vestry accommodation provided. Some of the old cedar beams, still with bark on them, from the first structure were uncovered, and dentist Dr. Dunbar Bell provided an interesting link with the past by fashioning a Faldstool (or prayer desk which can still be seen in the church) from some of these original timbers of the church. In addition he carved the decorative work around the chandeliers with his dentist’s drill. This church is still a plain structure since, fortunately, those responsible for the reconstruction were most anxious to adhere strictly to the old measurements and plans. Today it remains one of the best examples of old Bermuda ecclesiastical architecture and its position is unrivaled.The interior presents a picture of harmonious simplicity with its dignified pulpit and reading desk, old silver candlesticks and glass shades.
The stained-glass window on the south side of the sanctuary is of St Peter holding two keys in his right hand, a bible in his left, with three sheep nearby, and the inscription: ’Feed My Sheep.’ It was erected by the daughter of the Revd. Robert Hoare in memory of his forty-eight years as Rector of Southampton and Sandy’s Parishes.
The old graveyard, with its backdrop of the ocean, is a fascinating place; the ancient tombstones lean at crazy angles as if they were a fleet of ships at sea. One of
these gravestones carries the figures 1668-the oldest still decipherable date in any Bermuda graveyard. St Anne’s must once again credit Dr. Dunbar Bell and his dentist’s drill with this discovery.
The land on which the church is built was given to the parish by George Tucker of Milton, Kent, England on condition that; ’the uppermost seat on the north side be reserved to the proper sole use of me and my assigns.’
The church was further restored and reordered in 2001 by the Revd. Michael Davis, which included moving the choir seating, and the original pulpit. New pews were constructed from Virginia Cedar to match the original Bermuda Cedar, a new East window designed by Vivienne Gilmore Gardner was installed and the pipe organ was replaced with an electronic instrument. Sensing the antiquity of this little church, so close to the sea, it is easy to look back and find credible the story of
the rector, who during his sermon, notice surreptitious movements in the back of the church following the late arrival of one of his flock. This to him meant only one thing, that word was being passed around of a wreck! So facing his congregation with a firm eye, he commanded that they should wait for a blessing and; ”Let’s all start fair!” They were men of the church, but they were also pirates. Another story of St Anne’s which has simple charm is that of an old gentlemen who had a small room built beside his family burial plot, with a small window in it overlooking the graves. He loved to come here with his two retainers, one carrying a big cedar chair and the other the family bible. There he would sit for hours beside the open window reading aloud from the bible to his departed kinsfolk.
With acknowledgements to A.C Hollis Hallet – Chronicle of a Colonial Church 1612-1826, Bill Zuill – Bermuda Journey, Ruth E. Thomas MBE - Mosaic and Terry Tucker.