Bermuda’s first church, St. Peter’s in St. George’s, began celebrating its 400th Christmas tonight [Dec.24].
Starting at 11pm, the Christmas Eve Candelight Service was held at St. Peter’s, believed to be the oldest continuously used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere.
The congregation joined in singing Christmas hymns including ‘O Little Town In Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger” and “On Christmas Night all Christians sing.”
The church is built on the same location as a 1612 structure erected by the island’s first permanent settlers who arrived that year aboard “The Plough”. The first church was made of wooden posts and palmetto leaves and was destroyed in a storm.
St. Peter’s is also thought to be near the site of a small church built by the “Sea Venture” castaways who celebrated Christmas while stranded in Bermuda in 1609.
“During our time of abode upon these islands, we had daily every Sunday two sermons preached by our minister, besides every morning and evening at the ringing of a bell we repaired all to public prayer, at what time the names of our whole company were called … and such as were wanting were duly punished,” wrote one “Sea Venture” survivor in a pamphlet published in London in 1625.
On August 1, 1620, the first Parliament in the New World was convened in St. Peter’s. The church was rebuilt in 1713-14, after a 1712 hurricane caused widespread devastation though out the island and additions were completed in 1814 and 1832.
The font of the church — approximately 500 years old — predates the 1609 wreck of the “Sea Venture” and the altar is the oldest piece of woodwork in Bermuda. St. Peter’s cedar altar has been in use since 1624 and is the oldest piece of cedar furniture in Bermuda. The church’s historic communion silver was presented to St. Peter’s by King William III in 1697. The set contains two massive flagons, a large chalice, a paten and an alms basin, all bearing the royal coat of arms. An even older piece is a small chalice dated 1625 and bearing the seal of the Bermuda Company, the London commercial venture formed to settle the island after the “Sea Venture” survivors finally reached Virginia aboard two locally built ships in 1610.
The churchyard contains two graveyards: a walled area to the west of the church was for used black slaves until the 19th century, while the eastern section was reserved for white parishioners.