The Architecture of St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Bermuda
Today St. Mark’s Church is considered a fine example of Gothic revival style, but its architectural beginnings were much humbler. Pulling from W.S. Zuill’s book St. Mark’s Church, Bermuda we are able to follow the Church’s transformation.
The cornerstone was laid on January 6, 1846. It was a simple building at first – a rectangular construction that was left unplastered inside. The congregation was summoned to service by an old French bell that was hung from a tree and rung by being struck with a stick. The designer was Mr. William Edward Newman.
In one of many, many insights into the life of the church and its congregation at that time, Mr. Zuill notes how one unnamed parishioner, displeased with the slow pace of progress, took matters into her own hands.
Annoyed that the inside had not been plastered, and even more distressed when she saw a sage bush sprouting from one of the walls, she paid parish handyman, Jim Keele, who also worked for Farmer Thaddeus Trott, £5 to stucco the walls.
The only addition to the church between 1848 and 1876 was that of a porch. A decade later, in 1875, the parish embarked on its most ambitious project since the building of the new church – the addition of a tower and steeple. Dr. Henry J. Hinson, a gifted amateur architect, drew the designs. Mr. Julian Tucker, a Bermudian mason, was hired to carry out the work.
The steeple is 102 feet high to the cross. Its tower is supported on each corner by two buttresses. These buttresses are carried up to four storeys. The fourth storey is crowned by a hexagonal pinnacle and from this springs a flying buttress to support the octagonal spire. The cost of the steeple was £489.
At the same time, a great bell, manufactured in Troy, New York, was donated to the Church and placed in the steeple.
The next major step was the addition of the Chancel and Vestry in 1884. The reredos windows depicting the Lord’s Supper and the Ascension into Heaven, manufactured by Ballantine’s of Edinburgh, were given at the same time. In 1877 buttresses were added. Twenty years later a new altar and reredos were given. They were made by Mr. Arthur Wilkinson who copied the designs found in the Holy Trinity Church, Hamilton Parish.
A major task was the reseating of the church in mahogany. The wood itself came from the Turks Islands where great mahogany logs had drifted ashore. When enough were collected they were shipped to Bermuda at a cost of £180. The pews were built by Mr. Edward Peniston, and the ornate ends were carved by Mr. Wilkinson.
In 1909, Mr. Wilkinson was also commissioned to build the pulpit that is perhaps the finest existing piece of carved woodwork by a Bermudian. Bermuda flowers are rendered with exceptional delicacy, the Beatitudes are superbly carved, and at the same time the structure, which appears delicate, seems to be strongly engineered.
In 1911 a chime of bells was added. While the great bell is on a swinging wheel, the chimes are fixed, and are rung by pressing down wooden levers on a keyboard from which wires run to the clappers.
With the installation of the bells the era of major additions to St. Mark’s came to a close and the church was substantially complete as we know it today.
All roads seemed to lead to the beautiful old Church. There were carriages galore, innumerable bicycles and people on foot, and there was evidently a keen desire on the part of the Church folk generally to be present at a service which marked an important historic epoch in the history of the Anglican Church in Bermuda, the new chime of bells being the first to be provided in the island
The Colonist 1911