For 140 years Our Lady of Montserrat RC Church has been a sanctuary for proclaiming the Gospel and glorifying Christ.
Her parishioners have declared 2019 a year of celebration for the many years of Marian intercession, protection and love. Last Sunday (May 19) the parish celebrated Mass with Archbishop Jason Gordon as an end to this month’s activities.
Perched high up on a ridge of the Central Range within the tiny village of Tortuga, the church stands protectively around the more than 200-year-old image of The Virgin of Montserrat.
At the time, it was impossible to replicate the original Black Madonna of Catalonia, Spain so the Capuchin friars brought to Trinidad a wooden doll to use as a substitute. Its appearance was inspired by Spanish Colonial Folk -Art and crafted by a Spanish ‘saint maker’.
The Capuchins established the parish of Tortuga (Gasparillo, Mayo, Corosal, Caratal, Guaracara and Piparo) under the patronage of Our Lady of Montserrat which eventually became the only remaining wooden Roman Catholic church in Trinidad and Tobago.
In 1872, French priest, Fr Abbe Marie Jules Dupoux, was stationed in Tortuga as the parish priest and architect behind the design and building of the Church, consecrating it on December 24, 1878.
The church is designed using tropical hardwoods from the surrounding rainforest. The architecture is dominated by beautiful symmetrical arches and the three-leaf clover motif which adorns every nook and cranny of this elegantly built edifice. Built according to the rubric of our beloved Church, the altar is located to the east and facing the west through the main entrance. On entering the church, the visitor is arrested by the beauty of a main altar with two smaller altars, on either side.
Beautiful, large stained-glass windows which adorn the church represent the intimate relationship between the village life and the church which is the pulse of the community. These windows, along with the many statues of saints found in the church, testify to the life of the parishioners of the church as they lived out their Catholic faith in the village of Tortuga.
In an interview with the National Trust, founding member of the Citizens for Conservation, Rudylnn De Four Roberts, shared how most churches were built through community activism. She added, “It was people in the area whose great grandparents possibly toted the mud, bricks and sand which helped build the church.”
Today, OLM is the third nationally recognised Marian shrine in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain and listed 123 on the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago’s heritage site http://nationaltrust.tt/location/our-lady-of-montserrat/ listing.
Tortuga RC is also the only Roman Catholic church named after Our Lady of Montserrat in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Yet the grandeur of the building pales in connection to the faith it has manifested in the community.
Donations are to OLM are welcomed. Send cheques to “Friends of Tortuga RC Church” to the Tortuga Parish Office, Caratal Road, Gasparillo (868)650-0082.
Visit their website https://www.ourladyofmontserrat.org/history-of-tortuga/