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Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

Ref: HLBP1/006

From about the year 1713/14, Anglican worship had been carried out in the old Franciscan church (later, in 1787, to be known as the King’s Chapel), which had been usurped from the friars, shortly after the capture of the Rock by Anglo-Dutch forces in August 1704. By the early years of the 19th century, it became quite clear that a new church was required for civilian use, whilst the King’s Chapel could well serve as the place of worship for the Garrison. In 1820, the Governor of Gibraltar, the Second Earl of Chatham, authorised the sale of various derelict buildings in Irish Town in order to raise funds for the construction of a new Anglican church.

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (WO78 4448 Maps War Department & Admiralty Properties 1861-63)

The site chosen for the building was close to the sea and the Line Wall and adjacent to the old quarters of the Lieutenant Governor, now the site of Duke of Kent House. Building began in earnest in 1825, under the supervision of the Chief Engineer, Colonel Pilkington, who considered that the style of the new church should be in line with Moorish architecture, thus commemorating their capture of the Rock in 711 and their occupation of Gibraltar during seven centuries. It would therefore be assumed that Pilkington was the architect of the peculiar design for the building, however, Henry Knight’s Diocese of Gibraltar, published in 1917 disagreed. Simply stating the following:


    The chapel built… by the government, the dock surveyor being the architect

Whilst still under construction, the building was converted into a make-shift hospital to cater for military personnel and their families struck down by the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1828.

Colonel Pilkington left the Rock in 1830 with the yet unfinished building seemingly neglected by Governor George Don as recorded by Army Quarter-Master, James Anton:

owing to the indifference of the lieutenant-governor, Sir George Don, to the undertaking, it was permitted to remain for several years in an unfinished state. A large sum had been expended on its erection, and it was likely to fall to decay before it was completed

It was suffered, however, to remain more than five years after being roofed, before doors or windows were made for it. The rains of several winters poured in floods on its roof; the gutters were choked up, either by accident or design, so that the water lay in a pond on the flat roof until the walls absorbed the whole to their foundation: if this had been unforeseen and by accident, during the first rainy season after its being roofed, it ought to have been guarded against afterwards; if it had been done intentionally, it may be attributed to the Spanish workmen

Holy Trinity Church, as it was thus named, was finally completed in 1832 and consecrated, eight years later, by Archdeacon Edward John Burrows in the presence of Dowager Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV.

Cathedral Holy Trinity (John Wilkinson)

Dr. Burrows the first Archdeacon of Gibraltar had arrived in 1835 to take up his initial appointment to serve as civil chaplain. During the next twenty-five years, Dr. Burrows certainly left an indelible mark in Gibraltar. In 1835, the year Burrow had arrived in Gibraltar, he wasted no time in setting up the Gibraltar Scientific Society in Gibraltar, a body that would meet regularly over the next 17 years to discuss scientific matters of the day. The society would grow to have over 100 members, including leading men of science such as the eminent botanist and microscopist Robert Brown and influential geologist James Smith of Jordanhill, as well as men stationed in Gibraltar such as Edward Kelaart and James Bell. The group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable men made up the Gibraltar Scientific Society.

In 1836, Dr. Burrows was appointed District Grand Master of Gibraltar and assisted Sir Alexander George Woodford (1782–1870), Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, set the first stone for the lighthouse's foundation on 26th April 1838. This was Gibraltar’s first public Masonic ceremony and attended by members of all the local Masonic Fraternities in Gibraltar. The whole ceremony was witnessed by over 10,000 people both from Gibraltar and the surrounding areas. The inscription read on the base of the foundation stone read:

This foundation-stone of a light-house, erected by order of the colonial government of her Majesty Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and their dependencies, in the first year of her reign, was laid on the 26th day of April, A.D. 1838, A.L. 5838, with military and masonic honours, by his Excellency Major-General Sir Alexander Woodford, K.C.B. &c. governor and commander-in-chief of the town and garrison of Gibraltar, assisted by the Rev. W. E. T. Burrow, D.D. F.R.S. Provincial Grand Master, for the protection of Mediterranean commerce, the saving of human life, and the honour of the British name.

Unfortunately, the inscription was laid horizontal rather than vertical and therefore covered up when the rest of the masonry was cemented on top.

Dr. Burrows was appointed Archdeacon of Gibraltar in 1842 and remained in Gibraltar until his health became feeble, he then returned to England in 1859 and resided at Lyme Regis and other places on the south coast. He died at Honiton on the 8th August 1861.

Holy Trinity Cathedral interior (Captain Buckle 1879)

Holy Trinity Cathedral from Line Wall (Captain Buckle 1879)

In 1843, the church was raised to the status of a Cathedral with its Diocese responsible for most of mainland Europe, extending from Portugal to the Caspian Sea. A year earlier, the first Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, George Tomlinson (1842 to 1863) had been appointed, with responsibility for both Gibraltar and Malta. Tomlinson, however, preferred to spend most of his time in Malta leaving Burrows to run the congregation in Gibraltar in his frequent absences. He arrived in Gibraltar in 1842 with Robert Thomas Wilson, the new Governor, on HMS Warspite.

Like Burrows, Tomlinson was an intellectual. In 1820, Tomlinson had founded the Cambridge Apostles (also known as Conversazione Society) an intellectual society at the University of Cambridge. The society traditionally drew most of its members from Christ's, St John's, Jesus, Trinity and King's Colleges. Amongst its members have included the philosophers Henry Sidgwick, Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore and the economist John Maynard Keynes. In the 20th Century, the Society was wracked with scandal when a Soviet spy-ring which had operated from Cambridge from 1930-1950 was uncovered. All five, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross were members of the Cambridge Apostles. Other Apostles accused of having spied for the Soviets include Michael Straight and Guy Liddell.

Tomlinson died in Gibraltar on the 9th February 1863, at the age of 62.

George Tomlinson Bishop of Gibraltar 1842-1863

George Tomlinson founder member of the Cambridge Apostles 1820

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity continued to attract detractors who despised the uninspiring design of the building. Richard Roberts, vicar of Milton Abbas in Dorset, who visited Gibraltar in 1859 described his displeasure at the sight of the ‘cathedral’ in no uncertain terms:

We sought in vain for a church open for afternoon service. We tried the Cathedral . . . What a THING to dignify with that august title, suggestive of so much grandeur, solemnity, and reverential awe! Surely there can hardly be in Bath, Brighton, or Cheltenham, no, nor yet in London itself, a proprietary chapel even, that would not blush to see the building, where the first English Bishop of Gibraltar is supposed to have set up his Episcopal throne!

No wonder the bishop does not live there! And as if it were not anomaly enough to designate such a tabernacle by the same name as the glorious fanes of Canterbury, and York, Salisbury, and Ely, the builder (architect I cannot call him), has crowned his work with an apex of absurdity, by selecting of all others the Moorish style - the style of the arch-enemies of the Cross - to be the exponent of his ideas on the subject of Christian worship, as if England could supply no examples of what a church ought to be!

 After beholding such temples to the Most High, as the Cathedrals of Burgos, Toledo, and

Seville, it makes one, as an Englishman, absolutely ashamed to stand by the shabby, mean, dwarf-sized edifice, erected by our countrymen beneath the shadow of that rock, where millions have been spent ungrudgingly upon batteries and fortifications. 

Although enjoying the privilege of a purer faith than any professed throughout the Peninsula, yet here in the eye of Spaniard, Moor, and Jew, we content ourselves with a building, which none of those religionists (did they possess our national wealth) would ever presume to dedicate to God, as the best he could offer, as we may well believe from what we actually know of their various places of worship!

The east facade of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the early 19th century

Holy Trinity (John Wilkinson)

In 1879, the Gibraltar Directory described the Cathedral in slightly more modest terms:

    … a plain stone building, but commodious with pleasing Arabesque ornaments in the interior -  the door and windows are of the Moorish horse-shoe shape.

Over time, the unique Moorish features of the Anglican Cathedral gradually gained acceptance within the local Anglican community, particularly after a complete re-rendering of the façade which made the exterior of the Church much more attractive than its original stoic design.

The Cathedral Interior postcard dated 1907.

The Protestant Cathedral in colour.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was badly affected by the Bedenham explosion of 27th April 1951; the roof had been lifted and moved and all of its stained-glass windows were destroyed. Essential repairs to the roof were carried out successfully prior to the onset of the winter rains, together with other renovations and improvements, and by Christmas the Cathedral was once more open for divine worship.

In 1997, following a three-year fundraising campaign, the Cathedral went through another complete refurbishment programme.

Blast damage to the Cathedral following the explosion of the Bedenham.

Interior of the Holy Trinity Cathedral today.

Holy Trinity Main Altar.

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Image