St. George’s Cathedral isn’t all that lofty as churches go, but at 143-feet-tall and made entirely from wood—apart from its foundations—it ranks amongst the tallest wooden churches in the world.
Apart from its notable wooden construction, St. George’s Cathedral is an important and much-loved landmark in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown for two reasons: most locals would agree that it’s the most impressive building in the capital, and anyone with an eye for history can see how the cathedral is a window into Guyana’s colonial past.
With the continued expansion of the Anglican Church in what was then British Guiana, a series of churches were built in Georgetown. The first St. George’s Church was built in 1810, but was soon deemed too small for the congregation. A second church was completed in 1842 but, as the Archdeacon Jones later stated, it “began its existence with a broken back.” The clay-brick building was a structural disaster and was dismantled in 1877.
For the third attempt, the renowned English architect Arthur Blomfield was called upon to draw up the plans, initially for a stone building with a central tower and two western towers. The committee in charge of the new church argued against the use of stone, however, both because of its expense and its weight. Instead, they emphasized that “woods of the country and no others were to be used.”
So Blomfield kept largely to his original plans, including the central tower, the Latin cross formation of nave and septs, and his use of the Gothic style of architecture. But instead of stone, he built most of the church using greenheart wood from Guyana. Greenheart is one of the stiffest woods in the world, highly durable, rot resistant and resistant to most insect attacks. Despite its wooden structure, the new St. George’s was built to last.
The cathedral was completed and consecrated on November 8, 1894. At the time, St. George’s Cathedral was the tallest wooden church in the world, its tower reaching a height of 143 feet. It held this record until 2003 when the 246-feet-tall Peri Monastery near Săpânţa in northern Romania was completed.
The new St. George’s Cathedral was a success, and its grand interior, complete with Gothic arches, clustered columns and flying buttresses, soon began to fill with an array of donated pieces, which today reflect the history of the cathedral as well as the colonial past of Guyana.
The beautifully carved Bishop’s Throne was given by a Mrs. Manget in commemoration of the Bishop’s Jubilee. The Diocese of Barbados gifted the brass lectern, shaped in the form of an eagle. From the Howell-Jones family, proprietors of the Houston Sugar Estate came the iron pulpit. Chinese Christians donated the sedilia, and other benefactors provided the great east windows and other stained glass windows. Even Queen Victoria showed her appreciation for the cathedral, donating the large chandelier that still hangs prominently in St. George’s.