Cathedral, Gravenstraat 22
Rotary 's-Gravenhage Zuid
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The Paramaribo cathedral is the largest wooden building in the Caribbean. It is probably the most domination site in the city, without doubt a unique work of architecture.
The first catholic church in the city was a residence that served as a church. It started to be used as such around 1787 and stood somewhere in the first section of the Wagenwegstraat. It burned down in the 1821 fire.
In 1824 the Israelite theatre De Verrezene Phoenix (The Resurrected Phoenix) that stood at the Gravenstraat on the
very spot of the present cathedral, was acquired by the catholic community and transformed into a church. The
façade remained largely intact and was endowed with the text: In isto transfigurato loco offerimus nunc soli Deo vero
(In this transformed place we now sacrifice to the one and only God). The church was consecrated in 1826 as the
church of the Apostolic Prefecture of Suriname and dedicated to the saints Peter and Paul. In 1858 the façade was
altered from a rectangular into a tapered form.
A new wooden basilica
On 1 January 1883 the first stone for the present church was laid on the same spot of the old church. The design
was by friar Harmes, who designed and built many of the buildings of the catholic church in Suriname. The building
was consecrated in 1885, but completed only two years later. In 1890 the pyramid roofs of the two towers were
replaced by the present neo-gothic spires. It was given the title of Cathedral in 1958 when Paramaribo became a diocese.
The building is situated in the depth and lies an unusual long distance from the street. It is build in a neo-roman style that was in vogue in late 19th century Europe. Still the building stays closely related to the Surinamese wooden building style, mainly because of the slender timber constructions.
19 x 100 x 40 m
The building is a basilica on cruciform ground plan. The wooden construction rests on a brick substructure. The high nave consists of five bays, as are the two lower aisles. Projecting chapels flank the transept. The choir consists of two bays and has a deambulatorium. The church is about 100 meters in length and is extended with the sacristy.
The façade is 19 meters wide and has two towers of about 40 meters high. At first they were topped by simple pyramid roofs, that were replaced by octagonal, ornamented spires after ten years. The nave is three layers high. The bottom layer consists of arches on wooden pillars that let the light seep into the church via the aisles. The second blind layer is a triforium, a colonnade with small round arches. On top there is the clerestory which has a large round window in each bay. The wooden cross vaults support a steep slate roof (45 degrees). In contrast with the white wooden buildings in the city, the cathedral is painted in a yellow sand colour, with a grey finish. The Rosa-church, another large Roman-catholic church in Paramaribo, actually also is painted in the same yellow-grey colour combination.
The interior of the church is unique: it is made completely out of unpainted cedar wood. The stern patterns of this wooden interior is alternated with richly carved embellishments of capitals, gates and doors. The wood patterns are sometimes exploited in a beautiful way, like in the aisles where the boards radiate like an aureole above the semicircular windows. Especially the baptism chapel underneath the tower on the right hand side has rich embellishments, e.g. on the gate and the retable.
gate of the baptism chapell stairs to the organ radiating cedar boards
carved wooden capitals wooden medallion
The church has been in very poor condition for a long time and was kept from disintegrating with patchwork and struts. As we write 2007, it looks like plans for renovation, that date from times even before the independence of Suriname in 1975, will be realized in the near future. A steel construction will replace the ingenious wooden system.