Category Archives: Roseau Cathedral

March 31, 2017: The spire with the cross of the Roseau Cathedral has been removed.

P1220471 As the roof renovation works on the Roseau Cathedral progress, the cross and the timber posts on the bell tower were removed to be replaced with new materials.

I have always wanted to know more about the cross on top of the steeple.  It was unclear from documents who installed it and how tall it is.

What we found was both fascinating and somewhat disappointing and I will tell you more about this cross in an article, which will be posted on

Below is my photograph of the cross. The detailing is fascinating.

Cathedral crucifix on steeple March 2017

remove Roseau Cathedral spire in progress March 2017

March 28,  2017 : the cross at the top of the Roseau Cathedral is removed

removal of Roseau Cathedral in progress 29 March 2017

March 29, 2017   the removal of timber posts continues

Roseau cathedral steeple removed March 31 2017

March 31, 2017 : the  bell tower without spire

ROSEAU CATHEDRAL : update on the roofing works on March 17, 2017

Cathedral valley in progress March 17 2017

valley works in progress at the Roseau Cathedral,

picture taken by Bernard Lauwyck on March 17, 2017



March 2017 : progress at the Roseau Cathedral

The contractors ACE engineering Ltd started the roof covering works on January 4, 2017.

First they uncovered the main steeple .to investigate its condition.p1210574

Then they started the covering of the main roof.


As you can see on the photograph, a good part of the main roof section has been covered.


AN ARCHITECTURAL MASTER PIECE                                    By  Bernard Lauwyck,

Mural escape to

mural by brother Xavier Lecointe,  C.Ss.R.

Two weeks ago, I described the history of the Roseau Cathedral up to the completion  of the Western steeple in 1916, without finding  the master planner or the architect behind it.  We noticed that solitary clergy at different times used and directed highly skilled local people.  Their skills were stone shaping, stone masonry and preparation of  lime mortar, joinery and carpentry, roofing, blacksmith work. The work on the Cathedral was stopped and continued as the resources were available both human and financial, and the island’s economic situation was peaceful and favourable.

Entry into Jerusalem mural and ceiling

                                       mural by brother Xavier Lecointe,  C.Ss.R.

As Mrs. Dorothy Leevy wrote : “We  can only conclude that the natural stones are evocative of a period of intense faith and labour as well as of extreme generosity to build the physical structure that is our Cathedral. These same stones which make up the building should  remind us, the Living Stones today, of our responsibility to complete  this present Cathedral renovation project.”

Indeed this Cathedral is not a relic from the past, but a living testimony of our Faith today.  It is the human stories, I find so interesting and would like to get from you, the readers, and weave between the well documented deeds and proclamations of the church leaders. The story of builder Francis Giraud; the “ordinary” stone mason of Roseau, named Thomassin Aubrey,  and his large local crew; The story of Augustus Parker and Brother Jacobs in more recent times and their local co-workers.  And many more: the men and women who carried the stones from the river, sea or quarries. The men who got the ingredients to make “La chaux” and prepared the lime mortar. There must have been huge construction crews with very little lifting equipment.  I am sure that a lot was done by free labour (cou-de-main).

It is clear to everybody that the  front elevation with the 3 steeples was  designed to impress, also due to its location on Constitution hill, overlooking and dominating Roseau.  A beacon on the hill.


An 80 feet steeple is architecturally not high by international or even regional standards; for example  13th century Chartres Cathedral steeple stands 375 feet tall.  But Bishop Monaghan in 1855 clearly succeeded in creating the effect of an imposing cathedral on the hill, the Catholic Church dominant and triumphant !





But it is also the symbol of the Catholic Church , who like Mother  Mary as Our Lady of Fair  Haven places God’s protection over God’s  people in Roseau and throughout  the  Diocese. This historical role of the church in Dominica has been forgotten by many, even by some of our clergy.  The traditional role of offering refuge and protection to the poor, the sick, the weak and the destitute by the Catholic Church resulted in the establishment of an orphanage  in 1866 by Bishop Poirier . The early establishment of pre-schools by the Social Center and its many other programs for troubled teens and adolescents today. Also Calls (Center for adolescents to love, to learn and to serve ) in Portsmouth is doing a wonderful job.  The Alpha Center and the out reach to the elderly (REACH , CARE in Portsmouth and the Infirmary)  were started and staffed by religious sisters up to recently. Did we forget Sr. Maria Eelen starting the group of elderly in Woodfordhill?  Did we forget Sr. Madeleine’s pioneering work with the homeless in Roseau and her role in setting up of the Grotto home?   Do we forget the many works of St. Vincent de Paul Society ?  The role of the Catholic Church in establishing quality education for all” in each parish during the latter half of the 19th century against the opposition of the British administration” (see Lennox Honychurch the Dominica story).  Sr. Alicia’s setting up of the first cooperative Credit Union in Giraudel in 1957 which has blossomed into a huge network and propelled the economic development of ordinary people forward in the island.  All these initiatives and works had their roots in the spirituality and social teaching of the Catholic Church.  Remember this, next time you look at this imposing Cathedral !

The Diocesan Archives record that a lot of renovation work took place between 1902 and 1910.  Actually, repairs were continually ongoing supported by “The Record Cathedral Bazaar” of 1907 and 1911 and other fundraising activities for the Cathedral.  Dr. Lennox Honychurch  provided me with a 1920 photograph , taken from the present SMA yard, which clearly shows the Cathedral surrounded by scaffolding.

french poem in crypt

Crypt where Redemptorist Brother Xavier was buried

My research into the burials in the crypt found a two page obituary of a Redemptorist Brother named Xavier.  From the “The Ecclesiastical bulletin of Roseau” we know that brother Xavier Lecointe,  C.Ss.R.  died on December 26, 1910 at the Roseau presbytery and was buried in the crypt.

He was born in St. Genois in Belgium on December 18,1862 and became an architect by training and profession before making his religious profession on October 28, 1892 at the age of  30.   He arrived in 1902 in Dominica where his architectural skills were very useful during the important renovation project of the Roseau Cathedral between 1902 and 1910.  He also worked on the Bishop’s house, St. Gerard’s Hall, the Roseau presbytery, the presbyteries and chapels at Laudat and Bellevue Chopin.”(Dioc. Archives)

   “No sooner had Bishop Schelfhaut been enthroned (1902) he was determined to build a new Bishop’s house.  The old one, a decayed, shaky, tiny hovel, was razed to the ground, and on its ruins Brother Xavier, C.Ss.R. an architect and master-mason, erected the beautiful and solid Bishop house which is the admiration of all visitors to the island.  Commenced about the end of 1902, it was completed and blessed before the end the following year.”(Dioc. Archives).

In 1909 Brother Xavier supervised the work on St. Gerard’s Hall ”   “A plan was drawn and Brother Xavier, in spite of his failing health, volunteered to supervise the work.  With his characteristic tenacity he brought it to completion, not however before being almost at death’s door.  The hall was blessed about the middle of December 1910, and the good Brother departed this life on December 26.”

Reading the Ecclesiastical bulletins of Roseau, it struck me how Religious Brothers and Sisters are hardly mentioned in these bulletins, except in an obituary.   I also noticed how their work, contributions and achievements remain unrecorded. The mighty and important ones write history: long forgotten architect Brother Xavier Lecointe, God’s architect , died at the age of 48, of extreme exhaustion after  8 years non-stop  designing and constructing buildings  in the larger Diocese of Roseau. He died in the presbytery of Roseau, a building which he built himself and was buried in the Crypt in the Cathedral he beautified.

In 1907 the roof of the Cathedral almost collapsed. We read in the Diocesan Archives: “Early in 1907, when closely examining the wooden pillars, which supported the roof of the Cathedral, it was noticed that they were altogether rotten at the base so that the roof had sunk already some 7 inches. It was more than time to replace them by something more sturdy and damp-proof. The wooden pillars were condemned and round  stone pillars and arches erected instead. The ceiling of the nave, built with local wood, proved to be so worm-eaten that individual boards were becoming loose here and there and accidents were to be feared. It had to be entirely renovated.  A new floor was laid down in the nave and Sanctuary, and the unsightly old pews replaced by brand-new ones.  When the renovation works were completed and the Cathedral painted inside and out ,  Redemptorist Brother Ildephonse Lepas ( + July 10, 1910)  decorated the Sanctuary and fixed two huge paintings from his own brush behind the altars of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin.” 

So , for a short period , from 1902-1910,  we found the names of God’s architect and God’s decorator. Both died  shortly after they completed their beautiful works. The results of their decisions, skills and work remained for all of us to see.



By Bernard Lauwyck



The Roseau Cathedral building is full of surprises and  hidden secrets.

You will appreciate that a whole lot of research is going in these articles on the Roseau Cathedral.    This present article is very special to me as I made a real discovery.

Years ago I purchased some books on the beautiful Gothic Cathedral of Chartres, which I wanted to visit in 2006. One of them titled “Chartres:  Sacred Geometry, Sacred Space” written by Gordon Strachan, who taught in the department of Architecture and also Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

The MANDORLA, as an architectural shape to set out a Catholic Cathedral floor plan, was revealed to me in this book. This is very old Christian symbolism, which I am about to reveal to you in our Roseau Cathedral. imagesCAREATWF

“Symbols of the Christian Faith” describe the mandorla as an almond-shaped aureole or halo that symbolizes the glory surrounding the figures of the Virgin Mary, the Trinity, and Christ in Majesty. The mandorla was especially used in icons and depictions of the Transfiguration of the Lord and the Assumption of Mary.

The 1531 Tilma of  Juan Diego, showing to this day Our Lady of Guadalupe, is surrounded by the rays of the sun in the shape of a mandorla. guadalupe2

The MANDORLA is an unique Christian symbol, being the intersection between two circles whose circumferences passed through each other’s centres. 







It became known as the VESICA PISCIS, the womb of the fish, Christianity’s main symbol during the early church period.  The cross or crucifix was only adopted after 313AD ,with Roman emperor Constantine’s acceptance and legalisation of Christianity.  

The fish , ICHTHUS or ΙΧΘΥΣ in Greek, being Jesus Christ, God, Son, Saviour

I esous  =Jesus                    DD Ichthys-Jesus-Fish

C hristos = Christ

T heou = God

U ios    = son

S oter   = Saviour

The Oneness of God could only be architecturally expressed as a CUBE. “the perfection of Oneness because it has the ration of 1:1:1.”

The diagonal of a cube with the side length as1 is the square root of   three : √3. This proportion 1 over  √3 , as derived of the cube (God is One)  and the Vesica Piscis  provide us with the width and length of the mandorla shape as used in Christian imagery and also in sacred geometry on the floor plan of Chartres Cathedral in France.

My curiosity was awakened. Would the  same 1 over  √3 sacred geometry called “ad triangulum”  have been used in our Roseau Cathedral ?   This Roseau church building that has been started, stopped, changed, built, stopped, completed, expanded  and finally  completed to what it is now, over so many years as we will see in a subsequent article.


As we have at our disposal a recent electronic surveyed Roseau Cathedral floor plan “AS IS” on AutoCAD, which was used to design the new roof, we have now accurate measurements and distances between walls and columns. The results of my research have been verified by architect Mr. Bergis STOUTE and can be verified by any architect, as is presented below.


In medieval art Jesus was often depicted above the Cathedral entrance doors, seated in Majesty in the Vesica Pisces, mediating between the two circles symbolising God and man.

In our Cathedral, dedicated to THE VIRGIN MARY (the womb of the FISH)  and with Her Assumption as Parish feast, the architecture  has all the more meaning.

But the image below will make the meaning more visual and meaningful.  An image is a portal to a deep spiritual meaning !     See the Mandorla of  “MARY and CHRIST sitting  IN MAJESTY” transposed on the sacred geometry of the Roseau Cathedral.

OLFHaven perfect

Since the beginning of time, mankind has used a beautiful language to reveal the deeper mysteries and higher aspirations of life. This language is called the language of the sign and symbol.

In his apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”, Pope Benedict XVI pleads for catechesis or instructions concerned with the meaning of signs : “ This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols” end quote.

It is in this act of  my sharing  the signs and symbols with you  (“ treasures and hidden secrets”)  of our Roseau Cathedral that  I hope  you will come to appreciate  the  spiritual meaning behind the objects and building .


 THE CRYPT under the ROSEAU CATHEDRAL     by Bernard Lauwyckfrench poem in crypt

As we enter the dark, gloomy, moist area that is the Cathedral crypt, we immediately ask ourselves why candles are not burning in this burial place of the Bishops of Roseau.

The general appearance is one of neglect. Only the red –yellow bricks in the vaulted ceiling  gives some colour to an otherwise desolate place. P1050299

The back wall has a painted white cross with black drapes painted above.

The painted black drapes, faded badly,  continue along the side walls. Otherwise there is no decoration.



To the left and right of the white cross, on the back wall, is a barely readable French poem .  I have been able to decipher this beautiful text  with the help of a lot of learned friends, mainly  local ones,  some overseas and I thank each of them for this.

They are the 8th and 9th stanza of a POEM called  “STANCES CHRETIENNES SUR L’HOMME”   from  the pen of Monsignor  Olympe-Philippe GERBERT (1798 -1864), Bishop of  Perpignan in France.

It can be found  in its totally in his volume “LE CHANT DES CATACOMBES” on Google  “Annales de philosophie chrétienne, Volumes 70-71” by Augustin Bonnetty, R. P. Laberthonnière, Charles Denis

« N’éteignez pas la lampe solitaire

Qui veille et luit dans un sombre caveau ;

N’éteignez pas l’espoir qui seul éclaire

La nuit du cœur et la nuit du tombeau.


Dieu lui réserve une fin magnifique ;

Il s’éteindra dans une autre clarté ;

Pour expirer, sa lueur prophétique

Attend un jour qui soit l’éternité. »



Rev. René-Stanislas LAVA, Redemptorist, was born in 1859 in Poperinge, Belgium and died in 1903 in Roseau Dominica, where he was doing God’s work the last 16 months of his life.

For several years a missionary in Belgium and Canada, he had, by his powerful sermons, converted many a sinner.

On April 15th, 1903, he arrived at Roseau and was attached to the Cathedral staff.  A few months later he was in the grip of one of the most dreadful and dreaded of all tropical diseases, yellow fever, and died  after only a few days’ illness, on September 13th, 1903.

From the Diocesan records we know that Rev. Fr. Patrick O’Reilly is also buried in the crypt :

But the angel of death was already hovering over Father O’Reilly and struck his fatal blow on 1st June 1882, not however in Roseau, but in New York whither he had gone, under medical advice, for the restoration of his health, which had been very badly impaired.  Arrangements were made at once to have the earthly remains of the zealous  priest of God conveyed to Roseau, the scene of his 20 years’ labour for the salvation of souls.  Early in November the corpse arrived in Roseau, and after an imposing service at the cathedral, was conveyed to its last resting place in the vault beneath the St Joseph’s chapel”

From the “The Ecclesiastical bulletin of Roseau” we know that brother Xavier, C.Ss.R. died on December 26, 1911 at the Roseau presbytery and was buried in the crypt.

He was born in St. Genois in Belgium on December 18,1862 and became an architect by training and profession before making his religious profession on October 28, 1892 at the age of 30.  He arrived in 1902 in Dominica where his architectural skills were very useful during the important renovation project of the Roseau Cathedral between 1902 and 1910.  He also worked on the Bishop’s house, the presbyteries and chapels at Laudat and Bellevue Chopin.