140 years ago, Fr. Marie Jules Dupoux consecrated Our Lady of Montserrat RC Church in Tortuga, Central Trinidad. This sacred commissioning was done on Christmas Eve (December 24th) and this act commenced a process of almost continuous devotion and Marian intercessions within these wooden walls to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother respectively.
Reflecting on these past 140 years many questions come to mind:
What was Tortuga like in those days?
Who were the people who lived in this community at that time?
Where did they come from?
Why did the archdiocese feel the need to build a church in this community and why was this particular site selected for the construction of a church?
What prompted Fr. Marie Jules Dupoux to come to Trinidad and Tobago? And why was he the priest selected to shepherd in Tortuga?
Many of these questions remain unanswered and of course, much is left to the imagination- so let’s IMAGINE.
140 years ago, much of the Central Range, including the Montserrat Hills, would have been covered in dense vegetation; both natural rain forest vegetation and cultivated hectares of sugar cane, cocoa and ground provisions. There would have been no electricity, no potable water to people’s homes / no indoor plumbing, basic housing and some tracks and roads, perhaps unpaved, as access was required from the fields to the factory and nearby market. Allowing our minds to wander, we can just imagine scores of people on market days excitedly trekking up and down the steeply winding roads to Mayo, Forres Park and Claxton Bay and back home to Tortuga. Others from these neighbouring villages would also make the trek to Tortuga, no doubt for a good “lime” with family and friends.
There was much wisdom in selecting this area to build a church as it possessed some major advantages: the need to provide spiritual guidance for the many workers on the estates; a diverse group that included former ex-enslaved Africans and their descendants, East Indian immigrants and peons from neighbouring Venezuela. This was an awesome evangelisation opportunity for the Catholic Church. The hardwood rain forest species in the area would be an excellent choice as building materials. Additionally, Father Dupoux answered God’s call, leaving his home country of France and came to Trinidad. Very significantly, he was an architect!
Allowing our minds to continue wandering, we can see scores of pilgrims making their way, on foot in the early days, and later on in buses and other vehicles, for the annual harvest celebrations at the church. The entire Tortuga community, along with pilgrims from far and wide being caught up in the excitement: participating in the celebration of Holy Mass, seeking Our Lady’s intercessions and sharing in the festivities.
Today 140 years later, Tortuga still remains an ethnically diverse agricultural community, now with paved roads and much of the amenities associated with modern living. The church continues to be a significant part of the community, generally supported by all, Catholics and non-Catholics.
The month of December, 2018, not only marks the 140th anniversary of the church but also the official start of the second Restoration phase of the church, along with vigorous fund raising events by the Shrine Committee and parish community; an enormous undertaking, indeed, that we have entrusted to Jesus and His Mother.
Please contact us ([email protected]) if you will like to make a donation towards this effort. Also, cheques can be made payable to: FRIENDS OF TORTUGA RC CHURCH.
We thank you and extend God’s richest blessings to you and family for the Christmas season and New Year.