St. Croix has historically been, and remains today, a melting pot of religions. Known as ‘The Land of Churches’, the island is home to approximately 150 churches that serve its 50,000 residents. Some of St. Croix’s historic churches date back to the 18th century, and the variety of these churches are a true representation of the social and religious diversity that has been found here on the island since the Danish colonial times.
The history of the churches of St. Croix begins back in the 1730s when the Moravians came to St. Croix to convert the enslaved Africans of the island from the traditional African spiritual practices to the Moravian faith, and were successful. The success of the Moravians encouraged missionaries of other faiths to follow suit, especially after the Royal Danish granted permission to practice religion freely in 1754. As a result, St. Croix is home to thirteen historic churches, many of which remain open to the public – some still offering regularly scheduled religious services.
As with many Caribbean islands, Christianity is the predominant religion on St. Croix, although there are several other religious and spiritual practices to be found here including Rastafarian, Islam, and Judaism. However, Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Moravians, Methodists, and Dutch Reformed were some of the earliest denominations of Christianity to establish historic houses of worship on St. Croix. In fact, Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church and the Friedensthal Moravian Church are the oldest congregations of their kind in the United States, and Holy Cross Catholic Church is the oldest Catholic Church in the Virgin Islands.
The beauty of the island’s historic churches can be found not only in their history, but also in their architecture. The churches of St. Croix often blend the traditional architectural styles used in churches across the world with local Caribbean details, the combination of which speaks to the island’s distinctive creole heritage. This combination of architectural styles is no surprise when you consider that many of the churches were constructed by local African-Caribbean craftsman. While many of these historic structures have been renovated or reconstructed, some of the churches are still built from the original blocks of locally sourced limestone and/or Danish brick, and some feature local mahogany carved alters or other interior details.
If you would like to visit some of St. Croix’s historic churches, included below is a list those included on the St. Croix Heritage Trail map of Historic Churches, along with brief descriptions of each. Unfortunately, the Historic Churches map is no longer in print, so included at the end of each description you will find the general location of each church. To learn more about the trail, and obtain a digital copy of the St. Croix Heritage Trail map, please read our St. Croix Heritage Trail blog.
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church:
Built in 1848, to meet the rising expectations of Emancipation, the church expanded shortly after construction to accommodate a growing congregation. Constructed of local cut stone, the west entry facade has elements of both Gothic Revival (lancet doors and windows) and Neo-Classical (paired entry columns). The curved gable ends appear to be Spanish Baroque influenced. The interior has been altered considerably. The church, its bell tower and adjacent convent with loggias are replete with local details. The cemetery at St. Patrick’s Church in Frederiksted contains a monument to fourteen sailors from the W. W. W. Monongahela, who perished in the tidal wave of 1867. (Located on the corner of Hospital and Market Streets)
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church:
This simple church was built in 1792, to replace an earlier wood structure built in 1766. Originally a hip roofed, classically detailed structure, the changes over the years have been consistent with the original design. The tower base predates the cupola and may have been a part of the 1792 structure. The raking gables and finials were early 19th century modifications. The pulpit was centered over the altar and approached from the rear. Now, it has been moved to the northeast corner. Despite changes to the interior, the scale and ambiance of the original church remain. The Frederiksted town cemetery is located across the street from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. (Located at the corner of Hospital and Hill Streets)
St. Paul’s Anglican Church:
This hybrid church combines an 1812 West Indian hipped roof structure, featuring classical and local details, with a Neo-Gothic, three tiered tower built in 1848. The main entrances were via north and south porches with several Neo-Classical details of pilasters, cornice and parapets. The entrance function was shared by the west tower after the 1840’s. The tower of local limestone and Danish brick was built to exacting standards of Anglican orthodoxy. It was completely restored after a recent devastating fire. Noteworthy are the local mahogany carved alters and the English pulpit and prayer tablets. (Located on the corner of Prince and King Cross Streets)
The Steeple Building:
Originally built as the Lutheran Church of Lord God of Sabaoth, 1750-53. The Baroque tower with its four-tiered octagonal cupola, reminiscent of Copenhagen’s belfries, was added forty years later. In 1838, after the congregation moved to the donated Dutch Reformed Church on King Street, the building was used by the government as a military base and storehouse and later as a school, community hall and hospital. It is now administered by the National Park Service as a museum. (Located on the corner of Hospital and Company Streets)
Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church:
The main body of the present church was built around 1740 as a Dutch Reformed Church, and is St. Croix’s oldest church. After 1831, the building was taken over by the Lutheran congregation as a replacement for their original church (the Steeple Building) and it was transferred to the Lutherans in 1834. The most distinctive feature is the Neo-Classical tower, built in 1834, and designed by Albert Lovmand, the official architect for the Danish colonies at the time. (Located on the corner of King and Queen Cross Streets)
Holy Cross Catholic Church:
The oldest Catholic Church in the Virgin Islands, it was originally built in 1755, but was extensively altered in the 1850’s. It was built in the shape of a cross to represent St. Croix which means ‘holy cross’ in French. Architecturally striking, it combines the molded facades of San Juan’s 17th century churches, complete with engaged entry columns and elaborate cornice moldings, along with Neo-Gothic elements favored in the 19th century. Though still impressive, the interior has been considerably altered since the 1970’s, with the removal of the stenciled lime plaster, and window and door changes. (Located on the corner of Prince and Company Streets)
St. John’s Anglican Church:
Built in 1849-58, replacing an earlier structure constructed in 1772. Then, in 1866, a fire destroyed much of the original interior. This design and rebuilding reflects the fully realized fidelity to the Gothic Revival style prescribed for Anglican churches throughout the world. Its masonry details, three-tiered tower and elaborate hammer-beam roof framing are noteworthy. The Christiansted town cemetery, established in 1749, is adjacent to St. John’s Anglican Church and includes a Danish section with many prominent names. A Jewish cemetery, dating from the early 19th century, is also nearby. (Located on Route 75/King Street)
Friedensthal ‘Valley of Peace’ Moravian Church and Manse:
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this mission church was founded by German Moravian brethren in the 1750s who named the area Estate Friedensthal, which translates to ‘valley of peace’ in German. It originally served as a Moravian mission, a church and a plantation, and ministered to enslaved Africans. The mission served for a time as a training center for parishioners in trades, reading and writing. The parish house (or manse) was built in the 1830s as both a school and dwelling. The present church, built from 1852-54, is unaltered and features a masonry and wood pedimented entry porch. (Located on Route 75/King Street near Bassin Triangle)
MID ISLAND & WEST END
Friedensfeld ‘Field of Peace’ Midlands Moravian Church:
Dedicated in 1852, this lovely wood church replaced the original structure built from 1810-1819. The church retains its original exterior and interior appearances. Three flanking roof gables, structurally tied together, enclose the nave and side aisles. An open-work barrel vault functions as a ceiling, as well as a curved structural element for the black-painted center trusses, barely visible beyond. The handsome original lancet windows serve both the main floor and the balconies. (Located on Route 72/Midland Road between Route 75 and Route 73)
Kingshill Lutheran Church:
This church was built in 1912, near the end of the Danish era, to serve the residents and soldiers of the nearby Kingshill station. This structure, simple yet sophisticated, has especially handsome details and proportions. Flanking Ionic columns, east and west, frame the entry and apse. A pediment and round-based belfry and cupola mark the entry. Though the windows and interior details were changed in the 1970’s, the church still retains much of its original flavor and appearance. (Located on Route 70/Centerline Road in Kingshill)
St. Ann’s Catholic Church:
Originally built as a family chapel in 1815, by Christopher McEvoy Jr., a prominent planter, St. Ann’s was deeded to the Catholic Church in 1897, and formally dedicated to St. Ann in 1900. Cruciform in plan, the splayed door and window openings are tied together on the exterior by a fillet molding that engages window keystones. Above is a prominent cornice molding upon which sits pediments outlined with finials matching several found in Frederiksted. (Located on Route 66/Melvin H. Evan Highway near Barrenspot, Kingshill)
Holy Cross Anglican Church:
This church represents the effort of the Anglican community to extend its ministry to agricultural workers in the heavily populated central plain, the site of many sugar estates and two central factories. This 1908 structure was built of reinforced concrete, perhaps the island’s first. Pier buttresses and lancet windows give the church a Gothic Revival influence, as do the exposed timbered roof trusses within. (Located at the intersection of Route 72/Midland Road and Route 69)
St. Luke’s African Methodist Episcopal Church:
Founded in 1920, and erected in 1933 by members of the St. Croix Labor Union at Estate Grove Place, this church combines some pointed African Geometries with the familiar lancet-topped window and door shapes outlined in brick of Gothic Revival. Modern applied pier buttresses, north and south, function as they do in other Gothic Revival examples such as Holy Cross Episcopal.(Located North of Route 70/Centerline Road, off of Route 705, in Estate Grove Place)
You can visit these historic churches on your own, or consider taking a Historic Frederiksted, or Christiansted, Walking Tour with the Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT) to learn more about the history of a few of the churches included on the CHANT tours. Several of the churches noted above also house historic cemeteries on their grounds. These church cemeteries include inscribed headstones dating back to the 18th century, and offer a fascinating record of the island’s diverse culture.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
Join Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT) for a Historical Walking Tour of Frederiksted! Learn about the history of Frederiksted, with its magnificent waterfront, Fort Frederik, Victorian townhouses and historic churches. Tours begin on the waterfront adjacent to the pier and wind through the streets of town. See the Old Danish School and St. Patrick’s…
- Self-Guided Tour of Hamilton’s Christiansted
- Alexander Hamilton’s History on St. Croix
- Visit Historic Churches
- Tour Two Historic Forts
- Brush Up on Your Bush Skills
- Learn Something New