An Early History of St. Christopher’s Church to 1989
Excerpted by kind permission from a History of St. Christopher’s & The Anglican Church in Bahrain by Robert Jarman.
The Early Years
The first Anglican to settle in Bahrain was an Englishwoman who came with the American
Missionaries. Amy Elizabeth Wilkes was born in Wolverhampton in 1865; after she had
studied nursing at Prince Alfred Hospital in New South Wales in Australia, she decided in
1892 to become a missionary. She went to the Training School for Deaconesses in Sydney and
was then appointed by the Church Missionary Society to work in Baghdad.
On her arrival in Basra on the 1st April 1895 en route to Baghdad, she was met by
Samuel Zwemer who was the American co-founder of the Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church in
America. They married at the British Consulate in Baghdad on the 18th May 1896 and, as Amy
Zwemer came with her husband to Bahrain in December 1896 to help him and the small group
of missionaries in their work.
Simple non-sectarian church services were held in a room of her rented house for themselves,
their helpers and any others who wished to attend. In 1902 she described those services as
“…the Service is opened with a hymn….Then prayer is offered, reading of the
Scripture, another hymn and then the collection….and out of this same collection the
Bahrein Church though small, has sent relief to famine stricken parts of India and China.
We all feel that we would not miss the service, although it is so plain and so simple, no
choir and no grand music, but just a plain service where a few isolated believers need to
worship the God of Abraham….”.
In 1904 Dr. Hutton, the President of the Board of Trustees of the Arabian Mission,
visited Bahrain on a tour of inspection and he realised the need for a proper church
building. He wrote in his official report:
“ …then there is the chapel in the mission house. It is only ten by
twenty feet and does not pretend to hold the congregations which are beginning to
The Trustees resolved that Dr. Zwemer be authorised to raise the sum of $2000 from
individuals for a school and chapel building in Bahrain.
Before the end of 1905, Zwemer had persuaded 58 people in America to contribute $1680 and 2 people in
England to give GBP364 – and the appeal was closed when the total reached $2064. Plans
were drawn up by Mr. Moerdyk and in 1906 the chapel was erected, to be known as the
American Mission Church.
By the mid 1930′s there were a number of Anglicans in Bahrain – some in Manama but most in the Oil
Camp ( named Awali in 1938 ), but there was no specific building for their use, no
specific services by a clergyman were held and there was no organised body of church
A Church Council was formed in 1937 and the meeting opened by Mrs. Belgrave, the Secretary, by
reading a letter from the Ven. W. H. Stewart, Archdeacon of Jerusalem, welcoming the
formation of the Council and suggesting ways for the disposal of funds and for minutes to
be sent to the Bishop. In fact, the Council declined to follow his advice about church
funds and decided not to send minutes to the Bishop!
It is ironical that this Ven. W. H. Stewart, who seems to have been snubbed somewhat by the
Council, should end up as the Rt. Rev. Weston Stewart, Bishop in Jerusalem, who would be
one of the leading lights in securing a resident chaplain for Bahrain and getting St.
However these developments would not take place until 1943 with an initiative started by Sir
The Appeal Fund
Sir Geoffrey Prior, the British Political Resident in the Gulf based in Persia, but who
had been the Political Agent in Bahrain, wrote to Bishop Stewart in 1943 suggesting the
opening of an appeal fund for the building of a church in Manama to be under the
jurisdiction of the Bishop in Jerusalem. Prior also suggested an architect for the building – the Rev.
Norman Sharp in Persia – who even then had ready the possibility of stained glass windows
for this Manama Church. Prior also suggested the appointment of a resident chaplain.
Bishop Stewart supported these ideas but wanted to be sure that the idea of an Anglican
church building in Manama would not upset the Awali Anglicans or the American
By 1944 the initial problems and doubts had been overcome and the Church Council issued an appeal in
Bahrain for funds to build an “Anglican ( Episcopalian ) Church in Manama”. This
Bahrain Church Appeal Fund had Sir Charles Belgrave as Chairman and the target to raise
was Rupees 100,000, then equivalent to GBP7500.
Most of this money was raised in Bahrain itself in the form of garden parties, whist drives and fetes;
these fund raising events providing much of the social life of the expatriate and local
community in the 1940′s. Sir Charles wrote of the fetes:
“…the stalls and sideshows were much the same as you would see at a bazaar or
fete in England. People sold home-made sweets, cakes, flowers and fresh vegetables,
embroidery and needlework…..All kinds of people came….Europeans and
Americans….Indian women in beautiful, colourful saris….Arabian gentlemen in long,
flowing, white robes and wearing golden agals over their gutras..”
By March 1947 Rupees 66,249 had been raised and although the Appeal Committee continued
to raise funds just as enthusiastically after March, the priorities had changed.
The Search for the First Chaplain
At a Church Council meeting in Sept. 1946 it was decided not to go ahead with the
building of a church yet as costs were very high due to the War and also because many felt
that a church without a chaplain would be of little use; better to obtain a chaplain first
and then a church building.
Although there had been some possible candidates the position had not been filled and by early 1949
the Church Council was somewhat depressed by their lack of success at finding a chaplain.
Finally in February 1949 the Rev. F.P. Thompson accepted the position with a stipend of
GBP800, but the Bishop ruined everything by insisting that he come out to Bahrain by July
which he was not prepared to do.
A meeting of the Church Council in 1950 discussed the terms of contract for the hoped for, future
chaplain, and then went on to look at five possible candidates that had resulted in a
search in Australia and New Zealand. Robert Rickells aged 41, married with no children was
the Chaplain at Greytown in New Zealand. His Bishop described him as;
“….a faithful fellow with the instincts of a gentleman….he goes his own way
steadily and quietly, not with gaiety but he can see a joke….”
It is not clear whether the Bishop in Jerusalem liked the idea of someone with the
instincts of a gentleman, or whether he was more impressed by the fact that his wife was a
good musician and organist – however he decided to appoint him. Consequently on the 8th
November 1951 Rev. Rickells arrived in Bahrain and held his first service the same day
with a congregation of 18 people.
Bahrain now had a Chaplain, the next task was the construction of a church.
The Construction of a Church
In August 1949 a site had been obtained for the building of a church when the Ruler of
Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa gave a plot of land measuring 326′ by 120′ to
the Jerusalem And East Mission. In 1952 plans for the building of a church were again
discussed which had been drawn up by Major Hills, Head of the Public Works Dept. in
Bahrain. A bid was accepted from Salman Uchi, an Iraqi Christian
Building Contractor at a price of Rupees 60,000 with the work to be completed in about 20
Construction started in August 1952 and in November the Bishop laid the foundation stone. A meeting of
the Council chaired by the Bishop on the same day, decided to adopt the name of St.
Christopher, a suitable choice as he is the patron saint of travellers and most of the
parishioners were travellers.
The building was completed and the Church consecrated on 13th March 1953. The final version of the
Church had no tower and thus there was nowhere to hang the bell, a gift from Captain
Charles Kendall which arrived in 1956.
The sanctuary and chancel are dominated by the nine Persian windows which were rescued from a
house that had been demolished in Yazd by the Rev. Norman Sharp. The largest of the nine
is in the East Window directly above the altar, the others being set into each side of the
On the right of the Provost’s stall is an icon of St. Christopher made by the master iconographer of
St. Stavronouni Monastery in Cyprus in 1985 to mark the occasion of the elevation of St.
Christopher’s as the Anglican Cathedral in the Gulf.
Behind the altar can now be found the Bishop’s Throne, flanked on either side by the Canon’s stalls.
St. Christopher’s School
The Story of St. Christopher’s School is an integral part of the history of St.
Christopher’s Church. Starting in a small way in 1961, it grew rapidly until by the mid
1970′s it was taking up more of the Chaplain’s time and the Church Council’s time than
were all other Church Affairs.
In 1961 there was no school for expatriate children in Bahrain – any teaching being done
informally in private houses. The then Chaplain, Alun Morris, was most anxious that
education be provided on a larger scale and so a school was opened with 30 children. By
Easter classes were being held in the Church Hall with an additional 10 children enrolled
and a Headmistress, Mrs. G. Williams directing the five classes.
At the end of 1962 it was decided to build a proper school and a single storey building was completed
by the end of 1963. When Mr. J. Adler was appointed Headmaster in 1967 the number of
pupils had risen to over 200 and a second storey had been added to accommodate the demand.
Discussions began about building a new block and in the interim a temporary annex was rented near the
old palace. In March 1971 a new six classroom building had been completed at a cost of
GBP20,000 but the number of children had increased again and there was still a shortage of
In 1972 it was decided to move the school away from the Church Compound entirely and this has enabled
the school to expand continually since then. In 1989 there were four schools in three
different premises with a total provision for more than 1600 pupils.
St. Christopher’s Church handed over control of the school to the local community in 1975, but
the connection between Church and school is maintained, not merely in name, but through
the Chaplain who remains one of the Governors.
From Church to Cathedral: the 1980′s
The 1980′s have seen two Chaplains – the Rev. Michael Roemmele and Canon John
Parkinson. It was under these two Chaplains that St. Christopher’s was elevated to the
rank of a Cathedral.
The first step took place on the 1st May 1982 when St. Christopher’s was rehallowed as a pro-
Cathedral at a ceremony attended by 188 people: Because of St. Christopher’s new status
Bishop Leonard Ashton (first Bishop of the new Diocese of Cyprus & the Gulf) was
enthroned a second time in the new Cathedral.
On the 23rd April 1986, St. Christopher’s was proclaimed by Bishop Harry Moore as “our Cathedral
in the Gulf”, and as a result of this change of status, the Chaplain became the
Provost. The Ven. Michael Mansbridge (Archdeacon in the Gulf) and the Rev. Ian Young
(Chaplain in Qatar) were appointed as the first Canons of the Cathedral.
Excerpted by kind permission from a History of St. Christopher’s & The Anglican
Church in Bahrain by Robert Jarman. Published by the Anglican & Episcopal Church of
Robert Jarman was an Exhibitioner in History at Selwyn College, Cambridge University. He
first came to the Gulf area in the late 1960′s and moved to Bahrain in 1978 where he was
for some years the Librarian of the Bahrain Historical & Archaeological Society.
He was and remains, an advisor to a British Publisher who reprints historical archives relating to
the Middle East: Partly because of that work he was employed by the Bahrain National
Museum as their consultant on archives prior to the opening of the New Museum in 1988.
In his spare time he is currently at work on a history of the Old Christian Cemetery of Bahrain.