Lutheran churches on St. Croix

The Lutheran Church in Frederiksted is a good example of church architecture on St. Croix. Today the Church is called Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. The small, fine church building was completed in 1788 after a fire that razed the previous wooden church, built in 1766 on high ground on Frederiksted’s eastern edge, where the old cemetery is also located.

The town of Frederiksted was planned in 1752, but work started only after the Crown took over the colony in 1754. On that occasion the planters were enjoined to give the enslaved Africans permission to practice the Christian faith and other conventions such as marriage and baptism which would give the enslaved Africans the opportunity to lead a Christian life. Simultaneously, the planters were called upon to protect the family structure of the slaves from sale. These rules were not enforced. After the adoption of these regulations a Lutheran pastor and ten missionaries were sent to strengthen Lutheran missionary activity. On Søbøtker’s plantation, Høgensborg, and on Schimmelmann’s, La Grange, the enslaved Africans were even encouraged to adopt a Christian life. The Moravian Brethren enjoyed greater success, and obtained permission to construct churches before the Lutherans.

The construction of the Lutheran Church took its time; the work began in 1783 but had to stop because of the lack of funding. So even this small church took five years to complete. Its architecture is simple Late Baroque, built in Flensburg brick and then rendered. The church has seven bays with a door in the middle bay. It has arched window frames with a keystone, and the doors are similar. In addition, the building has heavy shutters with wrought iron fittings. The south-facing gable also has a door with access from a steep stone staircase that starts at an iron gate in the wall around the church.

From the door on the east side of the church, some steps lead to a closed part of the cemetery, where a parish hall was later built. From the west-facing door a long brick staircase – also in yellow Flensburg stone – leads all the way through the oldest part of the cemetery out to the western gate. This has distinctive landscape and garden architectural features, because the long, flat steps follow the slope and emphasize the location of the church.

The northern gable had a bell tower built in the mid-1800s. The tower disrupts the otherwise simple architecture, but is well proportioned with cornices and a timbered spire.

The interior is simple with dark lacquered benches and white walls, and there is access to the gallery via a spiral staircase.

When there is a service in the church, all shutters and doors open and familiar northern European organ tones and hymns drift out over the small town.

In Christiansted, just opposite the fort, stands the first Lutheran Church – Steeple Building. It is from 1753 and built in the Baroque style. The building is now a museum and is owned by the National Park Service, which also owns the town’s fortress and the former slave station.

The Lutheran church, which is still in operation today, bears the name Lord God of Sabaoth and is located in King Street with its tower facing the street. It was formerly a Dutch Reformed church built around 1740 in Baroque style. The church was remodelled and the tower was added after 1830 in neoclassical style by the Danish architect Løvmand.

Sources:
Mastering the Mission, by Elizabeth Rezende, 1990
St. Thomas and St. Croix, Kunstakademiets Arkitektskoles Forlag 2004, ed. Thorkell Dahl and Kjeld de Fine Licht.