The earliest record of an Anglican church service on Madeira dates from 1774, when the chaplain of a passing ship was prevailed upon to hold a service for the residents, who paid for his services with a gift of preserved citron. These random services continued until 1807, when Madeira was host to a garrison of British troops detached to the island to support it during the Napoleonic wars. The chaplain attached to the garrison, Rev Cautley, provided regular services for the residents in the consular chapel and was so popular - and the residents hoped that he would remain for many years - that he could well have been a principal reason for the residents to consider building their own church. This notion was first recorded at a general meeting of the British Factory on 30 December 1808, but it wasn't until two years later, on 31 December 1810, that the formal resolution ..."RESOLVED that it is expedient that a Chapel shall be built..." was agreed. The consul, Henry Veitch, was tasked with the work.
A fund was opened to finance the purchase of land and the build, the amount required was £10,000 and the lengthy subscription list contained the names of King George III, King Leopold I of Belgium, the Duke of Wellington, the Duchess of Bedford, the family of Lord Nelson and many ships, with the British Factory contributing some £400 per year (financed by levying a supplement on the sale of each pipe (about 500 litres) of Madeira wine!
The land chosen was chosen to be close to the original British cemetery in the Rua da Carreira; the land was bought in 1813 and building started in 1816. A brief peripheral anecdote tells how on 23 August 1815, the Consul went on board HMS Northumberland, the ship carrying Napoleon into exile on St Helena, presented Napoleon with a pipe of wine and received a gift (not a payment, according to Veitch) of gold coin in return. Napoleon died, the wine was returned, the coin was forfeit and an eye-witness account records how Veitch sealed it under the foundation stone of the church.
Henry Veitch was a forceful personality and the design of the church, by all accounts, is his alone. Whether he was influenced by a Portuguese law, which prohibited Protestant places of worship from assuming the external resemblance of a church, and so designed a building evocative of a library, senate house or lecture hall; whether he was influenced by his being a Freemason and designed in the style of round temple which had found favour with the Knights Templar, or whether he was a man of architectural taste and designed a neo classic structure according to the Classic Revival movement cannot be said for certain. Support for the first theory is that the church contains no steeple, bells or choir stalls; evidence of the second is in the presence of the all-seeing eye at the apex of the central dome and reflected around the gallery, and the third is obvious.
Sadly the Rev Cautley was not persuaded to stay on with the withdrawal of the garrison in 1814, but he did return for a brief period as chaplain in 1818/1819. By then the building of the church was well under way, although it took six years to complete, mainly, apparently, because of the constant differences of opinion between Henry Veitch and the financier. It was finished in 1822 and the first service attended by its first regular chaplain took place on 22 October.
During the 1800s the history of the church is peppered with interest as chaplains came and went in direct proportion to the pay being offered or withdrawn. Even then the residents seemed unable to afford a full stipend for the chaplain. The rebellious Rev Lowe displeased the congregation culminating in an appeal from the British Consul to Queen Victoria on 25 January 1847, requesting her to use her influence with the British Government to remove him; and as the British Government withdrew all financial support from the church in 1874. This latter is relevant today.
Following this separation, in 1875 the residents of Madeira met to form an Association to provide for the administrative and financial support for the chaplaincy; they drew up the first Constitution document, elected three trustees to care for the funds under their charge (then 6,000 guineas), two churchwardens and a treasurer and a three-man committee of management. Happy days (these nine posts were filled by the same three men!) The first Constitution has been superseded by others but the principles remain the same today and much of the wording of the 1875 original remains in the 2007 Constitution.
The church in the 19th century would have been attended solely by residents of the island. Although Mr William Reid and others were renting out a few villas on the island in the last half of the century, tourism did not really start until Mr Reid built his hotel, the internationally famous Reids Palace Hotel, which opened in 1890. Nowadays 90% of the congregation are tourists, and it is interesting to reflect on the changing attitudes of the times from the inception of the church until now. The church can accommodate 350 people.
In 1822 the British population on the island is estimated to have been around 700, which means that the church was built to accommodate half of the resident population. Nowadays our electoral roll hovers just over the 70 mark. Would our church have been built today by this slim number of believers? Probably not. All we can do is admire the fortitude of our forebears who raised the enormous sum (multiply it by 100 to get to the worth today) to leave us their legacy, a magnificent monument to their faith and determination.