Mombasa Holy Ghost Cathedral Catholic Church
Situated at the heart of Mombasa’s Central Business District, the Holy Ghost Cathedral Catholic Church stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and architectural splendour. Established in 1889 by Father Alexander le Roy, a Holy Ghost missionary, it is Mombasa’s first Catholic mission.
The cathedral, built in the imposing Romanesque style, was opened to the faithful in 1923 after eight years of construction that commenced in 1916, during the tumultuous period of the First World War and the devastating Spanish flu pandemic. Despite these challenges, the church’s construction persevered, showcasing the dedication and resilience of the Catholic community in Mombasa.
The roots of the Holy Ghost Cathedral Catholic Church trace back to the arrival of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, known as the Spiritans, in Mombasa in 1889. Under the guidance of Monseigneur Raoul de Courmont, who was appointed the Vicar Apostolic of Zanzibar, Father Le Roy was sent on an exploratory mission to Mombasa. Father Le Roy, considered the pioneer of the church in Mombasa, settled in the city and established the first chapel in Ndia Kuu, Old Town. The church primarily catered to Goan and European communities in its early years.
The church’s growth necessitated a move from the cramped chapel to a larger space. In 1898, a five-acre plot in the Makadara area was acquired to construct a new church capable of accommodating around 400 people. However, as the population continued to surge, the demand for a more substantial church became apparent by 1900.
The task of designing the new church fell upon Walter Gustav, a proficient builder and missionary brother from the Spiritans. His plan, accepted by Bishop John Neville, received enthusiastic support from the congregation, who pledged funds for its realization. Despite the challenges posed by World War I, Brother Gustav, along with Brothers Killian Retig and Claver Fernandes, laid the foundation stone in 1916.
During the church’s construction, residents were trained in stone carving and sculpting to utilize the readily available coral stones. Even the Spanish flu pandemic outbreak in 1918 did not deter their efforts to complete the project. Finally, in 1923, the Holy Ghost Cathedral Catholic Church, with its distinctive Romanesque architecture and prominent towers visible from the sea, stood as a testament to the unwavering dedication of the community.
The interior of the cathedral is equally captivating. The high altar, tabernacle, and ambo were crafted from exquisite marble, skillfully carved and sculpted by stonemasons in Toulouse, France. The church boasts an array of coloured stained glass windows, each depicting significant aspects of the Catholic faith. Behind the tabernacle, three windows narrate the story of the church, with the central one dedicated to the Holy Spirit, the right one symbolizing the baptism of Christ, and the left representing the descent of the Holy Spirit, which marked the church’s inception.
The church’s ceiling is an intricate replica of London’s Westminster Cathedral. Painstakingly hand-painted by an artist lying on a precarious platform, each cell was meticulously adorned, showcasing the remarkable craftsmanship involved.
In 1923, following the consecration of the present cathedral, the original church from 1898 was transformed into a bookshop and printing press. It played a vital role in disseminating monthly publications such as “Rafiki Yetu” and “Catholic Times of East Africa.” Regrettably, this historic church building was eventually demolished in the 1970s to make way for Ambalal House.
Today, the Holy Ghost Cathedral Catholic Church is a significant attraction and historic site in Mombasa, drawing visitors from far and wide to admire its grandeur and explore its rich heritage. It serves as a place of worship, a symbol of faith, and a window into the history of Catholicism in the region.