Chair Queen Elizabeth gave Lagos cathedral in 1956 still strong, hasn’t been repaired once – Provost

Queen Elizabeth II of England has a place in the history of Nigeria – Nigeria being a former British colony. In 1956, the Queen visited Nigeria and worshipped at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos. The current Provost of the church, Very Rev Adebola Ojofeitimi, shares some of the highlights of the Queen’s visit in this interview with TOLUWALOPE KAREEM

What were some of the things you were told about the visit of the Queen of England to your church in 1956?

The visit of the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II, to Nigeria in 1956, was based on the relationship between Nigeria and England then. Nigeria, as of then, was a British colony. I think it was that link that made the Queen to come to Nigeria then. When she came, she decided to worship at the Cathedral Church of Christ, (Marina, Lagos). Being the foremost (church), the Cathedral was very special to both Nigerians and the colonial masters.  Majority of the white men worshiped in the Cathedral then.

Who was the provost of the Cathedral when the Queen visited?

The provost then was (the late) Reverend A.W. Howells.

Were you told of the sermon that was preached during the Queen’s visit?

Actually, I have a video clip of that visit. But at that time, video coverage was not allowed inside the church.  So, in the clip that I have, you could see the Queen alighting from her car and being welcomed by the provost and ushered into the Cathedral; and that was the end of the video. Nobody could record anything that happened inside the Cathedral. However, one thing I know is that the Queen brought a chair and that chair till now is still in the church and that is what the provost of the Cathedral sits on during services till date. It has become the official chair of the provost.

So, you really don’t know the sermon topic for the day.

No, I don’t know the sermon topic.

Why did the church disallow video recording in the church then?

I think it was the general rule back then. When you are talking about the sanctuary, many things that we allow now in the church were not allowed in those days. The idea was that the sanctuary is a special place and you wouldn’t want to mess around it. So, they didn’t allow video coverage. But I think it was when General Yakubu Gowon got married in 1970 that they relaxed the rule and allowed camera in the church. Maybe it was because he was the Head of State. I also have the video clip of that wedding.

Was it at that point that they started allowing cameras in the cathedral?

Once you have allowed it for someone it has become the tradition.

I believe there would have been other churches at that time; why do you think the Queen chose to worship at the cathedral church when she visited Nigeria?

The Queen is an Anglican; the Queen, by virtue of her position, is the head of the Anglican Church. She is the secular head while the spiritual head is the Archbishop of Canterbury. You know when we talk of the Anglican Church we are referring to churches in different parts of the world, all with affiliation, communion, fellowship with the city of Canterbury. Canterbury is like our own Rome.

The word ‘Anglican’ is derived from the word ‘anglia,” which means England. The Queen is an Anglican and this is the first (Anglican) cathedral in Nigeria; and everything we do in the cathedral is patterned after the English setting. Up till now, when you are preaching and you try to speak any of our native languages, you must translate what you have said. Even from history, as I was told, in those days you could not come into the cathedral putting on agbada or any traditional attire; you had to come dressed as an Englishman or English lady. If you came in your traditional attire, you would not be allowed into the cathedral.

Will you say the visit of the Queen had any impact on the cathedral?

If the Queen visits any country there will definitely be an impact. Recently, the Pope visited Iraq and the publicity and global interest in the visit was huge. So, it’s the same thing (for Nigeria, back then). In those days, even up till now, we still see the Queen as the “Queen of the World.” So, her visit conferred on the Cathedral a status and prestige that is still there up till today. For instance, the chair which the Queen left with us is still there and you’ll still see the royal emblem on it. That prestige is there and many come to worship in the Cathedral because psychologically they just want to be attached and be identified with the church where the Queen worshiped. In a way that helped the growth of the church. The visit gave the church a prestige that other churches did not have.

Was the cathedral this mighty as of the time the Queen visited?

Yes, the church has always been like this from inception. The church started first in a different location; it used to be situated on the street opposite the Bookshop House around Broad Street; the church started in 1853 and it was started by (the late) Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther. The church came to be as a result of agitation by returning slaves; they were coming back after their emancipation from Sierra Leone. When they came back, they were no longer accustomed to our local language, so they demanded for services to be conducted in English. That was what made Samuel Ajayi Crowther to start the church. In the beginning, the church was sharing a space with St. Peters. The arrangement was that members of St. Peters would come in first and have their service and after a few hours they would move out and the English service would commence.

In 1867, the then vicar of the church, James Abraham, decided to relocate the church. The church had started growing because they were not conducting services in local language. The elites of that time joined the church and that made it to grow rapidly. The rapid growth made the vicar, at that time, to approach the CMS headquarters and asked for a parcel of land, which is where the current building is situated. The church used to be at Eyingbetti; not Marina. I still have a picture in my office In that place; it was all water. That is where we have the taxi parks now.

In those days, the place was part of the lagoon. History has it that people used to enter boats in front of the cathedral. The top of the first building was done on March 29, 1867; parishioners in several generations have been worshiping on this site for the past 154 years. The current building is not the first building, the first building has been demolished and this started in 1929. In 1920, they started raising funds to put up this structure and in 1925 Prince Edward came to lay the foundation. The building was built in three sections, starting from the tower which is the tallest part of the church, then the middle portion and the other side.

It’s been ages since the Queen left the chair; has the chair ever got damaged and had to be repaired?

The chair is ageing but it is still very strong, I sit on it every day, but it has never been repaired for once.

From the video clip that you have and what you were told, can you describe what the atmosphere was like during the Queen’s visit to the church?

When you are receiving someone of importance in society, you can’t receive them ordinarily. So, I want to believe that the high dignitaries of society and people in power would have been present to receive the Queen. I believe there was a lot of celebration in the country then, but it was not like when Genenal Yakubu Gowon had his wedding in the church, because from the video I have, I could see people lining up on the street of Marina struggling to see him when he drove from the government house, and how he came out from his beautiful car and marched into the church, waiting for his bride.

There was a red carpet session for the Queen, which I have the picture, the red carpet was from the doorstep of the church to her car. She walked on the carpet into the church.

Do you know the number of the people on the queen’s entourage on that day?

No, I do not know.

Were you told if the Queen made a speech and were you told what she said?

No, I wasn’t.

Aside the Queen and General Yakubu Gowon, which other dignitaries have worshipped at the Cathedral?

At the moment, we have important dignitaries worshiping at the Cathedral such as Olori Omo Oba, Otunba Olasubomi Balogun, and former Head of Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan. We have had many of dignitaries worshipping with us. The Cathedral used to be like a national church and we hosted many national events. I remember when General Olusegun Obasanjo became the President, he came to this church for thanksgiving. Also, when (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu got his second term (as Governor of Lagos State), he worshipped at the Cathedral. Tinubu is a Muslim but he came to worship at the Cathedral. Many dignitaries come in like that to worship in the Cathedral.

The Cathedral’s design is very unique, who was the architect that designed it?

The architect that designed the Cathedral was a Nigerian; many people thought it was designed by a white man. The architect was Joshua Bangadogi Benjamin. If you look at the building, it is actually built in the shape of a cross, even though you are looking at it from the outside. It is a massive structure. If you look at it very well, you will see that it is a cross.


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