St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Paramaribo, Suriname


A historic landmark in Suriname continues to serve as a pillar of historic remembrance.

A must-see historic site in the small country of Suriname in South America is an old wooden church – the Petrus and Paulus Cathedral – (also known as the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral) considered to be the tallest structure of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps in the world, according to the European Union. However, the actual height of the church is not a detail commonly revealed by Suriname tourist organizations in their marketing materials.

The church, which is in the Suriname capital of Paramaribo, is located between a modern bank building, DSB, and a old dilapidated structure that once used to be a karate school.

The church was built in 1824, only 24 years after Catholics were permitted to practice their religion in Suriname, which was a colony of Holland for centuries. Prior to the church being built, Holland was very Protestant in the 1600s and 1700s, and Catholicism was not much tolerated.

Suriname is occupied by descendants of slaves or indentured servants from Africa, Indonesia, India, and China. But much of the labor of the church was done by slaves at the time it was built. The wooden building used to be the site of a Jewish theatre, which in turn had been created by renovating a mansion that stood on the site. The Jews launched the theatre in 1772 because they were banned from attending another one in Paramaribo. The cathedral was built around the existing church, in 1885, as gathered by sources in Paramaribo.

Further, the architecture in the cathedral has many Jewish symbols, including the Star of David, and the interior is all carved from unpainted cedar wood. The two towers that distinguish the structure were added in 1890. In the past few years the church has undergone a massive renovation, and was expected to be completed in 2007 with financing from the European Union.

Today, the church is open for tours on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings – even during renovations – and still holds occasional holiday services, including on Easter. The tour includes an optional climb to the top to the steeple. Several steps, followed by three sets of steep ladders – 99 ladder steps to be exact – lead to the very top. From the steeple, one gets a decent view of Paramaribo that includes the Suriname River, downtown Paramaribo and a variety of Dutch-style buildings for which the country and capital are well known.

Submitted by Bobby Singh

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