By Claire Volkman
The Caribbean islands are not often associated with the staggering spires, imposing Gothic towers and medieval facades of the cathedrals found in Europe. However, thanks to the islands’ British and French settlers, some of the world’s most inspiring churches and cathedrals can be found flanked by palm trees, Latin music and cerulean-hued waters. So, skip the beach to discover the Caribbean’s most fascinating and historic churches, all of which hold special services throughout the holidays to celebrate in their own unique ways.
With fewer guests, spacious staterooms and elegant accommodations, your cruise isn’t just luxurious; it’s personal. In addition, more is included. From gratuities to shore excursions and wine, beer and more, you have less daily costs to consider. Here are some additional reasons a river cruise should be in your holiday plans.
THE CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARÍA LA MENOR, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Step back in time with a visit to the America’s first cathedral in bustling Santa Domingo. Built in the 1500s as a church for the royals, the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor boasts multiple chapels and a spacious vaulted ceiling. With the Caribbean light pouring through the windows, the hammered silver alter sparkles, illuminating its ornate details. You’ll need time to walk completely around this holy structure, which takes up an entire city block, but the stroll provides you with inspiring angles to grasp the cathedral’s architectural gravitas.
ST. JAMES PARISH CHURCH, BARBADOS
Come face to face with local legends and fascinating architecture in the area known as “God’s Acre,” home to St. James Parish Church. After walking through the Devil’s Gate, which is left open just before service so that the devil can escape, you’ll wander through breathtaking gardens filled with tropical island flowers. Gargoyles sit on the front of the steeple, protecting the church’s 300-year-old baptismal font and the original church bell that predates the famed Liberty Bell by 54 years.
SAN JUAN CATHEDRAL, PUERTO RICO
The stained-glass windows and graceful façade of the San Juan Cathedral grab your attention as you’re wandering through the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Stroll underneath the magnificent archways, and you’re instantly surrounded by history. On a tour of this Gothic cathedral—one of the oldest in the Caribbean, dating back to the early 1500s—your eyes are at first lifted to the heavens toward the recently restored artwork, before returning down to earth to find the final resting place of the island’s first governor, Juan Ponce de Leon. The special Christmas Eve service is preceded by an hour-long choir performance that is broadcast to the entire nation.
ST. JOHN’S CATHEDRAL, ANTIGUA
Originally built in the late 1600s, the fascinating St. John’s Cathedral you see today, with its confident, white twin towers soaring into the sky, dates back to 1848. The cathedral includes a “building within a building” —a unique, pitch-pine interior that adds a key layer of structural reinforcement against Mother Nature’s might. Before you head inside to view the dark wood furnishings and marble tablets, take a closer look at the iron entrance gate—it once adorned the masts of one of Napoleon’s mightiest ships.