THE CITY OF CARACAS,
ON THE 26th FEBRUARY, 1834,
CONSECRATION OF A CHAPEL
AND BURIAL GROUND,
Members of the English Church
DYING WITHIN THAT CITY.
Right Rev. W. H. COLERIDGE, D. D.
Bishop of Barbadoes and the Leeward Islands.
THE following extract from a letter addressed to the Bishop by Sir Robert Kerr Porter, his Majesty's Consul at the city of Caracas, will explain the occasion of the following Address:--
"According to the existing Treaty of Amity, and under the auspices of the British Government, as well as by its pecuniary aid, in addition to the subscriptions obtained from his Majesty's subjects resident in Caracas and La Guayra, the long wanted establishment of a Protestant Cemetery in this city has at length been accomplished, and in a manner, I trust, highly honourable to the Nation whose name it bears, as also creditable to those through whose exertions and means it owes its foundation. All now wanting to render our object most sacredly respected by the Natives, and to silence any scrupulous feelings that may exist in the breasts of my fellow Countrymen here (who are, indeed, but few) regarding its present unhallowed state, is its consecration. If, therefore, during the course of some one of your episcopal visitations throughout the Islands, if it were possible, without great inconvenience, to extend your presence to this Capital, and hallow our place of interment, the pious act, I can assure you, would be gratefully appreciated by us all, as likewise by every Protestant and Stranger within its walls. I have already consulted this Government on the subject in question, and received complete assurance that the act of consecration is in strict agreement with the spirit of our treaty, besides having the full approbation and sanction of the Executive of the Republic."
On the 27th of January last the Bishop sailed from the island of Barbados in his Majesty's ship Forte, under the command of Commodore Pell, on a visitation to the [3/4] northern part of the diocese; and, after officially visiting the islands of Montserrat, Antigua, Nevis, Saint Christopher, and Tortola, passed on to the Danish islands of Saint Thomas and Santa Cruz, (where there are many English Residents,) and stretching from the latter island across the Caribbean Sea, anchored in the road of La Guyara on the 22d of February. [* By a singular coincidence the Act for Religious Toleration passed the Congress a few days only before the Bishop’s arrival.] The Bishop on the evening of that day proceeded across the mountains to the city of Caracas. On the 24th the Bishop was honoured with a special audience by the President of Venezuela, Jose Antonio Paez, General in Chief, &c.; and on the 26th, in the presence of his Excellency General Paez, the Chief Ministers of the Republic, his Majesty's Consul, the Commodore and Officers of his Majesty's ship, the British residents, and a large concourse of the Inhabitants of the City, the Bishop consecrated the chapel and burial ground according to the rites and ceremonies of the United Church of England and Ireland. The petition, with the deed of purchase, was presented by Sir Robt. Kerr Porter, and read by his Secretary. His Excellency Lieut. Colonel Stopford, Governor of Cumana, acted as Chancellor; and the Rev. Richard Hurrel Froude, M.A. of Oriel College, Oxford, and the Rev. Joseph Marshall, B. A. of Trinity College, Dublin, Chaplain of his Majesty's ship Forte, officiated as the Bishop's chaplains.
The burial ground is situated in the suburbs of the City to the south west, and is enclosed by a high and neat wall: within it is divided into two squares, and is terminated at the southern end by a deep recess of sufficient dimensions to serve as a chapel; and with a very chastely executed pediment and columns of considerable height.
Amidst a sublimity and richness of landscape almost unequalled in the world, which presents itself to the view of the astonished traveller on looking down from the [4/5] mountain pass on the city of Caracas (splendid still even in its ruins); and along its lengthened line of fertile plain, irrigated by the river Guayra, and stretching in an easterly and westerly direction for more than twenty miles, at an elevation of nearly 3000 feet above the level of the sea, with a range of mountains on either side, rising in one point to more than 5000 feet above the plain itself--the eye yet rests with calm and holy delight on the conspicuous, but neat and simple, burial ground of the English Church.
[The city of Caracas was almost totally destroyed by a dreadful earthquake in 1812. Nearly 20,000 persons are supposed to have perished either from the openings of the earth or from the fall of buildings. It happened on Holy Thursday, and in the Barrack alone (which must have been both in itself and from its situation a most striking edifice)2000 soldiers, who were under arms waiting to attend a public procession, were in an instant buried. The loss of life in the several monastic houses was very great, and the circumstances, under which several of the nuns perished, most harrowing. In one street a priest was observed with a crowd of affrighted females clinging to his garments, and in a moment a wall was seen to fall and crush them all under it. The inconvenience arising from the dead bodies, left unburied, was so great that the city itself was deserted by the survivors for some months. Of the many churches which graced the City, three or four only, with the Cathedral, were left standing, and these were much shaken and injured.]
 Dearly beloved in the Lord,
WE have assembled for the purpose of setting apart, in a religious manner, a place of interment for the members of the church of England dying within these parts of the world. It is a purpose at once reasonable, and pious, and charitable, and consecrated to our holiest affections by the usage of very remote antiquity.
Before the flood, and for many years after, we read only in the sacred volume of the deaths of the several patriarchs therein mentioned; but with the introduction of Abraham's history the sacred narrative becomes more particular, and we have the record not only of the "death" of Sarah, but of Abraham's "mourning for her, and weeping for her, and purchasing a burying place for her, of the children of Heth." The solemn charges given both by Israel and Joseph, on their death beds, respecting the disposal of their remains, though more especially intended to declare their faith in the fulfilment of God's promised grant of the land of Canaan to them and to their posterity, are yet farther proofs of the anxiety felt during the [7/8] patriarchal times for the solemn interment and preservation from every indignity, of the bodies of their dead. Israel charged his twelve sons and said--"I am gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebecca his wife; and there buried Leah. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people." So strong were the feelings of Joseph on this point, that "he took an oath," we read, "of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence." And the children of Israel did so, and "brought up the bones of Joseph out of Egypt, and buried them," as it is written in the conclusion of the book of Joshua.
As we descend in the Jewish history, we find mention of the death and burial of Miriam, and of Moses, whom the Angel of the Lord "buried in a valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-Peor"--[8/9] of Joshua and Gideon, of Tola, and Jair, and Jepthan, of Samson and Samuel, and David and Solomon, and the several kings that succeeded them in Judah and in Israel.
In still later times of the Jewish church, we find the same respect paid to the dead. The "five men possessed with devils" found an undisturbed retreat for themselves "among the tombs." The dead Lazarus was laid in his vault. The disciples of the Baptist came and took up the headless corpse of their master and buried it. The crucified body of our Lord was taken down by the pious Joseph, and wrapped in a clean linen cloth, and laid in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock. Devout men carried the martyred Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
The same pious usage continued when the Jewish and Patriarchal churches were merged with the multitude of Gentile believers under the general name of Christians.
For the first three hundred years the dead were buried, without the walls indeed of their respective cities, yet with every appropriate mark of outward solemnity. Before the conclusion of the sixth century, it became customary among Christians, for respect's sake, and for greater security to the remains of their departed brethren, to consecrate, or set apart by some express religious ceremonies, their public cemeteries--those [9/10] resting places, as the word denotes, or dormitories of the dead, where the bodies of the Saints, undisturbed by the violence of ungodly men, might rest in peace, requiescant in pace, until the trumpet of the Angel shall awaken them into light and life. By day, and not by night, as was the custom with the Heathen, were the bodies carried to the grave, amid psalms of praise and thanksgiving dictated by the fulness of Christian hope. Torches were carried before the bier even in the day time to signify the enlightening power of God's law, which had been "as a lantern unto their feet," during their lives; and even the blessed Eucharist was administered to the survivors both to comfort and support them under their loss, and to make mention of the souls of the departed as still in the unity of the church, and only gone before to join that portion of it which is now awaiting the day of final account in the place of departed spirits. So highly did the ancient Christians estimate the right of Christian burial, that even during the times of persecution, and amidst the prevalence of the plague or any other infectious disease, they still, at the hazard of their own lives, attended at the beds of the dying, closed their eyes, and carried their dead bodies to the grave.
In the solemn act then, my Brethren, which we are now called upon to perform, we are [10/11] uniting ourselves in practice with the Church in all ages: we are providing a secure and hallowed resting place for our dead: we are "removing our dead out of our sight," and yet so retaining in this hallowed enclosure a memorial of them, that, "though dead they yet speak" to us from their graves, and warn us of mortality: we are engaged in an act of charity most grateful to the feelings of many a distant friend and relative, who, when they hear of the deaths of those whom they respect and love, will be more consoled under their loss by the knowledge that the remains of the departed were interred in a consecrated place, according to the accustomed solemnities of our church: we are declaring our faith in the reunion of the soul and body, and in the resurrection of the latter, which we neither cast to the fowls of the air, nor dissipate on the funeral pile, nor treat with any indignity, but solemnly, and amidst a train of mourners, commit to the earth from whence it was taken, in sure and certain hope that it shall rise again. The Legislature of the Land has said unto us, as did the pious and kind hearted king of Egypt unto Joseph of old, "go up and bury your dead;" the Chief Magistrate of the land has given the weight of his presence, attended by "its elders, a very great company," at once to grace and sanction this our pious undertaking; our own Government has lent its name and aid; [11/12] those of the inhabitants, whom it chiefly concerns, have shown their sense of its importance by the readiness of their contributions; and in the piety, taste, munificence, and unremitting personal assiduity of the Representative of our Sovereign, it has found, under God's blessing, its present accomplishment.
When I consider, my Brethren, who and whence we are, and where and for what purpose assembled, "out of every nation almost under Heaven," inhabitants of the Old World standing in the midst of their brethren of the New, in the very central plain of that New World, I cannot but offer up a fervent prayer to God, that men may in all the earth feel more and more the connecting tie of religion: that, as "God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth," so,that all men every where would trust more and more in "one blood, even the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ," and be united together under Him in one universal church, or body of faithful people throughout the whole world, necessarily distinguishing themselves, for order's sake, into particular or national churches, as branches of the same spiritual tree, but agreeing in all essentials, without presumptuously taking away, or superstitiously adding thereunto; thus enabling all Christians to communicate with one another in the same scriptural worship, having [12/13] "one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all." Such was the unity which existed among Christians in the earliest periods at least of Christianity, and such let every Christian pray and endeavour that we may enjoy yet again in unity, not in error, but in truth, pure and undefiled--as it is revealed to us in God's written word.
Within these walls the earth will open to receive the bodies of individuals dear to one another by the ties of birth, country, and religion. All worldly differences, should any unhappily have arisen in the flesh, will have ceased. Every public animosity, or private feud, will have here found its close. Live then, I beseech you, my Brethren, by God's grace, as men that are already dead to every unkind and revengeful feeling, "forbearing one another in love, and forgiving one another if any man have a quarrel against any, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us."
Standing as we do on that earth out of which we were taken, and unto which the youngest and healthiest and noblest among us must sooner or later return, how ought we to humble ourselves before Him, in Whose hands are the issues of life and death, and bethink ourselves of our conduct now, and how far we have any good [13/14] hope, through the merits of the great Redeemer, of passing from the prison of the grave to the liberty of a never ending life in Heaven. When once the earth has closed over us, our doom, whatever it shall be, is for ever fixed. There is no repentance in the grave. We cannot undo the evil which we have done: our regrets will be unavailing when the day of probation is past. In vain, with the improvident virgins, shall we knock at the door of Heaven when the portals of mercy are for ever closed. This life only is "the accepted time;" in this life only is "the day of salvation." Let us but pass onward, my Brethren, in thought, but a few short years, and the ground over which we now look, will be filled with its dead: numbers that now breathe the air of heaven shall have crumbled into the dust of earth--yet not for ever--at the voice of the Son of Man they shall arise, each from his resting place! the grave shall give up its dead: the righteous and unrighteous shall come forth: but with feelings how different! The latter, trembling under the certainty of everlasting punishment; the former, rejoicing, through the merits of their Redeemer, in expectation of that blessedness of which they will have already had an earnest in their changed and glorified forms. Prisoners they will have been for a time, but "prisoners of hope," through Him to whom during their life they "turned" themselves-- [14/15] even Christ "their strong hold." "I would not have you ignorant (writes the Apostle to his Thessalonian converts) concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an Archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. And shall we not live, my Brethren, now as men who do indeed believe this? Shall we be so engrossed with things "temporal," as to leave no time for the things which are "eternal?" "Take heed to yourselves," it is our Lord's own admonition, "lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this life, and so the day" of death "come upon you unawares."
Removed as you (of my native land) have so long been, and still unhappily are, from the regular ministry of God's word and sacraments, [15/16] according to the rites of that pure and apostolical branch of Christ's Catholic Church to which we belong, there is danger, lest religion should altogether pass out of your thoughts, and leave you at your last moments without present comfort, or future hope. May the solemnity of this day then, through God's grace, have not been without its awakening effect; may it have carried you back to scenes with which you have been familiar from your childhood; may it have recalled many an early and holy association to your minds; may it have united you, in thought, to the many congregations of your brethren, who in your native land publicly assemble to worship the God of their fathers, the one great Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of mankind; and may it have called forth a secret but fervent prayer to the Great Head of the Church, that the time may not be far distant, when, under the protecting laws of this Land, you too, may have--settled in the midst of you--a minister of your own branch of Christ's Church to minister to you in things sacred--one duly ordained, according to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, in uninterupted succession from the Apostles; duly placed under ecclesiastical authority; zealous, yet with judgment; "the husband of one wife" as the Apostle notes; "example" to his flock "in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity;" "in all things approving himself as the minister of Christ," [16/17]"setting forth by his life and doctrine God's true and lively word, and rightly and duly administering his holy Sacraments."
May the Lord hasten this blessing to you, my brethren: and happy and thankful shall I feel in being instrumental in any degree to its accomplishment, or in giving effect and permanency to it, by my advice and spiritual authority afterwards: may this be the object of your prayers whensoever you pass by these walls, or enter them for the interment of your dead, or for the purpose of public worship; and may the sight of this hallowed place, and the recollection of this day's solemnity, so awaken you, under God's assisting grace, to renewed holiness of life, that whereas there are that "speak against us" as men without piety and without virtue, aliens from the faith, and outcasts from the hope of salvation, "they may by our good works which they shall behold, glorify God," and acknowledge that we also with them are of the Church of Christ, and heirs, through Christ, of the kingdom of heaven; "that therefore we are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the Saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone."
To whom with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, be glory and [17/18] thanksgiving in all churches, even to the ends of the earth, now and for ever more!
On the conclusion of the foregoing address, [Morning prayers, with psalms and lessons applicable to the occasion, had been read previously to the delivery of the address.] his Lordship and chaplains proceeded down the centre of the burial ground reciting the following words: "The glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us: prosper thou the work of our hands upon us; O! prosper thou our handy work."
After which, the Bishop having taken his seat, directed the sentence of consecration of the chapel and burial ground to be read by the chancellor (for the time being); when completed, his Lordship signed and promulged the same, and ordered it to be registered--then kneeling, said the following prayer:
"O God, who hast taught us in thy Holy Word that there is a difference between the spirit of a beast, that goeth downwards to the earth, and the spirit of a man, which ascendeth up to God, who gave it; and likewise by the example of thy holy servants in all ages, hast taught us to assign peculiar places where the bodies of thy saints may rest in peace, and be [18/19] preserved from all indignities, whilst their souls are safely kept in the hands of their faithful Redeemer, accept, we beseech thee, this charitable work of ours, in separating this portion of ground to that good purpose; and give us grace, that by the frequent instances of mortality which we behold, we may learn, and seriously consider, how frail and uncertain our condition here on earth is, and so number our days, as to apply our hearts unto wisdom, that in the midst of life, thinking upon death, and daily preparing ourselves for the judgment that is to follow, we may have our part in the resurrection to eternal life, with him who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, and now liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen."
And before the final blessing, the Bishop said the following prayer:
"Blessed be thy name, O Lord God, for that it pleaseth thee to have thy habitation among the sons of men upon earth, and to dwell in the midst of the assembly of saints upon earth. Bless, we beseech thee, the religious performance of this day, and grant that in this place, now set apart to thy service, thy holy name may be worshipped in truth and purity to all generations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
 "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst and remain with you always. Amen."