Christopher’s Legacy: Codrington College

Codrington College in Barbados celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest educational institutions in the Caribbean

Codrington College: the main building. Photograph by Felix KerrCodrington College: the majestic driveway. Photograph by Felix Kerr

Far below, the Atlantic waves crash onto Barbados’s eastern coast. But up here on the hillside, the silence is only broken by the wind, the birds, and occasionally the College bell calling students to classes or to prayers.

Codrington College is one of Barbados’s landmarks. Its long driveway is guarded by rows of magnificent royal palms, and leads to an elegant stone building that looks like an Oxford or Cambridge college transposed to the Caribbean. The deep blue Atlantic glistens through its graceful central archways; its quiet lawns are edged by some of the rare woodland that somehow escaped the levellers of Barbados’s plantation age.

Codrington is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year: two and a half centuries as a centre of learning. It held its first class on September 9, 1745, when America was still a British colony and nearby Trinidad was still a sleepy Spanish backwater. Today, Codrington is the Caribbean’s Anglican training college, perhaps the leading theological college in the region, and certainly the oldest; its handsome building with its three-foot limestone walls looks much the same as it did back in 1745, despite being damaged twice by hurricanes and once by fire.

When the college first opened, it was a grammar school for boys, with 12 students. It was the dream of one of the best of the early colonial governors in the Caribbean, Christopher Codrington, whose grandfather had settled in Barbados in 1628, only a year after the first British colonists landed. Codrington grew up in what is now the Principal’s Lodge, next to the main college building, a house which was built in the mid 1600s and was bought by his father in 1668. He studied at Oxford, became a Lieutenant-Colonel in the English army, fell out with the king, became a distinguished Governor of the Leeward Islands, and returned to his childhood home in Barbados for the last six years of his life, dying there in 1710.

In his will, Codrington left his two Barbados plantations to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in England, to support a new college where “a convenient number of Professors and Scholars”, under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, should study “Physics and Chirurgy as well as Divinity”, thus benefitting men’s health as well as their souls.

After much wrangling over the will, building began in 1714, and the first class was held in September 1745.

By 1830 the College had spawned a separate boys’ school — which became Barbados’s famous Lodge School — and had become principally a training college for West Indians seeking ordination. It began offering university-level education in 1875, first through an affiliation with Durham University in England, and then (from 1965) with the young University of the West Indies (UWI). It has been training teachers since 1848, with its own training institute, the Rawle Institute, opening in 1911.

Today, Codrington has 12 students in residence and around 18 non-resident students, all either training for the priesthood or for UWI degrees. At the weekends, more than 50 part-time students from local churches meet at the College for theological training.

The daily routine is very much as it was 250 years ago — worship in the little chapel at 7 a.m., 12 p.m. and 6 p.m., classes from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. But the College is entirely in local hands: the SPG transferred responsibility to local boards in 1976, and a local Board of Trustees took over the historic Codrington Trust in 1983.

“We teach the traditional theological disciplines, but we ask how they relate to our Caribbean environment,” says Canon Noel Titus, Codrington’s present Principal, who lives in Christopher Codrington’s old house next to the main College building. The College balances academic training with practical experience — Canon Titus is keen to introduce training in counselling and church music (“which will mean expensive soundproofing,” he laments). Students come from all over the Caribbean and are assigned to a local parish for their three years, testing academic training with real pastoral work in the field.

The College is funded by Anglican churches in the Caribbean plus income from the old Codrington estates. It is part of the Caribbean Association of Theological Schools, the other members being the Seminary of St John Vianney in Trinidad and St Michael’s Seminary in Jamaica (both Catholic colleges) and the ecumenical United Theological College in Jamaica. This involves an impressive degree of collaboration across denominational borders, the members working through consensus while agreeing on rigorous academic standards.

Codrington’s influence over the years has been tremendous: you can find its graduates at high levels in Caribbean politics, law, education and of course the church — five of the 13 Anglican bishops of the Caribbean are Codrington graduates.

The College is celebrating its first 250 years in a characteristically quiet way. A lecture series on church and social issues has already been completed, with distinguished contributors coming from as far away as Oxford’s All Souls College (where Christopher Codrington’s remains were re-interred after his death).

Historic pictures and artefacts from an archeological dig that has been under way since 1990 are on show at the College until September. For the actual anniversary, the Anglican bishops of the Caribbean gather for a special service on September 3, followed by a consultation on ministry for the future (September 6). Barbados’s Governor-General hosts a reception for the College, and the young Barbadian-born organist Wayne Marshall (who has been making a name for himself on the international concert circuit) gives an organ recital in Bridgetown on September 7. The Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, arrives for a visit (September 8/9), with an awards dinner on September 9, the anniversary of that first class two and a half centuries ago.

An important part of the anniversary is the College’s need for financial support. Past students and supporters are invited to contribute to the Anniversary Scholarship Fund, preferably in multiples of $250, to help this historic institution expand its service to the Caribbean. The Principal can be contacted on (809) 433-1274, fax (809) 423-1592.