By Mark Michael
Members of the Anglican Consultative Council visited Cape Coast Castle, a historic trading fortress deeply associated with the Transatlantic Slave Trade, on February 15. Built by the British beginning in 1762, the UNESCO heritage site is believed to have imprisoned four million people who were sold into slavery in the Americas.
Their tour of the complex was followed by a service of reflection and reconciliation at nearby Christ Church Cathedral, Ghana’s oldest Anglican church. They also visited the palace of the Omanhene, the traditional king of the region, who designated the Archbishop of Canterbury an honorary chief of the Oguaa people.
‘An Industrial Approach to Cruelty’
Within Cape Coast Castle, ACC members visited the slave dungeons, where up to 1,000 men and 500 women were crammed into dark stone chambers with little food and sanitation for up to three months before transportation across the Atlantic. They also spent time in the slave punishment cells, where resistant captives were shackled and starved to death. They were shown the castle’s chapel, Ghana’s first Anglican church, which was erected over the male slave dungeon with an observation port cut into its porch floor.
“Into this part of the coast of Africa, Europeans of different nations brought the same industrial approach to cruelty as has been the characteristic of Europe over the centuries,” Archbishop Justin Welby said during a homily at the service in Christ Church Cathedral.
“Its deepest element is the denial of humanity. … whether it’s the governor building his home and his chapel above the dungeons, ascribing no valuable to them, unless they were women who were desirable. Whether it was that dreadful precursor of Auschwitz, where those who struck their imprisoners were put in a cell with no food or water in the dark until they died. In all of this, we see a coherent pattern, a conscious pattern of denying the humanity of others.”
The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of Maryland and one of the Episcopal Church’s three ACC members, said this was his second time visiting the site. The first time, he said, his overwhelming emotion was grief. “I held my friend and we cried together for five minutes. But this time, I was feeling anger: anger at those responsible for this cruelty, and anger at the Church for justifying it and profiting from it.”
Sutton referenced a presentation offered to ACC members the night before by the Church of England’s Church Commissioners, who manage about £10 billion of historic assets for the church’s ministry. The group’s leader, First Estates Commissioner Alan Smith, who was born in Barbados and, like Sutton, is the descendent of enslaved people from West Africa, said a significant amount of the church’s current wealth derives from 18th-century investment in slave trading.
A recent forensic accounting project found that church funds were heavily invested in the South Seas Company, which transported slaves from West African trading fortresses like Cape Coast Castle to Spanish colonies in Central and South America. Smith estimates that at least £400 million of current funds can be clearly traced to slave trading.
The Church Commissioners recently announced the formation of a £100 million impact fund, which will be used to support projects aimed at helping communities in West Africa, the West Indies, and Britain that are still affected by slavery’s legacy.
Repentance and Reconciliation
Despite its deep links with slavery’s legacy, Cape Coast Castle is also a place of pilgrimage for Ghanian Anglicans because of its association with the Rev. Philip Quaque, the first African to be ordained as an Anglican priest. ACC members were shown the place of his burial in the castle’s main courtyard, and were told that local Anglicans come on his October feast day to lay wreaths and flowers at the site.
Quaque was the son a local Fante chief who was sent to England for education as a boy, and eventually earned a degree in theology from Oxford University. He was ordained in 1765, became a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and served as chaplain at Cape Coast Castle for 50 years. He is also credited with establishing West Africa’s first school for African children, and the former chapel within the castle is now a children’s library.
During a service at Christ Church Cathedral, which began its life as the chapel within the castle, ACC members and clergy and people from the Diocese of Cape Coast prayed for forgiveness and heard a reading of the Beatitudes.
“Our world can sometimes seem a very unjust place, where people with the loudest voices get the most attention,” Archbishop Howard Gregory, the primate of the West Indies, said in introducing a time of reflection. “But Jesus describes a world turned upside-down; a world where suffering people, the meek and those who act with justice, mercy, and courage, are blessed.
“Today is a chance for each of us to reflect on what type of world we are building. Let us reflect on the Beatitudes and think about our own actions and inactions.”
Evoking the story of an 18th-century slave from Virginia who wrote a letter to the Bishop of London pleading for freedom and for a chaplain to baptize his children, Archbishop Welby asked, “How do we reply to someone who knew only injustice from Christians, and yet still had faith in the mercy of God?
“To proclaim the gospel is to announce freedom; it is also to announce equality. It is to announce that God makes no distinction. And very occasionally in Christian history — very occasionally — that is known and seen and done.
“But even if it is not done when the gospel is announced; even if it is not taken up, the gospel of liberation, of freedom, of hope — not just freedom in the spirit, but free freedom — even if that is not taken on board, those words echo around those soiled cells. Day by day, hour by hour, they are lodged in the stones, and they speak to us: ‘Give us freedom.’”
At the close of the service, the Rt. Rev. Victor Atta-Baffoe, Bishop of Cape Coast, prayed, “Loving Father, you forgive us when we turn to you. Help us to forgive ourselves and others. Help us not to hold grudges but to move forward with peace. Teach us to reach out to those in need and speak out against injustice. To build a world of equality and fairness in our own lives and for all people. Amen.”
Nana Kofi Canterbury I
After the service, ACC members processed from the cathedral with drummers, dancers, and local residents bearing traditional gifts to the nearby palace of Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II, the traditional ruler of the Oguaa people. Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II, surrounded by his subchiefs, welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury and many visiting guests.
He announced that Welby would be made a chief, or “nana,” of the Oguaa people, bearing the name Kofi (because he was born on a Friday) Canterbury I. Welby was wrapped in colorful kente cloth and acclaimed three times by his new name, Nana Kofi Canterbury I. A local choir sang a hymn of acclamation in response.