THE FIRST RECORDED Anglican service in Madeira was held on a British ship passing by in 1774. Randomly occurring services were officiated by chaplains of passing ships until about 1807 when some British soldiers were stationed on Madeira as part of the war against Napoleon. Thereafter, the British garrison’s chaplain held services for British residents in the island’s British consulate.
In 1813, a plot of land was purchased close to the already established English Cemetery. The land is where the English Church stands today. Designed by Henry Veitch, the church was completed by 1822.
From the outside, the domed neoclassical building does not much resemble a church. Square in plan, inside it contains two concentric circles of supporting pillars. The top of the dome is above the central point of the church’s floor. The interior of the church is simple but elegant. Veitch, who was a freemason, might have been influenced by freemasonry in his choice of design, or possibly by the round style of temples favoured by the former Knights Templar.
When the church was built, it was attended by members of Madeira’s British residents, who numbered about 700 in 1822. Currently, there are only about 70 British residents. It was not until William Reid opened his hotel in the 1890s that the flood of tourists from Britain and elsewhere began in earnest.
Currently, the English Church, set in its lovely gardens, hosts many musical events – classical and otherwise.