It is the country’s second oldest storey building, it is also the place the Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther translated the Holy Bible into the Yoruba language
The Cathedral Church of Saint James (CCSJ) may not be as famous as Westminster Abbey in London. Located in Ota, Ogun State, CCSJ boasts a history that makes it comparable to Westminster Abbey. It was here that Reverend Ajayi Crowther did the first translation of the Bible into the Yoruba language. CCSJ has the singular honour of owning the second storey-building in Nigeria.
And what’s more, CCSJ still has in its possession items that were used by the very first occupants of the building back in 1842. The items include a chalice, a baptism bowl, two altar chairs, coins currency and other historical curios.
The historical, ancient and monumental items would have been more, but Reverend Steven Ayo Oluwawalemi, the cathedral priest, admits that some unknown people have made away with most of these items that should be national treasures.
Nigeria’s second storey-building, which is now used as CCSJ’s office, also has the distinction of being the building where one of Nigeria’s greatest sons, Reverend Ajayi Crowther, did the first translation of the Bible into the Yoruba language. “This second storey-building in Nigeria was built in 1842 when the missionaries moved from Badagry.
On their way to Abeokuta, there was a need for them to pause in Ota here,” Oluwawalemi explained.
“So they settled here and built it and we have the honour of still having it.” That the building is still standing is a miracle, says Oluwawalemi. “When you enter it and see the staircase, and all the wood that has been preserved for so long a time, and they are all still there, still strong for 169 years now, it’s a miracle.
“All we’ve had to do is maintain the building by making sure it’s always in use. It used to be the vicarage. All the past priests lived in it. It was the priest before me that built a new place. When I resumed here in 2008, I resided in it too before moving to the new place, so we finally stopped using it as the vicarage.”
Presently, the upper floor of the distinguished building serves as the cathedral’s office while the ground floor is the residence of one of the church’s workers. Oluwawalemi insists that the building, a wood affair, is still made up of all the initial wood that was used to build it.
“When you enter it, you won’t need any one or historical facts to convince you that it is ancient. The door is an ancient style that you lower to close up the staircase. The locks are all ancient and of the style of that era. The ancient wall safe that was used by the missionaries is also in it, as well as some of the coins they used then.
There’s a wood gate at the top of the stairs, a style from that era as well. We also have other records in our archives but we’ve lost most of them.” One of such records should be Crowther’s original translation of the Bible into Yoruba. “We don’t have it,” Oluwawalemi said. “The complete work of the translation may be in his own handwriting before it was taken to the press.
He alone must have known what he did with it. It must have been precious to him.” While the baptism bowl has had a very tiny bit chipped off it, and the coins are rusty due to non-preservation, the two surviving altar chairs are still very strong and sturdy and the chalice too is not showing signs of wearing out from age.
“These are the few items we still have from 1842 and we are taking the best care of them we can.
Unfortunately, the coins are rusted, but we keep using the altar chairs so they are still just the way they are.”