To celebrate Christmas, the Ascension Island Post Office has chosen to release a set of stamps showing both Anglican and Catholic worship on the Island.
There is only one church, St. Mary The Virgin, based in Georgetown which is an Anglican Church.
The cornerstone of St. Mary's Church was laid in September 1843 and the following year the first Royal Navy Chaplain arrived. The main body of the Church was completed in 1846 making it the second oldest existing Anglican Church in the Diocese of St. Helena.
Bishop Claughton arrived in 1861 to consecrate the Church, and later that year HMS Iris arrived bringing the Church registers for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials which are still in use.
Between 1879 and 1880 restoration work was undertaken and over the next two decades, a new organ was installed, the present brass lectern replaced the old one, and a new stained glass East window was also installed. On Easter Day 1900 a stone font was presented by the congregation which appears at the entrance to the Church.
Royal Navy Chaplains presided at the Church until the end of 1905 and after that, lay persons licensed by the Bishop of St. Helena led Sunday worship, and it was not until 1966 that the fist vicar was officially appointed.
The, in the period up to 1984 there was no official resident vicar, and at various stages Royal Air Force Chaplains ministered on the Island.
Following the Falklands Conflict, two memorial windows commemorating this were installed in 1984, and these appear as the 50p and £1 stamps. At the same time a resident vicar was appointed and an electronic organ built from a kit was also dedicated. Finally, the East window was in a dangerous condition and was temporarily removed. This was repaired in the workshop of Salisbury Cathedral with a grant from the Royal Marines and was re-dedicated in 1991.
In 1992, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Revd. George Carey visited briefly and in 1993 an appeal was launched for a complete renovation of the Church and this was completed thanks to a generous donation from the RAF, together with the Church Council and various companies on the Island.
The Church is open 24 hours a day and it is said to be closed only to keep out the donkeys. The Church continues to have a fulltime Vicar and lay preachers to this day.
Although St. Mary's is the only Church on the Island, there is another place of worship dedicated to Roman Catholics. Originally built in 1942 by US servicemen constructing Wideawake Air Field, this open air building originally known as ‘The Grotto', was extended in 1964 and renamed ‘The Grotto of Mary, Helper of Christians’.
Although there is no resident Catholic Priest on Ascension Island, lay ministers conduct regular services for Catholics at The Grotto.
This set will consist of four denominations, 45p ‘The Grotto’, 50p a stained glass window depicting the Madonna and Child with the words ‘In Memoriam’, 60p St. Mary's Church, and £1, a stained glass window depicting St. Michael with the words ‘Falkland Islands’.
The stamps are available in individual sheets of 10, each stamp having a white border and also in se-tenant strips in a sheet of 5 sets with the stamps bleeding off.