Nigeria is the second most religious countries in the world according to Pew Research. Its populace is evenly divided between the largely Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. Nigeria has also been said to have the highest number of churches in the world, and in this post, we shall be giving a brief history of the first church in Nigeria.
Historians claim that Christianity was first brought to Nigeria in the fifteenth century by Portuguese missionaries, but no definitive church was established before they departed. If they had succeeded in consecrating one, Warri would have been the home of the first church in Nigeria as the Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal came in through the Benin River and made contact with the Itsekiris. Warri was the first place they appeared.
In the 19th century, 4 centuries after the Portuguese missionaries had left, the Christianity that has spread all over Nigeria today came through the mission of the Church of England in 1842. The mission was established in Badagry by Henry Townsend, who also erected the first storey building in Nigeria right there in Badagry too, but there was never a church building until a few years later.
After the priestly ordination of Henry Townsend in England in 1842, he set off for Sierra Leone where he work only a few months before coming to Nigeria as a result of the Yoruba mission.
However, Thomas Birch Freeman is believed to be the first European to enter Abeokuta. From 1846 to 1867, Abeokuta became the vineyard that he was called to work. He arrived the old city on 11 December 1842. He met with Henry Townsend on 24 December upon his return to Badagry. It was this meeting that birthed the first “Christmas Day” celebration in Nigeria.
The first church in Nigeria was completed in 1898, the Cathedral Church of St. Peters, which is the first church in Nigeria is located in Ake, Abeokuta, Ogun State. It was built by Reverend Andre Desalu Wilhelm, years after the mission of Rev. Henry Townsend. The church was built to serve as the meeting place for all the missionaries.
Being the first of its kind, it was only natural for the church to serve as a rallying point for a good number of early missionaries who were at the time, spreading the gospel of Christianity in Abeokuta and its environs.
Presently, the St. Peters premises now harbours a newer and bigger auditorium where worship and other religious activities are being carried out. But the actual building that was built in 1898 still stands tall till date and now used as a tourist site.
The church might not have been named after Henry Townsend who played a very important role in the birthing of Christianity in Abeokuta, but he will surely be remembered because a hall within the church premises is named after him.
In 2015, the church was awarded a certificate of honour and difference as the first and oldest church in Nigeria by T.I.N Magazine.
It should also be noted that Rev. Henry Townsend is the founder of the first newspaper in Nigeria.