05 October 2014

Gibraltar: out on its own among
the microstates of Europe

Gibraltar has been British since 1704 … but is it a country or a microstate? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Is Gibraltar a country? Is it a state? Where is part of it? It elects no MPs to the British House of Commons, and has its own parliament, but is not a part of the United Kingdom; yet it is not part of Spain.

Crossing the border from Spain at the town of La Línea de la Concepción, I joined a long queue of buses, cars and pedestrians to show my passport. Once I had crossed the frontier and bought a coffee or went shopping, I was dealing in Euros, Sterling and the Gibraltar pound.

But Gibraltar is not a colony either, and its legal status is that of a British Overseas Territory. It has an area of 6 sq km (2.3 square miles) and a northern border with the Province of Cádiz in Andalusia, Spain.

Gibraltar lies at the tip of the Costa del Sol, across the straits from Morocco (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Gibraltar is a densely-populated city and home to almost 30,000 people. It is 241 in the list of the world’s 249 countries and dependencies by land area – smaller than the Isle of Man, Andorra, Malta, Lichtenstein, Jersey, Guernsey and San Marino, but slightly larger than Monaco, the smallest country with a coastline and the smallest UN member state, and the Vatican City, regarded as the smallest country in the world.

When you count the population, Gibraltar ranks at 221 out of 243, with more residents than the Vatican, but fewer than any other European microstate. To draw comparisons, Gibraltar has a smaller population than Dun Laoghaire and a smaller land area than the borough of Kilkenny.

Crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar at La Línea de la Concepción (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Calling Gibraltar a microstate might be a generous compliment, yet Gibraltar plays the Republic of Ireland in Group D of Euro 2016 Qualifying rounds on 11 October, with the return match on 4 September next.

British since 1704

A red pillar box outside a post office in Gibraltar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Gibraltar became a British possession when it was captured by an Anglo-Dutch force during the War of Spanish Succession in 1704, when Britain fought on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The British claim to Gibraltar was secured in 1713, when the Treaty of Utrecht ceded the Rock “in perpetuity.”

Gibraltar has been recognised as part of the European Union since 1973, as a British dependent territory. Since 2004, voters have voted in the European Parliament elections – as part of the South-West England constituency.

A policeman in a “bobby” style uniform (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

I visited the two main Anglican churches – Holy Trinity Cathedral on Cathedral Square and the King’s Chapel, beside the Convent, which is the Governor’s Official Residence – and watched the changing of the guard, peered into Trafalgar Cemetery, and took the cable car to the top of the Rock to see the Barbary apes and gaze across the Straits of Gibraltar to the African coastline of Morocco.

Everywhere there are red pillar boxes, the red telephone boxes that are disappearing rapidly from the streets of England, policemen in “bobby” helmets, English pubs and bars offering Sunday carveries, and English high street shops and brands, including Marks and Spencer, NatWest, Zara and BHS.

Challenging Spanish claims

The signs of a Moorish mosque may still be seen in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of dispute in Anglo-Spanish relations, as the residents learned last year. Although they have their own Governor, parliament and elected government, the people of Gibraltar have full British citizenship. Time and again, they have voted against proposals for Spanish sovereignty and they now govern their own affairs, although military policy and foreign relations remain the responsibility of Whitehall.

It might be easy to understand Spanish ire and to draw comparisons with Hong Kong and China. But Spanish claims are one-sided: apart from the Canary Islands, Spain holds on to Ceuta and Melilla, two autonomous cities in North Africa that are an integral part of Spanish territory although they are surrounded by the Moroccan mainland.

Spain also has a number of tiny possessions in Morocco that it classifies as sovereign territories: the Islas Alhucemas includes a small peninsula and two tiny islands; the Islas Chafarinas are three tiny islands; there is the tiny territory of Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera; and the Isla Perejil is a small uninhabited islet close to Ceuta. All are guarded by Spanish military garrisons and administered directly from Madrid. Like Ceuta and Melilla, they are integral parts of Spain, and so – like Gibraltar – are part of the European Union.

Franco launched his fascist invasion of Spain from Cueta in 1936. During World War II, Gibraltar symbolised resistance to the Nazis and later it symbolised the protests against Franco’s Fascism. Franco sealed off the tiny border, and it did not reopen until the 1980s when Spain joined the EU.

Gibraltar’s Irish Governors

A monument in the King’s Chapel to General Charles O’Hara, twice Governor of Gibraltar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Irish Town is an important commercial street in the heart of Gibraltar. In Ulysses, James Joyce says Leopold Bloom’s wife Molly is from Gibraltar, and over the centuries many Governors were of Irish birth or from Irish families.

Henry Nugent from Coolamber, Co Longford, became Governor two days after Gibraltar was captured in 1704. But he was mortally wounded during a second siege that year. General Richard Kane (Governor, 1720-1727) was born Richard O Cahan in Co Antrim.

Charles O’Hara, Lord Tyrawley (1756-1757), had an illegitimate son, General Charles O’Hara, who was also twice Governor (1792 and 1795-1802), but who is better remembered for surrendering personally to both George Washington and Napoleon in different campaigns.

Henry Edward Fox (Acting Governor, 1804-1806) was a cousin of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. As Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, he was caught off-guard by Robert Emmet’s uprising in 1803, and was soon posted to Gibraltar.

Lord Howden (Acting Governor, 1806) was a son of Archbishop John Cradock of Dublin, and a former MP for four Irish constituencies, including Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. General Richard Airey (1865-1870) was a grandson of Richard Talbot of Malahide Castle, Co Dublin, and married his cousin Harriet Mary Everard Talbot of Malahide.

Sir George Stuart White (1900-1905), from Portstewart, Co Derry, was the father of Captain Jack White, a co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army in 1913, who later fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Lord Gort (1941-1942) inherited his title from an old Co Galway family. His brother bought Bunratty Castle, Co Clare, in 1953.

The King’s Chapel

The King’s Chapel is the oldest purpose-built church in Gibraltar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The King’s Chapel is a small chapel at the southern end of Main Street and adjoins the Convent, which is the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar.

The King’s Chapel is the first purpose-built church in Gibraltar. When Gibraltar was captured from the Moors by Castille in 1462, two mosques were converted into churches – the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned and the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe. When the Franciscans arrived in the 1530, they built a friary and a church that became the town’s first purpose-built church.

When Gibraltar was captured, the British Governors made the friary, known as the Convent, their official residence, and it remains so to this day. The friars’ church was transferred to the Church of England and was renamed the King’s Chapel. For many years, it was the only religious building to remain open in Gibraltar.

At the beginning of the Great Siege in 1779, the bell tower was pulled down to deny Spanish gunners an aiming point. The west end and south transept were badly damaged in the siege; when they were rebuilt, they were incorporated into the Governor’s residence: the west end became the ballroom, while the south transept made way for the main staircase.

The Convent, now the Governor’s residence, was once part of the Franciscan friary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

When the chapel reopened, it was too small for the garrison and the growing Anglican community. A new Church of the Holy Trinity was built in the 1830s and the King’s Chapel became the Governor’s private chapel. But in 1833 an order came from London for its closure.

When Sir Robert Wilson arrived as Governor in 1842, he found the King’s Chapel “in a neglected, dark, unwholesome state and a sepulchral nuisance to the residence,” and he set about restoring it.

The King’s Chapel is the oldest Anglican church in Gibraltar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

During Queen Victoria’s reign, the chapel was renamed the Queen’s Chapel, but it became the King’s Chapel once again after her death in 1901. The chapel survived both world wars unscathed, but was badly damaged in 1951 when an ammunition ship exploded and 13 people were killed.

The new windows from 1952 include stained glass depicting Christ in Glory surrounded by the Four Archangels, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mary, Saint Bernard, who is Gibraltar’s patron saint, and notable Franciscans. The chapel bell was returned in 1995.

A memorial in the King’s Chapel to two Irish soldiers from the 83rd County of Dublin Regiment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Lieutenant Ferdinand Henry Solly Flood, of Slaney Lodge, Co Wexford, died in Gibraltar in 1862 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The chapel houses many memorials to members of the British forces and many governors and their wives.

Moorish-style cathedral

The Anglican Cathedral, built in 1825-1832, is noted for its Moorish revival architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Cathedral Square was originally built as a church for the Anglican civilian population. Built in 1825-1832, it is noted for its Moorish revival architecture, and was consecrated in 1838 in the presence of Queen Adelaide. With the formation of the Diocese of Gibraltar it became a cathedral in 1842. Today it is one of the three cathedrals of the Diocese in Europe – the other two are in Brussels and Valetta, Malta.

Inside the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity … one of three cathedrals serving the largest Anglican diocese (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

After World War II, new vestries were added along with a second chapel dedicated to Saint George in memory of those who died in the Mediterranean during World War II, and a small stone with a cross from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral was set into the wall.

The explosion in 1951 also caused substantial damage to the cathedral, lifting the roof and smashing the stained glass.

The largest diocese

The High Altar in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

In 1980, the Diocese of Gibraltar was extended and become the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. The Diocese in Europe, as it is generally known, is geographically the largest diocese of the Church of England, covering one-sixth of the Earth’s landmass and stretching from Morocco, through Europe, Turkey and the former Soviet Union to the Russian Far East.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Bishop Rob Innes, was consecrated on 20 July 2014. The Archdeaconry of Gibraltar consists of Andorra, Gibraltar, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. Archdeacon David Sutch, who was appointed in 2008, is based in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol, and crosses the tiny border almost every day.

The Very Revd Dr John Paddock has been the Dean of Gibraltar since 2008, and the cathedral ministry is a visible witness to Christian compassion and social conscience, working with migrant workers and refugees and using the cathedral space for crèche and counselling facilities.

It is an open, tolerant society, with a large and visible Jewish community. Roman Catholics are in the majority (78 per cent), but the Anglican presence (7 per cent) remains significant.

Gibraltar is no longer an important British naval base. Instead, the economy depends largely on tourism, online gambling, questionable financial services, and shipping. But the residents say Gibraltar will remain British so long as the Barbary apes remain.

Residents say Gibraltar will remain British as long as the Barbary apes remain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This feature and these photographs were first published in October 2014 in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory).


Anonymous said...

Questionable financial services..Says who? the Spanish.Your ignorance is incredible...Get your facts right before you spout out ill informed nonsense

Patrick Comerford said...

I should be taken aback by the tone of your comment, and I think I am very sympathetic toward's Gibraltar and its current difficulties with Spain. But then it takes all sorts, I suppose.