From as early as 1513, efforts were made to Christianise the Amerindians of Trinidad. Despite the hostility from the Amerindians towards these efforts at conversion, the Spanish Capuchins of the Province of Catalan, of the Order of St Francis, responded to the king’s invitation to send missionaries to Trinidad. In August 1687 a group of 10 Capuchins landed here. Their role was to encourage the Amerindian people to work on the land where missions were established, to train them to accept the lifestyle of Spanish society, and to instruct them in the teachings of Christianity.

The tribes in the Arima area kept Spanish colonisation of the area at bay for a long time. It wasn’t until 1749 the Capuchin monks were able to establish the Mission of Santa Rosa de Arima. It was named after Santa Rosa de Lima, the first saint of the New World.

According to Carib oral tradition, Rosa was born in Arima to Spanish parents while staying in Trinidad on their way to South America. Legend tells the story of three Carib hunters of the Carinepogoto Tribe who, while hunting in the Pinto forest, stumbled across a young, seemingly mute girl. They thought she was lost, so they took her back to their village (which extended from the present Santa Rosa Church to Calvary Hill).

The village priest saw that she was not a child, but a spirit. Three times she disappeared and three times they brought her back. They believed her to be the manifested spirit of Santa Rosa, willed back to Arima where she was born. The priest told them to make an image of her while she was still among them and this they did. It is said that as soon as the statue was completed, the “girl” disappeared forever. This cherished statue of Santa Rosa is enthroned and displayed during the traditional High Mass of the Santa Rosa Festival in August. The statue is then sheltered by a canopy and carried in procession through Arima.

The hunters returned to the spot where they had found the girl, and there they found a necklace and a crown of roses in the colours pink, yellow, red and white. The necklace was said to have miraculous powers and was worn by the queen of the tribe as a sign of sovereignty. It has since been lost. The roses are now the accepted symbol of the Santa Rosa Caribs.

Carib oral tradition has it that Anacoana, the daughter of Hyarima, was the first of the tribe to be baptised a Roman Catholic and is known as the ancestress of the Carib Queens.

Every year, Catholics and indigenous people from around the country, the Caribbean and North America come to the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Church on the last Sunday in August to observe the feast of Santa Rosa de Lima.

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