The Ijesas are one of the ethnic groups, which make up the Yoruba race. Ilesa is the capital town of Ijesaland. It is located some thirty-five kilometers east of Ile-Ife, the assumed ancestral home of the Yoruba. The name “Ijesa” meaning the home of rich and fashions derives from the characteristic love of the Ijesa for tradition and custom. It also denotes the home or settlement of choice men. Similarly, the Ijesas are believed to have descended from fifty specially selected people who, according to history, settled with Owa-Obokun Ajibogun in his domain after leaving Ile-Ife. The name given to this group of fifty men is, “Ijo awon ti asa” meaning “the council of selected people” which was later abbreviated to Ijesa.

The Advent of Christianity in Ijesaland

Christianity did not meet a religious vacuum, in Ilesa. Long before the arrival of Christianity, Ilesa like other towns and villages, had practiced the African Traditional Religion (A.T.R.) which is the primordial religion of all indigenous Yoruba tribes. They believed in Almighty God which they called “Olorun or Olodumare” and took Him to be the Supreme Being. This made the assertion of the European scholars that Africans had no religion to be unfounded and baseless as far as Ijesa people are concerned.

The Ijesa had worshipped the Supreme God through the divinities. Some of the divinities include: “Ogun” the god of iron, “Sango” the god in charge of lightning and Ifa Oracle. However, it was in the midst of worship of these divinities that Christianity the great world acclaimed religion was brought to Ilesa by Revd. David Hinderer in 1857. Hinderer, a German, was born in Schorndorf in the Kingdom of Waterbury Western Germany. He and his wife came to Nigeria around 1850’s and worked among Nigerians especially the Yoruba people. He attended Basel Seminary in West Germany and was ordained in England in 1851. Really, Hinderer was a great and experienced evangelist. The Gospel preached by him was simple and not theologically profound, but focused on Jesus Christ and love.

When Hinderer arrived Ilesa, he visited Oba Ofokutu, the Owa Obokun of Ijesaland in his Palace to intimate him of his mission. The Owa having heard of his works at Abeokuta and Ibadan quickly granted him permission to go ahead with his work. Thus, Hinderer promised to send an evangelist who would explain to the people what Christianity was all about. On December 28, 1885 Hinderer went to Sierra Leone for teachers and brought Vincent Agbebi whose father was an Ekiti but his mother an Ijesa. He was taken as a slave in 1851 and was brought to Ilesa as an agent of the Church Missionary Society in 1859.

Evangelist Agbebi was given a place in the palace where he lodged. The chiefs and people of Ilesa thought him to be a spy for the white people and this made them fear and run away from him. However, one of Owa’s attendants, Late Pa Olulode was chosen to be taking care of the evangelist. Through this, Pa Olulode was able to learn Yoruba alphabets and later able to read the Bible. This surprised other Owa’s attendants and chiefs. It was later realized that the evangelist was in Ilesa for a different purpose. He was in the town to teach them about Christ. Thus he had a few converts and the first baptism was done in 1861. Agbebi went to Ibadan to have consultation with the C.M.S authority. On getting to Ibadan war broke out between Ibadan and Ijesa/Ekiti. The war continued until 1875. At the end of the war, he came back to Ilesa. On his return it was noticed that many more people had accepted Christ, he therefore built a tent in the palace where he used to gather people every Sunday to expose the Bible to them through teaching. Oba Ofokutu himself became a Christian when he saw that the life lived by the evangelist was challenging. This made many Ijesas get converted to Christianity. All the converts became members of the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) for which Hinderer and evangelist Agbebi were working. When many people had been converted to Christianity, there was the need to build a Church to accommodate them on Sundays. The first Church was therefore built at Ifofin Street, Ilesa. Again, because of the population of the people who had accepted Jesus Christ, the people demanded for a reverend gentleman to head the church. Rev. M.J. Luke was therefore sent to Ilesa by Bishop S.C. Philips of the C.M.S. headquarters. Rev’d. Luke arrived Ilesa on 31st August, 1888.

He organized open air service programmes, paid house to house visits and thus was able to win back to the Church the backsliders and lukewarm Christians. In September 1888, Iloro School was started with twenty-eight children, out of which thirteen were of Christian parentage and the rest fifteen were of the heathen. In 1895, Rev’d. R.S. Oyebode was sent to replace Rev’d. Luke. It was during Oyebode’s time that the Church at Ifofin had to move to Iloro, where there was more space. As the population of the Christians increased there was the need to build another Church and this gave rise to Omofe Holy Trinity Church in about 1895. The new Church building at St. John’s Cathedral Iloro, was dedicated on 9th May, 1895 by Bishop S.C. Philips. Rev’d. Oyebode was in Ilesa from 1895-1927. He was called the “Apostle of Ijesaland”. His Royal Highness Owa Obokun Ajimoko I, who was installed in 1897, attended St. John’s Church, Iloro, on the 3rd day of July, 1897 for thanksgiving service to mark his installation. About five hundred and sixty-six people were in the Church, and this was the largest attendance since the founding of Christianity in Ilesa. It must be pointed out here that in an attempt to spread Christianity throughout Ijesaland these earlier Churches faced persecution. The traditionalists who were operating freely before could not operate again and they took a number of actions in attempt to curb what they called the “excesses of Christians”, even though they gave them freehand at the on-set. They told them to pay ransom for destroying their gods. On the whole, God was glorified, for as time went on, all the threats to Christians became the things of the past and Christians can now operate in all the nooks and crannies of Ijesaland.

The Growth of the Anglican Church in Ijesaland

Christianity in Ilesa started with the mission of Rev’d. Hinderer and Mr. Vincent Agbebi, both working for the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) Even though the first congregations were called C.M.S. Churches, they eventually became Anglican Churches since the C.M.S. was a society within the Anglican set up. Also the ordained ministers sent to work in the Churches to mission areas were Anglican Priests.

The first Church was built at Ifofin street, Ilesa as mentioned earlier.It was later moved to Iloro Street, Ilesa, and the present site of the Cathedral Church of Iloro. From Ilesa, the Anglican mission spread all over Ijesaland to places like Ibokun in 1896, Ipetu-Jesa 1898 and Ifewara 1905″. For the fact that the people had to walk long distance to either worship at Iloro or Omofe, and the number was well over and above the capacity of these two churches, four areas in Ilesa were mapped out; they were Isona, Oke-Iro, Ijofi and Orogba. They agreed to establish another Church at Isona which was central, hence, St. Peter’s Church, Isona started around 1914. Anglican Churches in Ijesaland were part of the Diocese of Lagos from 1919-1952. Ilesa / Ife District Church Council was carved out from Ondo / Ilesa / Ife District Church Council, with Canon Morgan as its chairman, as from 1932. Ilesa D.C.C became a full-fledged D.C.C. of its own in 1937.

The Diocese of Lagos was split into three Lagos, Ibadan and Ondo/Benin in 1952. Ibadan Diocese was inaugurated on January 25, 1952 comprising Ibadan and Ilesa Archdeaconries. The Ilesa Archdeaconry was inaugurated on 3rd May, 1952 comprising Ilesa, Ife, Offa, Ilorin D.C.Cs with Ven. S.O. Mafe of Ilorin, Ilesa as the Archdeacon. In 1961, Offa/Ilorin D.C.C was carved out of Ilesa archdeaconry and created as a separate Archdeaconry. This was followed in 1971 by Ife D.C.C that was made an Archdeaconry.


According to the 30th Anniversary publication of Ilesa Anglican Diocese, Ilesa had for long been the centre of activities within the C.M.S Organization in Yoruba land. The idea of Ilesa becoming a Diocese was conceived in 1966, in the Ilesa District council meeting held on the 18th day of December, 1966.It was approved that the necessary machinery be put in place to make sure Ilesa and Ife District Councils become an Anglican Diocese of Ilesa without delay. The motion was processed through the necessary authorities and sent to the Episcopal Synod of the Province of West Africa. There were quite a number of barriers on the way. The last was the backing out of Ife District Council after the turning of sod on the land on which the proposed Bishop’s court was to be built at Oke-Oye, Ilesa. The Ife council’s bone of contention was that both the Bishop’s court and the Cathedral should not be located at Ilesa. The Ijesa people therefore decided to go all alone, the idea of a small geographical area becoming a diocese sounded impossible. It is on record that efforts were made by the then Bishop of Ibadan, Bishop Timothy Olufosoye at either separate or joint meetings to reconcile the two Archdeaconries but all his efforts proved abortive.

Bishop Falope, the first Bishop of the Diocese said in 1980 at the sixth Synod session of the Diocese that: Ilesa Archdeaconry surviving as a Diocese was considered an impossibility. Of ourselves, we had no misgiving because we had unshakeable faith in the Lord, who generously called the Diocese into being. We therefore allowed no thought of the small geographical size or limited number of clergy (only fifteen) to daunt us, but we launched out in absolute faith. According to an eyewitness, Mrs. Julie Fajemisin, who was a member of the planning committee said : A planning committee was set up and we met regularly at Ilesa Grammar School. I recollect that one of the most punctual and regular member was Canon J.O.K. Olowokure(Retired Bishop). Different sub-committees were set up. The Bishop’s court sub-committee was headed by Dr. J.A. Fajemisin with the instruction that he must not alter the existing plan because there was little money available. Chief S.O. Thompson headed the fund raising committee with Julie Fajemisin as the secretary. On the 3rd of August, 1973 formal application was submitted to the Bishop of Ibadan by a delegation consisting of Ven. J.A.I. Falope, Chief E.A. Adesuyi and Chief S.O. Thompson requesting for the creation of Ilesa Anglican Diocese. When the standing committee of the provincial Synod met at Ado-Ekiti in February 1974, an approval was given on two conditions: An official residence is built for the Bishop, and Financial provision for running the Diocese is made in the year’s budget. In order to ensure that these conditions were fulfilled within a short time, it was considered necessary to raise fund. The inaugural Endowment Fund Raising was held on the 30th of March, 1974 with a huge success. Immediately, the conditions for the approval were given, the Ilesa Archdeaconry began planning for the inauguration of the Diocese. Five committees were set up for this purpose: Inauguration committee. Publicity committee. Planning committee. Enthronement committee. Hospitality committee.

The Archbishop’s Advisory Committee of Ibadan Diocese under the chairmanship of the Chancellor, Justice S.A. Oloko met and passed their views on a choice of Bishop to the Ibadan Diocesan Board. The Episcopal Synod met on the 29th of June, 1974 and elected Ven. Falope as the pioneer Bishop of Ilesa Diocese. All was set for the inauguration of the Diocese as well as the enthronement of the Bishop. On the 2nd of November, 1974 at a very colourful service held at St.John’s Church Iloro, Ilesa. The service was presided over by the Most Rev. M.N.C.O. Scott, the Archbishop of the province of West Africa.

In the concluding portion of the presidential address delivered by the Rt. Rev. Falope at the First session of the first Synod in March, 1975 he launched the Diocese with this word: “We go fourth, our own great weakness feeling. And willing more each day,


The Anglican Church in Ilesa had so developed that virtually every nook and cranny of the town is covered. It is noted that since its creation in 1974, Ilesa Diocese has been fortunate to have a succession of Bishops such as: Bishop Falope :1974-1981, Bishop G.I.O. Olajide: 1981–1987,The Rt. Rev. E.A. Ademowo now the Archbishop of Lagos Province, Bishop of Lagos and the D ean of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) from 1987 –1999. The incumbent Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Dr. S.O. Sowale who assumed office in year 2000, had worked tirelessly and through his Episcopacy, the Diocese has grown in leaps and bounds. Hence three new Dioceses had being carved out of the existing Diocese thus: Ijesa North Missionary Diocese(now Ijesa North Diocese) with the headquarters at Ijebu –Jesa, and Ilesa South-West Diocese with the headquarters at Omofe, Ilesa, were inaugurated on 18th January, 2008; also Ijesa North-East Diocese with headquarter in Ipetu-Ijesa inaugurated on 15th November 2009 respectively.