During the state of emergency, the Fort Hall District had very few churches. There was only one church in Fort Hall town. This was a whitewashed mud AIC Church attached to Fort Hall Primary tops (std 1 to 6) which was started in 1916. The founder was Rev. Peter Kigondu which presently is called Mukuria Hungu. However, this church was meant for local natives within the surroundings of Murang’a Township.
The administrators especially the DC, DO and other prominent government officials had nowhere to worship God. There was a need to put up a church not only to serve the administrators but also to be a shrine in memory of those who had died for the faith. In 1953 prisoners were brought to dig trenches from downtown to where the church now stands. In 1954, the trench on which the church now stands was completed. The Lord Bishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Dr Geoffrey Fisher laid the foundation stone on 18th May 1955 and St. James and All Martyrs Memorial Cathedral was installed. The occasion was graced the Governor of Kenya, Sir Everlyn Baring who had declared a state of emergency three years earlier on 20th October 1952. While it was hoped that the church would take 18 months to complete, it was not to be due to lack of money. A colony-wide appeal was made and donations started to flow including from Princess Margaret. In his appeal for assistance, the Fort Hall District commissioner J. Prinney wrote “The church fills a need here in Fort hall and the surrounding districts and commemorates brave men and women who died in the emergency; do not think we are asking too much too often. The memory of what this church commemorates stretches into the past; its influence will reach far into the future if you make this possible.” The Cathedral took three years to complete.
In October 1958 the Archbishop of Mombasa Rev. L.S. Beecher presided over the opening and consecration of the Cathedral an occasion graced by Governor Sir Everlyn Baring, esteemed government officials and a host of delegates from Britain.
With the opening of this Cathedral, the St. James & All Martyrs Memorial Cathedral was the first cathedral in upcountry. It was the epitome church of the Diocese of Fort Hall which covered the Mt. Kenya region, Eastern province, part of Rift Valley and North Eastern province. The first African Bishop, Rt. Rev. Obadiah Kariuki was consecrated and enthroned in 1961 and served till 1976.
The church had its compound fenced and accessed through three gates called reconciliation gates. They depicted a gun on one side and a sword on the other side with the cross in between meaning the Mau Mau fighters and the Christians were reconciled at the cross. The Cathedral was put up as a shrine in Kenya in honor of the Christian faithful who did not compromise their faith in any way especially participating in the oathing ceremonies of the Mau Mau liberation front. A plaque stands at its entrance naming but a few of these sisters and brothers who died for their faith hence the name Martyrs and Memorial. To date, the name Martyrs and Memorial Cathedral remains the only church in honor of them.