Notes on the Geography of South Africa: Cape Town Churches
Five churches and two cemeteries. What better way to spend a day?
The Groote Kerk was begun in 1700 on land then part of the Company Garden. The building was rebuilt and enlarged about 1780. Is it classical? Is it Gothic? Only Hermann Schutte, the builder at that time, knows--and he isn't talking. Oberholster writes that "there are certainly few buildings that are regarded with such respect or evoke such piety." (Historical Monuments of South Africa, 1972, p. 5.)
The interior, seating 3,000, is perhaps more impressive than the exterior. From a technical viewpoint, the triumph is the clear span of the plastered ceiling.
As a spiritual space, the interior is impressive simply because of its spaciousness, which creates a sense of freedom without the usual emphasis on height. The organ, installed in 1841, is the biggest organ in the southern hemisphere and, since you're sensible enough to say that size doesn't matter, you should know it sounds good, too. The church has hardly changed since the organ's arrival.
The pulpit, made of timber from India, is by Anreith, 1779. It stayed in place, covered up, when the building was rebuilt around it.
An Afrikaner Scot? Come again? But a number of Scots were imported by the British in hopes that they would Anglicize the Boers. Instead they went native, learned Afrikaans, and became leading figures in the Dutch Reformed Church. The town of Robertson is named for this same Dr. Robertson. The top of the caption reads: "To the glory of God and to the memory of William Robertson."
Talk about contrast. Just below is a squatter settlement at the edge of the Malay Quarter; to its left, a mosque. In the distance is the city's highrise skyline, impressive only to a leasing agent. In the middle distance is the golden trio of the Lutheran church flanked by two houses, though both are now used for other purposes. Not so the church.
On the left, the so-called Sexton's House, now the Dutch embassy. On the right, the parsonage, now the gold museum. In the middle, the Lutheran church built by Martin Melck under the subterfuge that he was building a warehouse. No choice: the government allowed churches of every denomination, so long as it was Dutch Reformed. The "warehouse" was completed in 1776 with organ and lectern, was used almost at once for services, and, the government relenting, acquired a pastor in 1779. The facade ornament is by the busy, busy Anton Anreith, but the chunky spire is not his fault: it was added in 1818.
"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." That would be Proverbs 9:10. A great motto for schoolteachers everywhere. The swan is a common touch on Lutheran churches and refers to Luther himself. Long story.
Think you can buy a lock at Home Depot that will last as long as this one?
Amazing contrast between the pulpit and the ceiling. The pulpit is by Anreith. The ceiling is by... Anonymous.
Yes, yes, everyone complains about out-of-focus photos on this site. The words set into the wall sure look like "Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott." The pulpit looks like a trumpet blast fixed in wood.
A few blocks away, the Dutch Reformed Church completed this Sendinggestig or Mission Institute church for colored worshippers in 1804. It was almost demolished in 1971 but eventually restored in 1971 and stands now as a museum.
The interior, with a pulpit from 1824, looks a great deal like the Lutheran church. Do we have a case of copycatting? The balcony-support columns are wood, not iron; the balconies are teak; the pews, oak.
The Metropolitan Methodist church was built to serve the needs of a congregation dating from the British arrival at the Cape. The architect was the same Charles Freeman who designed the Standard Bank building. The church opened in 1879 and in an era beguiled by the Gothic was judged the finest church in the colony.
Of course there's an Anglican church. A cathedral, in fact, with a band arriving for Easter.
The architect was alpha-dog Herbert Baker. Begun in 1901, it was more or less completed by 1936. Surprisingly, it struggles with serious maintenance problems.
Same old, same old.
The Victorians loved their monuments, perhaps because their widowed queen was so sentimental. In any case, this monument was carved in England by William Butterfield and erected in Cape Town in 1876.
Inside, there's this memorial to Milner, who led the government at an exceedingly difficult time and who left South Africa so discouraged that he had not the heart to accept the viceroyalty of India.
The Great Synagogue, almost hidden by oaks in the Company Garden. Completed in 1904.
Its quasi-Egyptian predecessor, from 1862.
An abandoned chapel stands forlorn in the middle of the Maitland Cemetery, six miles north of the city center.
Begun in 1886, Maitland has 100,000 burials spread over 250 acres. By 1897 it was described as the largest cemetery in the colony, with daily funeral trains from the city. It's in astonishingly poor condition.
Good money was spent here by someone who would not be happy with the cemetery today. Then again, he's not complaining.
We're back up on the hillside where we started. Why?
Here's why: it's the Tana Baru or "New Ground" cemetery above the Malay Quarter or Bo-Kaap. The cemetery has been closed to burials since 1883.
A translation would be nice. We're working on it.
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