Masithi Amen

Masithi Amen

A multimedia story about the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown.

Our story begins at the top of High Street, in Grahamstown, South Africa. We are facing East, looking down this main street, towards the Cathedral of St Michael and St George. It seems strange to have such an ornate building amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy city.

As we near the Cathedral, we see a priest dressed in a black cassock and carrying his surplice and stole hurrying into the church, clearly late for his duties.

We enter the Cathedral and take a seat in a pew near the front of the church.

Before long, the service begins.

 

Now that we have experienced a service at this Cathedral, let’s look further into where it has come from.

The Cathedral of St Michael and St George at the intersection of High Street and Hill Street in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, has been a popular landmark and place of worship, since its opening in 1830.

The building of the church began as a colonial venture as a place of worship was needed for the British settlers who had recently arrived in Grahamstown. Thus, the church began to be built in 1824. It opened in 1830 as a functioning Anglican church.

The church was proclaimed a Cathedral in 1853, the same year in which Grahamstown was declared a city. In order for a church to become a cathedral, it needs to have a Cathedra or Bishop’s Throne. The Cathedra in the Grahamstown Cathedral can be found in the Chancel, near the High Altar.

Photos: Sarah James.

Throughout the following century, several additions to the Cathedral building were made, ending with the Lady Chapel which was added in 1952. The building which stands today is the completed building, as it has been since 1952. The South Wall on the right hand side of the church building is all that remains of the original church building from 1824.

Memorial tablets can be found all around the Cathedral and those found on the South Wall date back to the 1840s. Racist words of the period have, in recent years, been censored, due to the church becoming a multicultural, multiracial space of worship.

Most, if not all Anglican churches have stained glass windows. Stained glass windows are renowned for their beauty and the windows in the Grahamstown Cathedral are no exception. They are valued at about R20 million, and are well over a hundred years old. Due to their age, the leading has eroded, making the windows immensely unstable.

Photo: Sarah James.
The spire, one of the most iconic parts of a church was erected alongside the bell tower, in 1879. This structure is 50m tall, making it the tallest church building in South Africa.

The Cathedral is home to people of various races and cultures, both in its clergy and its congregation. Although the main sermons are in English, the liturgical language is different each week and features a range of Southern African languages. Hymns in South African languages are sung alongside the traditional English hymns.

To learn more about the use of language, listen here where the Dean of the Cathedral, The Very Revered Andrew Hunter, speaks about the use of African languages in the services:

 

To see more about the language transformation within the Cathedral, click here:

The Cathedral makes space for those who enjoy a more traditional service at 7:30am and 9:30am each Sunday, followed by a student service at 6:30pm. During the morning services, children are encouraged to attend Sunday school.

Listen here to find out more about the involvement of children and young people in the Cathedral services:

Many attack the Cathedral, and the church as a whole, for being a legacy of colonialism. Listen to Dean Andrew Hunter discussing this colonial legacy:

The Cathedral and its clergy appear to have made every effort to ensure that no person feels unwelcomed in the church, and encourages its congregation to do likewise. Despite its colonial beginnings, the Cathedral is now home to a wide range of people from the greater Grahamstown community.

Now that we have learned a bit of the history of the construction of the Cathedral, let’s take a look into some of the features of the Cathedral building:

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