St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town

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St George's Cathedral
St. George's Cathedral, north transept.
St. George's Cathedral, north transept.
Country Cape Town, South Africa
Denomination Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Founded 22 August 1901 (1901-08-22)
Dedication St. George
Past bishop(s) Desmond Tutu
Robert Gray
Status Cathedral
Functional status Active
Heritage designation Provincial Heritage Site
Architect(s) Herbert Baker
Style Gothic
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town

St George's Cathedral (in full, The Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr) is the Anglican cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cape Town.

The cathedral was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and the foundation stone was laid in 1901. The cathedral replaced a church built in 1834 on the same site, and is still incomplete.


In October 1827, the Bishop of Calcutta, on a visit to Cape Town which was, at the time, a distant outpost of his diocese, discussed the building of an Anglican church. Up until that time the Anglican community had used the Cape Town Castle for services, later being offered hospitality by the Groote Kerk. The colonial government donated a site at the lower end of the Dutch East India Company's gardens at the corner of Government Avenue and Wale Street and the bishop consecrated the land. The foundation stone was laid by Governor Sir Lowry Cole on St. George's day April 23, 1830 and at the same time Erste Berg Dwars Street was renamed St. George's Street. The church was built from drawings by the architect John Skirrow based on W & H Inwood's neo-Greek St. Pancras' Church in London. Losing heavily on the deal, Hermann Schutte was the building contractor. The cathedral cost estimated ₤16,000 to build.[1] On December 21, 1834 that St. George's Church opened for services.[2] Upon diplomat Edmund Roberts visit in 1834, George Hough was chaplain and the church had a capacity of 1,000 people with 300 seats for the poor.[1]

In 1847, Robert Gray was ordained bishop of the newly created Diocese of Cape Town and he installed his cathedra (throne) in the church, by which act it became a cathedral even though it was only a modest parish church. His dream was to build a more worthy building on the site but his wishes never materialised during his episcopate which lasted until his death in 1872.[2]

The laying of the foundation stone in 1901. On the right are the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later to become King George V and Queen Mary).

On May 17, 1874, William West Jones was ordained second Bishop and Metropolitan of Cape Town (almost 25 years later he was elevated to Archbishop) and by 1887 the Diocesan Synod had appointed a committee to collect money for a new cathedral but it was not until August 22, 1901 that the Duke of Cornwall and York (later to become King George V) laid the foundation stone bearing the letters AMDG (Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam – To the Greater Glory of God). Paradoxically, this is the only visible instance of these letters which are chiselled on the inward-facing surface of each and every stone in the cathedral, a custom dating from ancient times.[3] The South-African War was still in progress at the time and as a result it was not until 1904 that work was resumed and the foundations were laid.

In 1908 Archbishop West Jones returned to England. By the time of his departure, the eastern end of the cathedral was well under way but he died two months later. It was decided that the new chapel on the north side should be built in his memory and it was completed and dedicated on October 28, 1909 in honour of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of St John's College, Oxford, of which William West Jones had been a fellow.

Work continued slowly but it was not until 1930 that the memorial stone for the North Transept was laid by the Earl of Athlone, then Governor-General of the Union of South Africa. The transept was completed in 1936 which finally made Sir Herbert Baker's design a reality.

Provincial heritage site[edit]

St George's Cathedral was declared a provincial heritage site by Heritage Western Cape on 23 September 2014 in the terms of Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act.[4] This gives the site Grade II status and provides the site with protection under South African heritage law.

The cathedral is renowned for the political stance it took during apartheid and is recognised as a strong symbol for democracy in South Africa. The heritage significance the building lies not just with the building itself but also the intangible heritage associated with the actions of different clergymen involved in the church which led to the church affectionately being known as the "people's cathedral". Reverend Desmond Tutu, the first black archbishop of South Africa, led numerous marches and campaigns for the formal end of apartheid from the front steps of St George's cathedral.[5] It was a common meeting point for all activists of all races as well as woman’s rights groups who were part the resistance to apartheid laws and the struggle for social justice, equality and human rights.


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  • Kenyon, Roger, ed. (1980). The Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr. Cape Town: Printpak Books. 
  • Bock, Mary; Gordon, Judith, eds. (2012). St George's Cathedral: Heritage and Witness. Cape Town: PreText Publishing. 
  • Langham-Carter, R. R. (1977). St. George's Church. Cape Town: A.A.Balkema. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°55′30″S 18°25′10″E / 33.92500°S 18.41944°E / -33.92500; 18.41944