Cathedral of Christ The King, Johannesburg

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Cathedral of Christ The King
Cathedral of Christ the King 028.jpg
Cathedral of Christ the King
General information
TypeModern Catholic Chatedral
Location1 Saratoga Ave, Berea, Johannesburg
Roof81 feet (25 m)
Technical details
Floor count1
Design and construction
ArchitectB.Gregory & J.P Monahan

The Cathedral of Christ The King is a Catholic cathedral in Johannesburg, South Africa.


The cathedral was built in 1958 in Berea. The plans to build the Cathedral was envisioned by David O'Leary in 1937. O'Leary was the first South African born Catholic Bishop of Johannesburg.[1] O'Leary had originally intended the cathedral to be built on a site near Kerk Street but that land was partially sold and the remainder became the Kerk Street Church.

The cathedral plans were put on hold due to the outbreak of the Second World War[2] and O'Leary died in 1950. In 1957 a site was bought in Saratoga Avenue by Bishop W.P.Whelan and funds were collected to lay the first stone in 1958. The Cathedral of Christ the King was designed by architect Brian Gregory from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The construction work was overseen by John P. Monahan and completed in 1958 by contractors John Burrow (Pty) Ltd of Johannesburg. The Cathedral was consecrated and opened in 1960.[3]

Whelan went on to be Archbishop of Bloemfontein and to cause some controversy when he failed to distance the South African Catholic church from apartheid in 1964.[4] The new Cathedral was officially opened in 1960.[2]

Internal View


The old cathedral in Kerk Street, built in 1896, had served the catholic community well, but with increasing numbers, it was decided to erect a new and larger cathedral that would be the most worthy structure possible. The new cathedral now stands at the corner of End Street, once the limit, as its name implies, of the town’s development, and Saratoga Avenue. This is a reasonably quiet situation, which, with the city’s expansion, in now comparatively centrally located.[5]

The site was originally the location of Henry Nourse’s House, which was recorded in property records for 1913 and 1925.[6]


Modern in its detailing and construction, the Cathedral has a traditional Latin Cross form with a high nave – 65 ft, transepts, crossing and sanctuary. The nave is approximately 190 ft long and has a vast capacity with seating for 1,500 people.[7] A gallery seats a further 130 people.[3] The side chapels are flat-roofed single storey spaces that wrap around the perimeter of the nave, along with the large meeting room and sacristies towards the End Street end of the building. The building rises 81 ft from the pavement level on Saratoga Avenue, giving an impressive front facade.

Reconstituted stone panels with open lattice patterns form the framework for the geometric stained glass windows, and as with historic Cathedral design, the structure is divided into regular bays. Rather than traditional stone, the main structural frame is of reinforced concrete. The framework is infilled with face brick, except in the sanctuary where marble is used. The building finishes were left unpainted to reduce future maintenance liability and the flooring chosen was durable marble, terrazzo, mosaic and linoleum. Liturgical foci – the altar, baptismal font and holy water fonts – are constructed in solid Botticeno marble. The canopy over the high altar is constructed of edge-grained Oregon Pine with Sapele Mahogany fascias, in the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid supported on laminated Sapele Mahogany columns.[8]

Two types of concrete were used: normal aggregate for hidden structural work, and a special red granite aggregate for exposed surfaces which were subsequently bush hammered. Portal roof frames at approximately 12-foot intervals support precast purlins and ​2 12-inch precast roof slabs, screeded with vermiculite and covered with copper sheeting on 2-inch felt insulation.[7]

The cathedral was designed with accessibility to all in mind, with a shallow gradient ramp incorporated at the End Street entrance. A flight of steps leads up from Saratoga Avenue, where a projecting concrete slab provides a canopy overhead. Stained glass windows transform the sunshine outside into patterns of blue, red, orange, yellow and green within the nave of the Cathedral. The theme of each bay or picture windows was suggested by Bishop Boyle. All the stained glass work was carried out by Patrick Pollen of Dublin.

The subject matter of the windows is as follows:

Gospel side - Christ Meets his Mother; Flight into Egypt; Nativity; Immaculate Conception

Epistle side - Christ the King; Feed my Sheep; Pente Cost; Assumption

Clerestory - Cross and Nails; Virgo Potens; Lamb of God; Rose Mystica; Chi-Ro and Crown; Rold of Sheep; Holy Ghost; Vas Honoris

Nave high level, Gospel side - The Angel (St. Matthew); The Lion (St. Mark); Chi-Ro in circle of Eternity; Wheat (bread); Anchor (faith); Pelican (Christ’s church); The Trinity; Fish and Net (net of souls)

Nave high level, Epistle side – Bull (St. Luke); Eagle (St. John); Fish (IXOVS); Grapes (Wine); Ship (Ship of the Church); Chalice; Host; Alphas & Omega; Keys (of St. Peter)[3]

The organ is one of the best instruments in the City of Johannesburg. The specification of the new organ of the Cathedral of Christ the King, has been drawn up by the present writer in consultation with the representatives of the firm of Cooper, Gill and Tomkins, Johannesburg, who have been awarded the contract to build the instrument. Incorporated in the new organ is the instrument formerly in the Pro-Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception, Kerk Street

Recent history[edit]

In September 1995 Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral as part of his visit to South Africa.

A memorial service for the late Pope John Paul II was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King on Wednesday 6 April 2005. The sermon was delivered by Bishop Buti Thlagale of the Johannesburg Diocese, who hailed the Pope for his recognition of African cultures.[9]

On March 17, 2009, the funeral of Father Lionel Sham took place at the Cathedral of Christ the King.[10] Tragically murdered by two of his own congregation, the Cathedral was full of family and friends celebrating the life of the much-loved priest.

About 4,500 people attended the service celebrated by the Archbishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale in thanksgiving for the new chancery building which was blessed the same day, in September 2012. The administrative centre for the archdiocese, the chancery was built at a cost of R30 million. Every parish in the diocese helped raise the funds needed for the project.[11]

Heritage Status[edit]

The building is historically and culturally significant for the following reasons:

  • The Cathedral of Christ the King is the head church of the Johannesburg Roman Catholic Diocese
  • Cathedral of Christ the King is constructed in high quality modern materials with distinctive reconstituted stone tracery detailing
  • The Cathedral of Christ the King is a local landmark building and focal meeting point for the Roman Catholic Community of Johannesburg
  • Cathedral of Christ the King contains notable artworks, including the stained glass windows, marble liturgical foci carved from solid marble, a copy of the Pieta and other statues.
  • Its association with Right Rev. David O’Leary, the first South African born Catholic Bishop of Johannesburg[12]


  1. ^ History of Cathoilic Church, South African Catholic Bishops Conference, retrieved 16 September 2014
  2. ^ a b "The Story of Johannesburg's Cathedral of Christ the King - Archdiocese of Johannesburg". Retrieved 2014-09-14.
  3. ^ a b c Souvenir of the Solemn Dedication and Opening of the Cathedral Church of Christ the King October 1960, Architect’s Description. Held in the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation Archive.
  4. ^ Walshe, Peter (1983). Church versus state in South Africa : the case of the Christian Institute. London: Hurst. p. 77. ISBN 0905838815. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  5. ^ South Africa Architectural Record, November 1960. 10
  6. ^ Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust, Johannesburg Heritage Database, in the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation Archive
  7. ^ a b South Africa Architectural Record, November 1960. 11
  8. ^ South Africa Architectural Record, November 1960. 12
  9. ^ The Citizen newspaper, Thursday 7th April 2005. Article by Steven Motale. 8
  10. ^ The Star newspaper, Wednesday March 18, 2009, article by Kanina Foss. 5
  11. ^ Rosebank Killarney Gazette, week ending 14 September 2012. Article by Graeme Shackleford.
  12. ^ History of the Catholic Church, , South African Catholic Bishops Conference, retrieved 16 September 2014