St Michael and St George Cathedral, Grahamstown

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Grahamstown Cathedral
Cathedral of St Michael and St George
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Church Square
Grahamstown Cathedral is located in South Africa
Grahamstown Cathedral
Grahamstown Cathedral
Coordinates: 33°18′36″S 26°31′36″E / 33.31000°S 26.52667°E / -33.31000; 26.52667
Location Grahamstown, Eastern Cape
Country South Africa
Denomination Anglican
Founded 1824
Founder(s) John Armstrong
Consecrated 21 September 1850
Architect(s) George Gilbert Scott and John Oldrid Scott
Style Victorian neo-gothic
Completed 1952
Capacity 500
Length 91 feet (28 m)[1]
Width 58 feet (18 m)[1]
Height 60 feet (18 m)[1]
Number of spires 1
Spire height 150 feet (46 m)[1]
Materials Stone
Archdeaconry Grahamstown
Diocese Diocese of Grahamstown
Province Southern Africa
Bishop(s) Ebenezer St Mark Ntlali
Dean Andrew Hunter
Subdean Mzinzisi Dyanti
Assistant priest Claire Nye-Hunter, Monwabis Peter, Luthando Madiba
Deacon(s) Siphokazi Njokweni
Director of music Andrew-John Bethke
Churchwarden(s) Ronaldo Burger, Ian Meiklejohn, Paul Walters (alternate)
Parish administrator Anet Stander
Diocesan chart showing bishops and deans of St Michael and St George Cathedral

The Cathedral of St Michael and St George is the home of the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown in Grahamstown, South Africa, in the Eastern Cape Province. It is the episcopal seat of the Bishop of Grahamstown. The cathedral is located on Church Square and has the tallest spire in South Africa 176 feet (54 m).[2] The cathedral is dedicated to St Michael and St George and celebrates its patronal festival on the Sunday closest to Michaelmas (29 September).


The large ornate lectern still in use in St Michael and St George Cathedral

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had voted £500 in 1820 for the erection of a church in Cape Town, this gift was declined by the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset. However, while he was in England next year, he wrote to Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State for War (who administered the colonies), asking him to obtain the £500 for Grahamstown, where

The Society very generously agreed, and voted the £500 for Grahamstown, the balance of the money needed was supplied by the colonial treasury. Plans were prepared by W Jones, a land surveyor of Cape Town, and the building erected by George Gilbert also of Cape Town. Sir George Cory thus summarizes the agreement entered into by these persons, and dated 9 September 1824:

It was later decided to use zinc for the roof instead of thatch at an additional cost of Rds 4,730 (£354 15s.). Even so, the roof caused further delays in the completion of the building, which was not opened until 1830.[5] The new church was of course not consecrated, but it bore the name of St George's. The fragment of it that remains, the south wall, is the oldest piece of English Church architecture in the country.[6]

William Geary, the first Colonial Chaplain of Grahamstown (who was appointed and removed by Bathurst), reached the scene of his labours in February 1823. The Colonial Chaplain was frankly a member of the civil service, all collection plate moneys received were paid straight into the public treasury, and when the Chaplain needed anything, he had to apply for it through the same channel as any other civil servant.

An interesting figure reached Grahamstown in 1833. This was John Heavyside, a missionary of S.P.G. in India. After doing duty at Stellenbosch and elsewhere, he was appointed acting Chaplain at Grahamstown, the appointment being made permanent in 1838. At the time of his arrival, St George's had developed so far as to have a slightly more ecclesiastical form of administration than the landdrost. This was the Church Committee, which probably came into existence at the time the building was opened. Members were appointed by the Government, on the recommendation of the committee. This method of administration was changed by the Church Ordinance of 1839 (during the governorship of Sir George Napier), which remained in force until 1891. The ordinance is an imposing document,

They were to elect churchwardens out of their own number. The "officiating minister for the time being" (there is no word as to his appointment, which was still in the hands of Government) was to preside at all meetings of the vestry. The vestry took over all powers and possessions of the church committee, and was made a corporation capable of suing and being sued. In 1841 the meaning of the words "holding, communion" was queried, and the Attorney-General decided that they did not mean what they said, but that any one professing to be a churchman was a full member of the Church. Governors and colonial chaplains and landdrosts obtaining communion vessels and Royal Engineers (they inspected the building of the church) and pew-rents and church ordinances and secretaries of state for war-it is a queer, mad sort of story[7]

Robert Gray was consecrated as Bishop of Cape Town on St Peter's Day in 1847. He arrived in South Africa on 20 February 1848 and visited Grahamstown on 5 October 1848. At a meeting with the vestry of St George's the bishop explained that he could not consecrate the church as it was not yet conveyed to the see. On 7 June 1849

Another visitation followed and on 21 September 1850 he consecrated the church and churchyard. "The church was full, the parishioners appearing to take a deep interest in the matter."[8]


The Diocese of Grahamstown was founded in 1853 with John Armstrong as the first bishop. During the oversight of Bishop Nathaniel Merriman when Frederick Henry Williams was dean, conflict arose between the two regarding the status of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa versus the Church of England and the validity of the appointments of bishops. Dean Williams then excluded Bishop Merriman from his cathedral. This action resulted in many court cases which Williams won.

Various schemes had been discussed from time to time for the building of a more worthy cathedral, but nothing was done until 1874, when it was discovered that the original tower, in which the town clock had been placed, was in danger. Dean Williams set about the work of collecting funds and was loyally supported by the vestry. Plans were prepared for the tower and spire as part of a complete new building by Sir George Gilbert Scott, at that time the most notable leader of the Gothic revival. He made a free gift to Grahamstown of the various plans and working details and the building of the "Public Clock Tower", as it was called, was carried through by the committee without employing a contractor. The tower and spire were finished in 1878.

Merriman died in 1882 and was succeeded by Allan Becher Webb, then Bishop of Bloemfontein. Webb was elected on 7 March 1883. Dean Williams would not recognise Webb as bishop either so, in November 1883, Webb set up his throne in an iron building (formerly a skating rink) on the site of the present post office to which the name of St Michael's Pro-Cathedral was given. But after Williams's death in August 1885, negotiations between the bishop and the select vestry were begun. Webb became "officiating minister" (the term used in the Church Ordinance) of St George's and officiated at the services on Christmas Day in 1885. After the reconciliation, the building was repaired and Webb began to collect funds for carrying the erection of a worthy cathedral one stage further. After attending the Lambeth Conference of 1888, he returned with £3,000 collected in England. The plans for the chancel were prepared by John Oldrid Scott while William White-Cooper acted as superintending architect and designed several of the fittings. The foundation-stone was laid by Henry Loch, the Governor of the Colony, on 29 January 1890. The completed structure was consecrated by the Bishop Webb on All Saints' Day in 1893 in the presence of the Metropolitan, West Jones, and other bishops.[9]

A new nave, designed by John Oldrid Scott, was dedicated in 1912, just eight days short of the centenary of the establishment of Grahamstown. It is Victorian neo-gothic in style, with a granite and sandstone exterior, plastered interior walls with marble pillars. The building of the cathedral was finally completed in 1952 with the addition of the Lady Chapel. It can accommodate about 500 people.


The deanery is a large Victorian house set in its own grounds adjacent to the cathedral hall. It has reception rooms and a study for the dean on the ground floor and completely private quarters above. There is an additional "bed-sit" attached which is suitable for short-term guests of the parish or the dean. The sub-deanery is a modern four-bedroom house with adequate reception rooms, a very small study, a garage and its own entrance, backing on to the deanery.

Historical controversy[edit]

The cathedral was the religious center of the community of Grahamstown. Graham's Town was originally a military outpost on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony. It was founded by Colonel John Graham. The British campaign to push the amaXhosa residents from the Eastern frontier was defined by Graham's plan to use "A proper degree of terror."[10] A number of the battles of the Xhosa Wars were centred around Grahamstown.

The cathedral became the primary location for memorials to those fallen soldiers of the conflicts between the original residents of the lands and the European settlers. Many of these memorials refer to the opposition in the battles, using terms which are no longer acceptable in the Rainbow Nation of South Africa. Today, these memorial plaques are covered as an acknowledgement of the diversity in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Nevertheless, the early days of the Anglican church in Grahamstown demonstrates the unstable nature of the relationship between the indigenous peoples and the English Settlers and the ongoing place of reconciliation in South Africa. A quote from John Armstrong, the first bishop of Grahamstown attests to this controversial history:

Dean of Grahamstown[edit]

The Dean of Grahamstown is the incumbent of the Grahamstown Cathedral, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. The dean has other duties and roles set out in the "Deed of Constitution and Statutes of the Chapter of the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown" which is an appendix to the acts of the Diocese of Grahamstown. The 20th and current dean is Andrew Hunter who was appointed in 2008.

Main article: Dean of Grahamstown



The first ring of bells to be installed in Africa was hung in the Grahamstown Cathedral tower in 1879. The bells, an octave cast by John Warner and Sons in London, were supplied complete with fittings and with a frame of English oak.

The first ring of bells to be installed in Africa was hung in the cathedral tower in 1879. The bells, an octave cast by John Warner and Sons in London, were supplied complete with fittings and with a frame of English oak. The chancel was consecrated by Bishop Webb on 1 November 1893 and was dedicated to both St George and St Michael to mark the healing of a historic breach in the diocese. In 1902 remedial work was undertaken on the bell frame and fittings in the tower.

The frame was assembled in the tower by local labour but not, apparently, in the way in which Warners had intended. Henry Carter Galpin[a], a local clockmaker, had been employed by the town council to install the town clock in the cathedral tower. He wished it to strike on bells other than those intended by Warners and modified the frame accordingly, placing one bell in a subsidiary frame raised above the other bells. As a result, seven of the eight bells swung in the same direction. This made the bells extremely difficult to ring and it is probable that they were only, initially, swung chimed. In 1887 it was reported that the joint of the bell frame "require tightening up throughout".[citation needed]

In 1902 remedial work was undertaken on the bell frame and fittings and a band was in training under the tuition of a "Cape Town expert", a Mr Stephens. In 1903 the ringers were "Mr Lancaster (Captain), Dr Drury, Messrs G. Barnes, Charles Cory, Huntly and Walker".[citation needed] The bell frame, however, still gave trouble and ringing ceased in 1913.

In 1959 "Mr Eardley from Stoke-on-Trent ... fitted new ropes"[citation needed] and undertook sufficient maintenance to enable four bells to be rung. In 1968 a change ringing band was formed under the tuition of Paul Spencer, who had learned to ring at Armitage Bridge in Yorkshire, and Bill Jackson, who had learned at Dalton-in-Furness in Lancashire.

In 1993, supported by Rhodes University, the bells were rehung in a new steel frame donated by Koch's Cut and Supply Steel Centre of Pinetown, Durban, with new headstocks provided by Eayre and Smith (Overseas) Ltd, now part of John Taylor & Co. The frame was designed by Dr Ray Ayres with pits for ten bells and was assembled in the tower by local labour guided by Dave Webster of Eayre and Smith and by Colin Lewis. The first peal on the bells was rung on 17 December 1995, conducted by Alan Regin in 3 hours and 12 minutes: Cambridge Surprise Major.

In 1997 two trebles, cast the previous year in London at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, were added to the ring.[12] The first peal on the ten was rung on 4 April 1998, conducted by Timothy G. Pett in 3 hours 19 minutes: Cambridge Surprise Royal.

By the end of 2000, five peals and 27 quarter-peals had been rung on the bells.

Bell details[edit]

Details of the bells are:

Bell no 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Weight (kg) 288 319 362 376 392 500 698 781 961 1302
Note G F E♭ D C B♭ A♭ G F E♭

Bell ringing in Grahamstown today[edit]

The band presently ring call-changes and Plain Hunts on Sundays from 18:00–18:55. Rhodes University used to offer a course leading to the Certificate in Change Ringing.

Bell ringing at Hillandale[edit]

The Cathedral band also ring at Hillandale, some 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from Grahamstown, where there is a light-weight ring of four bells at the Monastery of the Order of the Holy Cross that was installed in 1999. Ringing there is under the direction of the Cathedral Ringing Master. By the end of July 2001, four quarter-peals had been rung at Hillandale, all by the Cathedral band.


Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ H.C. Galpin was the father of Ernest Edward Galpin, botanist and banker
  2. ^ This tablet is on the west wall of the cathedral and commemorates Joshua Davis Norden (1803–46), who arrived at Algoa Bay with Wilson's party in the Belle Alliance in May 1820. After various farming disasters, Norden opened an auctioneer's business in Grahamstown in 1835, became a commissioner of the municipality and established a burgher force for the defence of the town ("Norden's Yeomanry"). He was killed in action during the War of the Axe; his body was recovered and buried with full military honours in the Jewish cemetery. His fellow soldiers erected the plaque in the cathedral.[13][14]
  1. ^ a b c d Gould & Eve 2011, p. xvii.
  2. ^ Anon. "Grahamstown Tourist Attractions". Planetware. Retrieved 2013-09-17. 
  3. ^ Theal 2010, p. 403.
  4. ^ Cory 1926, p. 192.
  5. ^ Cory 1926, p. 204.
  6. ^ Gould & Eve 2011, p. 21.
  7. ^ Gould & Eve 2011, p. 24.
  8. ^ Gray 1849, p. 139.
  9. ^ Gould & Eve 2011.
  10. ^ Maclennan 1986.
  11. ^ Carter 1857.
  12. ^ Gould & Eve 2011, p. A:15.
  13. ^ Merriman 1957, p. 24–.
  14. ^ Saron & Hotz 1955, p. 299–300.

External links[edit]

Official website