St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg

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St Mary's Cathedral
Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin
Coordinates: 26°11′58″S 28°2′40″E / 26.19944°S 28.04444°E / -26.19944; 28.04444
Location Johannesburg
Country South Africa
Denomination Anglican
Churchmanship Anglo-Catholic
Founded 1887
Dedication St Mary the Virgin
Consecrated 29 September 1929
Architect(s) Sir Herbert Baker and Frank Fleming
Style Romanesque-Italian
Capacity over 2000
Height Five storeys high
Materials concrete and stone
Parish Johannesburg
Archdeaconry Archdeaconry of Region 2
Diocese Johannesburg
Province Southern Africa
Bishop(s) Stephen Moreo
Dean Xolani Dlwati
Organist(s) Sydney Place

Saint Mary's Cathedral, officially the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, is the cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg, South Africa. The Very Reverend Charles May was elected Bishop of the Diocese of the Highveld, by the Synod of the Bishops of Southern Africa. In late 2015 Father Xolani Dlwati was appointed to be next dean of the cathedral.


In 1887, the Reverend John Darragh was appointed rector of the first Saint Mary's Church. A block of land was purchased near Plein, De Villiers and Wanderers Streets in Johannesburg where the Chapel of Saint John Chrysostom was built. The plans of the cathedral were commissioned from the firm of Sir Herbert Baker, and Frank Fleming was the architect in charge. In 1921 the Chapel of All Souls was completed and on 13 May 1926 the construction of the main body of the cathedral commenced. The cathedral was completed and was consecrated on the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, 29 September 1929.[1]

In the 1950s, St Mary's was one of the few racially-integrated churches in downtown Johannesburg.[2] The cathedral is famous for its strong ties to the struggle against apartheid. In 1975 Desmond Tutu was appointed as the cathedral's first black dean.[3][4] The dean prior to Tutu was Gonville ffrench-Beytagh who was convicted under South Africa's notorious anti-terrorism legislation, after his successful appeal against the conviction he immediately left South Africa to go into permanent exile. This left a vacancy which allowed Tutu to be appointed as the first black dean. In April 1993 the body of Oliver Tambo lay in state in the cathedral before he was laid to rest in Benoni.[5]


As one enters at the West door one is immediately confronted with the full beauty of the cathedral, which is built in hard local whinstone to the designs of Mr F L H Fleming and Sir Herbert Baker.

The cathedral has three chapels: the chapel of Saint John Chrysostom, All Souls Chapel commemorating South Africans who fell in The Great War, and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a tabernacle. The cathedral has two statues of the Madonna, one stands next to the pulpit, another at the entrance of the All Souls Chapel called Mamasoabi (Our Lady of Sorrows). In the chancel which is at the east end of the Cathedral, the High Altar with a baldachin forms part of a memorial to John Darragh, the first rector of St Mary's, a huge rood featuring Jesus on his cross, flanked by St.John, Mary, a Roman soldier and Mary Magdalene. The rood also bears the Latin inscription Vere Filius Dei Erat Iste (This Truly was the Son of God).The famous hanging rood which hangs above the chancel steps and dominates the whole church is an almost life size wood carving of the Crucifixion. It was designed and constructed by Baden-Beadle, and was hung in 1957 as a memorial to William Palmer who was dean from 1924 to 1951.

Notable people[edit]




  1. ^ "St Mary the Virgin". Joburg. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Luli Callinicos (2000). The World that Made Mandela: A Heritage Trail. STE Publishers. ISBN 978-1-919855-01-1. 
  3. ^ Chris van Wyk. Desmond Tutu. Awareness Publishing. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-1-919910-77-2. 
  4. ^ Steven Gish (1 January 2004). Desmond Tutu: A Biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 58–. ISBN 978-0-313-32860-2. 
  5. ^ "Great churches and temples of Joburg: St Mary's Cathedral, inner city, 1929". Retrieved 4 March 2014.